Oct 28 2017

Turkey engaging in 'Hostage Diplomacy' - DC think-tank

The Foundation for the Defence of Democracies (FDD), a Washington think tank, reviewed Turkey's relations with the United States at a panel called "Erdoğan's Hostage Diplomacy". 

The speakers were Aykan Erdemir, a senior FDD fellow and a former deputy from the Turkish opposition Republican People's Party; former U.S. Ambassador to Turkey Eric Edelman; and Lisel Hintz, a Turkey expert and academic at John Hopkins University.

The title was prompted by Erdoğan's recent offer to exchange the leader of the Gülen Movement, Fethullah Gülen – who is in self-imposed exile in the Poconos, Pennsylvania – for American pastor Andrew Brunson, arrested in Turkey on charges of links to Gülenists.

Turkey accuses both men of involvement in the July 2016 failed coup attempt.

At the panel, Aykan Erdemir said:

"Hostage is a strong word, but we have grown accustomed to it thanks to President Erdoğan. This July, the German newspaper Bild wrote for the first time about his offer to exchange Deniz Yücel, a German citizen journalist arrested in Turkey, for generals seeking asylum in Germany."

Yet this was not a well-planned diplomatic tactic, Erdemir continued, saying he believed Erdoğan had been misled by his advisers and media close to the government, who often fabricate conspiracy theories.

Turkey expert Hintz argued that Erdoğan was focused on winning the 2019 elections, so even if the U.S. justice system did not allow for Gülen's extradition to Turkey, it still played into Erdoğan's hand – he "could then blame the U.S." in his rallies.

Former Ambassador Edelman suggested that the Trump administration is also prone to falling into this trap. The recent release of U.S. citizen Aya Hijazi by Egypt's President Sisi during Trump's visit showed that foreign citizens held as political prisoners could be used for political gain. 

Edelman said:

"When Erdoğan put forward the exchange of the pastor, I did not think it was serious because he [Erdoğan] knows very well about the U.S. extradition procedure and its requirements. But when the American side say 'we cannot give Gülen to you', he [Erdoğan] will then bring forth Reza Zarrab. So we are facing a very unpleasant and unprecedented case in which an ally of the United States is doing business the way Hizbullah or the Iran's Revolutionary Guards do."

The FDD's panel "Erdoğan's Hostage Diplomacy" was originally reported by Voice of America's Turkish desk: