Skip to main content

Erdogan backpedals on threat to expel 10 Western ambassadors

After threatening to expel 10 foreign envoys, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan Monday appeared to de-escalate a diplomatic row sparked by the ongoing imprisonment of Turkish philanthropist Osman Kavala.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is seen during a official state visit to Angola at the Presidential Palace in Luanda on Oct. 18, 2021.

ISTANBUL ­— A tense diplomatic crisis in which 10 ambassadors to Turkey faced possible expulsion from the country appears to have been defused Monday following a set of reconciliatory statements.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan Monday said he welcomed statements shared via social media by Western embassies, including the United States, saying they would follow a diplomatic convention not to interfere with a host nation’s domestic affairs.

“I believe these envoys will act more carefully,” Erdogan said Monday. “Today’s statement by the envoys means retreat from slander.”

He added, “Those who do not respect the independence of our country and the sensitivities of our nation cannot live in this country, regardless of their title."

The exchange comes a week after the ambassadors of the United States and nine other nations, including Germany, Denmark, Finland, France, the Netherlands, Sweden, Canada, Norway and New Zealand, called on Turkey to apply a European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruling for the immediate release of Turkish philanthropist Osman Kavala, who has been jailed for over four years on espionage and terror-related charges without conviction.

In response, Turkey’s Foreign Ministry Tuesday briefly summoned the nations’ ambassadors, and the row escalated Saturday when Erdogan declared the envoys “persona non grata,” saying he had instructed the foreign minister to apply the declaration “as soon as possible.”

It was not immediately clear if the ambassadors would be expelled, though the possibility sparked a record slide for the Turkish lira early Monday ahead of what would have been a diplomatic crisis between Ankara and its closest trade and defense partners, many of whose leaders Erdogan will meet with this weekend at the G20 summit in Rome.

Bloomberg reported senior advisers briefed Erdogan Monday on the potential economic costs of expelling the foreign envoys. Prior to his evening speech, Erdogan also convened a Cabinet meeting and met with junior coalition partner Devlet Bahceli, head of Turkey’s Nationalist Movement Party, during which he was believed to have discussed his options for the diplomatic row.

Parallel to Erdogan’s meetings, the implicated embassies Monday afternoon began sharing or retweeting each other’s statements saying they maintain “compliance with Article 41 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations,” which states foreign missions may not interfere in the internal affairs of their host country.

The references to Article 41 opened an off-ramp to de-escalate the diplomatic row, which Erdogan apparently took, though observers noted that calls to apply ECHR rulings for Council of Europe members such as Turkey are not considered overstepping barriers between foreign and internal affairs.

“The fact that they worked hard to develop some kind of compromise that defuses this situation begs the question of why Erdogan felt obliged to start the crisis in the first place,” Paul Levin, director of the Stockholm University Institute for Turkish Studies, told Al-Monitor.

In a series of tweets Monday, ruling Justice and Development Party deputy chair and spokesperson Omer Celik said Ankara will continue to strengthen ties with its foreign diplomats while highlighting sensitivity around issues of sovereignty and interference with the nation’s judicial system.

“We have a very high sensitivity about the sovereignty of our state,” Celik tweeted Monday. “We have strongly rejected and will reject any statement that implies interference in the internal affairs and sovereign rights of our country.”

The de-escalation comes after main opposition Republican People’s Party head Kemal Kilicdaroglu Saturday accused Erdogan of trying to cast the nation’s worsening economic outlook as the work of foreign actors seeking to weaken the government’s stature.

“These actions are not to protect the national interest, but to create artificial justifications for the economy they are destroying,” Kilicdaroglu tweeted Saturday.

Turkey’s lira had repeatedly touched record lows against major currencies late last week following a deeper-than-expected key interest rate cut by the Turkish Central Bank’s Monetary Policy Committee Thursday.

The surprise cut to 16% came as the nation faces a nearly 20% annual inflation rate and was read by analysts as a move to further apply Erdogan’s unconventional economic stance in which he has repeatedly argued lower interest rates create lower inflation rates.

