The government of Islamist President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has stalled the ratification of a protocol that would North Macedonia’s accession to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in order to blackmail the country and force it to succumb to the pressure of handing over critics.
Turkish government documents and a copy of the protocol obtained by Nordic Monitor show that the Erdoğan government deliberately slowed the ratification process of the agreement in the Turkish Parliament, controlled by Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).
In a bid to exploit North Macedonia’s strategic goal of becoming part of the NATO alliance, a military bloc where the decision was taken unanimously by all NATO members, the Erdoğan government has lobbied to secure the extradition of members of the Gülen movement, a civic group that is vocally critical of the Erdoğan regime. Concerned that extradition on dubious charges would stain the rule of law and hamper the country’s ambitions to become a member of the European Union, Skopje has so far balked at the request of the Turkish government to hand over the critics and has not given in to Ankara’s bullying.
The protocol, which was signed on February 6, 2019 in Brussels by all member states including Turkey, will enter into force when each of the parties to the North Atlantic Treaty has notified the United States government of its acceptance. The Erdoğan government slowed down the ratification process with a view to intensifying pressure on Skopje and force the North Macedonian government to hand over the critics, some of whom are dual nationals.
The text of the protocol was submitted to parliament for ratification by Erdoğan on May 9, 2019, some three months after the signing of the agreement. Mustafa Sentop, the parliament speaker and a close ally of Erdoğan, waited for nearly two weeks to sign the referral of the protocol to the relevant commissions for review and debate. Even after Sentop’s signature, his office waited for another week to actually send the protocol to the commissions, which finally happened on May 31, 2019.
The delay at the parliament speaker’s office appears to be deliberate as it usually takes one or two business days to refer agreements or bills to relevant commissions after submission. The same is true for the delay at the president’s office as well.
The Foreign Affairs Commission was designated as the main body to review the protocol before its likely approval and referral to the General Assembly for a final vote. The National Defense Commission was designated as the subsidiary body for the ratification process, although it should be the primary one in view of the fact that the protocol concerns security and defense matters.
Neither of the commissions had taken up the protocol for review and debate as of June 18, 2019, confirming speculation that the stalling tactics were ordered by the Erdoğan government in order to milk concessions from Skopje, in the process testing the patience of the North Macedonian government.
North Macedonia’s newly elected president, Stevo Pendarovski, recently said in Brussels that Turkey asked his country to extradite 15 people (10 are naturalized Macedonian citizens) over alleged links to the Gülen movement. He stressed that any request from a foreign country would be processed in line with European Union regulations and Macedonian law.
The Erdoğan government has been criticized for cracking down on critical groups in Turkey, where the Gülen movement bears the brunt of the persecution. According to official figures, over half a million people from the movement have faced legal action on dubious terrorism charges since 2016.
Some 70 percent of generals and admirals were removed and/or jailed in Turkey, and nearly all Turkish officers who were deployed to NATO posts abroad were purged by the government in a major transformation of NATO’s second largest army in terms of manpower. Islamists, neo-nationalists and pro-Russian officers were promoted in the Turkish military, with the unprecedented purge demoralizing the officer corps and undermining the military branches, especially the Air Force.
If North Macedonia returns the Gülen supporters, it runs the risk of blemishing its adherence to the rule of law and human rights record since all the returnees would most likely face the same torture and ill treatment that so many have endured in Turkish prisons and detention centers. Credible allegations of torture, well documented by the United Nations and nongovernmental organizations, point out that they are systematic, deliberate and coordinated by the government.
The full text of the protocol to the North Atlantic Treaty for the accession of North Macedonia is published below:Macedonia_North_Nato