US, Turkish leaders put best face on ties amid tensions

US President Donald J. Trump (R) extends his hand to President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L) in the Roosevelt Room at the White House. Washington, 16 May. [Michael Reynolds/EPA]

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told US President Donald Trump yesterday (16 May) his country would not accept Syrian Kurdish fighters in the region but stopped short of directly criticising a US decision to arm them.

At a White House meeting, Trump lauded Erdoğan as an important ally in the “fight against terrorism” and did not mention Erdoğan’s domestic crackdown after last year’s failed coup attempt.

“We’ve had a great relationship and we will make it even better,” Trump said in their joint appearance.

Erdoğan said his visit would “mark a historical turn of tide” and hailed “outstanding relations” between the nations.

It was an especially positive tone considering the tensions over Washington’s decision to arm the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia that Ankara regards as an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

Turkey says will continue shelling Syrian Kurds

Turkey will continue to strike back at Kurdish fighters of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) in Syria, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu told German Chancellor Angela Merkel yesterday (14 February),

Fighting erupted among protesters outside the Turkish ambassador’s residence, resulting in multiple injuries and two arrests – one for aggravated assault and one for assault on a police officer, a city police spokesman said.

The spokesman, officer Hugh Carew, said the origin of the melee was still under investigation. A local NBC television affiliate reported Erdoğan was inside the building at the time.

The city fire department reported nine wounded were taken to a local hospital.

On 9 May, US officials on 9 May disclosed Trump’s approval of plans to supply the YPG as it advances toward the Islamic State stronghold of Raqqa in Syria.

Turkey has been a partner in the US-led coalition against Islamic State forces. The US alliance with Turkey has proven pivotal in the battle against Islamic State in Syria, providing the coalition with access to Turkey’s Incirlik air base to wage strikes against the militants.

Erdoğan had pledged to use the White House meeting to try to get Trump to change course on the YPG. Ankara regards the YPG as an extension of the PKK, which has fought an insurgency in south-eastern Turkey since 1984 and is considered a terrorist group by the United States, Turkey and Europe.

Biden mends fences with Turkey, at the expense of Kurdish forces in Syria

On a visit to Ankara, US Vice President Joe Biden sought yesterday (24 August) to ease tensions with Turkey which have been growing since the 15 July coup attempt.

“We support Turkey in the … fight against terror and terror groups like ISIS and the PKK, and ensure they have no safe quarter, the terror groups,” Trump said, using an acronym for Islamic State. “We also appreciate Turkey’s leadership in seeking an end to the horrific killing in Syria.”

The YPG, or People’s Protection Units, effectively serves as the military of the autonomous Kurdish-led regions that emerged in northern Syria with the retreat of state authority in 2011 that accompanied the outbreak of civil war.

The United States sees the YPG as distinct from the PKK and as a valuable partner in the fight against Islamic State.

The administration of Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, had criticised Erdoğan’s crackdown on the Turkish press and academia after the failed coup in July 2016. Tens of thousands of Turkish citizens have since been detained and some Erdoğan supporters sought to blame the United States for the coup attempt.

Turkey's pro-Kurdish opposition appeals to European court over detentions

Turkey’s main pro-Kurdish opposition party said yesterday (20 February) it had appealed to the European Court of Human Rights over what it said was the unlawful imprisonment of its two leaders on terrorism-related charges.

On Tuesday, Trump made no mention of Erdoğan’s record on dissent and free speech.

Erdoğan’s visit was further complicated by Turkey’s calls for the United States to extradite Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen, who has lived in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania. Erdoğan blames Gülen supporters for the attempted coup. Gülen has denied involvement.

Turkish deputy PM: Emergency rule extended to purge Gülenists

Turkey’s parliament voted overnight to extend emergency rule by three months in a move which the government said was needed to sustain a purge of supporters of the US-based Muslim cleric accused of directing July’s coup, state media said on Wednesday (4 January).

Erdoğan’s spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin, said in a statement the two leaders discussed “possible steps against FETO,” referring to what Ankara calls the “Gülenist Terror Organisation”, a term it uses to describe Gülen’s network. Kalin did not specify exactly what steps they discussed.

After Germany, UK clears Gulenists of ‘coup’ accusations

On Saturday (25 March) the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee issued a report on the UK’s relations with Turkey, in which the Erdoğan government’s claim that Gülenists masterminded the 15 July coup attempt is refuted.

Turkey also has raised concerns about a US criminal case against Reza Zarrab, a dual Turkish-Iranian national, arrested last year and charged with helping Iran process millions of dollar in transactions that violated US sanctions against Tehran.