Today was the day the Los Angeles Turkey Business Forum was supposed to happen. CEOs and board members from 12 top Turkish corporations were going to meet with Los Angeles business owners to schmooze and talk trade. The Mayor's Office of International Trade, the L.A. Area Chamber of Commerce and the Turkey-U.S. Business Council were listed as organizers.
But the chamber and the office of L.A. City Councilman Paul Krekorian said not so fast. Invoking the Washington, D.C., attack last week on protesters by security for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in town to meet with President Trump, the chamber announced it was canceling the forum. The Turkish Consulate in Los Angeles added via email that the mayor's office “withdrew its support from the event.”
The attack, including kicking and stomping otherwise peaceful protesters outside the Turkish ambassador’s home on Embassy Row (see video below), was widely criticized. U.S. Sen. John McCain has asked the U.S. State Department to expel the Turkish ambassador as punishment. And L.A. area U.S. Rep. Ed Royce sent a letter to the U.S. Attorney General urging criminal prosecutions regardless of any possible diplomatic immunity.
“Video evidence indicates men dressed in suits viciously beat multiple individuals, throwing them to the ground and kicking them in the head,” Royce wrote. “Numerous news reports indicate these individuals were members of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s security detail who accompanied him on his official state visit this week. Alarmingly, this behavior is indicative of the broad crackdowns on political activists, journalists and religious freedom in Turkey that have greatly harmed Turkish democracy in recent years.”
This week Krekorian took credit for requesting that the chamber cancel the business event. The violence “was reprehensible and a grave breach of our country’s laws,” he said in a statement. “That the business community in our great city recognizes that human rights must be upheld by all within our borders is a credit to their vision and conscience.”
Krekorian proudly notes that he's the first Armenian-American elected to citywide office here. Many Armenians hold a deep grudge against the Turkish government for its refusal to recognize the Armenian genocide of 1915. But a spokesman for the councilman said the cancellation was purely a reaction to the Turkish security team's violence. He said there should be consequences for Turkey — which is blaming U.S. authorities for the fracas — even if the White House has yet to make a move.
This week Krekorian sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in favor of “strong” American action against an unapologetic Turkey. “The fact that it actually involved the Turkish president’s own security personnel clearly demonstrates that the Turkish regime and its diplomatic missions hold American laws and constitutional principles in deep disdain,” he wrote.
Gary Toebben, CEO of the L.A. Chamber of Commerce, didn't mention the diplomatic violence in an email to the Weekly: “We have informed our members that the meeting with the business delegation from Turkey scheduled for Thursday, May 25, at the chamber office has been called off. This decision was made because we determined that holding the meeting would not be in the best interests of our members or the visiting delegation from Turkey.”
The Turkish Consulate General in Los Angeles said via email that “it is truly unfortunate that the forum, having no political agenda, was canceled. Our office will continue to work with local officials and business circles to enhance the relations between Turkey and California.”