ISTANBUL — The Turkish interior minister accused the United States and the West on Thursday of waging “psychological war” against Turkey after several states temporarily closed consulates in Istanbul on the grounds of a heightened terror threat.
Suleyman Soylu also claimed the closure of diplomatic missions was an effort to undermine the Turkish tourism industry.
“America and the West do not want us to be independent and free in this geography,” he told a meeting of gendarmerie commanders in Ankara. “On a day when we have been aiming for 60 million tourists, at a time when 50.5 million tourists arrived and we obtained $46 billion in tourism revenue, they were on the threshold of starting a new psychological war on Turkey.”
Data from the Turkish Statistical Institute released Tuesday showed tourism revenue in 2022 rose by more than half on the previous year, with 44.6 million foreigners arriving in Turkey.
A string of Western consulates in Istanbul announced temporary closures this week including the United Kingdom, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and Italy.
The suspension of public access to consulates comes after several Western states issued warnings to their citizens last week of potential attacks. The US notice said that “possible imminent retaliatory attacks by terrorists” could happen in areas of Istanbul frequented by Westerners.
The state-run Anadolu news agency said the ambassadors of nine countries, including those who had shuttered their consulates “under the pretext of the threat of terrorist acts,” had been summoned to the Foreign Ministry on Thursday.
The rise in the threat level follows a series of Quran burnings in Europe, linked to Turkey’s delaying of Sweden and Finland’s bid to join NATO following the Russian invasion of Ukraine nearly a year ago.
The destruction of the Islamic holy book in protests by far-right activists in cities such as Stockholm and Copenhagen led to strong statements of condemnation from Turkey and other Muslim-majority states as well as demonstrations on the streets of Ankara and Istanbul.
The Norwegian ambassador was summoned to the Foreign Ministry in Ankara Thursday as Turkey protested a planned Quran-burning demonstration in the Scandinavian country, Anadolu Agency reported. Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu later said Oslo had revoked permission for the protest, which Ankara characterized as a “hate crime.”
Soylu, who ran an insurance company before entering politics, is known for his angry diatribes against the West, in particular the United States.
In the past he has accused Washington of being behind terror attacks on Turkish citizens and security forces, including Istanbul bomb that killed six people in November. He has also claimed Washington helped orchestrate a coup attempt in 2016.
In his speech Thursday he stressed America’s backing for Syrian Kurdish militants considered terrorists by Ankara due to their ties with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). The group, founded in Turkey in the late 1970s, has waged an insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984 and is listed as a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union.
“Terrorism in Turkey is not over but it is no longer the first item on the agenda,” Soylu said. “We know who feeds terrorist organizations. It is the United States of America that feeds the PKK-PYD.
“America and the West, which have been feeding [terrorism] with money, logistics and human resources for years, have not given up on their dream of establishing a terror state.”
The Syrian Democratic Union Party (PYD), is the political wing of the People’s Protection Units, which have partnered with the United States in the fight against the Islamic State group in Syria.
The Interior Ministry said Monday that it had evaluated the threat from IS and al-Qaeda following the Western states’ cautions to their citizens. It said a number of people were detained following a warning from a “friendly country.” No sign of a planned attack or weapons had been uncovered, it said.
Outlining Turkey’s counterterrorism efforts, Soylu said Thursday that 60 operations had been carried out against IS since the start of the year, in which 95 people were detained. Nearly 2,000 IS suspects were detained in more than 1,000 operations last year, he added.
Amid Ankara’s blocking of the Swedish and Finnish joint application to become NATO members, anti-Turkish protests have reinforced Turkey’s reluctance to accept the Nordic countries unless they tighten their anti-terror laws.
Sweden, which has a significant Kurdish community, has emerged as the most “problematic” bid, according to Turkish officials. The Quran burnings as well as protests by PKK supporters have led President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to suggest Turkey could support Finland joining the defense alliance ahead of its neighbor.
All 30 NATO members must approve new members. Only Turkey and Hungary have so far failed to do so.