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04/7/2021 Turkey (International Christian Concern) – In a rare meeting between the European Union and Turkey, heads of the European Commission and the European Council met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan yesterday with hopes of mending faltering relations between the European bloc and Turkey. Turkey’s strained relations with the bloc threatened to boil over last summer over Cyprus, but have cooled somewhat after Turkey withdrew naval ships from EU waters claimed by Cyprus and Greece. As a result, the bloc has pulled back its threats to sanction Turkey. With a cool in tensions, European Commission Chief Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel will see now how Erdogan intends to follow through on his desire to “turn a new page” in relations. The bloc brought a broad agenda to the talks, but especially highlighted its concern at troubling new human rights developments within the country.

President Michel spoke to reporters about bloc’s deep concern at these developments, saying, “The rule of law and respect of fundamental rights are core values of the European Union, and we shared with President Erdogan our deep worries on the latest developments in Turkey in this respect, in particular on the freedom of speech and the targeting of political parties and media.” The statement comes after Turkish state prosecutors opened a closure case against Turkey’s second largest opposition party, the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP). The United States echoed the EU’s concern, with a statement issued by the State Department reading in part, that the dissolution of the HDP would unduly subvert the will of Turkish voters, further undermine democracy in Turkey, and deny millions of Turkish citizens their chosen representation.”

Other issues brought by the bloc included Turkish commitment to a migration deal which promised billions of euros to the country in exchange for exerting Turkish control over the flow of migrants into Europe. Turkey expressed its grievances at the bloc over this deal, saying that the EU had not fully lived up to its commitments to the deal, claiming that only 3.4 billion euros ($3.3 billion) of the promised 6 billion euros had reached Turkey. Brussels cited the failure of Turkey to take back migrants who make it to Europe but whose asylum applications fail as the reason full payment of the 6 billion had not been made.

The parties also discussed Turkish withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention, a European treaty that legally protects women from violence, and issues with Cyprus, a portion of which has been under Turkish control since 1974, which has been a source of tension between the EU and Turkey. Another aggravating factor in EU-Turkey relations has been Turkish support for Azerbaijan during a recent conflict with Armenia over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. This is particularly concerning as it implies tacit Turkish consent to documented Azeri war crimes in the area including the torture and killing of civilians, reminiscent of previous campaigns of genocide against ethnic Armenian Christians by Turkey, and the continued holding of Armenian prisoners of war by Azerbaijan. These issues should be of grave concern, and it is right for the European Union and international community to bring attention to them and to press Turkey on how it is going to follow through with promises to respect human rights within its own borders while it has a hand in supporting and committing rights abuses abroad.

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