US-Turkish relations go from bad to worse

The suspicion that Turkey may have tried to steer US policy by giving money to Trump advisers is another blow to Turkey’s image.

Raw violence. Protesters testify before the House Foreign Affairs Europe, Eurasia and Emerging Threats Subcommittee about the attack on demonstrators by members of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s security detail, on Capitol Hill in Washington, on May 25. (Reuters)


2017/05/28 Issue: 108 Page: 14


The Arab Weekly
Thomas Seibert



Washington - US-Turkish relations, un­der strain because of dif­ferences in Syria, took another plunge after bodyguards of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan beat and kicked protesters, includ­ing American citizens, during his recent visit in Washington.

Both governments summoned the other’s ambassadors to issue protests over the May 16 incident outside the residence of the Turk­ish envoy in Washington. Paul Ryan, the speaker of the US House of Representatives, said the Turk­ish bodyguards’ actions were “com­pletely indefensible” and demand­ed an apology.

The House Foreign Affairs Com­mittee passed a resolution accus­ing the Turkish security guards of violating the rights of free speech and assembly and saying that the Turkish officials involved should be brought to justice. Commit­tee Chairman Ed Royce said the United States should start efforts in Turkey to counter the “indoc­trination” of Turks by the Erdogan government.

That sort of tension is highly unu­sual between NATO allies and two countries that regard each other as strategic partners. The row erupts when Turkey is becoming a politi­cal hot potato in Washington, with reports that a former adviser to US President Donald Trump worked as a paid lobbyist for Ankara and blocked an offensive against the Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria because Erdogan opposed the plans.

The suspicion that Turkey may have tried to steer US policy by giving money to Trump advisers is another blow to Turkey’s image in Washington following the video clips of the melee outside the Turk­ish ambassador’s residence. In one clip, Erdogan is seen looking at the melee from a distance; some Turk­ish critics of the authoritarian lead­er said the Turkish president might have ordered his guards to attack the protesters.

An editorial in the Washington Post spoke of “sickening images of protesters being chased, kicked and bloodied by black-suited members of Mr Erdogan’s security detail.” It added a piece of advice to the Turk­ish leader: “Mr Erdogan and his thugs can stay home.”

District of Columbia Police Chief Peter Newsham condemned the “brutal” attack and had two mem­bers of Erdogan’s security detail de­tained. They were released under international diplomatic rules. The US State Department summoned Turkish Ambassador Serdar Kilic to protest the behaviour of the body­guards.

Turkey countered by summoning the US envoy John Bass to the For­eign Ministry in Ankara to tell him about “aggressive and unprofes­sional actions” by US police officers against Erdogan’s entourage. Tur­key said the bodyguards stepped in when efforts by local police to contain the anti-Erdogan protesters failed and pro-Erdogan demonstra­tors were injured.

That is not the way the United States sees it. A subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Com­mittee had a hearing May 25 dur­ing which witnesses told of be­ing beaten by Erdogan’s security guards. A resolution adopted by the full committee that same day said: “Turkish security forces acted in an un-professional and brutal manner, reflecting poorly on President Er­dogan and the government of Tur­key.”

It also said: “The United States should take steps to strengthen freedoms for the press and civil so­ciety in countries such as Turkey, and combat efforts by foreign lead­ers to suppress free and peaceful protest in their own countries.”

Royce told a panel in Washington on May 23 that the United States should establish “platforms” on so­cial media as well as on radio and television to bring pro-democracy messages to Turkey, as Erdogan, who is accused by critics of sup­pressing dissent, had made a free debate in Turkey impossible.

“I think we have not been as forthright and strong an advocate for freedom in Turkey as we should have been,” Royce said. “We need something that will assist people in Turkey to at least be able to lis­ten to Turks who want to explain why freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly are important.”

Royce said a “process of slow in­doctrination” by the Erdogan gov­ernment was going on in Turkey.

In his May 16 meeting at the White House, Erdogan failed to convince Trump to stop American support for Kurds in Syria, seen as enemies by Ankara. Trump’s Syria policy calls for a local rebel force, led by Syrian Kurds, to attack the ISIS’s self-pro­claimed capital of Raqqa.

According to the McClatchy news service in Washington, Trump’s for­mer national security adviser Mi­chael Flynn in January halted a plan by the administration of former President Barack Obama for an at­tack on Raqqa. It was not disclosed at the time that Flynn had been paid more than $500,000 to represent Turkey in Washington, the report said. Flynn is also a key figure in the scandal surrounding alleged con­tacts between Trump’s campaign team and Russia.


Thomas Seibert is an Arab Weekly contributor in Istanbul.


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