WASHINGTON, DC – A bipartisan group of over 180 US Representatives called on Secretary of State Antony Blinken to “elevate human rights” in American policy toward an increasingly undemocratic and anti-American Turkey, reported the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).
“We join with our coalition partners, community activists and allies across America in welcoming this powerful, bipartisan call for a major course correction in US-Turkey relations,” said ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian. “We need to stop outsourcing American policy to Ankara and start holding Ankara accountable for its domestic abuses and its regional aggression.”
In a Congressional letter – backed by the ANCA, led by Representative Seth Moulton (D-MA) and Anthony Gonzalez (R-OH), and supported by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Gregory Meeks (D-NY) and Ranking Member Michael McCaul (R-TX) – legislators argued that “President Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party have used their nearly two decades in power to weaken Turkey’s judiciary, install political allies in key military and intelligence positions, crack down on free speech and free press, and wrongfully imprison political opponents, journalists, and minorities. Since 2016, more than 80,000 Turkish citizens have been imprisoned or arrested, and more than 1,500 nongovernmental organizations have been closed to suppress political opposition.” They went on to cite that “President Erdogan’s government even brought its style to the streets of our nation’s capital, when during Erdogan’s 2017 visit to the United States, Turkish security personnel assaulted peaceful protestors and federal employees.”
On May 16, 2017, Hamparian videotaped the brutal attack of peaceful protesters by President Erdogan’s security detail and supporters at Washington, DC’s Sheridan Circle, across from the Turkish Ambassador’s residence, where Erdogan was scheduled to have a closed-door meeting with think tank leaders. Hamparian’s viral video showed pro-Erdogan forces crossing a police line and beating peaceful protesters – elderly men and several women – who were on the ground bleeding during most of the attack. Voice of America video of the attacks offered strong evidence that President Erdogan had personally ordered the attack.
Nineteen perpetrators were indicted for the brutal beatings, which included 15 members of Turkish President Erdogan’s security detail, two Canadians, who reportedly repatriated to Turkey, and two Turkish Americans. All 19 defendants were indicted on charges of conspiracy to commit a crime of violence, with a bias crime enhancement – charges of hate crimes – which carry a maximum 15 year prison sentence. Two of those indicted – Eyup Yildirim and Sinan Narin – pled guilty to one assault charge and served one year in prison. Based on a plea deal, the hate-crimes component of the charges was removed. They were released in March 2018.
The Moulton-Gonzalez letter follows a similar effort led by Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Marco Rubio (R-FL), supported by over half the Senate, urging the Biden-Harris administration to “emphasize to President Erdogan and his administration that they should immediately end their crackdown on dissent at home and abroad, release political prisoners and prisoners of conscience, and reverse their authoritarian course.”
The full text of the Moulton-Gonzalez letter is provided below.
The Honorable Antony Blinken
Office of the Secretary
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520
Dear Secretary Blinken,
As the Biden administration formulates its foreign policy in regard to Turkey, we ask that you aim to address the troubling human rights abuses taking place under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Turkey has long been a key United States ally. Unfortunately, President Erdogan has strained the relationship between our nations. Strategic issues have rightfully received significant attention in our bilateral relationship, but the gross violation of human rights and democratic backsliding taking place in Turkey are also of significant concern.
President Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party have used their nearly two decades in power to weaken Turkey’s judiciary, install political allies in key military and intelligence positions, crack down on free speech and free press, and wrongfully imprison political opponents, journalists, and minorities. Since 2016, more than 80,000 Turkish citizens have been imprisoned or arrested, and more than 1,500 nongovernmental organizations have been closed to suppress political opposition. Among those arrested on dubious criminal charges include three Turkish staff employed by the U.S. State Department.
We urge you to prioritize their cases, including their immediate release and dismissal of all charges, in your engagements with Turkey.
President Erdogan’s government even brought its style to the streets of our nation’s capital, when during Erdogan’s 2017 visit to the United States, Turkish security personnel assaulted peaceful protestors and federal employees. Four of Erdogan’s guards still face charges in the United States for the incident. They remain at large in Turkey.
While it is in our mutual interest for the United States and Turkey to remain strategic allies and repair the rifts between us, we believe changes to President Erdogan and his party’s behavior are vital to seeing that relationship restored. We hope that State Department under your leadership and the Biden administration more broadly will elevate human rights and democratic backsliding concerns in our bilateral relations. To that end, we pledge to work with you so that we can not only advance our nation’s national security interests, but also uphold our commitments to supporting human rights, the rule of law, and democratic values.