06/14/2021 Belgium (International Christian Concern) – As world leaders flock to Brussels to attend this week’s NATO Summit, U.S. President Joe Biden will meet Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for the first time during his presidency. While Turkey and the United States maintain an alliance on paper, Turkish military entanglements in the Middle East and human rights violations within and beyond its borders have prompted disapproval from President Biden.
During his 2020 presidential campaign, Biden promised to stand firm on Turkey, in contrast to the policy of the Trump administration. Once elected, President Biden also refused to take Erdogan’s congratulatory phone call for over three months, only speaking with President Erdogan the day before affirming the Armenian genocide of 1915. While Biden’s cold-shoulder to Erdogan is a stark contrast to his predecessor’s relations with the Turkish president, they are a more pronounced and appropriate response to a government that has frequently violated human rights at home and abroad.
Though President Erdogan has made an effort to dispel any indication that US-Turkey relations are less than healthy, Turkey has expressed its displeasure at several of Biden’s foreign policy implementations in the Middle East. President Biden’s acknowledgment of the Armenian Genocide, U.S. arms shipments to Israel, and continual U.S. support of Kurdish rebel forces are particular points of conflict between Ankara and Washington. From an American standpoint, a defining issue of US-Turkish relations is Turkey’s possession of a Russian missile defense system, which fundamentally contradicts the standards of NATO.
Though military strategy will likely compose the forefront of Biden and Erdogan’s discussion, the meeting also constitutes a tremendous opportunity for President Biden to aid in the struggle against human rights violations propagated by the Turkish government. Given that Biden has already recognized Erdogan’s authoritarian tendencies, the President would do well to stress the fact that Erdogan’s recent emphasis on Islamic nationalism directly contradicts American interests and, more importantly, its standards for international human rights.
Further, the President should condemn Turkey’s recent crackdown on religious freedom within its borders and abroad. For example, Turkey’s involvement in the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war between Armenia and Azerbaijan brought about echoes of the Armenian Genocide, while Christians in Turkey have faced deportation, imprisonment, and identity suppression. Moreover, Erdogan has made clear his intentions of reestablishing the Islamic identity of Turkey, a reality that has grave implications on the persecution of religious minorities, including Christians, in the country.