Ruling party MPs walk out of US reception over envoy’s critical Gezi remarks

Ruling party MPs walk out of US reception over envoy’s critical Gezi remarks

Ruling party MPs walk out of US reception over envoy’s critical Gezi remarks

EU Minister Egemen Bağış (L) smiles with US Ambassador Francis Ricciardone. AA photo

Cold winds blew late July 3 through the garden of the U.S. ambassador’s residence, when senior ruling party lawmakers walked out of an Independence Day reception in reaction to critical remarks from the host, Francis Ricciardone, on the Gezi Parkı protests.

Volkan Bozkır, an Istanbul deputy of the Justice and Development Party (AKP); Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, the chairman of Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Commission, an Antalya deputy of the AKP, and chairman of the party’s foreign relations committee; and Çağatay Kılıç, a Samsun AKP deputy, were all seen walking out of the reception while Ricciardone was addressing hundreds of invitees at the opening ceremony of the reception.

The lawmakers reacted against the ambassador for the perceived political content of his remarks on the three-week long Gezi Parkı demonstrations. In his speech he referred to quotes from assassinated U.S. President John F. Kennedy and modern Turkish founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk to suggest that violence should not be used to silence freedom of expression.

The AKP lawmakers expressed their concerns to Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioğlu, who was also at the reception together with five Cabinet ministers. EU Minister Egemen Bağış was present at the reception alongside Defense Minister İsmet Yılmaz, Education Minister Nabi Avcı, Interior Minister Muammer Güler and Environment Minister Veysel Eroğlu.

Ricciardone’s messages on freedom of expression and assembly were clear and were reflected in his welcoming speech, as well as in the program distributed to the invitees. His speech received frenzied applause from most invitees, in a kind of scene rarely seen at diplomatic receptions.

“The United States stands by the Republic of Turkey and her democracy, and we reaffirm our support for all Turkish citizens’ freedom of expression and of peaceful public assembly,” Ricciardone said during the event.

“And as I listen – literally out the window of my residence, down to the crowds in Kuğulu Park and John F. Kennedy Caddesi – I hear the echo of the words spoken by the founder of the Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk,” Ricciardone said in an apparent reference to protesters in Ankara who have gathered to support the Gezi Park demonstrations over the last month.

“Ataturk said: ‘Currents of thought cannot be refuted by coercion, violence or power. On the contrary, they are only strengthened. The most effective means to confront a developing trend of ideas is to pose contrary ideas; to counter thought with thought,’” he said, also emphasizing the importance of media freedom during his speech. 

“The liveliness of your debate demonstrates how far Turkish democracy has come since I arrived in 1979 on my first diplomatic tour. No modern democracy can thrive without free, energetic, and independent-minded mass media, and now, the new social media,” Ricciardone said.

Bağış: No violence

Bağış effectively responded to Ricciardone’s criticisms with his address at the reception, using Abraham Lincoln’s famous quote: “The ballot box is stronger than the bullet.”  

“We attach importance to the ideas of the people,” he said. “[We are] open to any idea unless it calls for violence.”

U.S. President Barack Obama called Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan last week to convey Washington’s concerns over the Turkish government’s approach toward the peaceful demonstrations.