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Opposition leader slams Erdoğan’s interpreter at NATO summit for ‘inexperience’

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Meral Akşener, chairman of the nationalist opposition İYİ (Good) Party, has criticized for a lack of experience Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s interpreter for a meeting with US President Joe Biden on the sidelines of the NATO summit in Brussels on Monday, local media reported.

Fatima Gülham Abushanab, the daughter of Merve Kavakçı, who became Turkey’s first headscarved deputy in the 1999 general election, has been reported by Turkish media as the interpreter for Erdoğan’s meeting with Biden.

“Since they [the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP)] turned our state traditions upside down, they didn’t choose to work with an experienced interpreter from the embassies or the Foreign Ministry, who is obligated to write an official report [about the Erdoğan-Biden meeting],” Akşener said on Wednesday during her party’s group meeting.

“This way, they [the AKP] eliminated the possibility that what was said there [at the summit] would be reported to the Foreign Ministry and through the ministry, to the parliament,” the İYİ leader added.

“Mr. Erdoğan, you didn’t even think of informing the parliament [about the meeting with Biden]. But you should. I would like to repeat once again how humiliating it was to find out about it from the US press,” Akşener said.

İYİ Deputy Chairman Ahmet Erozan also shared a photo of Erdoğan with Abushanab on Twitter, arguing that although it was doubtful that she had adequate interpretation skills and enough knowledge about current topics on the global agenda, the president chose her as his interpreter because he could trust nobody else to hear the exchanges between him and Biden.

In response, AKP Deputy Chairman Hamza Dağ accused Erozan of discriminating against Abushanab because she wears a headscarf. “Is it a headscarved woman being the president’s interpreter that you can’t get over, or are you disturbed that a person wearing a headscarf is competent,” he asked.

Abushanab’s father was Ali Ahmet Abushanab, a Jordanian-American Merve Kavakçı married in 1988 and divorced in 1993. She got her bachelor’s degree from the international relations department at George Mason University in Virginia and subsequently her master’s from the Liberal Studies Program at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. She is currently part of the team of international relations experts at Erdoğan’s palace.

Merve Kavakçı, who was elected to parliament from the ranks of the now-closed, Islamist Virtue Party (FP), caused an uproar when she wore her headscarf to a swearing-in ceremony in parliament in what some saw as defiance of the secular Turkish Constitution. At that time Turkish law banned the wearing of Islamic-style headscarves in public institutions.

The incident led to the revoking of Kavakçı’s Turkish citizenship after she was found to have acquired US citizenship without informing the authorities; hence, she was prevented from serving as a lawmaker.

Kavakçı was appointed as Turkey’s ambassador to Kuala Lumpur in 2017.

The AKP government pledged to remove the ban on the wearing of headscarves in all spheres when it came to power in 2002 since civil servants and students were prohibited from wearing headscarves. There is now complete headscarf freedom in the country.

Erdoğan’s AKP government has been criticized by many for abusing the values and symbols of Islam for political gain.

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