STOCKHOLM: When the Turkish president rebels against the “terrorists” in the Swedish Parliament, Amineh Kakabaveh is convinced that he is talking about her.
The former Kurdish rebel fighter turned Swedish lawmaker has become a central figure in the drama surrounding Sweden and Finland’s historic bid for NATO membership. Turkey opposes NATO membership of two Nordic countries, accusing them of harboring Kurdish militants.
Kakabaveh, a staunch supporter of Kurdish self-determination in the Middle East and a fierce critic of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, wields extraordinary influence because the Swedish government depends on his vote for its majority of a seat in parliament.
“He can’t decide on us,” she says of Erdogan. “I stand for Swedish values and Swedish sovereignty.”
Despite a long history of non-alignment, Sweden and Finland rushed to seek NATO membership after Russia invaded Ukraine, but were stunned by Erdogan’s opposition.
To allow the Nordic countries to join NATO, a decision that requires unanimity among alliance members, Turkey has demanded that they lift arms embargoes against Turkey, extradite suspected Kurdish terrorists and stop support Kurdish fighters in Syria. Turkey says these fighters are closely linked to the PKK, a national Kurdish group that Ankara and the West consider a terrorist organization.
Meeting these demands would have been difficult for the Swedes and Finns anyway, but with the Swedish government dependent on Kavikabeh’s support for its survival, there is little room to negotiate a compromise.
“We are not used to isolated MPs having such influence,” says Svante Cornell, director of the Institute for Security and Development Policy in Stockholm. “It’s maximum bad luck on the side of the government, you might say.”
Kakabaveh’s support enabled Social Democrat leader Magdalena Andersson to become Sweden’s first female prime minister last year. In return, the center-left Social Democrats agreed to deepen cooperation with the Kurdish authorities in northern Syria.
The minority government survived a no-confidence vote last week thanks to Kakabaveh and will need his support again on Wednesday to push its spring budget proposal through parliament.
Kakabaveh, an independent lawmaker, says she has not yet decided how to vote and is waiting for the government to show its plans on issues close to her heart, including efforts to tackle honour-based violence and oppression against women and girls in immigrant communities and how it will address Turkey’s demands.
“I don’t want them to retreat,” she said.
The unusual situation has raised Kakabaveh’s political profile in Sweden and around the world. It also exposed her to criticism that she would hold Sweden’s NATO bid hostage to advance her own agenda. Kakabaveh says he has received threats from Turkish nationalists and Sweden’s far-right fringe.
“It’s a terrible situation,” said Kakabaveh, 48. “But I don’t want to sit in a corner and say, ‘I’m scared.’ I left my family, my childhood, everything I had, to stand up for what I believe in.
Kakabaveh, who grew up in a poor Kurdish home in western Iran, says she was just 14 in the late 1980s when she joined the peshmerga fighters who were rebelling against the regime of Khomeini.