Turkey accuses West of waging ‘psychological warfare’ to wreck its tourism industry

Turkey accuses West of waging ‘psychological warfare’ to wreck its tourism industry
Suleyman Soylu says Turkey's facing a psychological attack. / Hossein Zohrevand, Tasnim News Ag., cc-by-sa 4.0
By bne IntelIiNews February 3, 2023

Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu talked of Western countries waging “psychological warfare” and trying to wreck Turkey’s tourism industry as Ankara on February 2 reportedly summoned the ambassadors of nine countries to demand an explanation for the issuing of security alerts that cited a heightened threat of terrorism following Qur’an-burning incidents in Europe.

Turkish officials were also demanding to know why it was that certain nations this week felt it was necessary to temporarily close diplomatic missions in Istanbul for security reasons.

The envoys of Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Britain were summoned, according to foreign ministry sources in Ankara referred to by Reuters.

Soylu alleged the security measures were part of a Western plot to harm the ongoing rebound that Turkey’s tourism sector is experiencing following the coronavirus pandemic.

There is, meanwhile, also likely to be a lot of tension among Turkish officials over reports that Turkey’s largest airport ground service provider Havas has warned Russian airlines that it may have to stop providing services to their Western-made aircraft due to Washington-imposed Ukraine war sanctions. The situation was described by a source to Middle East Eye (MEE). 

Russian publication RBC reported on February 2 that Havas—owned by Turkey-based TAV Airports, which is part of Paris-based Groupe ADP—sent a letter to Russian and Belarusian airlines on January 31, signed by its general manager Mete Erna, saying that service may be denied to US-made Boeing aircraft as well as European Airbus aircraft. The list of aircraft that could be affected was said to include 170 aircraft belonging to Russian airlines including Aeroflot, Rossii, S7, Utair Airlines, Red Wings, Nordwind, and Yamal, as well as Belarusian airline Belavia. 

A huge number of Russians holiday in Turkey, using the airports of Istanbul, Ankara and Antalya, among others. Turkey has not imposed war sanctions on Russia or closed its airspace to Russian aircraft. MEE said the source informed it that Havas was yet to make a final decision on withholding its services to Russian airlines, but it was evaluating the situation by talking to them.

The Wall Street Journal reported last week that US officials cautioned Turkish authorities and the private sector that Turkish citizens were exposed to prison time, fines and loss of export privileges if they provided services including refuelling and spare parts to US-made planes flying to Turkey from Russia and Belarus.

The burnings of the Muslim holy book, the Qur’an, by far-right activists in Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands, caused Turkey to pull out of negotiations on lifting its block on Sweden and Finland joining Nato. Stockholm and Helsinki denounced the extremist publicity stunts, but officials argued that under the Nordic countries’ free speech rules they could not be prevented.

France, Germany, Italy and the US are among countries that in the past week have issued warnings to their citizens of a heightened risk of attacks in Turkey, particularly against diplomatic missions and non-Muslim places of worship. Germany, France and the Netherlands were among countries that temporarily closed diplomatic missions for security reasons.

In a tit-for-tat response last week, Turkey reacted to the initial US security alert by warning its citizens against "possible Islamophobic, xenophobic and racist attacks" in the United States and Europe.