Purged from Turkish Army, NATO Officers Granted Asylum in Norway

https://www.flickr.com/photos/unaoc/4702078321/in/photolist-8avo4T-eCa6oC-4se9cd-eNqjVB-eCKRtR-eGdTwX-eQ1e1X-eQctXU-eCKStV-T9hi3m-eGk4Rw-eCKWtc-eLyqLf-eNqnaM-eC9UD9-eHN8h9-eQ16Cn-ruYxzz-eC9YzS-eQcDXq-eCL2tF-eCqNNo-eHNciu-eLynuj-eHGd6K-eLyov3-eLmMrP-eCPaD7-eQ18xM-eCCdNT-dyAZyY-pZ8Y1v-qSUM3t-qSMaZ5-rahz6q-qSP5Do-rahyRC-ranRZD-eGqxrV-raniQ8-emn6w9-qSWE9T-4FYMiC-9KMiYc-r85ajs-qSM989-em4FC9-qSWFjP-eKvb3Q-e65oj8Norway and Turkey — NATO’s northern and southern frontiers in Europe — have been pillars of the Western military alliance for more than 60 years. But the diplomatic temperature between the two has fallen steadily since Turkey recalled dozens of military officers as suspects in an aborted coup — and Norway became the first nation to grant some of them asylum.

The government in Oslo agreed last month to protect four Turkish officers who had been assigned to NATO and, like colleagues in Germany and Brussels, fear they could be imprisoned as terrorists if they go back to their country. Turkey’s Foreign Ministry summoned the Norwegian ambassador for an explanation while the officers remain in Stavanger, a city on Norway’s west coast that lies 3,800 kilometers (2,360 miles) from Ankara.

“We see that this is a difficult decision for Norway because of the alliance, and it can cause big problems for NATO, so we appreciate that they have put human rights over political decisions,” one of the officers given asylum said. “Norway still says you are innocent until proven guilty … in Turkey, you have to prove your innocence.”

The men trying to forge new lives in Stavanger are among a cadre of commissioned Turkish officers who were working at NATO facilities around Europe during Turkey’s July 15 thwarted coup. The Turkish government suspects of playing a role in the failed coup, and the men have asked not to be named for fear of reprisals against their families in Turkey.

“Some of my colleagues in other NATO headquarters did return to Turkey. They were detained at the airport in front of their families, their children. It would be very difficult to go back to Turkey now,” one senior officer said. “We have small kids, and we have to save their lives….”

“After the coup, 160 generals and 7,000 military officers have been arrested,” one of the officers said bitterly. “If these persons were involved in this coup, the result must have been different.”

The government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan alleges that the coup was carried out by followers of a U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, who denies orchestrating a takeover. More than 150,000 people have been taken into custody, fired or forced to retire from Turkey’s armed forces, judiciary, education system and other public institutions since the coup attempt….

Turkey responded angrily to Norway granting the officers asylum, protesting that a NATO ally offered the men “support to abuse the country’s political, social and economic opportunities” instead of ensuring their return to Turkey.

The men’s lawyer, Kjell Brygfjeld, thinks the four cases were fast-tracked through the sometimes clogged Norwegian asylum system. One of the former officers said his asylum petition was approved without his needing to provide documents proving he was in danger.

“Norway can see what is going on,” he said.

Image: Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, May 28, 2010 (photo: United Nations)