Congressional Hearing on Turkey: Political Trends in 2016

Turkey: Political Trends in 2016

THO’s Ali Cinar Testified at a Congressional Hearing on Turkey

Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia and Emerging Threats held a hearing to examine the course of political trends in Turkey and Executive Vice President Ali Cinar was one of the three witnesses. 

On Wednesday, February 3, 2016 the Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, and Emerging Threats held a hearing to examine political trends in Turkey over the coming year, including ramifications of last November’s general elections, effects of the renewed fighting with Kurdish elements, continued pressure on free media, and how the migrant crisis has changed Turkey’s relationship with the European Union. The subcommittee invited witnesses: Ali Cinar, Vice President of the Turkish Heritage Organization (THO); Nate Schenkkan, Project Director at Freedom House; and Gonul Tol, Director of the Center for Turkish Studies at the Middle East Institute.

Chairman Dana Rohrabacher opened the hearing with statements on US-Turkish Relations, “no one needs a reminder of the vital place that Turkey holds on the world stage. Our hope is that Turkey is not only stable and peaceful but also democratic and secular as well with a strong independent civil society and a government that upholds fundamental freedom.”

In THO’s Executive Vice President’s opening testimony,  he provides the members with developments of US-TUrkish relations over the last twelve months. Examples included continuation of coalition efforts fighting ISIS, providing assistance to the 2.2 million Syrian refugees, and the strengthening of economic cooperation during the G20 Summit. Highlights of Turkey’s priorities in 2016 include mainly national security dilemmas particularly those involving the PKK and ISIS. In over 30 years, there have been 40,000 lives lost due to violence from the PKK in which once again attacks have flared up since July, 2015.

The turmoil caused by the PKK in combination with the conflict in Syria has required support from NATO-allies including the US. Humanitarian efforts by Turkey include sheltering the largest number of refugees in the world with a total expenditure edging towards 8 billion USD. Turkey has also pledged to consider visa-free travel for Turks to europe as well as offering Syrian refugees work permits in order to encourage fewer of them to migrate. Cinar’s statements left an optimistic picture for the future of US-Turkish relations in 2016.

Witnesses were first asked about the PYD-PKK issue in southern Turkey. Ali Cinar began his testimony by clarifying that PKK, PYD and ISIS are all considered terrorist organization in Turkey. “PYD has a different objective showing that they are fighting with ISIS but at the same time they are collaborating right now with the PKK” said Ali Cinar.  THO’s Executive Vice President added that PKK, which has been carrying out attacks on both civilians and security personnel and declaring autonomous administrations, continues to be the biggest national security concern for Turkey.

Members of the subcommittee continued to inquire about the Kurdish elements including clarifying relations between the HDP and the PKK. Cinar informed the committee that HDP leaders are “engaging and motivating some Kurdish groups in southern part of Turkey to support the declaration of autonomy.” THO’s Executive Vice President also indicated that while dealing with a major terrorist organization at home, Turkey was providing critical assistance (both financially and militarily) to Kurdish groups that are part of the coalition efforts against ISIS.

Committee Members put special emphasis on Turkey’s border security with Syria and questioned the slow progress. Ali Cinar agreed that Turkey needs to improve its border security against ISIS militants and added that the cooperation between the U.S and other allies began to improve. Cinar also points out that most of the fighters are coming from the West, from Europe, and Turkey doesn’t get the intelligence from Europe that is needed to stop the fighters from using Turkey as an entrance to Syria.  Ali Cinar argued that intelligence sharing was the key to border security efforts and European authorities needed to do more to help Turkey.

Representative Gary Connolly was the most optimistic about US-Turkish relations in 2016. His opening remarks, “Turkey is and has been a reliable NATO ally since the founding of NATO” exemplifies the cooperation that has been occurring and will continue as Turkey plays an interlocking role to Israel and its neighbors in the Middle East. Rep. Connolly points out that the US shares a military base on Turkish soil and that maintaining a relationship with Turkey is critical as the US wants to help make “Turkey a more, stable, democratic state.”

Finally, regarding Turkey’s cooperation with Peshmerga forces it was noted that Turkey has loaned over “500 million USD to the Kurdish regional government to help meet budgetary needs of the government.” Not only does Turkey provide financial support but it also provides military support to the Kurdish-Peshmerga forces in which over 2300 military personnel have been trained as well as recent facilitation of transfers from Northern Iraq to Syria through Turkey. There have been clear examples of cooperation efforts between these key players and continuation of coalition efforts will hopefully not only defeat ISIS but also strengthen domestic Turkey.

Chairman Rohrabacher concludes the hearing by reaffirming the need for peaceful solutions in resolving instability in the region. He indicated that Turkey played a vital role in the region as a result their expectation was to see a country that was heading the right direction and becoming more democratic so that US-Turkish relations can continue to grow.  

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