Name

Turkey

Straddling Southeast Europe and Asia, Turkey is a secular parliamentary republic located at a significant geopolitical crossroads. Over the course of the second half of the 20th century, Turkey integrated itself into the international institutions underpinning the transatlantic alliance. In 1952, it joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and subsequently acted as a frontline barrier against Soviet expansion into the Mediterranean region throughout the Cold War. In 1963, Turkey and the European Economic Community signed the Ankara Agreement, which created a framework for Turkey’s eventual integration into the European economic order. In 1999, Turkey became a candidate country for EU accession, and in 2005, the European Commission opened accession negotiations with Turkey, which have continued to this day.

As a highly diverse, multi-cultural society, the Republic of Turkey’s experience with multi-party democracy has been turbulent. Military coups shook the country in 1960, 1971, 1980 and most recently, a failed attempt in July 2016. Additionally, Turkey is home to a large restive Kurdish population that comprises approximately 18 percent of the country’s citizens, or 14 million people. Turkish Kurds, like Kurds in many neighboring states, have long sought greater political and cultural rights and varying degrees of autonomy. The terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) has fought an armed insurgency against the Kurdish government since the 1980s, and intermittent efforts by the Turkish government to resolve the conflict through negotiations have so far been unsuccessful. A new outbreak of hostilities since 2015 has ended near-term hopes for a return to talks.

In 2011, Turkey broke with its established “Zero Problems with Neighbors” foreign policy and ruptured with an erstwhile ally by siding with the Syrian opposition against the government of President Bashar al-Assad in the Syrian civil war. The Syrian conflict has driven millions of refugees into Turkey, many of whom have sought to settle in Europe, sparking a migration crisis that has focused European political energy on responses aimed primarily at stemming the westward flow. In August 2016, Turkish troops began an offensive in Syria aimed at retaking land from the Islamic State and Kurdish groups that had made significant territorial gains along Turkey’s southern border in recent years. In the past couple years the Islamic State has carried out several high-profile terrorist attacks in Turkey, coinciding with an increased tempo of PKK attacks.

Turkey is one of the original members of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, which formed the basis for the eventual formation of the OSCE. In 1999, Turkey hosted the OSCE Summit Meeting in Istanbul, during which several major international agreements were signed, including the Charter for European Security, the Agreement on Adaptation of the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe, and the revised Vienna Document (VD 99).

The U.S. Helsinki Commission closely follows the full range of security, economic, and human rights issues in Turkey.

Staff Contact: Everett Price, senior policy advisor

  • Related content
  • Related content
Filter Topics Open Close
  • Religious Liberty: The State Church and Minority Faiths

    Samuel G. Wise, Director for International Policy at the US Helsinki Commission, presented the second briefing in a series focusing on religious liberty in the participating states of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. This particular discussion was intended to evaluate the relationship between state churches or traditional religious and freedom of religion for minority faiths in the OSCE region through an analysis of the effects of certain historical legacies on individual states. Witnesses testifying at the briefing – including Father Kishkovsky, Ecumenical Officer of the Orthodox Church in America; Father George Papaioannou, Pastor of St. George Greek Orthodox Church; Gerard Powers, Foreign Policy Advisor for the U.S. Catholic Conference; Lauren Homer, Founder of Law and Liberty Trust; and Lee Boothby, Vice President of the Council on Religious Freedom – focused on the issue of minority and majority in society as it relates to religion and the potential for this issue to result in conflict. The historical origins of these tensions, especially in Eastern Europe, were particularly emphasized. 

