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The Turkey You Should All Know…

By on April 30, 2016
Endy Zemenides

by Endy Zemenides

Less than four years ago, those in the community seeking a more conciliatory (or submissive, depending on your point of view) approach towards Turkey on national issues were particularly outspoken. The head of one cultural organization claimed that those involved in national issues were “nationalistic”. A Church heirarch (o.k., the Bishop of Mokissos in Chicago) feted then Foreign Minister Davutoglu at the Metropolis of Chicago, became a traveling speaker for the Gulen movement from New Hampshire to California, and tried to water down a religious freedom resolution in Illinois by inserting a nonsensical clause on how much relations between Greeks and Turks worldwide have improved.

People despaired, thinking that the rest of the world was siding with the accommodationists in community. But the reaction to Turkey’s President Erdogan – in the press and in official circles – during his last trip to Washington, D.C. has demonstrated that the world may finally be waking up to what we really have in Erdogan’s Turkey.

Pick your Hellenic issue, and you’ll see how naive it was to trust Turkey over the past several years. Cyprus? World leaders are overeager to declare a Cyprus solution close at hand, but cannot point to tangible contributions that Ankara has made to reunification negotiations. The most notable moment in the latest round of negotiations is the interruption provoked by Turkey’s claims on Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone and by Turkey sending research and military vessels into Cypriot waters.

Religious freedom?  Since Davutoglu’s infamous visit to the Metropolis of Chicago, Erdogan has run a four-year streak of lying to President Obama regarding his decision to open Halki Theological Seminary. This year, even more churches have been expropriated by the Turkish state, and now there are news reports that Turkey will reverse its granting of land it had illegally seized back to Christian churches.

The Aegean? Turkey felt it necessary to shoot down a Russian jet that had violated Turkish airspace, but in the past few years has violated Greek airspace – including armed incursions over habited islands – thousands of times.

Then again, maybe we are the problem. If Turkey is such a great example of a Muslim democracy, a key ally in the fight against ISIS, advancing its “zero problems with neighbors” foreign policy with historic rivals like Armenia . . .I’ll quit with the sarcasm right here. The problem is that Turkey has been exposed on all fronts, yet it is on our issues that we are being asked to continue to trust Turkey, and to pursue even more reconciliation measures. But what type of country exactly are people asking us to reconcile with?


  • Turkey’s track record on free speech is so horrific that the Committee to Protect Journalists has a weekly tracker — the “Turkey Crackdown Chronicle” — documenting the constant threats and intimidation journalists suffer at the hands of Turkey’s government.
  • Erdoğan has filed some 1,800 criminal complaints against people for “insulting the president” since he took power in 2014.
  • A single tweet can get a reporter arrested. Erdogan has stated his policy that he would consider journalists and members of parliament “terrorists.”


  • According to a report in the The Daily Beast in 2014, “Erdogan’s domestic critics say he has to some degree helped the rise of ISIS, as well as other Islamic militants. At the very least Turkey has turned a blind eye to them as they emerged in the Syrian civil war and increasingly formed the vanguard in the fight to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad. Some critics argue that Turkey’s intelligence agencies have gone farther and actively channeled arms supplies to the jihadists.”
  • Jeffrey Goldberg, writing in The Atlantic about his landmark interview with President Obama, noted that the president once saw Erdogan as “the sort of moderate Muslim leader who would bridge the divide between East and West—but Obama now considers him a failure and an authoritarian, one who refuses to use his enormous army to bring stability to Syria.”
  • In conducting military action against Kurdish units that have proven most effective in fighting ISIS, Turkey undermines the effort to defeat ISIS.


  • 1.5 million Armenians, up to 750,000 Greeks, and some 300,000 Assyrians died as part of a systematic campaign by the Ottoman Empire to extinguish Christian identity within its borders, in the first genocide of the 20th century.
  • In the United States, Turkish genocide denial has become a lucrative business for pro-Turkey lobbyists and activists. As Peter Balakian noted in The Los Angeles Times, Turkey “spends a fortune annually to stop scholarly and cultural events about the genocide, even going so far as to pay former [Rep]. Richard Gephardt’s Gephardt Group more than $1 million each year to lobby against congressional resolutions on the genocide. Turkey has threatened several times, most recently in 2007, to close Turkish missile bases to U.S. airplanes if Congress passes a simple non-binding statement acknowledging the events of 1915 as genocide.”

I could go on and on – Turkey ruptured relations with Israel, is the chief promoter of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, has been implicated in terrorism financing by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies – but the indictment is comprehensive enough. The time for a “trust but verify” approach towards Turkey is over. If Ankara wants peace, stability, and EU membership, it has to prove it via action.

About Endy Zemenides

Endy Zemenides is the Executive Director of the Hellenic American Leadership Council (HALC), a national advocacy organization for the Greek American community. To learn more about HALC, visit www.hellenicleaders.com