Turkey has established a new military base in Iraq and Turkish-backed extremists in Syria continue to threaten Kurds, Yazidis and Christians.
Several important US Senators, including Ed Markey of Massachusetts, have introduced the Turkey Human Rights Promotion Act. The legislation is intended to hold Turkey accountable for abuses that have increased since 2016. It comes in the wake of US President Joe Biden recognizing the Armenian Genocide. Meanwhile, Turkey continues to target and harass minorities at home and abroad and jail people for minor infractions. Last week Turkey detained to people for dancing in a video, claiming they insulted the state by mocking the Turkish passport. Turkey has established a new military base in Iraq and Turkish-backed extremists in Syria continue to threaten Kurds, Yazidis and Christians. Ankara is growing closer to Russia, China and Iran and is part of a growing authoritarian axis of countries that are hostile to the US. This is despite the fact that Ankara is ostensibly still a “NATO ally” and was historically an ally of the US.
“The Government of Turkey, under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has engaged in a brazen campaign to silence journalists, political opponents, dissidents, civil society activists, and minorities throughout Turkish society, as well as targeting Turkish citizens outside of its borders. This legislation makes it clear that the United States should use its considerable leverage with this NATO ally to prevent a further erosion of hard-fought democratic progress in Turkey. Senators Markey and Senator Jeff Wyden first introduced the Turkey Human Rights Promotion Act in 2017, and again in 2019,” noted a statement from Senator’s Markey office. Senator Jeff Merkley has joined his colleagues. “President Erdogan’s free pass from the Trump White House to commit abuses has officially expired,” said Senator Markey, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “The United States will once again speak out forcefully and take steps to hold the Erdogan government accountable for its campaign to silence opposition by censoring social media, clamping down on free speech, and locking away critics. This legislation makes clear that President Biden must use all diplomatic tools to signal – unmistakably – that the United States comes down on the side of journalists, activists, and civil society leaders, and will stand up in opposition to Turkish officials who direct or carry out systematic human rights abuses.”
The Senators are pushing tough language on Turkey after years in which Ankara would threaten the US and US administrations would tend to appease Turkey. “Turkey’s authoritarian government has trampled on the rights of journalists, political rivals and regular citizens who dare to voice criticism of President Erdogan,” said Senator Wyden. “Senators Markey, Merkley and I are renewing our call for accountability because America cannot stand by while partners and allies systematically violate basic freedoms.” The legislation calls on the Secretary of State to support civil society organizations in Turkey. In recent years, Ankara has crushed all dissent and jailed most critical journalists. Ankara has also taken over most independent media and uses its power to turn state media like TRT into propaganda organs of the ruling AK Party. In this respect, Turkey now has less media debate than Iran. In addition LGBT protesters have been bashed by the government, students are called “terrorists” and May Day demonstrators have been met with tear gas and police batons. The US Senators want Turkey to “take steps to significantly improve the dire climate for journalists and those supporting the journalism profession.” They also want Ankara to “halt its indiscriminate detention and prosecution of lawyers, judges, and prosecutors, and fulfill its obligations under the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) European Convention on Human Rights, and Turkey’s other international human rights obligations.”
This legislation may have more likelihood of advancing. The Trump administration was deeply supportive of Turkey, including key elements of the State Department, some of whome often took Turkey’s side in discussions and have gone on after leaving office to advocate for Turkey. This is because Turkey has an active and deep lobby in the US that worked with former and current US diplomats for years, convincing some of them to take Ankara’s side on things like denying the Armenian genocide. Ankara also works with US think tanks and has even tried to influence the US military through ties at NATO and throughout Europe. It also tries to mobilize Islamist extremists in Germany and France and other countries. These networks have influence but Ankara’s influence in the US appears to be shrinking. The days when US academics were afraid to even mention the Armenian genocide of fear Ankara would use its funding of US universities to crush dissent in the US, may be ending.