The eight army officers suspected of taking part in a plot to overthrow the democratically-elected Turkish government landed in Greece on Saturday morning. They sent out an SOS upon entering Greek air space, citing mechanical failure as the reason for their request for an emergency landing that has created a political headache for Athens.
Once at Alexandroupolis airport, the eight passengers demanded political asylum. Here’s what was revealed in the first 24 hours following their arrival based on a number of – sometimes conflicting – media reports:
The men are all in their Forties, married and with families in Turkey. Greek lawyer Ilias Marinakis says they are in a “poor mental state”, fearing for the safety of their loved ones, and knowing that their return to Turkey would mean certain death.
There was confusion regarding the rank of the men as they had ripped off identification from their uniforms before landing. Turkish reports initially stated that there were two majors, a captain and five privates, however – in a later interview – Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said a colonel was among their ranks. Greek authorities initially identified two majors, four captains and two first-class sergeants.
3. Initial story
Their lawyer first told the media that the eight military officials were not involved in the attempted coup, but were in Istanbul to transport the wounded without being fully aware of what was happening. They fled in fear after the police started shooting at them. This story was later retracted.
In Greece, they are being charged with “illegal entry” and “damaging the friendly relations between Greece and Turkey.” In Turkey, however, they will face serious charges of treason, punishable by death.
5. Political Asylum Claim
The extradition of the eight fugitives to Turkey would mean certain death, bearing in mind the mob lynching of coup instigators in the aftermath of the foiled plot. They are already being referred to as “traitors” by Turkish officials, and Turkey’s Prime Minister Binali Yildirim has called for the execution of those involved in the operation. These circumstances qualify them to seek political asylum which is what they did upon arrival.
6. Political Asylum Procedure
It will take eight days for their right to political asylum to be examined. If denied, the men can appeal extending the procedure by another eight days. Wearing civilian clothes and covering their faces, they were taken to the prosecutor of Alexandroupolis on Sunday to that legal proceedings could begin.
7. Greece’s quandary
The case is a hot potato for Greece. On the one hand, it wants to preserve friendly relations with Turkey, however the country will face a huge backlash if it doesn’t adhere to international law and may even find itself facing sanctions if Greece’s handling of the political asylum claim makes its way to the European Court of Human Rights or European Court of Justice.
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras spoke on the phone with Erdogan on Saturday and gave assurances that the legal procedure will be fast but according to the rules of international law and human rights agreements. Nonetheless, regardless of the legal process, Turkish media reports and a tweet by Turkish Foreigm Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu state that Greece has already pledged to extradite the men to Turkey.
8. Muslim minority in Greece
Like Turkish society at large, the Muslim minority of Thrace has placed itself in favor of the elected government of Turkey. The Party of Equality, Peace and Friendship, Cultural and Educational Society of Minorities in Western Thrace and the Minority Scientists Association has called on Muslims in Thrace to take a stand against the “vile betrayal” of the eight fugitives by taking part in a pro-Erdogan rally.