Memory of Sheridan hinders positive US agenda for Turkey

Memory of Sheridan hinders positive US agenda for Turkey

Since the recent visit of the U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis to Ankara, there is a growing sense that Washington is desperately in search of some confidence building measures to ease tensions with Turkey. The ever-rising anti-Americanism in Turkey is one of the key factors behind this tension, which is urging Washington to revisit a relationship that has become increasingly “transactional” in recent years. 

However, a second indictment from a grand jury over the role of 15 members of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s security detail in a brawl during his official visit to Washington in May dropped a bombshell. For Ankara, the unexpected part of the indictment, which was handed down a few days ago, was the inclusion by a grand jury of Muhsin Köse, the head of Erdoğan’s security team. The indictment suggests that the aggressive pushing of the police cordon by Erdoğan’s security detail started right after Köse communicated with others via earpieces. 

This puts Köse on the list of the Turkish guards who cannot travel to the U.S. without facing the risk of arrest. Erdoğan will undoubtedly see this as a sign of malevolence just weeks before his planned visit to New York to attend the U.N. General Assembly meetings. As yet there is no sign that Erdoğan may cancel his visit for the meetings, and indeed such a boycott would hurt the interests of nobody but Turkey. At a time when all stakeholders will be discussing the parameters of a post-conflict Syria, ensuring the absence of the Turkish president would definitely not be a wise move. 

But it would be worse to go to New York in a psychology of retaliation. The Turkish security team that will accompany Erdoğan during the visit should be strictly educated on the boundaries of their assignment. Just as happened at Washington’s Sheridan Circle, U.S. police or secret service agents may fail to manage things. The response to this should be given within the boundaries of the law. Furthermore, Erdoğan’s security team needs to have strong nerves in the face of possibly greater protests this time. 

The last time Erdoğan was in New York, there were not only Kurds or Armenians protesting him, but secularist Turks living in the U.S. also proved they do not fear voicing their criticism aloud. This time they should also expect Americans to join the protests, in reaction against the Sheridan Circle brawl. 

The latest charges of assault with a dangerous weapon and assault with significant bodily injury brought against Turkish guards over the Sheridan brawl are serious felonies, which have serious consequences in the U.S. Even more embarrassing for Turkey is being labeled as a country whose presidential security team is charged with bias-related crimes against Kurds and Armenians. It will probably take a long time for U.S. public opinion to forget the footage of the brawl. 

The damage is done and it is irreversible. But the government should be careful to make sure that worse does not come.