The 89th annual meeting of the Interpol General Assembly began today and runs through November 25, 2021, in Istanbul, Turkey. As last year’s meeting was postponed due to the pandemic, a plethora of issues are to be handled, and Turkish officials seem keen to offer assurance that they are up to the task.

The country’s deputy foreign minister Yavuz Selim Kiran said in an interview, “By hosting Interpol’s 89th General Assembly Meeting, we will once again confirm our will to manage our relations with the agency with a constructive approach. We will convey our approach in the fight against terrorism at the highest level” (Emin Avundukluoglu).

This statement likely refers to the failed coup orchestrated by The Fetullah Terrorist Organization (FETO) against Turkey on July 15, 2016. It was the fourth military coup in Turkey’s 95-year political history, and it resulted in the death of 251 while 2,734 were injured. The Turkish government is convinced that Fethullah Gulen, a preacher and businessman in self-imposed exile in the United States since 1999, is behind the coup. Gulen is the leader of a movement known as Hizmet, which owns a multitude of organizations, including foundations and schools in Turkey and abroad. A corruption investigation in December 2013, in which renowned businesspeople and senior bureaucrats were arrested by Gulenist police officers, gave way to an all-out war between the government and the Hizmet movement. Gulen, on the other hand, denies any role in the coup and has alleged that Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey’s president, orchestrated it himself “to build a dictatorship.”

Minister Kiran noted that Turkey’s hosting of the assembly “will contribute to our international visibility in the fight against global terrorism and cross-border crime.” “Unfortunately, our relations with Interpol are not at the desired level due to the hesitant attitude of the agency in cooperation with our country after the treacherous coup attempt on July 15,” he added.

The reason for the tension between Turkey and INTERPOL extends beyond the failed coup in Turkey. A source within the Turkish government reportedly noted  that, [s]ince the coup attempt, officials have seen hundreds of requests for extradition generated for people who couldn’t possibly have been involved in the coup itself beyond being political critics of the current regime, and that Many EU countries are ignoring these requests.

Turkey’s motivation for filing some Red Notices seem to be politically driven and not entirely lawful. “The Turkish government has a poor reputation for its abuse of Interpol’s red notices as well as its Stolen and Lost Travel Documents system,” said Aykan Erdemir, a Turkish analyst and critic of the current regime with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Turkey has issued warrants, arrested, detained, or placed under a travel ban against more than 100,000 people since the coup attempt. It has also pushed for official extradition or unofficial rendition of hundreds of others, often for merely supporting Fethullah Gulen. This is concerning given the clear record of human rights violations happening in Turkey. According to the Savings Deposit Insurance Fund of Turkey, in a year’s time, the government had seized 796 businesses worth an estimated 61.2 billion lira ($7.85 billion) since the 2016 coup attempt. Concerns about Turkish abuse of Red Notices were cited by the European Commission, which issued a statement in response to a letter from Fair Trials International calling “first and foremost for INTERPOL and its member countries to address weaknesses in the system and put in place the necessary measures to prevent such abuse of INTERPOL’s procedures.”

An optimist might advocate for holding the General Assembly in Turkey as a means of encouraging the improvement of human rights protections through example and inclusion. A pessimist might observe that an international law enforcement organization risks being judged by the company it keeps. A realist might note that both of these ideas hold validity.

In the next post, we’ll address the conflict that a UAE-influenced INTERPOL will encounter, and whether that conflict has already begun.

As always, thoughts and comments are welcomed.

Thanks to contributing guest author Daniela Gomez, Florida International University, B.A. Candidate August 2022.