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TURKEY’S DISINGENUOUS CHARM OFFENSIVE
The Republic of Turkey’s new Ambassador to the United States, Hasan Murat Mercan, is treating his U.S. hosts to a charm offensive. Travels around the country, pleasant encounters, Iftar dinners, constantly posting pictures on social media – the Ambassador has used all these tools to distinguish his Embassy from the one that was involved in the Sheridan Circle assault.
No matter what diplomatic niceties Mercan deploys, the bill of indictment against Turkey has only become more damning during his tenure in D.C.
For an EU aspirant, Turkey was curiously oblivious to its horrid human rights record – which included the distinctions of the world’s worst jailer of journalists and a record of losses at the European Court of Human Rights that is rivaled only by Russia. But this week it decided to burnish this record by formally withdrawing from the Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence. This despite a troubling record of femicide within the country: according to the We Will Stop Femicide Platform, at least 189 women have been killed in incidents of gender-based violence so far this year in Turkey, and at least 409 women died under similar circumstances in 2020.
As the 47th dark anniversary of Turkey’s invasion of Cyprus approaches on July 20, Turkey has gone from trying to present itself as a stakeholder which is really interested in resolving the Cyprus problem, to one adding new obstacles to reunification. As if its five decade long occupation, its altering of the demographics of the northern part of Cyprus, its meddling in Turkish Cypriot politics did not cause enough damage to the prospects of a solution, Turkey has now put forth a “two-state” framework for a solution – directly contradicting the UN Security Council resolutions on Cyprus. Its provocative steps to reopen the ghost city of Varosha – subject to its own Security Council resolutions and a key part to any solution – exposes Turkey’s “what’s mine is mine, what’s yours is mine” approach to diplomacy with its neighbors.
Mercan marched around a Turkish parliamentary delegation around Congress in late June, hoping that the absence of the HDP (a Kurdish party that Turkey is seeking to ban, a move that has been condemned by the Biden Administration) would not be a major issue. Any hope that the Flynn pardon would end the focus on Turkey’s use of unregistered agents received a blow with the recent news that the Department of Justice is investigating Rudy Giuliani for his attempts to influence President Trump to drop money-laundering charges against gold trader Reza Zarrab and to deport Fethullah Gulen.
These are but a few illustrations that prove that notwithstanding changes in style for Turkish diplomats, the substance of Turkish policy is even less worthy of the privileged position that Turkey long enjoyed in Washington, D.C.
Of course, mission #1 for Mercan is to reverse the imposition of sanctions imposed against Turkey and its ejection from the F35 program. Today however, Turkey should face MORE, not less sanctions.
Turkey chose to violate the special treatment and privileged status that it received in the American defense establishment by purchasing the Russian S400 missile air defense system in violation of U.S. law – the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA). While Ankara and its enablers try to advance the spin that Turkey seeks a resolution on this issue with the U.S., the Turkish government is undeterred, and it has been reported that Turkey is purchasing a second S400 system from Russia.
Turkish actions inconsistent with its status as a NATO member and ally have continued despite the consequences Turkey has suffered for violating CAATSA – including ejection from the F35 joint strike fighter program and the imposition of sanctions. These actions include the proliferation of Turkey’s drones.
Over the last year, Turkish drones have been deployed by Azerbaijan against Armenian civilians in Artsakh, Syria, against Kurdish forces that have partnered with the U.S. in the war against ISIS and Libya’s civil war. Turkey has entered into agreements to sell drones to Poland and Pakistan. Turkey is discussing the joint production of armed UAVs and anti-drone defense systems with Russia and Pakistan. Turkey has declared its intention to establish a permanent drone base in occupied Cyprus, which will deploy attack drones from its amphibious assault ships. Multiple geopolitical flashpoints have been destabilized further by the introduction of Turkish drones.
Battlefield evidence from Artsakh confirms that Turkey’s Bayraktar drones contain parts and technology from American firms and U.S.-based affiliates of foreign firms. Canada has already suspended export permits for Canadian components that were found in the drones. Any continued export of American components from this drone program arguably violates arms export control laws and run afoul to CAATSA sanctions imposed on Turkey.
Turkey clearly did not learn any lessons from the imposition of CAATSA sanctions. An unequivocal message has to be sent that a change of policy, not dinner parties or a more charming Ambassador, is what Washington wants to see. Targeting Turkey’s killer drone program would send that message.