Key members of the United States government have finally recognized Turkey’s persistently troublesome drone activity throughout the Middle East in recent years as a major contributor to instability in the region. In a July 26 letter to the State Department, Congressmen David Cicilline (D-RI) and Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) urged Secretary of State Anthony Blinken to address these concerns by halting all exports of American drone technology to Turkey. Turkey’s drone programs have been integral in the country’s recent military exploits, which have amplified conflict and instability in the Middle East.
Turkey’s drone activity has played a pivotal role in its ongoing conflict with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), an armed Kurdish militia that seeks to expand the rights of Kurds within Turkey’s borders. In this conflict, Turkey has used drones to bomb Kurdish military groups that were instrumental in the joint effort between the United States and other Middle Eastern nations to defeat ISIS. Further, Turkey has been notoriously indiscriminate in its bombing campaigns on Kurdish territory. Turkey strikes in Northern Iraq have vastly disproportionately affected noncombatants, many of whom belong to unique Christian minorities. Since the start of Turkey’s military activity in the Kurdistan region, 504 villages have been abandoned, including at least 150 Assyrian Christian communities, many of which had no evident connection to the PKK. After suffering severe persecution at the hands of ISIS, these Christian communities are once again caught in the devastating crossfire of a conflict that does not concern them.
Turkey’s interventions into the 2020 Azeri-Armenian Conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh) provided further cause for concern. Both Turkish and Azeri forces used Turkish drones on Armenian civilians in their effort to take over the Nagorno-Karabakh region, a conquest that was eventually successful. Turkey’s role in the conflict stirred international activism from Armenians worldwide as diplomats urged Western corporations to sever ties with Turkish defense organizations. Several major Canadian and British defense corporations have heard these pleas and halted all dealings of drone equipment to Turkey.
Congressman Cicilline and Bilirakis’s letter directly cites Turkey’s drone activity in Nagorno-Karabakh, Kurdistan, Syria, and Libya as directly contradictory to the United States’ foreign policy goals and standards for international human rights. Their call for a ban of drone exports to Turkey is an essential first step in addressing Turkey’s evident failure to uphold the standards of sovereignty and human rights required of NATO members. Congressman Cicilline and Bilirakis have called on their colleagues in the House of Representatives to join them in co-signing the letter, collaboration that would be invaluable in drawing attention to Turkey’s negligence and lack of cooperation. Their letter should encourage US officials such as Secretary Blinken to critically consider Turkey’s aggressive and interventionist foreign policy in their ongoing efforts to promote peace and stability in the Middle East.