by Aggelos Skordas
Greece’s Independent Second Degree Asylum Committee decision on Saturday to approve the asylum request of one of the eight Turkish servicemen who fled to the northeastern city of Alexandroupolis after a failed coup attempt in Turkey on 15 July 2016, sparked fury in Ankara and a heated political debate in Athens. Main opposition party of New Democracy is accusing the coalition government of SYRIZA-ANEL for adapting an “opportunistic” stance after it filled a request to invalidate the decision in light of the Turkish fierce reactions, which among others included threats that the move would have a negative effect on bilateral relations.
The Committee that examines asylum applications in the second degree approved the request of the co-pilot of the helicopter that flew the eight servicemen to Greece, upholding the European Union Council, Amnesty International and other international bodies who have strongly criticised the current political situation in Turkey as well as the systematic violation of human rights following the failed coup of 2016. Furthermore, the Committee ruled that there is no evidence that the asylum seeker officer was involved in the coup attempt, yet is being sought by his homeland for “political crimes” and he would not be subjected to a fair trial if extradited to Turkey as requested by the country’s authorities.
“Greece failed to show the support and cooperation we expect from an ally in the fight against terrorism by preventing criminals who took part in killing hundreds of Turkish people and targeting the democratic order”, an official statement issued by Turkey’s Foreign Ministry minutes after the Committee’s decision reads. “By granting asylum to one of eight coup plotters involved in the July 15 coup, Greece has once again showed that it is a country that protects and embraces coup plotters with this decision”, it continues, while various Turkish officials accused Athens of providing shelter to “coup plotters”.
On its behalf, Greek government sources pressed that it does not support plotters and that the country’s justice system’s function is independent and it is following its standing position regarding the eight servicemen. Nevertheless, it filed a request for the cancellation of the asylum granted to the serviceman and an administrative court of appeal is expected to examine the case. “Our faith in democratic principles and practices is not a weakness, but a source of strength. Democracies do not threaten, or can be threatened. On the contrary, they work responsibly and methodically to promote understanding and entrench stability and good neighborly relations. Greece will continue this path and hopes its neighbors will do the same”, the Greek Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Sunday following the Turkish intervention.
On Tuesday, Greece’s Alternate Defense Minister Dimitris Vitsas reiterated the government’s commitment to respect the Committee’s ruling not to extradite the Turkish officer. “Greece is not a country that harbors coup plotters and it has been made clear that the eight Turkish officers will not be extradited. We believe that the case, beyond the jurisdictional competence of these two committees, must now go through the judicial system” he told radio station “Alpha 9.89”, adding that asylum seekers have often resorted to an administrative appeals court after their application was rejected by the committees. In a similar tone, government spokesperson Dimitris Tzanakopoulos underlined that it must be made clear that based on the decision of the Greek justice, the extradition of the Turkish officials has been ruled out. As he said, many inaccuracies have been heard on this issue: The opposition insists on saying inaccuracies he concluded.
“The government has for weeks failed to dismiss Erdogan’s claims that Tsipras promised to prepare the ground for the extradition of the eight Turkish servicemen. The eight servicemen who fled to Greece cannot be extradited to Turkey under the present circumstances. The Supreme Court has irrevocably ruled on this. The procedure for granting asylum to the servicemen has not been finalised, but the government has shown its intent”, New Democracy spokeswoman Maria Spyraki replied.
Amid threats from Ankara and firm criticism from the opposition Greece’s Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras stressed that effective communication channels with Turkey are crucial: “The worst that one can do is not to talk about things, to not have channels of communication and contacts, to not try to address real problems”, Tsipras said during an interview with “Real FM”.
It should be noted that nearly 250 people died and some 2,200 were injured while fighting the coup attempt carried out by a faction of the Turkish Army in Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir and other major cities on 15 July 2016. Erdogan’s government has since led a crackdown on alleged “coup plotters” and “supporters” of US-based imam Fetullah Gulen, with the dismissal of more than 150,000 public workers, state officials, army officers, academics and other state employees while some 50,000 people have been arrested accused as “traitors” and “terrorists”.
The remaining seven Turkish servicemen who fled to Greece with an army Black Hawk helicopter hours after the coup attempt are still held in custody in an Athens’ Police Station awaiting decisions to be reached on their asylum applications.