James H. Holmes, head of the Washington-based American-Turkish Council (ATC), a leading business association in the US that works to enhance American-Turkish ties, announced his resignation on Sunday, declaring that it is due to pressure from the Turkish government in the aftermath of the corruption scandal in Turkey, according to media reports cited by Today’s Zaman.
Along with Holmes, who has been president and CEO of the ATC for 11 years, Executive Director Canan Büyüküstün and Director of Commercial Programs and Government Affairs Ayşe Sümer also announced their resignations at this year’s annual conference that kicked off on Sunday. The executive board of the association met and formalized the resignations before the reception at the Turkish Embassy in Washington, D.C. It was reported that the resignations were due to demands made by Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan, who traveled to Washington, D.C., twice in the past two months. The resignations were announced, but no official public statement has been made yet, say reports.
When Today’s Zaman called the ATC office for further information, an ATC official who did not wish to be identified stated that the association will not issue any news release regarding this matter until the end of the conference on Wednesday. “We are not at the point to confirm the matter. Mr. Holmes will make a comment about the issue after the conference ends,” said the official.
According to media outlets, the main reason for the government pressure was the bulletin published by the ATC that apparently cited news reports from the website of Today’s Zaman published following the corruption scandal that became public on Dec. 17, 2013.
It is reported that the ATC’s executive board stood behind Holmes in the beginning, but surrendered to increasing pressure after officials from both Turkey and the US snubbed the council’s annual congress this month, leading Holmes, Büyüküstün and Sümer to resign.
Participation in the high-profile ATC annual conference is diverse, including members of the US Congress, senior US administration officials and the US military, as well as high-ranking government and military officials from the Turkish side.
The resignations raised questions about the future of the ATC, which serves as an important platform for the enhancement of Turkey-US ties, and also the impact of this latest development on the relationship between two countries.
When asked about his resignation, Holmes remarked while at the conference that the question should be directed at the Turkish government.
“We came to an agreement with the ATC executive board. Conditions originating in Turkey have led me to make such a decision. The addressee for this issue is the Turkish government,” said Holmes.
The fact that there was no Turkish ministerial level participation in this year’s conference also attracted a great deal of attention. Serdar Kılıç, Turkey’s newly appointed ambassador to Washington, did not attend the event. It was reported that the lack of government participation was a clear indication of the government’s displeasure with the ATC.
In an interview with Today’s Zaman last year, Holmes stated that Turkey and the US value these conferences highly as they are the one occasion on which the full range of issues concerning the two countries are discussed by senior representatives of the country’s various institutions.
According to reports, Holmes came under pressure from the Turkish government in the past few months and Turkish government officials have started to boycott the ATC because of critical comments Holmes made about developments in Turkey.
The pressure on the ATC head has also raised concerns that it may further strain ties between Ankara and Washington. The US side has still not responded publicly to the resignations of the ATC top executive officials.
The developments in the aftermath of the Dec. 17 corruption scandal have already shaken Turkish-American ties. A US State Department report in February described the developments following the Dec. 17 anti-corruption operation in Turkey as a “scandal” and pointed out that despite the reports of corruption in parts of the government, the number of arrests and prosecutions is low and convictions remain rare, while impunity continues to be a problem.
The US administration has also criticized recent developments in the country, such as the restructuring of Turkey’s judicial system to give more powers to the executive, creating concerns over the separation of powers; and the government’s tight control over the media, including blocking social media sites.
Right after the start of the December corruption investigation, Erdoğan threatened to expel the US ambassador to Turkey, Francis Ricciardone, suggesting that he is behind an operation to topple the current administration, a claim that was denied by the US shortly thereafter.
Turkey’s relationship with the US has deteriorated so much that for the first time in Turkish-American history, a Turkish prime minister has been rebuffed in a White House statement. In an unusual statement, the White House also accused Prime Minister Erdoğan of misrepresenting the content of his conversation with Obama on Feb. 19 regarding the extradition of Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, who lives in Pennsylvania.
Last month, Holmes was the moderator of a panel organized by the Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research (SETA) in Washington, D.C. — widely known for its close ties to the Turkish government — and he got quite a reaction when he asked, “What is the quality of democracy in Turkey?”