Turkey scrambles to rebuild decimated lobbying team as tensions with US pile up

The Turkish embassy is down to just three firms & no longer has any former members of Congress helping represent its interests

With a relatively friendly president in the White House and an array of lobbying firms at its disposal, Turkey still managed to get booted out of the prestigious F-35 fighter jet program in 2019.

That year, according to a review of lobbying disclosures by the Center for Responsive Politics, the Turkish government spent $3.6 million on seven different lobbying firms.

Fast-forward two years, and Ankara’s troubled relationship with Washington has only gotten worse.

Where President Donald Trump turned a blind eye to human rights abuses by US allies in pursuit of his “America First” agenda, Joe Biden on Saturday became the first US commander-in-chief to recognize the Ottoman-era genocide of Armenians in present-day Turkey.

In Congress, lawmakers from both parties are increasingly decrying what they call the “increasingly authoritarian path” taken by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

And US prosecutors are going forward with their criminal case against state-owned Turkish lender Halkbank on Iran sanctions-busting charges that threaten to engulf Erdogan’s son-in-law, former Finance Minister Berat Albayrak.

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Worse still, the multiplying crises are happening as the Turkish government continues to hemorrhage lobbying firms that Ankara has long counted on to facilitate access and help sell its message in Congress and the executive branch. Amid a sustained pressure campaign from the Armenian-American diaspora, the embassy is down to just three firms registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) and no longer has any former members of Congress helping represent its interests.

“They are looking for lobby firms. Aggressively,” said Bilal Eksili, the executive director of the National Council On Civil Advocacy, a group close to US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen that has been lobbying on human rights in Turkey since 2019. The Erdogan government blames Gulen and his followers for a failed coup in 2016 and has been cracking down on alleged Gulenists ever since.

Read more: Foreign Lobby