German, Turkish diplomats spar in Istanbul

German, Turkish diplomats spar in Istanbul
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock raised several challenging issues during her visit to Turkey. The issues ranged from human rights, tensions on the front with Greece and the impending Turkish offensive against Kurdish military in Syria.
3 min read
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut and German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock hold a joint press conference after their meeting in Istanbul, Turkiye on July 29, 2022. [Cem Ozdel/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images]

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock on Friday urged Turkey to respect human rights during a testy visit at which she sparred openly with counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu.

The former German Green party co-leader also rejected Turkey's territorial claims to Greek islands in the Aegean and urged Ankara not to stage a mooted military incursion into northern Syria.

Baerbock was paying her first visit to Turkey after holding talks in Greece that came with old rivalries between the two NATO defence alliance neighbours rising once again.

Turkey accuses Greece of illegally arming its web of islands -- some of them visible from the Turkish shore.

Greece counters that Turkey is staging provocative military sorties over the region and threatening to go to war.

"The Greek islands of Lesbos, Chios, Rhodes and many others are Greek territories and nobody has the right to question them," Baerbock said alongside Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias in Athens.

"We cannot solve the problems of the east Mediterranean by escalating tensions," she added during a joint media appearance with Cavusoglu.

Cavusoglu retorted: "Why are you closing your Greece's unlawful actions."

Turkey and Germany developed a warm friendship in the era of former chancellor Angela Merkel.

Germany accepted millions of Turkish workers and pushed for broader EU assistance to Ankara aimed at rewarding it for hosting people fleeing the war in Syria and other conflicts.

But Baerbock was more critical of Turkey as leader of the leftist Green party and raised a number of what she called "difficult" issues in Istanbul.

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Baerbock warned that Turkey's threat to launch a new offensive against Kurdish military in northern Syria "will only cause more pain for people" and help jihadists from the Islamic State group.

She called for the release of civil society leader Osman Kavala -- jailed for life this year on what most Western governments believe are trumped-up charges -- and stressed that "persecuted people's rights should be protected".

Cavusoglu turned and looked directly at Baerbock during some of his firmest remarks.

"Why are you mentioning Kavala?" Cavusoglu demanded. "Because you used him. We know that you funded Gezi events."

Kavala was convicted of organising and funding so-called "Gezi park" protests against then-prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in 2013.

"When Merkel was there, Germany's position was balanced," Cavusoglu said. "It could do mediation."

German played a central role in helping calm another spike in tensions between Ankara and Athens in 2020.

Baerbock's visit to Athens saw Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias call on Germany to suspend a joint venture under which Turkey is producing a modern new class of submarines.

These submarines "threaten to shift the balance of forces in the Eastern Mediterranean," Dendias said.

"The paradigm of revisionism must not succeed."

Berlin has previously argued that it cannot suspend a commercial agreement signed by Germany's Thyssen Krupp Marine Systems.