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Turkish FM went through Washington.. Was it an Atlantic Council Expert or Lobbyist?

By Ilhan Tanir, Washington DC

In the past, the arrival of the foreign affairs minister of Turkey to Washington was seen as a great opportunity for the town. The visits of Ali Babacan and Ahmet Davutoglu, for examples, still remembered with their high quality meetings and conferences. Ahmet Davutoglu, who had worked as the foreign affairs minister, could access the most respected institutions of Washington. Davutoglu would tell the foreign policy of Turkey like a “professor” or “hoca” in long lectures.

In those days, Turkey’s AKP was seen as an innovative and taboo breaker party. Right before the start and the first few years of the Arab Spring, Ankara was seen as a source of enlightenment for the region as a capital that improved its democracy and broke taboos on Kurdish and Alevi matters.

At the end of his “long lectures” even though there wasn’t a lot of time left, Davutoglu would try to take all the questions from his audience.

All of this was valid for Erdogan too… Until last year…

The Brookings scandal has still not been forgotten

Last year in March, at the end of the month, so nearly a year ago, a big scandal broke at the Brookings Institution when the moderator of the discussion with President Erdogan, a retired American ambassador, Martin Indyk, suddenly declared that he would not take any questions from journalists. All those years of Washington, I never seen such declaration in any other events. It was a truly embarrassing episode. Like the bodyguards that held black umbrellas in front of Brookings to protect Erdogan, Indyk had become an umbrella to protect Erdogan from journalists questions.

That shame will never go away…

What did the Dogan Group get out of it?

The questions at the discussion were really broad and Amb. Indyk never tried to do any follow ups. Later on it was revealed from trusted sources that it was the businesswoman boss of the Dogan Media Group that made the call to the Brookings to be nice to Erdogan.

I don’t know what the Dogan group had gotten from doing such a favor and to this day I wonder.

Brookings had also received many condemnations for being used as a propaganda channel. Brookings also stopped inviting those journalists who took critical stance to this behavior at that event since then. Remember: if you praise a think tank with citing their experts, you are always welcome. Once you take a critical position for DC think tanks (which are supposed to be the centers for critical thinking) you may be banned from their background meetings.

Cavuşoğlu in Washington

This year the current foreign affairs minister Mevlut Cavusoglu arrived to the US for the anti-ISIS coalition meetings. The only organisation that had done a public event was the National Press Club. The planning was done by the Turkish Heritage Foundation (THO) which was known for its close ties to Erdogan. The THO’s ex-president Halil Danismaz’s connections were revealed with the hacking of Danismaz’s emails by Redhack which eventually resulted in his resignation. Hacked emails also have shown how the activities of THO directed by Turkish President’s Palace. Following this, Danışmaz was replaced by Ali Çınar.

It became clear that from now on Turkey’s foreign affairs minister was no more welcomed by the respected institutions of Washington but rather by the THO.

Critical journalists were not invited to public event

Once again Turkish FM press conference did not take place and if it was done “critical” journalists were not invited to it. Press briefings were always the part of ministers Washington visits in the past.

It appeared that the foreign affairs ministry had hosted an event that was self-made and self-entertaining to satisfy its own desires.

No one was aware of Cavusoglu’s arrival in the town and it was as if Cavusoglu’s mission was to be as quiet as possible.

The lobbyist moderator

The moderator of the meeting with the Turkish Foreign Minister was Brenda Shaffer who is known for her lobbying ties to Azerbaïjan’s energy firms. Her ties to the Turkish government go back to Baku-Tiflis-Ceyhan pipeline when she worked adviser or lobbyist for the project.

Shaffer, after the minister’s speech, had asked 2 loosely formulated questions. One of the questions was of the sort of “what is wrong with the EU that fights with Turkey?”. And the second question she tried to dissipate the idea that Turkey harbored anti-American sentiments by talking about Turks who study in the US. These questions were truly shameful and had nothing to do with Turkey’s pressing issues.

In addition to being shameful, questions and answers also declared to be ”off-the-record” all of a sudden, at an event that hundreds of people were watching. Was it because the Turkish side thought there would be some freedom questions come and the minister would be in a tough spot? We don’t know it. But thanks to Shaffer, that did not happen anyway.

Since Shaffer is also Israeli, she is also always around whenever Erdogan meets the Jewish-American community leaders in the US.

She is known for her close ties and friendship with the AKP administration.

Her ties to Inovo BV owner Ekim Alptekin another dot to connect. Alptekin recently became famous, or infamous, by his ties to retired and fired general Flynn and Flynn’s lobbying activities. Shaffer and Ekim Alptekin always seem to be working on the same matters and subjects: Israeli energy companies and projects (more on this may come sometime soon), Azeri energy lobbying, Russia, Washington lobbying activists, lobbying ties.. 

