U.S. think tank sends dialogue-building research trip to Turkey amid tensions

A U.S.-based pro-Turkish think tank has set off for a week-long research trip to Turkey with its 10 non-resident fellows to develop constructive dialogue on U.S.-Turkish relations.

The Turkish Heritage Organization (THO)’s trip, which started on Sunday, will meet with think tanks, non-governmental organisations, businesses and officials in Turkey, the THO website states.

Turkey’s relations with the United States have been placed under extreme pressure over recent years, as a succession of disagreements have bubbled into diplomatic crises.

Last year, U.S. sanctions over the imprisonment of American pastor Andrew Brunson sent Turkey’s currency into a tailspin. This year, the dispute over Ankara’s planned purchase of Russian-built S-400 missile defence systems threatens to trigger a new round of sanctions. Disagreements over U.S. support for Kurdish militias in northern Syria continue to simmer in the background.

The scholars travelling with THO include Turks and U.S. citizens from diverse backgrounds, including military intelligence, business, refugee programmes, teaching and data analysis.

The trip is led by German scholar Michael Gunter, a specialist on Kurdish studies and board member of the think tank.

THO was accused of discreetly lobbying for the Turkish government this year, when a scholar shared an email offering $350 to attend a THO-organised event featuring Turkish Justice Minister Abdülhamit Gül.

The organisation denied offering payment and said an over-eager publicist had acted independently to try to gain its favour.