By Enes Kanter
November 13, 2019 at 1:05 p.m. EST
Enes Kanter is a center for the Boston Celtics of the National Basketball Association.
When President Trump meets his Turkish counterpart at the White House on Wednesday, he should make clear that U.S. support is not unconditional. The alliance is becoming increasingly difficult to defend when President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has placed so many strains on it.
Ankara’s foreign policy, including the attacks on America’s Kurdish allies with Turkey’s recent incursion into northern Syria and Erdogan’s increasing closeness with Russia, is one source of friction. Another source, which receives less publicity, is Erdogan’s dismal human rights record. I will leave the foreign-policy aspect to others; my aim is to draw attention to Erdogan’s mistreatment of his own people. I want to urge Trump to press Erdogan to stop cracking down on his political opposition and end his authoritarian abuses of Turkish citizens.
Turkey’s most outspoken journalists and activists are languishing in prisons, media companies are either being shut down or cowed into submission, teachers are being jailed, civil society organizations are threatened and social media is heavily censored. The attacks on dissent are so arbitrary that anyone who offers even a mild criticism might see the inside of a prison cell.
Before Erdogan turned increasingly authoritarian following an attempted coup in 2016, Turkey might not have been a stable, consolidated democracy, but at least it had a lively news media, a somewhat independent judiciary and vibrant civil society. Ankara’s negotiations over membership in the European Union and its close ties with the United States had ensured that fundamental rights and freedoms of people were reasonably well respected.
It is conceivable that someday Turkey could return to that state, but it won’t happen unless free nations call attention to Erdogan’s awful human rights record.
I know personally of how dangerous the regime is, and of how hard making it change will be. I came to the United States when I was 17, and I rarely traveled back to Turkey. But I have watched with alarm as Erdogan embraced dictatorship, and I have been outspoken in criticizing the regime. The intolerance of dissent Erdogan shows at home is also applied overseas: The Turkish government issued an arrest warrant for me, filed an Interpol “red notice” demanding that other countries detain me, threatened my family and arrested my father. I don’t communicate with relatives in Turkey because I fear that a single message could be used as evidence of “terrorist activity.”
I have been threatened and harassed on the street in Boston, where I play basketball for the Celtics, by goons who I assume were Turkish agents.
Basketball is my passion, but I’m thankful that it also provides me with a platform that can make my life more meaningful by allowing me to speak out in support of those suffering in Turkey. The response from people in the United States and around the world has been so inspiring that this week I’ve started an online petition called “You Are My Hope,” with the goal of obtaining 1 million signatures to raise awareness of the human rights abuses in my home country.
When the goal is reached, I intend to send the petition to human rights groups, to Congress, to any organization that might be able to be able to bring pressure to bear on the Erdogan regime. And, of course, I’ll send it to the White House.
Trump welcomes Turkey’s Erdogan to White House, offers thanks for tentative cease-fire in northern Syria
David Nakamura and
November 13, 2019 at 1:33 p.m. EST
President Trump offered thanks to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday for a tentative cease-fire in northern Syria that “is holding very well,” as the two leaders met at the White House for bilateral meetings.
Erdogan’s visit comes amid smoldering tensions over Turkey’s offensive into Syria after Trump agreed to withdraw U.S. troops from the region last month, a move that has engendered bipartisan criticism on Capitol Hill.
But Trump rebuffed lawmakers who had called on him to cancel the invitation, saying the Turkish leader has lived up to an Oct. 17 agreement negotiated with Vice President Pence to suspend Turkey’s incursion into Syria and create a long-coveted buffer zone far beyond the nation’s borders. Turkey’s military operations have displaced an estimated 100,000 people in northern Syria from their homes, according to the United Nations.
“I want to thank the president for the job they’ve done,” Trump told reporters after welcoming Erdogan to the Oval Office. He added that the Syrian Kurds, longtime partners with the United States in fighting the Islamic State in the region, “seem very satisfied” with the cease-fire deal.
“The president and I are very good friends. We have been for a long time — almost from Day 1,” Trump said. “I understand the problems that they’ve had — including many people from Turkey being killed, in the area that we’re talking about. And he has to do something about that also. It’s not a one-way street.”
The bilateral meeting came as House Democrats staged their first public hearing in the impeachment probe over Trump’s conduct in a phone call with the leader of Ukraine over the summer. In the Oval Office, the president said he was not watching the hearings, which he called a “witch hunt” and a “hoax.”
“There’s nothing there,” Trump said.
The two leaders were expected to discuss the security situation in the region, as well as efforts to put relations on a better track after Turkey purchased a sophisticated Russian missile-defense system, the S-400. U.S. law mandates sanctions for such purchases from an “adversary,” and the administration has already cut Turkey’s participation in the international consortium building the new F-35 fighter jet.
Senior administration officials said that an offer to circumvent those punishments and also implement a new $100 billion trade deal — both of which Trump offered Erdogan in a failed effort to prevent the Turkish military operation in Syria — were still possible if Turkey complies with the cease-fire agreement, and the situation in northeastern Syria stabilizes.
“We think we can bring trade up very quickly,” Trump said. Erdogan, in brief remarks through an interpreter, thanked Trump but did not offer details of his goals of the meeting, citing a joint news conference with the two leaders later in the day.
Also Wednesday, a bipartisan group of senators who have been critical of Erdogan is expected to meet with him at the White House at Trump’s request, an effort by the president to try to bridge the mistrust between the two sides — but one that has the potential to backfire.
Among those expected to attend are Sens. Ted Cruz (Texas), Joni Ernst (Iowa), Rick Scott (Fla.), Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.), and James E. Risch (Idaho), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman James Inhofe (R-Okla.) was also invited but unable to attend.
Scott and Ernst said in advance of the meeting that they planned to confront Erdogan on its purchase of the S-400 missile systems.
Although Trump has held off on additional economic sanctions on Turkey after the cease-fire agreement, an overwhelming House majority voted last month to impose sanctions on Erdogan’s regime for its assault on Syria. A bipartisan Senate group has introduced a similar bill.
Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), who was among the group, called Erdogan’s visit to the White House “absolutely shameful.”
Trump reiterated his belief that the United States was long overdue to reduce its military presence in the Middle East, calling the fighting between Turkey and Syrian Kurds a long-standing dispute “between these countries and other countries we’re involved with 7,000 miles away.”
Seung Min Kim contributed to this story.