Washington is growing increasingly frustrated with Turkey and its recent actions, such as purchasing Russia’s S-400 missile defense systems, with bipartisan efforts mounting to change US policy toward Ankara.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has made a number of other controversial decisions and this has drawn the ire of US officials, despite US President Donald Trump so far refraining from announcing more sanctions.
Under the 2017 Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), the US is required to impose sanctions on any country that makes “significant” military transactions with US adversaries, including Russia.
In July 2019, Turkey received its first batch of equipment for the S-400s and ultimately was kicked out of the F-35 fighter jet program. Turkish pilots were also expelled from training on the aircraft on US soil.
After ignoring warnings and opposition from Washington and NATO allies, the US then sanctioned Turkey last October for its military operation on Kurdish posts in northern Syria. Trump subsequently increased tariffs, and sanctions were slapped on Ankara’s foreign, defense and interior ministers.
Turkey then threatened retaliatory sanctions.
On Monday, the US officially expelled Turkey from the F-35 program and the US Defense Department announced its procurement of eight Lot 14 F-35A Lightning II aircraft “as a result of the Republic of Turkey’s removal from the F-35 program.”
The move came as part of a more than $861 million deal with Lockheed Martin.
But Turkey was unphased and pushed ahead with its own agenda.
It is currently taking part in military operations inside of Syria, Iraq, and Libya and its involvement in the latter threatens to destabilize relations with the European Union over its encroachment of Greek and Cypriot waters and potential natural gas reserves.
In Iraq, Turkey is believed to be coordinating with Iran in its operations against Kurdish forces where the Kurdish populations are viewed as a threat to the sovereignty of those nations by Ankara and Tehran. This has been condemned by Saudi Arabia, and US officials have said that Iraq must be able to call the shots inside its territory.
US legislation to sanction Turkey picks up steam
A bipartisan group of Congress members introduced a bill last week that would sanction Turkey for its purchase of the Russian missile defense systems.
Congressman Adam Kinzinger said it was time for the US “to make it very clear that [Turkey’s] actions will not be tolerated and will be met with serious consequences.”
The bill was sponsored by Kinzinger and co-sponsored by a Democrat and one other Republican. “Our legislation does that and makes the actions by Turkey an explicitly sanctionable offense,” Kinzinger said.
Congresswoman Abigail Spangberger noted that “Turkey’s recent actions are incompatible with our nation’s security and the interests of our NATO allies.”
In addition to the US, French President Emmanuel Macron Thursday demanded EU sanctions against Ankara for “violations” of Greek and Cypriot waters, saying the European Union should act over the crisis in Libya.
Macron said sanctions were “necessary” for a ceasefire to be reached in the Libyan crisis.
Turkey convicts US consulate employee
Just last month, Turkey convicted a local US consulate employee on charges of aiding an armed terror organization linked to US-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen.
Metin Topuz, a translator and assistant for the US Drug Enforcement Agency, was sentenced to more than eight years in prison.
The move was strongly condemned by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo it would “undermine” bilateral relations.
Erdogan’s human rights violations
Since February the Turkish government has detained over a thousand people for suspected links to Gulen, who Erdogan blames for orchestrating the 2016 failed coup attempt against him. Since the coup attempt, some 80,000 people have been held and are awaiting trial; around 150,000 civil servants, military personnel and others have been fired or suspended.
Gulen, who has suggested Erdogan staged the coup attempt as an excuse to consolidate power, now lives in self-exile in Pennsylvania.
Ankara has submitted official requests for American officials to extradite Gulen back to his homeland of Turkey, along with other dissidents who fled persecution to the US. American officials have denied Turkey’s requests.
Multiple US lawmakers spoke out against Erdogan last month as part of a campaign by Turkish NBA star Enes Kanter, arguably the most famous Gulen supporter in the US.
The campaign aims to draw awareness to human rights violations perpetrated by Erdogan’s government.
Florida Senator Marco Rubio called on Erdogan to “end the targeting the jailing of journalists and dissidents in Turkey,” in a video on Twitter.
Thank you Senator @marcorubio for standing up for— Enes Kanter (@EnesKanter) June 28, 2020
Stand against all Dictators ✊ @You_AreMyHope ♥️
Please join me and sign the petition!
You can be the voice of all those innocent people in Turkish jails
👇✍️🙏 https://t.co/yU7VnLDh5j pic.twitter.com/QSfpgsXxME
New York Congressman Peter King said he stood “with all the people of Turkey who stand together against the brutal dictatorship of Erdogan,” in a separate video.
Erdogan converts Hagia Sophia into a mosque
Last month Erdogan raised eyebrows across the globe – including with US senators and representatives – when he announced he would convert the ancient Byzantine monument of Hagia Sophia from a museum to a mosque.
Located in Turkey’s capital Istanbul, the Hagia Sophia was originally built as a church in the sixth century, converted into a mosque in 1453, and then a museum following the founding of the secular Turkish Republic.
The decision likely means the site will lose its UNESCO World Heritage status and that its Christian relics and artwork will be transferred to another site, though religious authorities said the Christian relics would stay put.
Senators James Risch and Bob Menendez, Democrat and Republic, respectively, denounced Erdogan’s decision and called it “a deep affront to Christians around the world who look to Hagia Sophia as a shining light and deeply revered holy site.”
Congressman Steve Cohen said that Erdogan’s changing of the monument’s status “to appease short-term, domestic political appetites” was a mistake, while Congressman Lee Zeldin said Erdogan’s decree was “a pointed attempt to unnecessarily stoke the flames of religious divisiveness.”