U.S. Senators sent a bipartisan letter to President Joe Biden urging his administration to confront Turkey’s abysmal human rights record in light of recent crackdowns on student protestors — whom the president called “terrorists” — and the government’s support of Azerbaijan’s violent war against Armenia.
Some 54 senators, both Democrats and Republicans, believe the U.S. should press Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to improve his country’s human rights record.
“President Erdogan’s foreign policy has also grown more belligerent and combative over time. In recent years, he brazenly attacked U.S.-backed Kurds fighting ISIS in Syria, he purchased Russian air defense systems despite warnings that they were incompatible with U.S. technology, and he encouraged Azerbaijan to use violence to settle a territorial dispute with Armenia,” the senators wrote.
“President Erdogan has also attempted to pressure the U.S. and other countries into extraditing Turkish nationals, whom he blames for the failed coup in 2016. The Erdogan government has sought to silence critics in the United States like Enes Kanter, an NBA player and human rights advocate, by going after his family in Turkey and placing an INTERPOL red notice on him.”
U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) authored the letter which cites Erdogan for quashing domestic opposition, silencing critics in the media and jailing reporters while also replacing judges and directors of academic institutions.
Since early January, protesters in Turkey have been demonstrating against the recent appointment of a government-affiliated principal, Melih Bulu, to Bogazici University in Istanbul, considered one of Turkey’s most prestigious academic institutions, arguing that the appointment is undemocratic and infringes on academic independence.
So far, more than 300 people have been detained.
“I do not accept these youngsters, who are members of terrorist groups, as sharing our country’s national and moral values,” Erdogan said in a video address to thousands of party members.
“Are you students or terrorists who dare to raid the room of the rector?” Erdogan asked rhetorically.
Largely peaceful demonstrations have gradually grown and spread to other universities throughout Turkey, as well as the streets. Last Tuesday, police forces quelled rallies in Istanbul with tear gas and rubber bullets. Several members of the political opposition and regular Turkish citizens have criticized the police conduct as excessive.
The Erdogan government is currently facing some of the largest demonstrations since the 2013 Gezi protests. Last Friday, Erdogan accused the political opposition of instigating the student protests, seeking to undermine his 18-year rule. So far, most of the detained individuals have been released. However, the images of police forces using excessive force slowed down Erdogan’s efforts to improve Turkey’s relations with the West.
At the same time, the country is struggling with serious economic problems at home.
Last week, the United States condemned Erdogan’s rhetoric against sexual minorities after the Turkish leader blasted the LGBT movement as “terrorists.”
“We are concerned by detentions of students and other demonstrators and strongly condemn the anti-LGBTQIA rhetoric surrounding the demonstrations,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told the press.
Unlike former President Donald Trump, President Biden has been advocating a tougher policy towards the Erdogan government, especially following Erdogan’s growing military cooperation with Russia.
Facing growing political and financial pressures at home and abroad, the Erdogan government has recently been trying to mend its strained relations with Israel hoping that improved relations with the Jewish state will boost its relations with the United States. Erdogan even appointed a new ambassador to Israel.
“Our heart desires that we can move our relations with them to a better point,” said Erdogan in a reference to Israel.
Before Erdogan became president in 2002, Turkey and Israel enjoyed close military and commercial relations. Israel helped upgrade the Turkish Air Force.
However, under Erdogan’s rule and with his hostility to Israel, Turkish-Israeli relations have dramatically deteriorated. He has pursued a strategy that some have labeled a “quiet jihad” in Jerusalem, investing in the local Palestinians, promoting Muslim tourism to the city and buying real estate.
Erdogan has openly supported the Islamic terrorist organization Hamas, which is committed to Israel’s destruction. In 2010, nine armed Turkish citizens were killed during confrontations with Israeli naval forces, when the Turkish Mavi Marmara ship tried to violate Israel’s blockade of the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. The Mavi Marmara casualties were later identified as members of radical Turkish Islamist organizations.
Erdogan’s previous efforts to politically isolate Israel in the wider Middle East have backfired. Instead, Turkey is facing growing regional isolation due to Erdogan’s aggressive policies in the Middle East.
By contrast, relations between Israel and the Sunni Arab states have improved dramatically, especially after the historic Abraham Accords in 2020. In another sign of closer Sunni Arab-Israel ties, the leading Saudi paper Arab News, published for the first time an op-ed by Israeli political analysts on Erdogan’s private militias. The analysis was a bilateral think tank collaboration between Emirati TRENDS research center and the Israeli Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security.
“Erdogan has quietly established a network of private militias manned entirely by fighters imported from Syria in a remarkably brazen and cynical move,” said the op-ed authors Hay Eytan Cohen Yanarocak and Jonathan Spyer.