Following an attempted military putsch in Turkey on July 15, eight military officers suspected of involvement escaped via helicopter to Greece. With calls for the reintroduction of the death penalty however, Greece and Turkey are now entering what could become extremely tricky extradition negotiations under international law.
The officers initially landed in Alexandroupoli where they were handed two-month prison sentences for illegally entering the country. They were then shuttled to the Macedonian town of Kavala and then on to Athens, where their asylum applications are pending examination.
It is still unclear why the officers were moved, given that their applications could have been examined in Alexandroupoli. It is widely presumed that their presence in the northeastern Greek town was deemed potentially detrimental to social stability however, as it was fiercely protested by members of the local Muslim community. Turkey also has a consulate in the nearby town of Komotini.
Turkish calls for the immediate extradition of the eight, declared “traitors”, were soon to follow, with Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu leading the fray.
For observers of regional politics, this was immediately reminiscent of a familiar post-9/11 extradition pattern: extradition used by states as blackmail. A concern to anyone who believes in the validity of international law. This was the case in Afghanistan in 2001, when the US vehemently demanded that the Taliban hand over Osama Bin Laden for his (then alleged) involvement in the 9/11 attacks.
Following the July 15 coup in Turkey, the Turkish government demanded the immediate extradition of Fethullah Gülen, again for suspected involvement. When asked to produce evidence by the US government, the Turks initially prevaricated, but allegedly did so five days later.
Obviously, there is a working connection between extradition demands and political power dynamics. The ongoing Gülen affair calls to mind another infamous extradition case of the Shah of Iran. The Shah was never in fact extradited after fleeing the country during the 1979 revolution. He died in Cairo, allegedly under British and US protection. History tells us that political powerhouses can afford to ignore extradition requests or even use them as political bargaining chips.
However, relations between Greece and Turkey are hardly informed by the same dynamic as that between Turkey and the US. For decades now, Greeks and Turks have been involved in (often bitter) arguments over territorial waters, national airspace, the continental shelf and – most recently – Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) and refugee issues.
The Greeks have usually sought recourse to the stipulations of international law or have pointed to the latter as the basis on which any negotiations should be carried out. The Turks have attempted to play up the flexibility of international law in regards to these various conflicts.
The ongoing dispute over the Aegean for example, which has been portrayed by Turkey as a unique case: a “closed sea” that is unlike any other. Turkey has refused to accept international legislation regarding the delimitation of an EEZ in the Aegean. In contrast, Turkey has failed to apply the same standards to the Black Sea, which is, undoubtedly, a “more closed sea”, and where EEZ delimitations with the Soviet Union, Romania and Bulgaria have long been made on the basis of the median line principle.
Despite previous failures, it would thus be highly desirable for both countries to cling to international law as their compass in resolving the issue of the accused coup plotters.
Greece should not relent to Turkish demands for the immediate extradition of the eight, and should instead stick to the slated timetable and plan, which calls for the assessment of the asylum applications by late August. The initial late July deadline was changed due to the officers’ concerns over the unstable political situation in Turkey.
The Turkish ambassador to Greece, Kerim Uras, knows better than to resort to covert threats, such as arguing that a Greek failure to extradite the plotters immediately would cause damage to bilateral relations.
The ambassador only went as far as to say that the helicopter carrying the officers should not have been given permission to land. That accusation does not hold water in any case: the helicopter had sent out distress signals after entering Greek airspace, and Greek authorities allegedly had no idea as to the identity of the passengers.
Domestic workings and international law
In Greece, the issue of the accused plotters has caused major debate. Most major parties have refrained from jumping to conclusions or calling for rash actions that could jeopardise Greece’s efforts to resolve the issue.
Surprisingly, the same cannot be said about Syriza, the strongest party in the Greek Parliament: a Syriza MP, Eleni Avlonitou, has ruled out the granting of asylum for individuals who have committed “crimes against humanity.” Her conclusions are based on such actions “having been videotaped.” The statements caused an uproar both among Syriza MPs and MPs from other parties, and Avlonitou so far seems to be a lone voice.
Furthermore, not everyone views the issue in the context of law and justice. As the daily To Vima’s July 24 edition mentions, the extradition issue is viewed by some as a matter of national pride, alluding to a potential extradition as a betrayal of the country’s principles. To Vima even quotes a former Syriza candidate for the European Parliament, Dimitris Christopoulos, who asserts that such a capitulation would be purely cynical and would “submit fundamental humanitarian principles to diplomatic expediencies.”
The situation in Turkey remains combustible, with arrests, media crackdowns and discharges of judges and civil servants an everyday reality. There has even been talk of restoring the death penalty, abolished for peacetime offences in 2002 and completely abandoned in 2004.
The government has suspended the European Convention on Human Rights to pursue this clampdown in the manner of its choosing, for example extending the pre-trial police detention period from four to 30 days, which runs contrary to the Convention. Moreover, organizations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have already reported allegations of widespread torture.
In light of such allegations, Greece cannot divert from its adherence to international law. Extradition of subjects who may face the death penalty in their countries is out of the question.
According to Thanos Dokos, a prominent analyst of Greek foreign policy, the issue could have repercussions across many fields, such as in bilateral economic relations and the Cypriot issue. Dokos also poignantly points out that even if a Greek-Turkish crisis is avoided, tensions may still rise from the deterioration of Euro-Turkish relations.
Regarding Turkish threats on the bilateral front however, the AKP government can ill-afford to alienate another country in the region, after its foreign policy has fallen to ruins. Furthermore, Turkey’s controversial Aegean and Cypriot tactics have not been scaled down of late regardless, reducing leverage capacity. Overall, it appears that both Turkey and Greece should respect international law and avoid falling into the trap of post 9/11 extradition patterns and power play.