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Turkey Human Rights, Crackdown on Press Freedom Comes Under Renewed Scrutiny in Geneva

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Last week, the UK-based International Observatory of Human Rights (IOHR)and the Press Emblem Campaign held an information meeting in Geneva, to coincide with the United Nations Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Turkey over hate crimes, minority, and LGBT rights, and press freedoms with a specific focus on the nation’s crackdown on these rights during the failed 2016 coup and the emergency rule that followed during which the government allegedly used its security powers to arrest thousands of people who opposed it.

Turkey’s human rights record was last reviewed in 2015 during the UPR. This was the third time in 10 years that Turkey’s record has come under review

Diplomats, minister, prominent members of Turkish media and human rights defenders – including those who have been forced into exile – were present at the event. Also in attendance was former U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues in the Office of Global Criminal Justice Ambassador Stephen Rapp. Louise Pyne Jones, head of research, International Observatory of Human Rights (IOHR) moderated the event. Two panels were held. The first was called “Press Freedom” and included Yavuz Baydar, editor-in-chief of Ahval; Evin Baris Altintas, journalist and blogger; and Massimo Frigo; senior Legal Advisor for International Commission for Jurists (ICJ). The second panel, “Human Rights Defenders,” included Dr. Sebnem Korur Fincanci; president of the Human Rights Foundation in Turkey; Nurcan Baysal, award-winning Turkish Human Rights Defender and Journalist; and Anne van Wezel, former co-chair EESC EU-Turkey Joint Consultative Committee.

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Following an attempted, and failed, “coup” against the ruling Justice and Development (AKP) Party in 2016, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused many of his opponents and naysayers, including journalists who were critical of him and his government, of supporting terrorism and prosecuted many of them. Erdogan also suggested that the attempted coup was the work of exiled Imam Fethullah Gulen and his movement, which Turkey considers a terrorist organization. Turkey has asked for the United States to extradite Gulen. Gulen has been living in the United States in a self-imposed exile since 1999. Over 250 people died as a result of the failed coup attempt.

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Soon after the coup, Turkey implemented a state of emergency (SOE) which it said: “was put into effect in order to ensure the continuity of effective implementation of the measures for the protection of the rights and freedoms of our citizens, democracy and the rule of law.” However, the AK Party’s critics have maintained that the AK Party used the umbrella of its broader emergency powers and continuously postponed ending that state of emergency, in an attempt to destroy its political opposition.

Many journalists were apprehended under this state of emergency until it was lifted on July 19, 2018. As such, for three straight years, and up until 2019, the Committee to Protect Journalists ranked Turkey as the worst jailer of journalists in the world. According to Turkish, English, and Arabic-language news site Ahval, when China jailed 48 journalists to Turkey’s 47.

Nurcan Baysal, an award-winning Kurdish Human Rights Defender, Journalist, and contributor to Ahval, said she was even cautious with the words she used on the panel discussion for fear of punishment by the Turkish government. “We are censoring ourselves because of these fears,” Baysal said. “For example, before coming here I asked myself if I should use certain words, should I use the word invasion, or should I use the word war, because today in Turkey even to say war is forbidden,” she said. “Everything that I say has an effect on not only my life but of the lives of my children and family.”

Ahval editor in chief Yavuz Baydar said, “No state or power can decide who is a journalist, it is the domain for professional organizations and should always be separate from power.”

According to the IOHR, “In the previous UPR cycle of Turkey, the Turkish government officially supported 14 recommendations related to strengthening the legal framework on freedom of expression and 5 recommendations specifically related to bringing terrorism legislation in line with international human rights standards.

Hugh Williamson, the Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch recently said, “The huge number of journalists, politicians, and perceived government critics in prison and on trial flies in the face of the Turkish government’s public statements about the state of human rights in the country “Turkey’s disregard of human rights is a disservice to its citizens, who deserve to live with dignity and freedom.”

Meanwhile, Turkey’s state-run pro-government newspaper the Daily Sabah put out propaganda about the Erdogan government writing, “U.N. Human Rights Council highlighted Turkey’s achievements in the fields of judiciary, human rights and humanitarian causes on Tuesday during a Universal Periodic Review (UPR) meeting in Geneva.”

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Young Republican Group Comes to Armenia’s Defense

NYYRC stands with Armenia in the conflict.

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The New York Young Republican Club came to the defense of the state of Armenia on September 29, 2020 and condemned the government of Azerbaijan for its attack on the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh over the last weekend. The group called on the U.S. government and all sovereign bodies to recognize the independence of the Republic of Artsakh  (Nagorno-Karabakh) and take necessary steps to prevent further attacks by the Azerbaijani government and its Islamist allies.

The Republican youth group fully supports the Armenian people and cited their long history as one of the many reasons they merit support from the West. It brought forward some historical points:

The Armenian people have a long history in the South Caucasus and the Armenian Highlands. The Republic of Artsakh contains sites of great historical significance to them, including the fourth-century Amaras Monastery. In the twentieth century, geopolitical events in Turkey and the Soviet Union dispossessed Armenians of much of their historic territory. The Armenian Genocide conducted by Turks destroyed untold lives and stole Mount Ararat from the Armenians. Further incursions into territory integral to the history and fundamental identity of the Armenian people cannot be tolerated.

In the statement, the Republican group called out the “Fake News Media” for “inadequately” relaying “the truth of the events unfolding in the Republic of Artsakh.” It called attention to how Turkey has fostered chaos by using its Islamist proxies in Syria and sending them to Armenia to terrorize Armenians. The group expanded on the over-arching  trend of growing Islamic radicalism directed towards Christian nations:

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This continues a trend from decades ago whereby Armenia’s neighbors enlisted Afghan Mujahideen and Chechen mercenaries to attack. Allowing Turkey and Azerbaijan to use Radical Islamic Terrorists to attack Armenian Christians represents a dereliction of the United States’s fundamental values.

The Young Republican Club concluded its statement with the following:

The New York Young Republican Club stands with the Armenian people and residents of the Republic of Artsakh, who overwhelmingly reject Azerbaijani claims of authority. We urge the Republic of Armenia and the Republic of Artsakh to cooperate efficaciously in the interest of the Armenian people, and we implore the global Armenian diaspora advocate in the shared interests of all Armenians. In addition, we request that President Donald J Trump enact economic and trade sanctions against Turkey and Azerbaijan.

BLP was able to get in touch with Gavin Wax, the president of the New York Young Republican Club,  and get his thoughts on this matter.

Wax stated, “Armenia is on the frontlines fighting back against Islamist aggression.  The disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh between Armenia and Azerbaijan is almost 99% Armenian.  It is rightful Armenian territory. The oldest Christian state in the world should be defended by the West not abandoned.”

This current conflict demonstrates the naivete of American foreign policy with regards to how it has coddled Turkey for so long and allowed it to run around and cause geopolitical havoc.

Additionally, this demonstrates the uselessness of alliances such as NATO, which has already become outdated and compromised thanks to the inclusion of Turkey in it.

As the U.S.’s very own oil boom continues in motion, it should withdraw from the Middle East and focus more on its domestic and Western Hemisphere affairs.

Nevertheless, it should offer moral support and give Armenia diplomatic cover against predatory states such as Azerbaijan and Turkey. The latter is trying to re-enact Neo-Ottoman fantasies that will likely leave many Christian nations devastated.

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