Turkey’s Descent Into Authoritarianism

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Representative Adam Schiff

Representative Adam Schiff


There are few countries with whom the United States has a more complex relationship than Turkey. Turkey is a member of NATO, hosts a major U.S. airbase in Incirlik, and has long boasted a vigorous, if flawed, democracy in a strategically important Muslim country. For decades, the United States has cultivated ties with Turkey. But the relationship between our countries has been increasingly tested by the denial of its history of genocide, serious strategic differences, and its increasingly authoritarian character under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The strains in the US-Turkey relationship are becoming gaping rifts, with major implications for our bilateral relationship. With Erdogan’s drive to consolidate power, only intensified by a failed coup, Turkey has veered away from democracy and down the path towards autocracy. Political parties and leaders that oppose Erdogan’s policies are imprisoned and persecuted. Hundreds of thousands who are suspected of disloyalty have been fired from jobs. Turkey now has the dubious honor of being the world’s leading incarcerator of journalists.

On a recent visit to the United States, Erdogan’s personal security forces brutally assaulted peaceful protesters in Washington, DC. And Turkey has consistently prioritized combatting Kurdish nationalism, both within Turkey and in neighboring Syria, over all other issues and to the detriment of civil rights at home and regional stability abroad.

Now, with ISIS losing ground, Turkey has taken its war against Kurdish nationalism into northwestern Syria and the territory of Afrin, fighting the U.S. backed Kurdish forces who helped combat ISIS. This incursion is dangerous enough, but Turkey has suggested it intends to push even further into Syrian territory towards the city of Manbij, where a significant number of U.S. forces are currently stationed.

Such an action would directly threaten not only the lives of forces that have worked closely with the United States to decimate ISIS, but put American troops at risk, or bring us into direct conflict with a NATO ally, an unthinkable outcome. Comments made by Erdogan and other senior Turkish officials have blithely suggested that if any U.S. forces are injured in these actions, the fault will rest with the United States. These irresponsible actions and the rhetoric around them are more befitting an adversary than a nation with which we have a mutual defense agreement.

Turkish actions in Syria and its increasing belligerence towards the United States and on the world stage should cause us to reevaluate the totality of our policies, starting with the long overdue recognition of the Armenian Genocide.

As a longtime sponsor of legislation to recognize the Armenian Genocide, the extermination of 1.5 million Armenians from 1915 to 1923 by the Ottoman Empire, I am well acquainted with Turkey’s willingness to use threats to intimidate U.S. policymakers. It is only through a ferocious and well-funded lobbying campaign that successive Presidents and Congresses have failed to directly address the historic fact of the genocide. I have maintained for years that Turkey’s threats should not be taken at face value, and that ultimately, as they have with European nations who have recognized the Armenian Genocide, Turkey will simply do what it always does — whatever it believes is in its national interest.

Turkey never should have been given an effective veto over how America talks about an issue as important as genocide. Turkey’s veto power has become all the more untenable as it becomes more authoritarian, undermines U.S. security, and even threatens our troops. The Congress and the President would send a valuable and timely message to Turkey by properly recognizing and commemorating the Armenian Genocide when we mark the 103rd anniversary in April, making clear once and for all that we will not be intimidated into silence.


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  1. Alan Harvey said:

    Sound, coherent advice. Adam Schiff is one of the most respected members of the US Congress, a man of principle and perception.

  2. Berge said:

    Well written, well balanced article by a prominent man like Adam Schiff; but will he acknowledge the Armenian Genocide if and when someday he becomes US president?My guess is, he will use euphemisms like Obama did.