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Turks Deported From Kosovo Face Long Jail Terms

Kosovo’s leaders claim they knew nothing of the operation against six men Ankara says belong to the Gulenist movement.

15 March 2019

Turkish authorities have indicted six Turkish nationals deported from Kosovo a year ago for their alleged connections to Fethullah Gulen, the U.S. based cleric Ankara accuses of trying to overthrow the government.

 

Prosecutors are demanding sentences ranging from 16 to 28 years for the men, who have been held in detention since being deported in March 2018, Balkan Insight writes, citing the Anadolu news agency.

 

At the time, Kosovo’s Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj said he was unaware of the operation to deport the six Turkish citizens, who had permission to be in Kosovo. The interior minister and head of the Kosovo Intelligence Agency (AKI) were sacked over the incident.

 

Fetullah Gulen. Image by Diyar Se/Flickr.

 

Many Western media saw the incident as indicative of Turkey’s growing economic and political influence, powered by its authoritarian leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in the Balkan lands it ruled for centuries.

 

But should Europe see Turkey as a threat to the unstable region, or a partner?

 

Writing for the European Council on Foreign Relations, journalist and Turkey expert Asli Aydintasbas argues that although Erdogan’s personal rivalry with Gulen plays a part as the former strives for influence in the Balkans, Ankara’s regional policy is based on its commitment to trans-Atlanticism, trade, and its traditional ties to Balkan Muslim communities.

 

Erdogan still needs to be handled with care, Aydintasbas writes. Since winning greater powers in a 2017 referendum, he has sought to project an image as the strongest leader in the region and has cultivated close ties with Balkan leaders.

 

A Turkish journalist who fled the country to escape the massive crackdown on the media, state workers, and anyone suspected of Gulenist sympathies offers a different view.

 

Suppression of independent media began well before 2016, when the government snuffed out a coup attempt it blamed on Gulenists, Abdullah Bozkurt said in an interview with Kosovo 2.0. Bozkurt was then the Ankara bureau chief for Today’s Zaman.

 

The government-ordered closure of Zaman and nearly 200 other media outlets “had nothing to do with the failed coup d’etat at all, in fact most of these outlets were opposing the coup d’etat,” Bozkurt said.

 

Many of the 239 journalists currently held in detention in Turkey were affiliated with the Gulen movement. Others were suspected of Kurdish sympathies or simply held liberal views, he said.

 

 

  • In the wake of the coup attempt, Turkey sought to stamp out critical voices in the Balkans. Days after the uprising, Turkey’s embassy in Pristina asked Kosovo’s Foreign Ministry to take the “necessary steps” against a journalist who posted a satirical comment about Kosovan tourists in Turkey on Facebook, according to a Reuters report.

 

  • Although both Haradinaj and President Hashim Thaci claimed they were not informed about the detention of the six suspected Gulenists, Balkan Insight claims the AKI led the operation.
Compiled by Ky Krauthamer

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