Currently Brenda Shaffer’s title is non-resident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. Yet, when I contacted Nicole Hobbs who is the assistant director for Media Relations at Atlantic Council, I was told that she did not receive any salary from the organisation and that Atlantic Council didn’t play any role in Cavusoglu’s organization.

I have not really understood whether the Atlantic council is happy with Shaffer’s performance at the Cavusoğlu event since they haven’t answered the questions I sent to them with regards to her performance. Does it really not bother the Atlantic Council that one of its employees uses the council’s name to host a foreign country’s foreign affairs minister and do a really, really lousy job? Does the Atlantic Council not care about its reputation on these matters? Or maybe the Council is, on the contrary, is happy with what Shaffer did. Still no answer…

What is more, the Atlantic Council media offices, after publishing my Turkish post on the subject matter, did not even bother responding my 3 of 4 questions, in my second email. A leading think tank in Washington, DC apparently does not have time for responding a Turkish journalist’s questions. Wait a minute: isn’t the same DC think tank gets millions of dollars from the Turkish Government every year for organizing energy summits? And therefore doesn’t the same think tank get a significant chunk of its funding from Turkish tax payers? So, a DC think tank gets substantial funding from Turkish tax payers is not bothered to inform Turkish public when asked about the issues related to the Turkish government.

Apparently Turkish tax payers get their money worth.

During her moderation, Shaffer described herself as an expert who is working at Atlantic Council without disclosing her lobbyist links. Of course, this is not ‘ethical’. Shaffer was asked same kind of questions before in other meetings that she moderated or attended as a panelist:  Are you at the panel as a lobbyist or an expert? Bu she somehow got away from these questions and eventually lands a position at Atlantic Council. When you google her, you can find a lot of articles about her being whether ‘a lobbyist for a foreign country’ or ‘an expert’. The lobbyist who fooled Washington is the most detailed one out of these articles.

Shaffer found AKP administration in Washington.

When I asked to Atlantic Council that if they were aware of Shaffer’s description of herself with title of Atlantic Council expert but not mentioning about her lobbyist bindings with various places, the Council chose not to comment on it. Instead, Nicole Hobbs chose to say again that Atlantic Council has no role in the panel.

As is known, Atlantic Council has close relations with Turkish AKP administration. Turkish ministers are complimenting the Atlantic Council and participating at Energy Summits in Istanbul which is being held every year. 

Leaders of the Atlantic Council are having an ‘off-the-record’ dinners with almost every senior Turkish official who comes to city. We don’t know what they’re talking at these meetings and honestly this happens all the time, and happened in the past years which is understandable.

But don’t we think Turkey is a really different country now when comparing a couple of years ago? Is there anything that bothers with regards to Turkey’s backsliding in every single democratic index in the world that may give pause to Atlantic leaders to ask hard questions about Turkey policies and review their dealings?

Instead, Atlantic Council ignoring simple questions from a Turkish journalist such as:

Would the Atlantic Council like to comment on freedom issues in Turkey for my English version? How does the AC sees the situation as a leading think tank?  

Is there no expert at the Council who can comment on freedom issues at the Council or the Council simply doesn’t care about freedom issues in Turkey?

When I asked Nicole Hobbs if the Council leaders ask any hard questions to Turkish leaders when they meet, since we never see such questions being asked publicly, Hobbs replied for Atlantic Council that:

The Atlantic Council regularly hosts heads of state and other world leaders when they travel to Washington, DC for candid and often critical off-the-record conversations. 

Hobbs also said:

The Atlantic Council Istanbul Summit regularly features sessions with intellectuals and journalists who present dissenting views from that of Turkish government officials.

Honestly, I don’t know what are being talked at the summits of Atlantic Council in İstanbul or how many opportunities that opponents have to speak. What I know is lots of critical journalists and writers can not even enter Turkey currently and also lots of them in jails, which seem not to bother Atlantic Council at all while dealing with Turkish officials or lending one of its experts, such as Ms. Shaffer, to moderate Turkish Foreign Minister in front of audience in a embarrassing manner by not asking any of pressing issues of Turkey.

President Erdoğan is on top of the spekears list for Atlantic Council’s 2017 summit in April in İstanbul. But there is no opposition leader being featured. But it is still early.

I didn’t see any opponent writers or critical journalist in published list of speakers though Hobbs stated the list still being put together and:

 Atlantic Council has invited the chairs and members of opposition parties, along with prominent opposition journalists, to attend our Istanbul Summit,

 

This post is expanded version of Turkish one, Denizalp Goktas and WHatti team helped to translate into English, additional comments added by the author.

 

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