  • Religious Liberty in the OSCE: Present and Future

    Speaking on behalf of Congressman Christopher H. Smith and Senator Alfonse M. D’Amato, chairman and co-chairman of the Helsinki Committee, the Committee’s Director for International Policy, Samuel G. Wise, addressed the improvements made by the countries of the OSCE in religious liberty since the demise of communism. Observed deficits in this particular subject were also evaluated, including acts of OSCE governments perpetrating religious intolerance and discrimination against people of faith by passing laws favoring certain religions, turning a blind eye to harassment, and establishing bureaucratic roadblocks to prevent religious minorities from practicing their faith. Each panelist – including Dr. Paul Marshall, Senior Fellow of Political Theory for the Institute for Christian Studies; Dr. Khalid Duran, Senior Fellow for the Institute for International Studies; and Micah Naftalin, National Director for the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews – spoke to the overall factors affecting religious freedom in the OSCE, including: respect for other freedoms such as freedom of speech and religion, ethno-cultural tensions, and the relevance of old prejudices. These ideas were presented in the context of moving towards a more comprehensive respect for religious freedom among OSCE member states in the future.

  • Turkey-U.S. Relations: Potential and Perils

    The hearing examined both the potential mutual benefits of closer relations with Turkey, and the peril of unconditional support for a government unable to resolve crises that threaten the existing political order and regional stability. Turkey, a NATO ally and OSCE participating State is poised as a unique strategic and economic partner astride the Middle East, Central Asia, the Caucasus, and the Balkans. Turkey stood by the United States in Korea, against Saddam Hussein during the Gulf War, and in its aftermath in Operation Provide Comfort. Turkey also supported our efforts to bring peace to Bosnia.  The potential benefits of closer cooperation are obvious. At the same time, however, a complex and profound crisis increasingly divides Turkey's citizens along national, ethnic, and religious lines, threatening the existing social and political order. Extremist violence and terrorism is polarizing Turks and Kurds, Islamic groups, both secular and anti-secular proponents. While the rights of all Turkish citizens under the mantle of combating terrorism, Kurds bear the brunt of such repression.

  • Human Rights in Turkey

    Sam Wise, director for international policy at the Commission, led a discussion on the human rights situation in Turkey in 1995, specifically regarding Turkey’s Kurdish minority and the human rights implications of terrorism.  Wise highlighted the human costs of both terrorism itself and efforts to combat it, which has mainly affected civilians. Panelists Akin Birdal and Yavuz Onen spoke of the assassinations and disappearances of prominent human rights activists, journalists and others that unfortunately became routine by 1995. Those who publicize human rights violations in Turkey faced official harassment or jail for their efforts.

  • U.S. HELSINKI COMMISSION DELEGATION TO BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA

    The Commission delegation travelled to the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo to assess the situation in Bosnia-Herzegovina as the third winter of the conflict in that country approached. Specifically, the delegation was interested in local observations of the prospects for peace, international policies to enhance those prospects quickly and effectively, and the continuing humanitarian crisis that continues in the meantime. These objectives were part of a larger Commission effort to document the tragic events which had transpired in Bosnia-Herzegovina and other parts of the former Yugoslavia since that federation began its violent disintegration, and to raise public awareness of the severe violations of CSCE principles and provisions that resulted. Following its visit to Sarajevo, the Commission delegation travelled to Albania at the invitation of President Sali Berisha. The visit offered the opportunity for the Commission to observe firsthand the vast changes which had taken place in Albania since the elections of 1992, which ousted the communists from power after nearly 50 years of ruthless repression and isolation. It also was intended to show support for Albania during a time of crisis and conflict in the Balkans and, at the same time, to encourage Albania to make continued progress and avoid making mistakes which could damage Albania's image abroad. During the last stop on the trip, the delegation visited Turkey to examine issues of mutual concern to the United States and Turkey, including human rights issues, the Kurdish situation, conflict in the Balkans and the Middle East peace process.  

  • Banned Turkish Parliamentarians Discuss State of Democracy in Turkey

    The briefing addressed the limitations of free speech in Turkey, which fell victim to the government’s war against the Kurdish minority. The Commission brought to attention the arrests and detention of Democracy Party parliamentarians and others who spoke out in support of rights for Turkey’s Kurdish citizens, which brought the Turkish government’s commitment to free speech and other basic human rights into question. On June 16th, the Democratic Part was banned by the Turkish Constitutional Court. Remzi Kartal, a member of Turkish Parliament, was among those who were forced to flee the country as a result. He was joined by Ali Yigit, a member of the Turkish Parliament who was also stripped of his status. At the briefing, Kartal and Yigit jointly addressed the political and economic problems in Turkey, centered on the 20 million Turkish Kurds who do not have a voice in Turkey’s government.

