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Erdogan’s Hooligans Came Knocking on NYU’s Doors

Why do we tolerate a foreign autocrat dispatching his thugs to our country and challenging our right to free speech and assembly?

Credit: Kancelaria Premiera www.flickr.com

Takeaways


  • New York University received a letter from one of Erdogan’s activists, warning that it should not hold a panel discussion on Turkey.
  • Why do we tolerate a foreign autocrat dispatching his thugs to our country and challenging our right to free speech and assembly?
  • It is about time that the US and the EU demand that Erdogan stop his meddling in the internal affairs of other countries.
  • The only way to influence Erdogan’s egregious behavior is to push back with a firm hand. As with any autocrat, that is the only language he understands.

Last week, I conducted a panel discussion about Turkey under the leadership of Erdogan. The day before the event, we were alerted that several of Erdogan’s stooges will await us to disrupt the event, and we feared that violence may erupt.

Earlier in the morning, New York University received a letter from one of the Turkish dictator’s hawkish activists, warning that NYU should not hold such an event. We ended up hiring security guards to ensure our safety, right here in New York City, to protect us from Turkish thugs operating at the behest of a despot who is leading his blind followers like sheep.

The U.S. Constitution

What’s outrageous about this episode is that we here in the United States where freedom of speech and assembly are guaranteed by the constitution. These freedoms are now threatened by Turkish citizens who were given the privilege to live in our country. They are now bullying us not to engage in a discussion, fearing that it may turn out to be critical of Erdogan.

One of my panelists was Professor Ahmet Yayla, a 20-year veteran of the counterterrorism and operations department in the Turkish National Police. He has also served as the chief of counterterrorism in Sanliurfa, Turkey.

Yayla spoke with some painful details about his personal encounters with top Turkish officials, who had instructed him to allow volunteers to freely cross the Turkish border to join ISIS in Syria and Iraq.

He witnessed firsthand how the Turkish government was clandestinely buying oil from ISIS, and how bribes from the proceeds changed hands to reach top Turkish officials. He recounted the arbitrary detention of anyone who was suspected of being politically active against Erdogan and the AK Party.

Yayla was fired from his position because he objected to the government’s deliberate policy of allowing volunteers to join ISIS. Needless to say, he was warned not to ever disclose what he had witnessed. He left Turkey for the United States and was asked to testify before the U.S. Congress about his personal experiences.

A typical Erdogan intimidation move

Once the Turks learned about his testimony, his son in Turkey was arrested and spent one year in jail without any charges. After his release, he escaped to Europe and can never set foot in Turkey again.

Yayla and my other panelists were not some kind of (third-party) storytellers. They were eyewitnesses to the brutality and corruption of a dictator who betrayed his own people.

None of them can go back to Turkey, facing immediate arrest based on phony charges of crimes against the state presented to a kangaroo court. Inevitably, the sentence for such cooked-up charges is many years in prison.

An audience member spoke to this, stating with tears in her eyes that her husband, a Turkish military member who had trained with NATO, was arrested without cause and is still languishing in jail.

Turkey still an ally?

The question is why Western officials ignore Erdogan’s ruthlessness, and why he is still treated with diplomatic deference. As justification, it is often said that Turkey is a NATO member, a strategic ally and a bridge between East and West.

But an important NATO member should not cozy up to the West’s staunchest enemy—Russia—by buying the S-400 air defense system. Not only is that system not compatible with the West’s air defenses, but it could also compromise the United States’ sensitive technology when deployed as an integral part of NATO defenses.

As to Turkey being a “strategic ally,” such an ally does not allow volunteers to cross its border freely to join ISIS in Syria and Iraq. It also does not permit to buy oil with cash or allow ISIS to buy weapons on the black market.

Moreover, a strategic ally does not fight a U.S. ally — the Syrian Kurds — and does not collude with Russia and Iran to exclude the United States from having a say about Syria’s future.

As to Turkey serving as a bridge between East and West, Turkey continues to be more of a problem than an asset in that regard as well. Never mind that it has threatened to flood West European countries with Syrian refugees if they don’t meet its demands.

Erdogan’s desperate habit is to foment foreign problems in whatever fashion that is to his — often only tactical — advantage, instead of playing a constructive and stabilizing role.

Conclusion

The question is for how much longer will the West put up with a despot who continues to commit gross human rights violations? For how much longer will the West sacrifice its moral values only to accommodate a tyrant?

More troubling yet, how can we tolerate a foreign autocrat who dispatches his thugs to our country and challenges our right to free speech and assembly?

We still remember how last May Erdogan’s security detail, accompanying him on a trip to Washington, D.C., violently attacked a small peaceful demonstration that was protesting Erdogan’s cruel treatment of his own people in Turkey.

It is about time that the U.S. government and the EU demand that Erdogan stop his meddling in the internal affairs of other countries. The United States and the EU must realize that Erdogan is not an ally. He is an adversary and must be treated as such.

The only way to influence Erdogan’s egregious behavior is to push back with a firm hand. As with any autocrat, that is the only language he understands.

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About Alon Ben-Meir

Senior Fellow at New York University’s Center for Global Affairs and Senior Fellow at the World Policy Institute [United States]

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