Negative pressure on the Turkish lira was compounded later Thursday when global financial watchdog the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) announced Turkey would be added to its “grey list” of countries subject to tougher regulations over shortcomings in deterring terrorist financing and money laundering activities.

Following Monday’s cooling of diplomatic tensions, the lira pared losses to about 9.55 per US dollar at 7 p.m. Istanbul time, though the currency remains down more than 20% against the greenback this year. Rising food costs and inflation will continue to draw concern from the Turkish government as it prepares for the next round of elections, currently scheduled for 2023.

“These repeated crises that Turkey is to some extent facing and to some extent manufacturing are not doing much for the Turkish economy and the confidence of investors,” Levin told Al-Monitor. “Investors want stability; they want rule of law and … also a predictable exchange rate, and Turkey doesn’t have any of those right now.”

Meanwhile, the source of the foreign policy standoff, Kavala, remains jailed, awaiting his next hearing on Nov. 26. In a statement released Friday, Kavala said he would not attend future hearings, repeating his denial of the charges lodged against him, saying they are “not based on any evidence.”

“Considering a fair trial is no longer possible under these circumstances, I believe it is meaningless for me to attend the upcoming hearings and present a defense,” Kavala said in a statement Friday.

In a joint statement Monday, Parliament Standing Rapporteur for Turkey Nacho Sanchez Amor and Chair of the EU-Turkey Parliamentary Delegation Sergey Lagodinsky reiterated calls for Turkey to apply ECHR rulings for the release of Kavala as well as jailed former co-chair of the Peoples’ Democratic Party Selahattin Demirtas.

Join hundreds of Middle East professionals with Al-Monitor PRO.

Business and policy professionals use PRO to monitor the regional economy and improve their reports, memos and presentations. Try it for free and cancel anytime.

Already a Member? Sign in


The Middle East's Best Newsletters

Join over 50,000 readers who access our journalists dedicated newsletters, covering the top political, security, business and tech issues across the region each week.
Delivered straight to your inbox.


What's included:
Our Expertise

Free newsletters available:

  • The Takeaway & Week in Review
  • Middle East Minute (AM)
  • Daily Briefing (PM)
  • Business & Tech Briefing
  • Security Briefing
  • Gulf Briefing
  • Israel Briefing
  • Palestine Briefing
  • Turkey Briefing
  • Iraq Briefing

Premium Membership

Join the Middle East's most notable experts for premium memos, trend reports, live video Q&A, and intimate in-person events, each detailing exclusive insights on business and geopolitical trends shaping the region.

$25.00 / month
billed annually

Become Member Start with 1-week free trial
What's included:
Our Expertise AI-driven

Memos - premium analytical writing: actionable insights on markets and geopolitics.

Live Video Q&A - Hear from our top journalists and regional experts.

Special Events - Intimate in-person events with business & political VIPs.

Trend Reports - Deep dive analysis on market updates.

All premium Industry Newsletters - Monitor the Middle East's most important industries. Prioritize your target industries for weekly review:

  • Capital Markets & Private Equity
  • Venture Capital & Startups
  • Green Energy
  • Supply Chain
  • Sustainable Development
  • Leading Edge Technology
  • Oil & Gas
  • Real Estate & Construction
  • Banking

We also offer team plans. Please send an email to and we'll onboard your team.

Already a Member? Sign in

Turkey Briefing Turkey Briefing

Turkey Briefing

Top Turkey stories in your inbox each week

Trend Reports

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (4th R) attends a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping (3rd L) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on February 22, 2019. (Photo by HOW HWEE YOUNG / POOL / AFP) (Photo credit should read HOW HWEE YOUNG/AFP via Getty Images)

From roads to routers: The future of China-Middle East connectivity

A general view shows the solar plant in Uyayna, north of Riyadh, on March 29, 2018. - On March 27, Saudi announced a deal with Japan's SoftBank to build the world's biggest solar plant. (Photo by FAYEZ NURELDINE / AFP) (Photo credit should read FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP via Getty Images)

Regulations on Middle East renewable energy industry starting to take shape

Start your PRO membership today.

Join the Middle East's top business and policy professionals to access exclusive PRO insights today.

Join Al-Monitor PRO Start with 1-week free trial