  • Situations of Kurds in Iran, Iraq, and Turkey

    This briefing focused on the Kurdish minority, the fourth largest nationality in the Middle East primarily concentrated in the States of Iran, Iraq, and Turkey, a CSCE signatory state. The lack of institutional protection of human rights and individual freedoms that the Kurdish minority suffers from in each of these states was addressed. Additionally, the principles of territorial integrity, self-determination, and respect of human rights were explored in the context of the Middle East. Witnesses at the briefing – including Ahmet Turk, Chairman of the People’s Labor Party and Barham Salih, a Representative of the Iraqi Kurds – offered descriptions of the historical context and the political framework in which the issue of violations of the human rights of the Kurdish minority has arisen. Mr. Salih presented his personal experience as the evidence of the process of forced assimilation that Kurds were enduring in Turkey at the time.

  • Situation of Kurds in Iran, Iraq, and Turkey

    The briefing, introduced by Mary Sue Hafner, was another chapter in the Commission’s ongoing examination of minority issues within the CSCE and focused on the issue of the Kurdish minority, who constitute the fourth largest nationality in the Middle East, of approximately 20 to 25 million, primarily concentrated in the states of Iran, Iraq, Turkey, and, to a lesser extent, in Syria. What is common to the Kurdish minority in all of the countries in which they live is the lack of institutional protection of human rights and individual freedoms. The witnesses - Dr. Mark Epstein, Ahmet Turk from the People’s Labor Party, and Barham Salih, the Iraqi Kurdish Representative - spoke of the need for recognition of human rights and self-determination for Kurdish people in the region. They provided the audience with a historical context and political framework in which the situation existed in 1993 and discussed the possibility for progress in recognizing Kurdish rights.

  • Human Rights in Turkey Part 2

    In this briefing, Mary Sue Hafner, Deputy Staff Director to the Commission, addresses the state of human rights in Turkey and its failure to build effective, enduring democratic institutions.  Hafner highlights the most pressing issues as being torture, the rights of minorities, freedom of expression, and freedom of association. This continuation of the transcript includes Maryam Elahi’s and Namik Tan’s statements on the human rights conditions in Turkey in 1993. Elahi summarizes Amnesty International’s concerns regarding Turkey’s increase in torture, its extrajudicial killings and “disappearances,” and the general targeting of minorities and opposition members. Tan emphasizes the dissolution of the Soviet Union as catalyzing the instability in the region surrounding Turkey and insisted on the importance of Turkey’s security to the West.

  • CODEL DeConcini - Trip Report on Turkey and Poland

    The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, more commonly known as the Helsinki Commission, was established by law in 1976 to monitor and report on compliance with the 1975 Helsinki Final Act. The Helsinki Final Act, as well as successor agreements, includes provisions regarding military security; trade, economic issues, and the environment; and human rights and humanitarian concerns. Thirty-two European countries participate in the Helsinki process, plus the United States, Canada, and the Soviet Union. The Helsinki Commission is currently chaired by Senator Dennis DeConcini (D-AZ) and co­ chaired by Representative Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD), and has 18 members from the Senate and House, as well as one each from the Departments of Commerce, State, and Defense. In accordance with its legislative mandate, the Commission undertakes a variety of activities aimed at monitoring and reporting on all three sections (known as baskets) of the Helsinki Accords. These activities include the solicitation of expert testimony before Congress, providing to Congress and the public reports on implementation of the Helsinki Accords, and the publication of human rights documents issued by independent monitoring groups. In addition, the Chairman and Co-Chairman of the Commission lead delegations to participating States and to meetings of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe. In undertaking a trip to Poland at this time, the Helsinki Commission had two main objectives. First, the Commission hoped to evaluate the status of human rights reform in the wake of the quantitative and qualitative changes which had taken place in Poland since the Commission's trip to Poland in April 1988 and in light of the new opportunities for reform created by the Round-Table Agreement of April 1989. Second, the delegation was interested in establishing direct contact with those segments of the National Assembly which were democratically elected.3 During the course of the trip, the delegation visited Gdansk, Warsaw. and Krakow. Meetings were held with senior leaders from key political groups, memhers of the Polish parliament, independent human rights advocates, opposition journalists, and environmental activists.

