November 16, 1999

The Honorable William Jefferson Clinton
President of the United States
The White House
Washington, D.C. 20500

President Clinton,

On November 18-19, 1999, you will meet Turkey’s President and 52 other Heads of State at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Summit in Istanbul, a meeting which specifically links human rights, economic and security issues. We appeal to you to take this opportunity to publicly call upon the Turkish Government to honor stated commitments to OSCE human rights principles. We further urge that you call upon the OSCE High Commissioner for National Minorities to address the situation of minorities in Turkey, including that of the Kurdish population. Finally, we ask that you inform civilian and military leaders with whom you meet that the United States Government will uphold its stated policy not to transfer helicopters and other weaponry to Turkey unless it implements unequivocal reforms to end widespread human rights abuses.

As the Summit convenes, several US companies are vying to sell attack helicopters and main battle tanks to the Turkish military. The State Department, international human rights organizations and media sources have documented use of U.S. weapons by Turkish security forces in commission of human rights abuses. Over the course of a 15-year-old war with Kurdish insurgents, Turkish forces have used U.S.-supplied aircraft to help destroy over 3,000 villages, displacing an estimated 1-2 million Kurds. Turkish forces have also used U.S. small arms to intimidate and kill civilians, as well as utility helicopters and armored personnel carriers to transport forces on these missions.

In separate meetings with non-governmental organizations and defense industry representatives in January 1998, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Canadian Affairs Marc Grossman and former Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, John Shattuck, pledged not to support the helicopter or other sales unless Turkey demonstrated genuine progress in several human rights areas outlined by successive Turkish governments. These reforms included: lifting restrictions on free speech; releasing journalists, parliamentarians and others imprisoned for speech crimes; eliminating torture and police impunity; reopening non-governmental organizations shut down by Turkish authorities; expanding political participation; resettling people forcibly displaced during the Kurdish conflict; and lifting of the state of emergency in Kurdish regions. Effective end-use monitoring of U.S. military equipment being used in the Kurdish conflict was also proposed as a condition of weapons sales. Almost two years later, there has been no serious improvement in any of the specified areas, despite repeated public pledges and various public relations initiatives. Persecution of journalists, human rights defenders and peaceful dissidents continues unabated; torture continues with impunity, including several cases involving children as young as two-years-old; and Kurdish-based and pro-Islamic political parties have been banned or face imminent closure. The Government of Turkey prohibits all legal avenues for Kurds to express themselves politically or culturally and bans Kurdish language television and radio broadcasts.

Turkey is an important NATO ally located in a region critical to numerous US strategic, political and economic interests. Yet stability in Turkey depends on a strong democracy, a fully-enfranchised population, and peaceful resolution of the Kurdish conflict. The transfer of advanced weapons to Turkey undermines these objectives. Weapons sales to Turkey fuel a costly arms race in the Aegean, eroding confidence-building measures being undertaken with Greece and encouraging intransigence in resolving the Cyprus imbroglio. Arms sales to Turkey threaten all Turkey’s neighbors and thus diminish regional stability. Furthermore, by providing tools with which Turkey wages war against its own citizens, the U.S. government prolongs the increasingly polarizing Kurdish conflict and contributes to the continued dominance of the Turkish military in politics and policymaking. As organizations committed to principles outlined in OSCE and other international treaties to which Turkey is a signatory, we firmly believe that the U.S. government should not place commercial interests before justified concerns about human rights abuses committed with US weaponry. US citizens and their representatives in Congress should not be made complicit in repressive policies of the Turkish regime undertaken with US tax-payer subsidized weapons.

As host of this important OSCE human rights summit, we believe Turkey has a special duty to uphold its stated OSCE commitments, and, as a strong supporter of Turkish democracy and regional stability, the United States has an equal duty to encourage Turkey to comply with such commitments.


Mike Amitay

Executive Director

Washington Kurdish Institute

Maureen Greenwood

Advocacy Director for Europe and Middle East

Amnesty International USA

Tamar Gabelnick

Director, Arms Sales Monitoring Project

Federation of American Scientists

William D. Hartung

Director, Arms Trade Resource Center

World Policy Institute at the New School

Bill Frelick

Director of Policy

U.S. Committee for Refugees

Dr. Oscar Arias Sanchez

President of Costa Rica (1986-1990)

1987 Nobel Peace Prize Recipient

Katheryn Cameron Porter


Human Rights Alliance

Margaret Huang

Program Director, Asia & Middle East

Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights

Gordon S. Clark

Executive Director

Peace Action

Joe Volk

Executive Secretary

Friends Committee on National Legislation (Quakers)

Lynn Fredriksson

Washington Representative

East Timor Action Network

Lyn Beth Neylon


Human Rights Access (HRX)

Munawar Laghari


World Sindhi Institute

Jordana Friedman

Director, International Security Program

Council on Economic Priorities

Nancy Small

National Coordinator

Pax Christi USA

Kani Xulam


American Kurdish Information Network

Lee Vander Laan

Executive Director

Veterans for Peace

Susan Shaer

Executive Director

Women’s Action for New Directions (WAND)

Morton Sklar


World Organization Against Torture – USA

Erik K. Gustafson


Education for Peace in Iraq Center (EPIC)

Fouad Darweesh


Kurdish National Congress of North America

Luke Warren

Senior Analyst

Council for a Livable World Education Fund

Alice Zachman


Gautemala Human Rights Commission-USA

Tom Barry


Foreign Policy In Focus

Loyce Swartz Borgman

Washington Office Coordinator

Church of the Brethren