Erdogan: Lindsey Graham ‘Learned His Lesson’ About Making Anti-Turkey Remarks

President Donald Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan meet in the Oval Office with Republican senators at the White House Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Patrick Semansky/AP Photo

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, en route home to Ankara after meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump and members of Congress in Washington, boasted that he taught Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) a “lesson” for daring to insult Turkey by questioning Erdogan’s invasion of Syria to attack the Kurds.

As the Kurdish news service Rudaw reported on Friday, Erdogan was giving his version of the Oval Office meeting in which he presented skeptical senators with an iPad video depicting the commander of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), Mazloum Abdi, as a terrorist:

The video shows Turkey’s conflict with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which seeks cultural and political rights for Kurds in Turkey. Turkey claims that the SDF is the Syrian offshoot of the PKK, despite SDF claims to the contrary.

The four and a half minute-long video blames the deaths of those killed during incidents in the video on Mazloum Abdi, introduced as Ferhat Abdul Sahin or the “spiritual son” of the PKK’s jailed leader Abdullah Ocalan. 

It also includes the image of Ocalan with a young man, believed to be Abdi, swimming in a pool.

The video which was shared by the Turkish Presidency’s Communications Director Fahrettin Altun, also compared the Kurdish commander to Islamic State (ISIS) leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, stating that they are “the same.”

It should be noted that Rudaw is seriously underselling how vigorously the PKK “seeks cultural and political rights for Kurds in Turkey.” It is a violent separatist group that has long been recognized as a terrorist organization by the U.S. government.

Erdogan’s congressional critics reportedly found his anti-Kurd video “unpersuasive.” Graham responded to the presentation by sarcastically asking Erdogan, “Well, do you want me to go get the Kurds to make one about what you’ve done?” 

SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali immediately signaled his willingness to do so:

Erdogan does not handle sarcasm well, and he reportedly did not care for Graham’s constant references to his “Operation Peace Spring” as an “invasion” of Syria.

According to an account of the meeting published by the New York Times, Erdogan “went nuts” when Graham said, “I warned you not to do it, and everything that I was worried about came true in spades.”

On the flight back to Ankara, Erdogan held forth to reporters and boasted of how he put Graham in his place, as Rudaw noted, citing the Turkish-language account at state news agency Anadolu:

“He has been to Turkey and we listened to a classical music concert together,” said Erdogan, referring to a January 2019 concert in Ankara.

“He used to make friendly comments on Turkey. Then, all of a sudden he made a strange turn and became a spokesperson for anti-Turkey fronts,” he added, reported state-owned Anadolu Agency (AA).  

Asked if he told this to the senator himself, Erdogan replied, “I told him what was necessary. Today, he learned his lesson.”

The apparently analogous English-language report at Anadolu – primarily about Erdogan’s insistence on breaking NATO rules by buying Russian military equipment – does not include the Graham remark.

Erdogan was presumably interpreting Graham’s block of a resolution to condemn the Armenian genocide as evidence of the senator “learning his lesson.” 

Graham has yet to elaborate on his reasons for blocking the resolution, but he said he took the action after meeting with Erdogan and Trump, and expressed hope that Turkey and Armenia can “come together and deal with this problem,” meaning the legacy of the genocide.

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