The team responsible for the overseas operations of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is engaged in talks to establish a new party organization in the United States. The AKP has been lobbying Turkish citizens living in the US through various government-funded NGOs, but the party is now working on a structure in which voters are divided by region, each of which has a representative, similar to the setup in Europe.
A delegation headed by Efkan Ala, a deputy chairman of the AKP who runs the party’s overseas operations, has been meeting with Turks since March 4 on behalf of the Union of International Democrats (UID), the party’s European organization. The UID decided to open representative offices in the US, Australia and Japan in 2020 but had to postpone the plans due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The UID is often described as the long arm of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Europe for mobilizing the Turkish and Muslim diasporas for the goals of political Islamists back in Turkey.
Turkish diplomats gave strong support to the ruling party delegation, which visited New York, New Jersey, Boston and Washington, D.C., where Turks living in the US are concentrated.
New York Consul General Reyhan Özgür was present at the meetings in and around New York. One of the gatherings in New York City was held at the new Turkish House, which was built by businessmen close to Erdoğan at a very high cost.
Özgür is known for his efforts to gather information about well-known Turkish citizens who come to the consulate for consular services and trying to get close to them. Nordic Monitor learned that many people who were afraid of the government responded positively to the meeting requests from Özgür and tried not to get involved in political issues during the meeting.
Ambassador Murat Mercan accompanied the delegation at the meetings in Washington, D.C. Mercan, a non-career diplomat, was first named ambassador to Japan in November 2017 by Erdoğan after serving as deputy minister in the Energy Ministry and chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee in the Turkish Parliament. President Erdoğan also hopes to use him to lobby the Biden administration since Mercan had networked in D.C. as committee chairman during the Obama administration.
Halil Mutlu, the party’s US representative who was appointed by the AKP in February, also took part in the delegation. Mutlu is Erdoğan’s cousin and a doctor who has been living in the US for a number of years.
Mutlu came to public attention in a scandal last September during Erdogan’s visit for the UN General Assembly. The pro-Erdoğan Turkish American National Steering Committee (TASC) co-chaired by Mutlu and the little-known Orthodox Jewish Chamber of Commerce (OJC) on September 19, 2021 signed a joint declaration to “cooperate for the common good of Turkish Americans and Jewish Americans and to support relations between our homeland the United States and our respective motherlands, Turkey and Israel” through initiatives such as the Abraham Accords, a series of US-brokered agreements in 2020 aimed at normalizing relations between Israel and some Arab states. Erdoğan had at the time described this as a betrayal of the Palestinian cause.
TASC later announced that due to the lack of proper consensus, it was withdrawing from the Joint TASC-OJC Declaration. TASC also apologized to Deputy Minister Yavuz Selim Kıran, who was present at the signing ceremony. Kıran faced heavy criticism, including from people close to the ruling party.
Despite this, Mutlu’s appointment as AKP representative is attributed to the fact that he is Erdoğan’s cousin. Many of Erdoğan’s relatives hold high-level positions in the government and the party.
Nordic Monitor learned that the head of the UID, Köksal Kuş, who came to the US with the delegation, could not attend many of the meetings due to illness.
Ala introduced the UID to the Turkish citizens he met and asked them to become involved in politics in the US. He also said they would forward the meeting notes to President Erdoğan and that they would work to resolve any problems raised by his instructions.
If there is no snap election, a presidential election will be held in Turkey in June 2023. Political observers predict a cutthroat contest between the AKP and the opposition parties, making every vote count. Most of the Turks living in Europe and the US can now vote in Turkish elections in the cities where they reside. President Erdoğan advises the UID delegations, with whom he frequently meets, to reach everyone and to be ready for the elections. The fact that AKP Election Affairs President Muhammed Fatih Toprak was in the delegation to the US confirms this.
Nordic Monitor previously published an article on the dubious work of AKP-backed NGOs in the US that served as a clearinghouse for political donations originating from known and suspected Turkish foreign agents that were accused of attempting to manipulate US elections and purchase support for the AKP.