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By: Yönet C. Tezel, Turkish Ambassador to Sweden
This is a commentary. The opinions expressed are those of the author.
It is impossible not to share the recent shock and resentment of the Swedish public in the face of ruthless gang violence. Sweden normally ranks among the very top in world indexes of happiness. Yet, a very small minority has been abusing freedoms and social trust in Sweden to create a parallel criminal ecosystem. The seriousness with which the Government, agencies and Riksdag are now addressing the problem will hopefully produce swift results.
Unfortunately, several individuals associated with gang violence in Sweden have made their way to Türkiye. Their criminal records were not known to Turkish authorities. Now news headlines in Türkiye complain about Swedish gangs shooting each other on Turkish streets.
As Prime Minister Kristersson emphasized recently, Turkish and Swedish authorities have started to cooperate more closely to deal with both gang crime and terrorism. The objective is to deny impunity, no matter how sly the culprits may be. Yet, some of the recent media coverage in Sweden over Türkiye’s involvement is painting quite a wrong picture. I have until now refrained from speaking about this because of the investigations underway. And I do not have all the details. Still, the Swedish public deserves a more truthful picture.
It was recently claimed that a Swedish police report about Rawa Majid, a.k.a. Kurdish Fox who heads the Foxtrot crime network, was leaked to him by Turkish diplomats and authorities. This should have been a “matter of honour between diplomats,” a source said to Aftonbladet. For us to be learning about this claim through the media was against the logic of our security cooperation with Sweden, especially since the NATO process started. It is my understanding now that the Swedish Police is investigating the affair. If there has been a leak in Türkiye, we will obviously address it. Meanwhile, we also read Swedish media reports about possible leaking issues in Sweden. The investigations by the police in Sweden and Türkiye will reveal what really happened.
But for some commentators, the negative mention of Türkiye was too attractive to resist. When there is a good chance for Türkiye bashing, truthfulness is not revered it seems. One co-authored piece went as far as to claim that the members of “the Foxtrot network were firing rocket launchers at a military shooting range in Türkiye.” Leaving aside the absurdity of the claim, even the source given for it, a mini-documentary by Expressen, did not contain such an allegation.
The ease with which such disinformation is co-signed and published – even if some co-signatories were misled – is reflective of a broader problem. After a week of very negative and unfair coverage about my country, I think I may be allowed some sarcasm: The small but disproportionately influential cottage industry of self-appointed pseudo-experts on Türkiye has been graced in parts of the Swedish media for too long. Both Sweden and Türkiye need to know and understand each other better through well-informed analyses. And there are many good journalists and commentators on both sides that can do this. As prospective Allies, this is a necessary task for both sides.
Back to the urgent problem; the grievances of the Swedish society in the face of gang violence is very relatable to millions of Turkish citizens who have been suffering from another source of ruthless violence, terrorism. PKK claimed responsibility for the recent terrorist attack in Ankara. More than one fifth of the millions of euros the PKK raises annually in Europe through extortion and other criminal activities comes from Sweden.
As a counter step, Swedish authorities have been placing restrictions on bank transfers to prevent financing of terrorism as part of their international commitments. Sweden also made changes to its Terrorist Crimes Act, a step initially envisaged against DAESH/ISIS. All these are in line with Sweden’s earnest commitment to prevent the PKK from abusing Swedish freedoms and good-will.
However, as the Turkish Parliament is expected to consider Sweden’s NATO accession, some PKK-affiliated groups are openly testing Sweden’s resolve. In a recent series of tweets, one such group in Sweden bragged about how they are still raising funds and sending them “to kill Turkish troops.” The same group boasted about organizing a rally this past Saturday in Stockholm with PKK flags, cursing at NATO and the Turkish President. Türkiye is advised not to overreact. All right, the intent to provoke is clear. But how about the violation of Sweden’s own law that clearly prohibits “promotion” and “support” of terrorist organizations? By continuing such activities, the message PKK wants to give is “No matter what Swedish authorities do, we will extort money from businesses, keep our criminal ways, and finance terrorism from Sweden.” When Turkish officials and now parliamentarians say that implementation of the new Swedish anti-terror law is important, this is what they mean. Sweden will surely strengthen NATO’s northern flank. But it must also deny terrorist groups the capacity to weaken NATO’s southern flank.
We know Swedish authorities recognize this and have been genuinely working on it. It was our recognition of this effort and our belief in Sweden’s commitment to continue along this path following NATO membership as well that made the Vilnius agreement possible. Now at the last phase, the much-awaited new anti-terror law should be making a difference. Frankly, while everyone in Sweden accepts the failure of the system (resources, personnel, capacity, approach, etc.) to prevent gang violence, it is difficult to argue that the same system performs well and sufficiently when it comes to fighting terrorist groups. Over the years, the PKK has somehow built around itself a comfort zone, the sort that breeds gang violence too.
As for the convenient labelling of the NATO process as blackmail by Türkiye, this narrative suggests a drama good for public consumption and fits certain preconceived mental templates about Türkiye; but it is misleading. Türkiye has been warning from the beginning that other issues should not be introduced into the Turkish-Swedish talks. Possibly in the hope of expediting Swedish membership by creating additional pressure on Türkiye, links were established with other processes that were supposed to advance on their own tracks between Türkiye and some of its Allies. To be sure, Türkiye did not start this but is compelled to factor it in now. Let’s hope those new linkages will not complicate things further. For the Turkish side the real concern remains terror related. Anti-gang and anti-terror efforts require the same kind of resolve and urgency. When these groups try to test Sweden and Türkiye, we need to show them it is not business as usual anymore. I am hopeful.