Turkey, Politics, Americas

Ups, downs in Turkish-American relations in 2019

Operation Peace Spring, YPG/PKK, F-35, sanctions, Armenian issue topped agenda for both nations

Hakan Copur   | 31.12.2019
Ups, downs in Turkish-American relations in 2019


Turkey's counterterror operation in northern Syria was one of the main topics that increased tension between Turkey and the U.S. in 2019.

But the close relationship of the leaders of both nations, as well as White House efforts to stabilize anti-Turkey steps taken by Congress helped to ease the strain in 2019.

The overlapping and conflicting points of both countries' Syria politics affected bilateral relations positively and negatively from time to time. Diversities between the White House and Congress on Turkey also directly affected ties, especially the anti-Turkey agenda of American lawmakers which furthered tensions between the two countries.

Close and constructive relationship of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and U.S. President Donald Trump played a savior role during the crisis.

Operation Peace Spring, YPG/PKK issue

Turkey launched Operation Peace Spring on Oct. 9 to eliminate terrorists from northern Syria and create a safe zone along the border, thereby paving the way for the voluntary return of Syrian refugees.

Meanwhile, Trump announced his decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria,

Trump's remarks on the terror groups such as the YPG/PKK "are not angels", "they have not fought for us" and "we have not promised them a state," showed Washington reduced its support for the organizations.

Although the U.S. Congress wanted to respond to Turkey's operation with harsh sanctions, the Trump administration and Ankara found common ground and agreed Oct. 17 to pause the operation to allow YPG/PKK terrorists to withdraw from the planned safe zone.

Erdogan has "a great relationship with the Kurds," Trump said in November during a joint news conference at the White House.

"Many Kurds live currently in Turkey, and they’re happy and taken care of," Trump added, "including health care and education and other things."

F-35 vs S-400

In July, Turkey's acquisition of the advanced Russian air-defense system prompted the Trump administration to remove Turkey from the F-35 joint strike fighter program. The U.S. claims the system could be used by Russia to covertly obtain classified details on the jet and is incompatible with NATO systems.

Turkey, however, countered that the S-400 would not be integrated into NATO systems and would not pose a threat to the alliance.

In June, Trump responded to a question on the issue, saying he puts America first in all matters but cannot turn a blind eye to Turkey's unfair treatment by the prior administration, referring to former U.S. President Barack Obama's handling of Turkey's request to purchase F-35 defense systems. 

Armenian issue in Congress

The U.S. Senate unanimously passed a resolution recognizing Armenian claims on the events that transpired in 1915 mid-December, which gained the anger of Ankara.

Although it is not legally binding, the adoption of the resolution on a very sensitive issue was not welcomed by Turkey.

It also showed that Democrats and Republicans can work together when it comes to an anti-Turkey agenda.

Turkey's position on the events of 1915 is that the deaths of Armenians in eastern Anatolia took place when some sided with invading Russians and revolted against Ottoman forces. A subsequent relocation of Armenians resulted in numerous casualties.

Turkey objects to the presentation of the incidents as "genocide" but describes the events as a tragedy in which both sides suffered casualties.

Ankara has repeatedly proposed the creation of a joint commission of historians from Turkey and Armenia, plus international experts, to examine the issue.

It's hard to expect what the new year will bring for ties between the two countries as Trump's impeachment trial and 2020 presidential elections will continue to dominate the country's agenda for much of the year.

*Beyza Binnur Donmez from Ankara contributed to the story

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