Bipartisan Letter Cites Portland Trail Blazer Enes Kanter Among the Critics Erdogan has Tried to Silence
WASHINGTON, DC — U.S. Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) urged the Biden Administration to press the Turkish government to improve its human rights record, which includes an increasingly authoritarian crackdown on dissent both domestically and abroad.
The bipartisan letter signed by more than 50 other senators cited Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for marginalizing domestic opposition, silencing or coopting critical media outlets, purging independent judges and replacing them with party loyalists, and jailing scores of journalists.
“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.”
The senators note that the United States has a significant opportunity to influence Turkey’s troubling human rights record because it’s an important ally in a key region of the world.
“We believe that the United States must hold allies and partners to a higher standard and speak frankly with them about issues of human rights and democratic backsliding,” the senators continued. “We urge you to emphasize to President Erdogan and his administration that they should immediately end their crackdown on dissent at home and abroad, release political prisoners and prisoners of conscience, and reverse their authoritarian course.”
In addition to Rubio and Wyden, the letter was also signed by Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY), John Thune (R-SD), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Roger Wicker (R-MS), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Benjamin Cardin (D-MD), Ben Sasse (R-NE), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), John Boozman (R-AR), Tom Carper (D-DE), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), John Cornyn (R-TX), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Joni Ernst (R-IA), Patty Murray (D-WA), James Lankford (R-OK), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Mike Rounds (R-SD), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Susan Collins (R-ME), Ed Markey (D-MA), Mike Braun (R-IN), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Todd Young (R-IN), Mark Warner (D-VA), Mitt Romney (R-UT), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), John Kennedy (R-LA), Robert Casey (D-PA), Jerry Moran (R-KS), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Jon Tester (D-MT), Chris Coons (D-DE), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Tina Smith (D-MN) and Joe Manchin (D-WV).
The full text of the letter is available here.
During today’s White House Press Briefing, Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany referenced the “Armenian Genocide memorial” in Colorado that was vandalized in May during racial justice protests as an example of what happens when people who “lack a basic understanding or historical knowledge” tear down statues and monuments.
On its surface, the Press Secretary’s remarks appear to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide. However, the Press Secretary does not make policy so it will be interesting to see what happens next.
On April 24, 2020, President Trump again issued an Armenian Remembrance Day statement that dodged the G word, as he has done since taking office. President Ronald Reagan was the last U.S. President to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide.
One can expect that the White House Press Secretary will walk-back her remarks later today or tomorrow and that Turkey’s President Recep Tayip Erdogan or the Turkish Ambassador to the U.S. will call President Trump and demand a clarification of policy, as has been done in the past. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Will President Trump use this opportunity to acknowledge and not deny the Armenian Genocide, or will he once again bend the knee to Erdogan?
By Taniel Koushakjian
On April 24, 2020 President Donald J. Trump issued the official White House statement on Armenian Genocide remembrance day “memorializing the lives lost during the Meds Yeghern, one of the worst mass atrocities of the 20th century. Beginning in 1915, 1 and a half million Armenians were deported, massacred, or marched to their deaths in the final years of the Ottoman Empire. On this day of remembrance, we pay respect to those who suffered and lost their lives, while also renewing our commitment to fostering a more humane and peaceful world,” the White House statement read.
Hours after President Trump’s statement, former Vice President Joe Biden issued his April 24 statement. Like Trump, and Obama before him, Biden invoked the phrase Meds Yeghern which what Armenians call the Armenian Genocide. However, Biden’s statement went all the way, using the Armenian and English versions.
“Today we remember the atrocities faced by the Armenian people in the Metz Yeghern — the Armenian Genocide,” Biden said. “From 1915 to 1923, almost 2 million Armenians were deported en mass, and 1.5 million men, women, and children were killed. Greeks, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Syriacs, Arameans, Maronites, and other Christians were also targeted. We must never forget or remain silent about this horrific and systematic campaign of extermination. And we will forever respect the perseverance of the Armenian people in the wake of such tragedy,” the former Vice President said.
Biden served as Vice President to President Barack Obama from 2008-2016. Biden and Obama pledged to recognize the Armenian Genocide as President once they reached the White House in 2008. However, the Obama-Biden Administration broke it’s promise to the Armenian American community and stopped short of using the “g” word.
Biden’s statement today seems to be the only step left for the Democratic Party to win over Armenian American voters, in terms of a campaign pledge and an actual policy correction in the Executive Brach of the U.S. government.
Campaigning for President in 2016, Donald Trump did not issue a campaign statement to the Armenian American community. Since taking office, the Trump White House has continued to refer to the Ottoman Turkish murder of 1.5 million Armenians in 1915 as “mass atrocities” but has stoped short of applying the proper legal name for what historians overwhelming acknowledge as the first genocide of the 20th century.