Turkey’s ambassador in Washington is campaigning against critics in the United States who assert that Turkey’s president is trying to eliminate his political enemies under emergency powers enacted after the July 15 failed coup.
“This is not the time to criticize the decisions made by the Turkish government,” Ambassador Serdar Kilic told reporters Friday. “We suffered a very serious blow to democracy.”
The ambassador said he was issuing a plea to the U.S. media to “please stand by Turkey,” and he expressed disappointment with American reporters quoting a self-exiled cleric in Pennsylvania whom Ankara blames as the coup’s mastermind.
The embassy on Friday screened a produced video and distributed a 17-page document to reporters blaming the coup attempt on the “Fethullah Gulen Terrorist Organization.”
Kilic bristled when asked by VOA about his recent testy exchange on the Twitter social media platform with U.S. Representative Brad Sherman, who tweeted: “Military takeover in Turkey will hopefully lead to real democracy, not Erdogan Authoritarianism.”
On Twitter, the ambassador responded to Sherman, “Shame on you. You should be ashamed of yourself for supporting a coup attempt and expecting democracy out of it.”
The California Democrat fired back on Twitter: “Shame on those who use this coup to whitewash Erdogan.”
On Friday, Kilic told VOA it was “totally unacceptable” for a democratically elected lawmaker to express sympathy for a military putsch, saying, “I responded to that on Twitter harshly.”
Sherman told The Los Angeles Times, “It’s hard to be as nuanced as you want to be about foreign policy in 140 characters. I’m not pro-coup, but I’m not pro-Erdogan either.”
Sherman’s San Fernando Valley district is ethnically diverse, with significant Armenian, Assyrian, Chaldean and Syriac communities.
Kilic has the delicate task of trying to persuade skeptical U.S. officials and others to support the extradition of Fethullah Gulen, who lives in virtual isolation on a 10-hectare property in the scenic Poconos in the U.S. state of Pennsylvania.
Kilic cut short a news conference Friday at his embassy to meet with someone he described as “a high-level U.S. official” to discuss the request to extradite Gulen, the head of a civic and educational movement with millions of followers and billions of dollars promoting a tolerant strain of Islam. It regards the Turkish president as a dictator.
In the wake of the coup attempt, Turkey, a NATO member and critical ally in the fight against the self-proclaimed Islamic State, is purging thousands of soldiers, police officers, judges, prosecutors, bureaucrats and academics linked to the Gulen movement, which has operated with a well-oiled public relations apparatus highly critical of the ruling AK party.
This month’s coup attempt was “more than a treacherous plot, it was a terrorist campaign” staged by Gulen and his followers, the ambassador asserted.
President Barack Obama on Friday rejected Turkish conspiracy theories that the United States had advance knowledge of the coup attempt, which left about 250 people dead, something Kilic alluded to just before the denial by the U.S. president.
“I hope it’s not the case” that there was foreign involvement, given the alliance with the United States, the ambassador told reporters.
Obama said he has told President Recep Tayyip Erdogan his administration rejects any attempts to overthrow democracy in Turkey, but Ankara must present evidence implicating Gulen in the coup attempt for extradition to be approved.
The cleric will get a fair trial in Turkey if extradited, Kilic promised Friday.
Erdogan has said he will not rule out the death penalty for Gulen if he is convicted of treason.
Gulen was previously put on trial in absentia in 2000 and acquitted in 2008.
Academics and diplomats explain that Turkey has been experiencing an increasingly high-stakes power struggle between two Islamic movements — one led by an increasingly authoritarian Erdogan, criticized as weakening rule of law and governing institutions — and the other by the enigmatic Gulen, 8,000 kilometers away.