Turkey objects to Sweden gaining NATO membership on the grounds that Sweden supports "terrorism," namely Kurdish separatist fighters. Why has Sweden of all countries taken such an interest in the cause of Kurdish nationalism?

This has gotten a lot of downvotes. "Terrorism" is in quotes for a reason -- I don't mean to imply Sweden supports terrorism, just that this is the way Turkey construes their support for Kurdish separatists

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    In many European countries there is quite some support for the idea that the Kurdish people should be given more autonomy or even a state. I'm not sure support of Kurdish separatists in Sweden is really much stronger than in existing NATO members.
    – Hulk
    Feb 17, 2023 at 9:13
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    There might be many other countries that treat Kurdish citizens the same way Sweden does. It only happens that Turkey cannot do much in these occasions. Feb 17, 2023 at 19:20
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    Supports terrorism in what way? Feb 17, 2023 at 20:50
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    You are being downvoted because your question precludes that Sweden has a special "interest in the cause of Kurdish nationalism", when this is probably not the case, or at least not evidenced in your question. It's not because of your quoted terrorism mention.
    – crobar
    Feb 20, 2023 at 1:32

4 Answers 4


There is a significant Kurdish minority in Sweden, about 100,000 people. In the 1960s Sweden was suffering a labour shortage and had an open immigration policy, which encouraged numbers of Near and Middle Eastern people to migrate there.

There is a notable presence of Kurds in the Swedish Parliament too. Six members of parliament have Kurdish origins.

Moreover, there is the case of the shooting in 1986 of the Prime Minister Palme. Initially this was blamed on PKK terrorists, and Sweden introduced various measures against the PKK, related groups and Kurds in general. Naturally the Turkish government was happy to fuel these claims. As it became clearer that the PKK had nothing to do with the assassination, the pendulum swung the other way, and the Swedish government was keen to demonstrate that it supported the US backed SDF and YPG (which Turkey considers to be terrorist groups, or merely a re-branding of the PKK)


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    Perhaps worth mentioning that the Swedish parliament has 349 members in total, so the six with Kurdish background make up ~1.7%, which is slightly (but not significantly) above the overall demographic percentage lying somewhere around 1%. Feb 20, 2023 at 11:16

I believe that Sweden supports Kurdish separatism because that's the proper thing to do for any humanitarian democracy.

In my perception, other European countries do just the same as Sweden. Turkey claims that Kurdish separatists are terrorists; the humanitarian view is that the Kurds are an oppressed minority defending their human rights against a totalitarian aggressor who has the intent to erase their cultural identity.

The difference between Sweden and other European countries is that Sweden's wish to enter NATO can be used for blackmail by Turkey.

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    "humanitariansm" is never my default explanation for why states do things, particularly if it seems to jeopardize certain of their interests.
    – user10094
    Feb 19, 2023 at 21:10
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    @Timkinsella Are you from the US? It sounds like a very American thing to say :D But anyway, even if your cynicism was warranted (often enough), most European governments do have to care a lot about what people think. And there's many people who embrace freedom in Europe. I would challenge your notion that it "jeopardizes their interests" - being seen as freedom-loving and culture-embracing has its value too; while ultimately, what's in jeopardy here? Even those totalitarian regimes don't really care about vague statements of support - it's not like Sweden imposed any sanctions on Turkey :)
    – Luaan
    Feb 20, 2023 at 9:19

The sources here and here state that Erdogan's requirement could be unpopular with Swedish voters. Instead, Sweden’s diplomats would likely prefer allies to pressure Turkey not to block Sweden’s entry into NATO.

It is not obvious how this public opinion have formed, by whom, and what exactly profile does it have. This is somewhat obscure in the sources. Sweden has a tradition of openness to refugees from Kurdistan, source.

It may be that Kurds that moved there had time to form some public opinion.

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    I am downvoting this answer for two reasons. Firstly Sweden has nearly 11 million inhabitants (I am one of them). Some has one opinion and some has another. There simply is not ONE public opinion, but several. Secondly and most important Sweden does not support separists inside Turkey. The support has been for organisations outside of Turkey that has fought against IS, in good company with US and other countries giving support.
    – ghellquist
    Feb 17, 2023 at 19:59
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    I simply pass the information that is written in three sources I find reliable.
    – Stančikas
    Feb 18, 2023 at 7:37
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    @ghellquist you decided to downvote because you have semantic issue with what “public opinion” is? Feb 18, 2023 at 22:17

Sweden has been a strong supporter of the Kurdish cause for a number of reasons.

Firstly, Sweden, in their words, has a long history of supporting human rights and democracy. The Kurdish people have been fighting against Turkish state for decades, and Sweden has been a strong supporter of their struggle. For this reason, Sweden has provided financial and political support to the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which is considered a terrorist organization by Turkey.

Secondly, Sweden has a large Kurdish population. There are an estimated 100,000 Kurds living in Sweden, and they have been a strong voice in support of the Kurdish cause.

Thirdly, Sweden, in their words, has a strong interest in peace and stability in the Middle East. The Kurdish people are an important part of the Middle East, and their struggle for self-determination has implications for the entire region.

But, there is more to the story...

Supporting Kurdish separatism is not the only reason behind Swedish-Turkish spat. Turkey's opposition to Sweden's membership in NATO is based on several other factors, e.g., its arms embargo on Turkey, and its failure to extradite Turkish citizens who are wanted by the Turkish government.

Sweden has imposed an arms embargo on Turkey since 1984, in response to Turkey's said human rights abuses against the Kurdish population.

Turkey has accused Sweden of failing to extradite Turkish citizens who are wanted by the Turkish government for alleged terrorism-related crimes.

Finally, Turkey's strained relations with Sweden are part of a broader pattern of tension between Turkey and the European Union (EU). Turkey has long sought membership in the EU, but its progress toward that goal has been slow and contentious. Many EU member states expressed concerns about Turkey's human rights record, democratic institutions, and foreign policy.

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