The relationship between the United States and Turkey has steadily been declining in recent years. In an interview with 60 Minutes, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke of the anti-American sentiment that is creating tension in his country.
Recep Erdogan and the AKP
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Recep Erdogan became President of Turkey in 2014. He previously served as the country’s Prime Minister from 2003-2014. Before stepping down to become President, Erdogan established the Justice and Development Party (AKP). Founded on moderate Islamic traditions, it is Turkey’s largest political party.
A self-described moderate Democrat, Erdogan has implemented socially conservative and liberal economic policies. Polices that, at one time, were considered pro-Western and pro-American. In 2013, tensions began to rise in the region as nationwide protests broke out against the authoritarianism of the AKP.
Leading to the protests, was Erdogan’s belief in a centralized government. The AKP reduced the number of elected government positions, and created tougher regulations against abortion, alcohol consumption, and internet use. Recently, social media users in Turkey have reported limited or no access to Facebook, Twitter, You Tube, and various other sites.
Tensions Are Mounting
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Tensions between the United States and Turkey began to rise over Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen. Once a supporter and close ally of President Erdogan, Gulen is now on Turkey’s most wanted terrorist list. An arrest warrant was issued for Gulen when Erdogan suggested he was leading the Gulenist Terror Organization known as FETO.
Gulen currently resides in a self-imposed exile in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania. The United States has refused Turkey’s demand for extradition, citing a lack of evidence of Gulen’s involvement in terrorist activity. He is also thought to be responsible for the recent attempted coup in Turkey.
U.S. Policies in Syria
Further increasing the tensions between the countries are U.S polices in Syria. Turkey has been flooded with upwards of 3 million Syrian refugees, more than twice the number that have entered Europe.
Discussing the threat to his southern border, President Erdogan posited that Obama’s policies have made it difficult for him to defend his country, noting specifically, “We have addressed these issues, discussed them with President Obama and Vice-President Biden. They failed to rise to the occasion and handle these issues seriously. This is quite upsetting for us.”
Creating more problems, is Turkey’s recent bombings of U.S. allies in the region. To support their on-going efforts to overthrow Assad’s regime in Syria, the U.S. is arming Kurdish rebels — bitter enemies of Turkey. Erdogan asserted that America cannot arm one terrorist organization to stop another. He went on to say that the U.S. and Turkey do not agree on this ideology.
In July, 2016, speaking about the attempted coup in Turkey, and about ISIS, Trump said “I think Turkey can do a lot against ISIS, and I would hope that if I’m dealing with them, they will do much more about ISIS”. Erdogan expressed similar sentiments in his interview.
Military Bases in Turkey
Steve Kroft, also spoke with Former U.S. Ambassador to Turkey, James Jeffrey, during the interview. Discussing the relationship between the two countries, Jeffrey highlighted the importance of the military bases in Turkey in the fight against ISIS.
He noted that is it President Erdogan who allows access to the bases, and that the U.S. cannot afford to lose them. His statements suggest that he supports renewing the relationship between the two countries.
It seems as though President-elect Trump and President Erdogan have both indicated their willingness to repair the tensions between their respective governments. How exactly they will accomplish this remains to be seen.