(CNSNews.com) – Turkey’s Islamist government is unhappy that the State Department’s latest terrorism report does not adequately align with its views on two key security issues – Syrian Kurdish fighters and a U.S.-based Turkish cleric whom Ankara accuses of masterminding a failed coup attempt.
Differences over the two issues have roiled relations between the two NATO allies for several years but the publication of the report has refocused attention on them, days before President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is scheduled to visit the White House.
Turkey’s foreign ministry at the weekend accused the U.S. of being duplicitous about its stance on both issues.
Ironically, Turkey accuses the U.S. of cooperating with “terrorists” even as its government and president continue to support Hamas, the U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization that rules the Gaza Strip.
Both Turkey and the U.S. consider the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged a four-decade armed separatist campaign against the Turkish state, to be a terrorist group.
But the U.S. does not extend that assessment to its Syria-based affiliate, the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), a close and effective ally in the successful campaign to defeat ISIS in Syria.
Turkey’s recent military offensive in northeastern Syria was designed to push back the YPG from territory near its border, where it wants to resettle millions of Syrians displaced during the civil war and currently housed in Turkey.
On Monday, Erdogan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin told reporters that Turkey’s operation in Syria has dealt a heavy blow to “YPG/PKK terrorists” and their attempt to establish a “terror state” near Turkey’s border.
He also complained that Western countries were not being sufficiently supportive.
“Turkey expects its allies, either the U.S., E.U. or any other country, assume a clear stance against all kinds of terror,” he said. “Recognizing the PKK as terror group on paper is not enough. What you practice is important.”
Earlier, the Turkish foreign ministry expressed dismay that the State Department’s 332-page report, which covers terrorism across the globe in 2018, did not cite the YPG by name, but merely referred to the existence of PKK “affiliated groups [that] operate in Syria.”
Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy said in a statement that using the term “affiliated group” rather than the YPG by name was “an attempt to cover up the unlawful position of the U.S. authorities that do not hide their cooperation with this terrorist organization.”
Erdogan accuses cleric Fethullah Gulen – once a close ally – of being responsible for an abortive coup in mid-2016, and has been demanding that the U.S. extradite the self-exiled 78-year-old cleric to stand trial at home. Gulen, who has lived in the U.S. since 1999, denies any involvement.
Since the coup bid, which cost more than 250 lives, tens of thousands of Turks have been arrested and large numbers of civil servants and others purged over supposed links to Gulen and his social movement, which Turkey has labeled the Fethullah Gulen Terrorist Organization (FETO). Foreigners swept up in the crackdown included American evangelical pastor Andrew Brunson, who was detained and tried on terror and spying charges, until finally released and returned home 13 months ago.
The State Department report described Gulen as a “self-exiled cleric” and said the group Turkey calls FETO “is not a designated terrorist organization in the United States.”
It said Turkey’s accusations against Gulen “resulted in continued detentions and arrests of Turkish citizens as well as foreign citizens resident in Turkey – including U.S. citizens and locally employed staff at the U.S. Mission to Turkey – for alleged FETO or terrorism-related links, often on the basis of scant evidence and minimal due process.”
The report provided brief statistics relating to Erdogan’s post-coup crackdown as of the end of 2018, noting the detentions of almost 48,000 people, the suspension or dismissal of more than 130,000 civil servants, the arrest or imprisonment of more than 80,000 citizens, and the shutdown of more than 1,500 non-governmental organizations.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Aksoy complained that characterizing Gulen as a “self-exiled cleric” signified that the U.S. was either ignoring or supportive of the coup attempt.
“It is also a manifestation of the effort to overleap the fact that this terrorist has found safe haven on U.S. soil,” he said.
Aksoy added that the so-called FETO “is not only a threat to Turkey but to all countries where it exists, and it should be known that the international cooperation in countering terrorism is of great importance.”
‘Save haven for Hamas’
Erdogan has repeatedly disputed Hamas is a terrorist organization. For years he has met with, and his party has hosted, Hamas leaders. The Palestinian Islamist group, which also draws support from Iran and Qatar, is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Israelis in suicide bombings and rocket attacks since the interim Oslo peace accords were signed in 1993, including at least 15 Americans killed between 1993 and 2002.
During a U.N. Security Council debate late last month, Israeli ambassador Danny Danon accused the Turkish strongman of turning his country into “a regional hub for terror.”
“Erdogan has granted Hamas, a terror organization, political and financial support. He has allowed it to continue to build its leadership and infrastructure on Turkish soil,” he said.
“He has turned Turkey into a safe haven for Hamas terroristsand a financial center for funneling money to subsidize terror attacks.”
Danon’s Turkish counterpart, Feridun Sinirlioglu, dismissed the allegations as a “daily dosage of lies” from “the representative of a government of terror.”