WASHINGTON, DC — A bipartisan coalition of 54 Senators addressed a letter to President Joe Biden, expressing their concern over a deteriorating human rights record in Turkey. The letter cited Turkey’s recent trends towards authoritarianism, in particular the jailing of journalists that oppose the government and its military involvement in Syria and Armenia.
The United States has increasingly condemned Turkey in recent years under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. According to the Senate letter, since the failed coup against him in 2016, Erdogan has been cracked down on domestic opposition, by systematically “[silencing] or [coopting] critical media outlets, [purging] independent judges and [replacing] them with party loyalists and [jailing] scores of journalists.” However, the letter fails to mention the domestic crackdown on Christianity, by which the government has systematically deported Christians from Turkey. International Christian Concern (ICC) published a report last Fall on Turkey that outlines this persecution in greater detail.
Nevertheless, the Senators do specifically mention Turkish involvement in Azerbaijan’s aggressions against Armenia in the recent war over Nagorno-Karabakh. This war is just one piece of Turkey’s broader geopolitical goals in the region. Turkey and Azerbaijan are closely allied, in part due to their shared ethnic histories as Islamic Turkic nations. Armenia is the oldest Christian nation in the world, and sits directly in between Turkey and Azerbaijan, hindering the unification of the two Turkic nations. As displayed by the war crimes committed against Armenian civilians and the continued Turkish denial of the 20th century Armenian genocide, this conflict has much broader implications.
ICC published a report on the war, entitled The Anatomy of Genocide: Karabakh’s Forty-Four Day War, and is currently running a petition calling for the release of Armenian prisoners of war who remain in Azerbaijani captivity despite the conclusion of the war last Fall.
The Senate letter, led by Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), is a manifestation of the bipartisan nature of this issue as well. In a time of great division in Congress, both Democrats and Republicans have continually united around a joint condemnation of Turkey’s human rights abuses. The Senators hope that the United States will be able to bring an end to these abuses as a key ally to Turkey and a fellow member of NATO.
The Biden administration has continually expressed a desire to strengthen American alliances moving forward. Additionally, President Biden seems especially poised to address Turkey’s abuses, due to his close relationship with the Greek Orthodox Church and appointment of Secretary of State Antony Blinken. This would be in stark contrast to President Donald Trump’s approach to Turkey, as his administration largely ignored President Erdogan’s abuses, due to Trump’s personal relationship with the Turkish president. Many advocates for religious freedom and human rights in Turkey celebrate the Senate letter to Biden and are optimistic about its chances for positive change.