Erdogan hires his cousin as lobbyist to obtain votes of Turkish Americans

Left to right: Dr. Halil Mutlu, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Gunay Evinch, July 2019 (Photo: Twitter/TASC)

Pres. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has been President since 2014, is planning to run for reelection in 2023. He previously served as prime minister from 2003 to 2014. Before that, he was elected mayor of Istanbul in 1994 as a candidate from the Islamist Welfare Party. However, he was forced out of office in 1998, banned from holding political office and imprisoned for four months after reciting a poem which was viewed as an incitement to violence, religious or racial hatred. Here is an ominous line from that poem: “The mosques are our barracks, the domes our helmets, the minarets our bayonets and the faithful our soldiers.” In 2001, he co-founded the Justice and Development Party (AKP). Erdogan has been a continuous presence at the highest echelons of Turkish government for almost 30 years.

Pres. Erdogan has now enlisted the help of his US-based cousin Dr. Halil Mutlu, a citizen of Turkey, to obtain the votes of Turkish citizens living in the United States during the 2023 presidential election, to boost his slim chances for reelection.

According to the Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA) filings of the US Department of Justice, Dr. Mutlu registered as a political lobbyist on May 11, 2022 on behalf of the Turkish ruling party (AKP) in the United States, as its sole representative. Dr. Mutlu is a resident of Windsor, Connecticut. The AKP representation office, officially registered as a US corporation on May 2, 2022, is headquartered in Washington, DC.

The FARA registration, signed by Mutlu, states that the “AK Party representation to the United States represents the Justice and Development Party of Turkey in the United States. Its responsibilities include organizing political, social and cultural activities among the Turkish citizens in the United States. It also aims to contribute to furthering the cooperation and historical friendship between the United States and Turkey….” The FARA registration form reveals the true aim of this elaborate lobbying scheme: “It will also prepare and disseminate AK Party material in the United States for the political support of the Turkish citizens during elections.”

The FARA registration indicates that the US office of AKP represents the AKP’s principal office located at Pres. Erdogan’s presidential palace in Cankaya, Ankara, Turkey. It is stated that AKP’s US office “does not have a budget established or a specified sum of money allocated” to finance its activities. Dr. Mutlu is said to work without any pay.

The completed FARA registration application also states that AKP’s US office will disseminate information through magazines, newspapers, advertising campaigns, press releases, pamphlets, other publications, lectures, speeches, radio and TV broadcasts, motion picture films, letters, telegrams, email, websites and social media.

The US office of the AKP stated that it will publicize the above-mentioned information to public officials, civic groups, associations, legislators, libraries, government agencies, educational groups, newspapers and nationality groups.

It is not credible that Dr. Mutlu will be able to carry out such an enormous amount of work “on a part time basis,” without any staff and without pay. I hope the US Justice Department will keep a close eye on the trail of funds used for such massive expenditures.

The Turkish government has permitted its citizens who live outside the country to vote in domestic elections ever since 2014. The vote of Turkish citizens in the Diaspora is important because around 1.5 million or over 50-percent of Turks residing abroad voted in the 2018 presidential election, including 811,000 in Germany, 186,000 in France, 145,000 in the Netherlands, 60,000 in Austria and 46,000 in the United States. Erdogan received close to 60-percent of all votes cast abroad.

The US-based AL-MONITOR news website reported that “Turkish opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu has explosively claimed that millions of dollars have been siphoned off to allow President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to flee the country if he loses the upcoming election…. Kilicdaroglu said the equivalent of $61 million was being transferred ‘all of a sudden,’ to the United States through education foundations close to the President.” The New York-based Turken Foundation’s 2017 tax return shows that its assets were over $43 million. Erdogan’s two children, son Bilal and daughter Esra, served on the Foundation’s board. In 2014, Halil Mutlu was appointed chairman of the Turken Foundation. He was also a board member of the Washington-based Turkish American National Steering Committee (TASC), until his wife, Lynn Mutlu, replaced him on the board.

It remains to be seen if Dr. Mutlu will be able to persuade a large number of Turkish Americans to vote for Erdogan in next year’s election and what legal troubles await Erdogan for violating a myriad of Turkish laws if he fails to get re-elected.

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Harut Sassounian

California Courier Editor
Harut Sassounian is the publisher of The California Courier, a weekly newspaper based in Glendale, Calif. He is the president of the Armenia Artsakh Fund, a non-profit organization that has donated to Armenia and Artsakh $917 million of humanitarian aid, mostly medicines, since 1989 (including its predecessor, the United Armenian Fund). He has been decorated by the presidents of Armenia and Artsakh and the heads of the Armenian Apostolic and Catholic churches. He is also the recipient of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor.

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