The Assassination Attempt on Pope John Paul IIThursday, September 23, 1982
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.
Human rights within states are crucial to security among states. Prioritizing respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, defending the principles of liberty, and encouraging tolerance within societies must be at the forefront of America's foreign policy agenda. Peace, security, and prosperity cannot be sustained if national governments repress their citizens, stifle their media, or imprison members of the political opposition. Authoritarian regimes become increasingly unstable as citizens chafe under the bonds of persecution and violence, and pose a danger not only to their citizens, but also to neighboring nations. The Helsinki Commission strives to ensure that the protection of human rights and defense of democratic values are central to U.S. foreign policy; that they are applied consistently in U.S. relations with other countries; that violations of Helsinki provisions are given full consideration in U.S. policymaking; and that the United States holds those who repress their citizens accountable for their actions. This includes battling corruption; protecting the fundamental freedoms of all people, especially those who historically have been persecuted and marginalized; promoting the sustainable management of resources; and balancing national security interests with respect for human rights to achieve long-term positive outcomes rather than short-term gains.
Turkey is one of the original signatories of the 1975 Helsinki Final Act establishing the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, which was renamed the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in 1995. 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). In 2013, Turkey hosted the Annual Session of the OSCE PA in Istanbul.
In legislation, hearings, briefings, statements, and international travel, the Helsinki Commission has worked to address Turkish violations of human rights, fundamental freedoms, and democratic principles that multiplied following the failed 2016 coup attempt. While highlighting the Turkish government’s right to bring coup plotters to justice, the Commission has expressed concern about Turkey’s use of overbroad national security and terrorism charges to purge or arrest tens of thousands of individuals and shutter scores of businesses, associations, and media outlets. In particular, the Commission has drawn attention to the Turkish government’s wrongful detention of American citizens and Turkish staff of U.S. consulates in the country.
Turkey has been a member of the Council of Europe since 1950 and has been a NATO ally of the United States since 1952. Ankara opened EU accession talks in 2005 but these have come to a standstill in recent years largely over EU concerns regarding the Turkish government’s violations of democratic principles and human rights.
Staff Contact: Bakhti Nishanov, senior policy advisor