In January, shortly before US President Joe Biden took office, the leading Democratic think tank published a report on “strife in Turkish-American relations”. The Center for American Progress newspaper described so many issues that Ankara and Washington disagreed on – from human rights to armaments policy to regional conflicts – that one might well have been in doubt as to whether two NATO allies actually were. of two hostile states.
The current upheavals were triggered by a human rights case, the imprisonment of civil rights activist Osman Kavala by the Turkish judiciary. The US Ambassador to Ankara, David Satterfield, and other Western ambassadors wrote a letter demanding his release. This was undoubtedly an interference in Turkey’s internal affairs.
On Saturday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced that he would declare ten ambassadors undesirable, including the US representative. This escalation means a new dimension in the conflict. But it has long been predictable that relations between Ankara and Washington are heading for a low point.
There had already been tensions under Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump. The decision of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, instead of American patriotmissiles the Russian air defense system S-400 buying had led to significant irritation in the United States. On the one hand, it was a political kick in the shin of NATO. On the other hand, the US arms industry missed out on a major order. And third, the Pentagon feared that by allowing S-400system integrated into a NATO country’s air defense system could gain knowledge of US warplanes’ radar signatures – knowledge that would endanger the lives of Western pilots in the event of a conflict.
But the American protests were to no avail, Erdoğan did not stop the purchase. In response, the United States imposed sanctions on Ankara and threw Turkey out of the construction program F-35, the most modern western fighter. Ankara initially wanted to buy up to 100 of these jets from the US company Lockheed Martin and had already paid $ 1.4 billion in advance. Erdoğan will now have older American fighter jets of this type for this money F-16 get delivered.
Ankara’s role in the many regional conflicts in the Middle East has also repeatedly led to disputes with the United States. Who the two governments considered the enemy and who the allies were not always congruent. For example, Kurdish groups fighting against the “Islamic State” in Syria were freedom fighters from Washington’s point of view, but terrorists from Turkey’s point of view.
Even after the change of government in Washington, the situation did not ease, on the contrary: the Biden government is more likely than the Trump government to criticize human rights violations in Turkey. Shortly after accession, in April 2021, the new US president also annoyed his Turkish counterpart by officially describing the massacre of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire during World War I as “genocide”.
Turkey admitted that the Christian Armenians were persecuted at that time and died in large numbers. But Ankara has never committed any planned genocide, and the United States has always avoided the term. Biting to use him was a provocation for Erdoğan.
The reservoir of goodwill was therefore largely empty in both Washington and Ankara when the Osman Kavala case became urgent. Should Erdoğan actually get the US ambassador expelled from the country, it would de facto be the last break in the relationship.