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SEDAT ERGİN >We have a new problem in Turkish-US ties

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As if there were not enough issues in Turkish-U.S. relations, a new one has been added to the mix.  

This new one is the unpleasant incident that occurred in front of the Turkish ambassador’s residence in Washington on the day President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan met U.S. President Donald Trump. 

Even though the Turkish delegation left Washington last week, the fact that the debate has continued for another two days in the U.S. is a sign that the reverberations of the incident, including the legal, juridical and diplomatic developments it has caused, will occupy Turkish-U.S. relations for a long time. 

A short scan of the U.S. press the other day was enough to see how serious the dimensions of the matter have reached. While major newspapers such as The New York Times, The Washington Post and Wall Street Journal had extremely detailed stories covering the incident and harshly criticizing President Erdoğan’s security detail, the Washington Post also printed a very severe editorial.  

These stories contained the U.S. State Department’s statement of “Violence is never an appropriate response to free speech,” which also said the U.S. communicated “our concern with the Turkish government in the strongest possible terms.” News reports also said the Washington mayor strongly condemned these actions.

 On the other hand, the Turkish Embassy in Washington issued a statement that groups affiliated with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) aggressively provoked the Turkish-Americans who responded in self-defense. 

In another story in the Washington Post, two law professors from Georgetown and George Washington Universities discussed whether the diplomatic immunity of the president’s guards was still valid after they were violent to the protestors, thus opening the question of whether or not they would be prosecuted.  

Another interesting article was by Noah Feldman, a professor of constitutional and international law at Harvard University, on Bloomberg’s website. He wrote that the attack “fundamentally erodes the First Amendment value of peaceful protest, right in the nation’s capital.” He also called on federal law enforcement to investigate. 

When all of them are added together, it is possible to say that all these stories and articles have acquired a critical intensity.

To be able to understand how deep the reactions in the U.S. goes, one has to see that as far as it is peaceful, the right to assemble and protest is one of the highest regarded, and almost sacred, value in American democracy. 

All the news stories and debates are associating the incident with the U.S. Constitution’s first amendment from 1791. This is the constitutional article that protects freedom of expression in its broadest form. It states that the state will not interfere in any form in the free exercise of religion and freedom of speech; the right to assembly is considered as the basic factor of freedom of speech. 

Actually, this amendment is the most important pillar that makes American democracy one of the most advanced democracies in the world. Within this framework, tolerance of the expression of even the most contradictory of views is accepted as the most indispensable part of freedom of expression. 

Through video recordings, the incident has become public knowledge in all of the U.S. The U.S. press has covered the incident widely. 

There are two dimensions to the matter. The first one is that the U.S. media, which has already had a quite critical approach toward Erdoğan, will not let go of the incident easily. But this is not a matter that only regards Erdoğan.  

There is also the factor behind the sensitivity shown: This incident, in light of the widespread concerns that after Trump’s election, the democracy in the country has been losing ground, is seen like a cornerstone in terms of the protection of and testing of constitutional guarantees regarding freedom of speech. In this context, it can be assumed that public pressure will coalesce, demanding a thorough investigation. It will not be a surprise that liberal groups in the U.S. that are sensitive, particularly on fundamental rights and freedoms, will join this debate.

When viewed from all these aspects, we are talking about an issue that will grow further and become an annoyance in the coming days for Turkish-U.S. relations.

May/20/2017

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