  • The State of Human Rights in Turkey: An Update

    Since September 12, 1980, many governments, international bodies and nongovernmental organizations have taken an extreme­ly active interest in the human rights situation in Turkey. That date marked the third time in as many decades that the Turkish military had taken power, this time in the wake of governmental paralysis, political polarization, and an uncontrolled wave of vio­lence and terrorism which even civilian-imposed martial law could not stem. Still in power in 1982, the ruling generals had made it clear that power would not be returned to civilian hands until, in their view, the causes of the previous unrest had been eliminated. Political activities remained restricted, and large numbers of Turkish citizens were in prison awaiting trial on a variety of politically related charges. Allegations of serious human rights abuses were wide­spread. The Commission had been urged by nongovernmental organiza­tions, by Members of Congress, and by parliamentarians in other NATO countries, to investigate the charges of abuse. A staff delegation visited Turkey from August 22-29, 1982, and its report repre­sented one of the first open expressions of concern about the Turkish situation by official representatives of the United States. Since the October 1982 report, the Commission, Members of Con­gress, various international bodies, and a variety of private organi­zations have followed events there with great interest. In the past six years, certain sanctions have been applied by the international community, and have been rescinded as progress was made in im­ proving the human rights situation. In light of its ongoing interest m Turkey, and the concern which private organizations continue to express, the Commission felt it appropriate to visit Turkey again and to assess the situation once more. The Commission believes that, since the previous staff report, Turkey has made impressive strides toward a full restoration of human rights and the democratic process. The past six years have seen a renewal of the national commitment to achieving democrat­ic ideals for all Turkish citizens and patterns of tolerance have emerged. They are being strengthened by institutional reform, a citizenry largely committed to the democratic process, and by the activities of the press and various private organizations. The Commission also believes that certain human rights prob­lems, which often predate the 1980 military takeover, persist in Turkey. The report describes them and certain measures which are being undertaken in order to deal with them. This report by the staff, describing developments since the 1982 report and assessing the current state of affairs, is a product of the Commission's continuing interest in Turkey's progress toward full democratization. The hard-won national independence of 1923 en­ compassed a vision of the future which incorporated a proud histor­ical heritage in a Western framework. The profound changes that followed required great national will and commitment. It is the Commission's hope that the momentum of Turkish human rights improvements will be sustained. Turkey is a geographical and cul­tural bridge between Europe and the Middle East, and the Turkish experience may serve as a lesson for both worlds.

  • Vienna Review Meeting of the CSCE - Phase III and IV

    The main activity of the Vienna Meeting throughout Phases III and IV was the presentation and negotiation of proposals for inclu sion in the concluding document of the meeting. The number (more than 160), complexity and controversial nature of many of these propos­als led to the extension of the Vienna Meeting well beyond its target closing date of July 31. These factors, along with other ele­ments such as continuing major shortcomings in the implementa­ tion of existing commitments, are largely responsible for the con­tinuation of the Vienna Meeting into 1988. The slow pace of progress already evident in Phase II continued through the next phase. Each side defended its own proposals but showed little disposition to begin the process of compromise which could lead to the conclusion of the meeting. The main procedural development during this phase was the appointment of coordina­tors from the neutral and non-aligned states to guide the work of the drafting groups. This development provided greater order and structure for the proceedings but did little to advance the drafting work or to induce compromises. Other major developments during this phase were the introduc­tion of the long-awaited Western proposal on military security and the tabling of a comprehensive compromise proposed in Basket III by two neutral delegations, Austria and Switzerland. Both propos­als were put forth at the very end of the phase and thus did not have much impact until the next phase. The Western (NATO) proposal on military security questions was designed as a response to the Eastern proposal which envisioned two main objectives: another round of negotiations on confidence­ and security-building measures (CSBMs) to build upon the success­ful Stockholm meeting and the initiation of negotiations on conven­tional disarmament, both within the same CSCE forum. The West­ern response to this proposal was delayed primarily because of United States and French differences over the connection between the conventional arms negotiations and the CSCE process, the French arguing that the negotiations should be an integral part of the process and the U.S. insisting that they be independent. The issue was resolved by agreement that the negotiations would be "within the framework of the CSCE," but should remain autono­mous.

