Did 9 Western Countries Close Their Turkey Consulates before the Earthquake?

By February 17, 2023 International Politics

We came across the following post in a popular Singapore-based Telegram channel:

The post claims that a few days prior to the 6 February earthquake in Turkey, nine Western countries closed their embassies in the country. These countries are listed by the author as the US, Great Britain, Holland, Germany, France, Switzerland, Italy, the Netherlands and Sweden.

It should be noted that the author makes some errors in their post. ‘Great Britain’ and ‘Holland’ are geographical descriptors referring to parts of the United Kingdom and the Netherlands respectively – indicating that the Netherlands has been listen by the author twice.

The author also conflates consulates with embassies. The embassy, usually located in capital cities, serves as the formal representation of a foreign government and conducts diplomatic relations. The consulate, meanwhile, is a branch of the embassy located in any major city that handles administrative affairs for visitors.

The post suggests that the earthquake, which happened a few days after the consulate closures, was caused by HAARP. We previously debunked the conspiracy theory that HAARP (High-frequency Active Auroral Research Programme) is a US military weapon that can cause natural disasters.

HAARP is instead an atmospheric research facility, currently run by the University of Alaska Fairbanks, that can create short-term heating effects in the atmosphere for research purposes. The author of the Telegram post implies that the timing of the consulate closures reveals that Western countries had prior knowledge of the impending ‘attack’.

The Telegram post references a screenshot from the Bangladeshi news site Press Xpress. When we located the original article, we found that it contained details of nine Western countries closing their Istanbul consulates, but no mention of HAARP. There was also no evidence that diplomatic personnel were repatriated.

To verify the information in the post, we checked the websites of the listed countries and found that information on the temporary closures was available on the sites of the Dutch and Swedish consulates in Istanbul. While the information was not available for the other consulates, this may have been a result of later updates following the 6 February earthquake.

We found news reports from multiple reliable sources such as AP, Reuters and Anadolu that supports the reporting by Press Xpress – with some key differences. AP reports that nine Western countries had ‘either (temporarily) closed down their consulates in Istanbul or issued travel warnings to citizens visiting Turkey, citing security threats’. These countries were the US, the UK, Germany, France, Switzerland, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden and Belgium.

The threats were believed to be possible retaliatory attacks following recent Quran-burning incidents by far-right activists in Europe. The assessed security threat covered areas of central Istanbul popular with tourists, such as Istiklal Avenue, which had seen a bomb attack in November 2022. There was no evidence in any of the reports to support the claim that issues relating to HAARP or the earthquake were involved.

Several of the Western countries, including the US, had issued security alerts to their citizens regarding the potential attacks. Embassies of the Western countries, located in the Turkish capital Ankara, were unaffected by the closures.

However, it is not clear that all nine countries closed their consulates, and some may have only issued security alerts. Articles from France 24 on 2 February and Deutsche Welle on 3 February said that seven countries had closed their Istanbul consulates, but that the US consulate remained open as it was located far from the city centre and therefore less vulnerable to attacks.

Nevertheless, Turkey’s state-run news agency Anadolu reported that the ambassadors of all nine countries were summoned by Turkey to criticise them as a group for their actions. Both the consulate closures and security alerts were received negatively by Turkey, which claimed that Western countries had not shared ‘concrete’ information justifying their actions.

It is therefore true that the nine Western countries temporarily closed their Istanbul consulates OR issued security alerts in the days leading up to the 6 February earthquake as a result of assessed security threats in the area.

However, there is no indication that the consulate closures and the earthquake are linked, and the post attributes the consulate closures to a debunked conspiracy theory.

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