Few European politicians can claim to have experienced as many twists and turns in life as Ozan Ceyhun, the new Turkish ambassador to Austria. Former German politician and member of the European Parliament (MEP) Ceyhun officially assumed his new diplomatic duties in Austria on February 24, 2020, the Turkish Embassy in Vienna announced.
Ceyhun, as the highest-level Turkish official in the country, will contribute to propaganda campaigns spreading President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s radical Islamist and anti-Western ideology among Turkish diaspora groups in Austria, where he took refuge in the 1980s.
In April 2016 he said in an interview with AvazTurk, a nationalist media outlet in Turkey, that France and Belgium were supporting “fascist campaigns” against President Erdoğan in Europe, adding: “It should be underlined that the Flemings of Belgium are fascists. European fascists are carrying out campaigns against an elected leader of a democratic country. France and Belgium in particular back this campaign.”
Ceyhun is the latest example of a non-career ambassadorial appointment by President Erdoğan among loyalists with Turkish diaspora backgrounds. Erdoğan recently sent Mahinur Özdemir Göktaş, a former member of the Brussels Regional Parliament, to serve as Turkish ambassador to Algeria.
The appointment of Ceyhun has drawn criticism from opposition parties represented in the Turkish parliament. Some deputies accused him of participation in armed raids as a member of the leftist Devrimci Yol before 1980 and of involvement in a bomb attack on a university dormitory that killed Mustafa Erol in Turkey’s Adana province.
Following the investigation into the killing of Erol, Ceyhun left Turkey and sought refuge in Austria in 1980. He moved to Germany two years later and began his political career with the Greens. In 1998 he became the first German MEP of Turkish descent from the Greens. In October 2000 Ceyhun joined Germany’s Social Democrats (SPD), where he remained until 2004.
Then, Ceyhun moved back to Turkey and worked as a consultant for a wide range of politicians including Derviş Eroğlu, former prime minister of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, and Mustafa Sarıgül, former district mayor of Istanbul’s Şişli district from the left-wing nationalist Republican People’s Party (CHP). Ceyhun initially appeared to be a harsh critic of Erdoğan and his government and described Milli Görüş (National View, MG) institutions in Germany as terrorist organizations at the time.
Despite his remarks about MG, Ceyhun changed camp again and stood as a candidate from Erdoğan’s Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP), the founders of which hailed from MG, in the general election of 2015 but was not elected. Since then, he has written a regular column for the Daily Sabah newspaper, a mouthpiece of the Turkish government, and served as an advisor at the Turkish Foreign Ministry.
In July 2018 he married his second wife, Azize Sıkdağ, and the wedding was attended by President Erdoğan and high-level government officials.
Ceyhun was slammed by the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) over a statement defining the HDP as the political wing of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). In 2015 then-co-chair of the Greens Cem Özdemir criticized former party member Ceyhun for “dabbling” in every party, including the Greens, the CHP and the AKP, noting that only the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) remained untouched.
Interestingly, MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli, the ultranationalist coalition partner of President Erdoğan, revealed his support for Ceyhun in his party caucus held on February 24, 2020, and accused party members who commented negatively on the appointment of attempting to create discord within the coalition. It is obvious that Ambassador Ceyhun will have to employ nationalist rhetoric during his tenure in Vienna in return for support from the MHP.