BERLIN, Germany (Deutsche Presse-Agentur)— Turkey has prohibited a delegation of German lawmakers from visiting Bundeswehr soldiers stationed at Turkey’s Incirlik air base, marking a new escalation in an ongoing diplomatic row between the two countries.
The German government referred to the move as “absolutely unacceptable,” adding that it was seriously considering the relocation of the soldiers, who are taking part in a military operation to dislodge Islamic State from Iraq and Syria.
“The Bundeswehr is a parliamentary army and this makes it absolutely necessary for our lawmakers to have access to soldiers,” Merkel said Monday in Berlin after referring to the Turkish decision as “unfortunate.”
Sources familiar with the matter said that the decision by Turkish authorities to prohibit the delegation from visiting on Tuesday was taken in part as a response to Germany’s decision to grant political asylum to Turkish soldiers, in the wake of last year’s failed coup.
A delegation of German lawmakers including members of a parliamentary defense committee were last year denied access to Incirlik, but were later allowed to visit.
Germany has about 260 soldiers stationed at Incirlik as part of the US-led coalition. The German deployment is a combat-support mission which includes reconnaissance and jet refueling.
The dispute first arose after the German parliament voted to designate the mass killing of Armenians at the hands of the Ottomans a genocide. Turkey is the Ottoman Empire’s successor state and disputes the designation.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s efforts to lobby Germany’s Turkish expatriate population to vote in favor of constitutional reform to expand his powers earlier this year caused new tensions between the two countries.
The German Defense Ministry has already vetted alternative military bases for its soldiers in Jordan, Cyprus and Kuwait and a decision is expected in the coming weeks.
Wolfgang Hellmich, the head of the parliamentary defense committee, said that the relocation of soldiers should happen immediately, and that the German parliament would not submit to “blackmail” at the hands of Turkey.