Dear President Erdogan,
Welcome to Washington. Your visit comes at a critical moment in U.S.-Turkish relations.
Within the past decade, many of Turkey’s friends here were optimistic about your country’s potential to become a vibrant and stable democracy as well as an increasingly strong and capable U.S. ally. The salutary role Turkey can play, regionally and globally, has been demonstrated by the hospitality your country has extended to millions of refugees. Recent developments in Turkey, however, are deeply troubling. Today we would like to air the concerns of Turkey’s many friends in the United States.
Over the past year, more than a thousand people have been charged with the crime of insulting you. Hundreds of academics have been investigated or faced disciplinary proceedings for questioning your government’s anti-terror policies. Last year, the offices of Hurriyet, an independent paper, were attacked and set on fire by a mob led by a former member of your Justice and Development Party(AKP), a well-known columnist was attacked by thugs outside his home, and two editors of Cumhuriyet were arrested. More recently, your government has orchestrated the takeover of the popular daily Zaman. Why shouldn’t people in the European Union and the United States be concerned about the prospects for a free media in Turkey?
Along with this erosion of freedom of speech and media, we have watched as you seek to further enhance your personal power by changing the constitution to create an executive presidency. All of Turkey’s opposition parties oppose the creation of an executive presidency, and polls reveal the majority of Turkish voters do as well. Even members of your own party have voiced their reservations about excessive concentration of power in your hands. Is it worth pursuing an executive presidency if it risks dividing the nation?
Following several years of negotiations and a stated commitment to expanding rights for all Turkish citizens, Turkey’s war against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) resumed last summer. Now, your government is prosecuting this war in a manner that appears to reject a political solution. The United States has long expressed support for and aided Turkey in its war against PKK terrorism. But many in Turkey have raised concerns that, amid the serious conflicts and grave threats metastasizing along Turkey’s borders, your current course risks exacerbating regional destabilizing dynamics. How do you plan to resolve this conflict without driving Turkey into a civil war?
As part of your fight against the PKK, you have called for a more expansive definition of terrorism that would include lawmakers, academics, and journalists whose words you believe make them terrorists. An example of this approach is your stated desire to charge members of the opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) with “constitutional crimes.” In fact, you are currently seeking to lift the immunity enjoyed by members of parliament from the HDP in order to be able to prosecute them. The constitution of the Republic of Turkey states that it “is a democratic, secular and social state governed by rule of law.” How does the political speech of the HDP violate the constitution? Doesn’t this course of action undermine rule of law and risk radicalizing the younger generation of Turkish Kurds and pushing them into the arms of the PKK?
We hope that you use the opportunity of your visit to address these troubling issues and, in the process, strengthen the U.S-Turkey relationship.
Amb. Mort Abramowitz, Former U.S. Ambassador to Turkey
Amb. Eric Edelman, Former U.S. Ambassador to Turkey
Elliot Abrams, Council on Foreign Relations
Robert J. Lieber, Georgetown University
Amb. David Birenbaum,
Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman
Amb. L. Paul Bremer, Former Ambassador to the Netherlands and Presidential Envoy to Iraq
Aaron Lobel, America Abroad Media
Thomas Carothers, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
Frank Loy, Former Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs
Susan Corke, Human Rights First
Michael Makovsky, Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs
Jack David, Hudson Institute; Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense
Clifford D. May, Foundation for Defense of Democracies
James S. Denton
Amb. Paula J. Dobriansky
David A. Merkel, Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State
Colin Dueck, George Mason University
Joshua Muravchik, World Affairs Institute
Charles Dunne, Middle East Institute
Sen. Charles S. Robb
Carla Anne Robbins
Amb. Dennis Ross
Amb. Robert Ford, Middle East Institute
Michael Rubin, American Enterprise Institute
Jonathan Schanzer, Foundation for Defense of Democracies
Lawrence J. Haas, American Foreign Policy Council
John Hannah, Former Assistant for National Security Affairs to the Vice Presiden
Anne-Marie Slaughter, New America; Former Director of Policy Planning
Dr. William Inboden
ADM Gregory Johnson, USN (Ret.), Former Commander, U.S. Naval Forces, Europe
GEN Charles F. Wald, USAF (Ret.), Former Deputy Commander, United States European Command
Amb. Robert G. Joseph
Kenneth R. Weinstein, Hudson Institute
James Kirchick, Foreign Policy Initiative