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Atlantic Council’s Istanbul Summit Opens With Scandals

By Ilhan Tanir, Washington DC

Atlantic Council’s Istanbul Summit 2017 began with scandals.

According to well placed Istanbul sources, some of the speakers Atlantic Council suggested for its annual Istanbul Summit were vetoed by the AKP Government.

In late March, Atlantic Council’s media representative Nicole Hobbs, when asked by Washington Hatti about its speaker list in its Istanbul Summit, told that there will be dissenting views, journalists and writers presenting a wide variety of opinions in Istanbul Summit as in previous years.

As of today, Istanbul Summit’s first day, there is not a single critical journalist, nor even opposition politician is named on the speaker list.

The Council’s media person Nicole Hobbs did not respond to Washington Hatti’s emails when asked about Atlantic Council not having any critical voices on their speaker list, contrary to the Council’s earlier promise on the record.

According to some well-placed sources who know about the organization, Atlantic Council abided by the Turkish Government’s “veto” decision. According to one source, Atlantic Council did not even object to the veto and moved to take off a couple of speakers who are critical of the administration from the speaker list without being given any tangible reason to do so.

Atlantic Council’s annual summits in Istanbul is financed by the AKP Government and other companies closely aligned with the government.

In this year’s speaker list, Turkish President Erdogan, Erdogan’s son in law Minister Berat Albayrak, Erdogan Government’s Spox Ibrahim Kalin, Erdogan Government’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, Erdogan Government’s Economy Minister Mehmet Simsek and Erdogan Government’s bureaucrats are presenting the government’s views.

Atlantic Council, a DC think tank, is aware that big part of its summit is financed by all of the Turkish public but nevertheless went ahead by its annual summit and accepted AKP Government’s “veto” on dissenting journalists and figures.

Some companies among Atlantic Council’s sponsors are the Turkish energy company Calik Holding – formerly managed by Erdogan’s son-in-law Berat Albayrak as CEO-, pro-AKP construction company Limak,  Turkey’s largest public bank Halkbank, and Turkish Airlines.

According to summit participants, Daily Sabah stands -a newspaper which is known to be by its strict pro-AKP editorial- are visible in the conference hall. Daily Sabah, along with its sister TV company AHaber are also among the media partners of the Summit.

Halkbank’s CEO Mehmet Hakan Atilla was recently arrested in New York. Hakan Atilla’s case is combined with Reza Zarrab’s, an Iranian-Turkish businessman who is accused of scheming to evade US sanctions on Iran by using the US and international financial institutions.

Atlantic Council’s summit’s theme this year is “Strengthening Transatlantic Engagement in a Turbulent Region.”

Vice President of the Atlantic Council Stephen Hadley, Atlantic Council Regional and Istanbul Summit Director Defne Sadıklar Arslan, President of the Atlantic Council and CEO Frederick Kempe, US Ambassador to Ankara John Bass were among the names that joined the opening ceremony.

President Erdogan is also expected to speak at the summit.

Reminding the Council’s decision to organize an annual summit in Turkey, Stephen Hadley today earlier stated: “Turkey is a dynamic country” that holds incredible significance in the global scene. Mr. Hadley said Turkey being part in Europe and part in Asia and having strong ties with the Middle East, is the ideal platform for discussing the opportunities and challenges in the region and even in the world. Mr. Hadley did not raise any human rights and freedom issues during his talk.

Atlantic Council Is Not a Fair Weather Friend

The CEO and President of the Atlantic Council Frederick Kempe, who spoke after Mr. Hadley said that the region is going through tough times and that the Council hesitated to go through with the summit after the ill-fated, unsuccessful coup attempt in Turkey added: “but the Atlantic Council is not fair weather friend.”

Kempe said that, intense conversation and exchange of ideas were important especially during tough times and that the summit was aiming to achieve that. Kempe told the audience; “We will focus on the issues of growing with peace, stability, prosperity and economic integration. Regional energy partnership will be at the center of all of them.”

Kempe did not raise any of the freedom issues in Turkey during his talk, nor anyone expected him to do so.

Kempe, in an earlier interview that was published over the weekend, claimed, among other things, that “the cleansing in the state after coup attempt whether is disproportional or inadequate, it’s still a matter of debate.” About 150 thousand public servants have been sacked and about another 50 thousand people have been arrested since the coup attempt. According to Mr. Kempe, this may not be enough.

Mr. Kempe also stated in the same interview he “hopes Turkey would be a democratic and secular model for the Muslim world.” Turkey currently is holding the record for highest number of incarcerated journalists in the world, more than China, Russia, Egypt, Iran combined.

Kempe also avoided criticizing any aspects of the referendum conducted on April 16th, during the interview, an election already viewed as the worst election since 1946, received some heavy criticism by OSCE observers.

Turkey’s ranked slided back further to 155th this year out of 180 countries in Reporters Without Borders rankings.

 

Ela Gonca Izmirli contributed to this report.

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