  • National Minorities in Eastern Europe, Part I: The Turkish Minority in Bulgaria

    This hearing, chaired by Commissioners Steny Hoyer and Dennis DeConcini, focused on the Bulgarian government’s attempts to forcibly assimilate the sizable Turkish minority in their country. The assimilation campaign began in 1984, and was the most egregious example of the Bulgarian government’s denial of rights to its citizens.  This hearing was the first in a series of hearings in 1987 on national minorities in Eastern Europe.  Witnesses included Ambassador Richard Schifter, Halil Ibisoglu, and Thomas Caufield Goltz.

  • Human Rights Situation in Turkey

    A staff-level fact-finding mission from the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe visited Turkey from August 22-29,  for talks on the whole range of CSCE-related issues as part of Western preparations for the forthcoming session of the Madrid Meeting in November, 1982. In the course of these wider Madrid­ related discussions, the staff delegation discussed human rights issues as well as the transition to democracy under the martial law authorities, with a wide-range of officials and private individuals, including lawyers, journalists, professors, former politicians, businessmen and representatives of various ethnic and religious minorities. The staff-level delegation was able to meet with almost all of those with whom it requested appointments, with the notable exception of former Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit who began serving a prison sentence the day before the delegation arrived and, consequently, under Turkish law, was not permitted to meet with the delegation. The delegation was able to meet with the other former Prime Minister, Suleyman Demirel. The staff-level fact-finding visit was the result of mounting concern in Congress and among a wide spectrum of non-governmental organizations as well as groups abroad with developments in Turkey since the takeover by the Turkish military on September 12, 1980. In the past several months, the Commission had been approached by representatives of several influential groups expressing misgivings over events in Turkey and requesting a hearing or an investigation by the Commission into these problems under the terms of the Helsinki Final Act. Among these groups were: the American Bar Association's Subcommittee on the Independence of Lawyers in Foreign Countries, the International Human Rights Law Group, Amnesty International, the New York Helsinki Watch Committee, the International League for Human Rights and the Armenian Assembly of America. In addition to these public groups, members of Congress as well as parliamentary colleagues from several NATO countries expressed their concern with conditions in Turkey and urged that the Commission undertake an investigation into these problems from the vantage point of the Helsinki Final Act. The Chairman of the Subcommittee on Human Rights and International Organizations of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Don Bonker, requested the Commission to hold joint hearings with his Subcommittee on violations of human rights in Turkey.

  • The Assassination Attempt on Pope John Paul II

    The subject of this hearing, which Commissioner Millicent Fenwick chaired, was whether or not there was the possibility of complicity, on the part of the Soviet and Bulgarian secret police, to Turkish terrorist Mehmet Ali Agca’s assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II. As per Principle VI of the Helsinki Final Act, signatory nations are to refrain from direct or indirect assistance to terrorist activities. Bulgaria and the Soviet Union were privy to this at the time of the hearing. The hearing utilized witnesses to shed light as to whether or not Bulgaria and the Soviet Union were honoring this commitment in Principle VI, which was not a guarantee, especially because of Mehmet Ali Agca’s potential involvement in a Turkish arms ring that Bulgarians supported. The hearing was part and parcel of an “essential” effort to carefully and impartially examine all evidence of possible Soviet and Bulgarian involvement with Agca. 

  • Our Impact by Country

Pages