Erdogan Crackdown Has Turks Fleeing to Greece, Seeking Asylum

FILE - One of eight Turkish soldiers who landed in Greece after fleeing a failed coup is being escorted at the Asylum Agency in Athens, Jan. 8, 2018. (Photo by Eurokinissi/Stelios Misinas)

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ongoing purge of civil society and the military after a failed coup attempt in July, 2016 has sent Turks heading to Greece seeking asylum, including journalists, professionals and Leyla Birlik, a pro-Kurdish former lawmaker.

Birlik, 44, surrendered to Greek police Aug. 24 near the northeastern town of Alexandroupolis, one of the most high-profile Turks who got out of their country and said Erdogan has authorized torture and jailings.

Turgut Kaya, a prominent journalist and dissident who was jailed for 10 years, also came to Greece, despite ongoing tension between the countries with Erdogan saying he doesn’t recognize the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne that set borders and who keeps sending fighter jets and warships to violate Greek airspace and waters.

“It’s not just me,” Kaya, 45, who was given asylum after a 55-day hunger strike, told the Washington Times. He said Erdogan “is attacking students, academics, teachers and many other people that have no relations with any of the organizations he considers his enemies.”

“They don’t have any proof to go after me or these people — even judges are now in prison or exile,” he said.

As of July, tens of thousands of Turks were in prisons and more than 100,000 investigations had been launched against members of the military, teachers, lawyers, doctors, and even Supreme Court justices and prosecutors, the paper said.

They are suspected of either being members of Kurdish separatist organizations or are linked to an organization headed by exiled, U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, a former Erdogan ally who the President accuses of being behind the failed coup.

Birlik, a former People’s Democratic Party, or HDP, lawmaker was sentenced in January to 21 months’ imprisonment for insulting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. She was freed pending appeal but banned from leaving Turkey.

Birlik had also been arrested in 2016 along with the HDP co-leaders on separate terror-related charges. She was released pending trial but was banned from leaving the country.

Turkey’s Foreign Ministry earlier criticized Greek Justice Minister Stavros Kontonis for barring the block the extradition of Kaya, despite a court ruling clearing the process in early June.

“This reveals once again that the traditional sentiments of the Greek political power against Turkey have not changed,” ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy said in a statement.

“Greece, which provided a shelter to PKK leader Ocalan in the past, today grants asylum to criminals wanted by Turkey and easily ignores the court judgements regarding their extradition,” he said, a reference to imprisoned Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan.

“Greece is expected to respect good-neighborly relations and embrace the norms of contemporary law,” he said.

Birlik, a former People’s Democratic Party, or HDP, lawmaker was sentenced in January to 21 months’ imprisonment for insulting Erdogan. She was freed pending appeal but banned from leaving Turkey.
Birlik had also been arrested in 2016 along with the HDP co-leaders on separate terror-related charges. She was released pending trial but was banned from leaving the country.

(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)