US

Turkish NATO Delegation Walks Out of Event Over Dissident Speech

PHILADELPHIA — Turkish representatives to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)’s Parliamentary Assembly walked out of a Middle East Forum (MEF) event Tuesday when it became clear a dissident would speak there.  

According to Daniel Pipes, MEF president, speakers invited to the event held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, included both Cem Utkan of the Turkish Embassy and Emre Çelik, president of the Rumi Forum. 

Çelik is a supporter of Turkish Sunni cleric Fethullah Gülen, whom Turkey publicly blames for the failed coup d’etat against President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan that occurred in July 2016.   

“When we invited Çelik, Turkey decided no, he’s not welcome,” said Pipes at the conclusion of his remarks in the plenary session of the event. The Turks made clear through its NATO intermediaries that unless Çelik were removed from the program, the event would be cancelled.  

“We felt we had no choice but to accede and remove his name from the program. As Americans, that troubled our conscience,” he added.

Accordingly, Pipes said, “Mr. Çelik has agreed to speak and he will address us here…In the spirit of freedom of speech, I’m bringing him in to speak anyway.”  

Two members of the Turkish delegation stood up and began to argue vociferously with event organizers and the head of the NATO delegation, Thomas Michael Jopling, a Conservative Member of the U.K. House of Lords.  At the same time, two staff members from the Turkish Parliament stood and joined the other Turks, preparing to leave.  

Jopling prevailed upon Pipes to allow him to speak before Çelik, as well as upon the Turks to remain for his remarks. “I don’t mind at all,” a Turkish representative is heard to say in a video taken of the event.  

At the outset of Jopling’s remarks, he excoriated MEF for the change in plans.  “All I will say on the bombshell that you have tipped into our proceedings,” he began, was that “a verbal agreement was made that the gentlemen here would not speak,” referring to Çelik.  “That is unacceptable.”

As Jopling’s remarks drew to an end, Pipes joined him at the podium, contending that the agreement was made under duress.  

Jopling then departed along with the Turkish delegation.  

During Çelik’s remarks, which followed the walkout, he contended, “The autocratic tendencies of President Erdoğan [do] not encourage democracy in a fragile region.  Example: President Erdoğan’s overreaching the rule of law.”

Çelik argued that Erdoğan’s overreaches “include the purge of some 120,000 employees that has left key vacancies in police, intelligence, and military” in the wake of the 2016 coup attempt.    

After the event, MEF tweeted, “Ultimately, @NATO must decide if it will live up to its mission or if it will let one member state dictate its discussions worldwide.”

The event also featured conversations on regional realities in the Middle East, dealing with Syria, and both violent and non-violent jihadi activity in the West.