U.S. President Joe Biden should make it clear to his Turkish counterpart that a working relationship with Washington requires respecting human rights and the rule of law, Merve Tahiroglu, the Turkey program coordinator at the Project on Middle East Democracy, and Eric Edelman, a former U.S. ambassador to Turkey wrote on Tuesday in Foreign Policy.
Biden must let Recep Tayyip Erdoğan know that an authoritarian Turkey is a threat not just to core U.S. values but also security, the pair wrote.
Biden should also use this meeting to press Erdoğan on some specific human rights concerns that speak to Ankara’s democratic malaise and increasing disdain for civilized international behaviour, they said.
The two leaders are set to meet for the first time, on the margins of the June 14 NATO summit, in what analysts are calling a turning point for troubled Ankara-Washington relations.
There are three urgent issues Biden should address in his meeting with the Turkish president, according to the authors.
The first issue is the unjust prosecutions of U.S. consular employees in Turkey.
Three local employees of the U.S. Embassy in Ankara and the consulate in Istanbul are behind bars in Turkey. The U.S. State Department considers these arrests to be politically motivated and without legal basis.
The second issue concerns the closure case against the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), the third largest group in Turkish parliament.
Kurds are Turkey’s largest ethnic minority, comprising around 20 percent of the population, and the HDP is the only party in parliament that represents their rights.
In 2015, the HDP grew so successful that it played a role in ending Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) parliamentary majority for the first time in a decade.
Ever since, Erdoğan has waged a campaign against the HD, alleging the party is linked to Kurdish militants who have been waging a guerrilla war against Turkey for 40 years. Under this pretext, the government has sacked several HDP lawmakers and removed dozens of elected mayors from their posts.
“Ankara’s crackdown on HDP officials serves only to disenfranchise Turkey’s Kurdish citizens,” the authors said, adding that “a move to ban the party entirely would severely damage prospects for a peaceful resolution to Turkey’s decades-old Kurdish conflict and could encourage more Kurdish citizens to opt for violence against Ankara”.
The third issue involves Erdoğan’s repression of civil society.
For years, his government has harassed, intimidated, or unjustly prosecuted key civil society. Osman Kavala, a prominent businessman and a patron of the arts and civil society in Turkey, has been behind bars for more than 1,300 days. He is facing life in prison on charges of attempting to overthrow the constitutional order. In a separate case accusing him of espionage, Kavala could be convicted to another 20 years in prison.
Kavala was first arrested for allegedly helping to organise massive anti-government protests in 2013, which began in response to government plans to develop Gezi Park, one of the last remaining green spaces in Istanbul.
The authors maintained that Erdoğan, who has ruled Turkey continuously for nearly two decades, has never been more vulnerable, pointing to the country’s deepening economic crisis and plunging approval rating.
“On top of all this, Erdoğan’s government is facing grave accusations of corruption, rape, and murder from infamous mob boss Sedat Peker,’’ they wrote, referring to the organized crime leader in exile whose YouTube videos have rattled the nation.