President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey declared on Saturday that U.S. Ambassador David Satterfield and nine other foreign ambassadors, including the French and German envoys, would be “persona non grata” in the country after they signed a joint statement calling for the release of imprisoned Turkish businessman-turned-dissident Osman Kavala.
Erdogan described the statement as an “impudence” at a political rally in Eskisehir in western Turkey, saying that he had immediately instructed his foreign minister to order their expulsion.
Kavala’s condition has been the subject of international interest, as he has been held a prisoner in the country since 2017 despite never being convicted of any crime. A businessman who later helped to run the Turkish affiliate branch of George Soros’ Open Society Foundations, he was initially arrested in 2017 over charges of having helped to organize the 2013 Gezi Park protests. In the indictment, the Turkish government accused Soros of overseeing the protests, a familiar trope in right-wing circles.
Although Kavala was acquitted of this charge in early 2020, he was arrested immediately after the trial and accused of ties to the Turkish officers who had attempted to overthrow the government in a failed 2016 coup.
The European Court of Human Rights has criticized these charges and pushed Erdogan to release Kavala, which he has refused to do, citing Turkey’s alleged judicial independence.
The other ambassadors who signed the statement represented Canada, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Finland. Seven of these ten nations represent Turkey’s allies in NATO, potentially undermining security cooperation between Ankara and the other alliance members.
Prior to his dismissal, Satterfield was already slated to be replaced by former Arizona senator Jeff Flake, who received the approval of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday, October 19.
The State Department acknowledged that it had received word that its ambassador would be declared a persona non grata and indicated that it was “seeking clarity from the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.”
While the expulsion of an ambassador represents a significant escalation of the tensions between the United States and Turkey, the relationship between the two nations has already soured. Erdogan had earlier accused President Joe Biden of supporting Kurdish militias that it regarded as terrorist groups in Syria, and demanded $1.4 billion in compensation following Turkey’s removal from the F-35 jet program.
Trevor Filseth is a current and foreign affairs writer for the National Interest.