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Erdoğan’s interpreter files complaint against opposition leader over critical remarks

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A young woman who accompanies Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as his interpreter during diplomatic meetings with other leaders has filed a complaint against the country’s main opposition leader due to his remarks questioning the interpreter’s professional credentials, Turkish media outlets reported.

The complaint was filed by Fatima Gülham Abushanab, the daughter of Merve Kavakçı, who became Turkey’s first headscarved deputy in the 1999 general election. Abushanab has served as the interpreter for some of Erdoğan’s important diplomatic meetings, including a one-on-one with US President Joe Biden in June 2021 as well as at a NATO summit in Madrid last month.

Several senior opposition politicians argued at the time that Erdoğan chose Abushanab as his interpreter because he could trust nobody else to hear the exchanges between him and Biden, although it was doubtful that she had adequate interpretation skills and enough knowledge about current topics on the global agenda.

Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, leader of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), previously claimed that Erdoğan brokered a deal with Biden during their first meeting on the sidelines of a NATO summit in Brussels to allow into Turkey 1 million Afghans who were fleeing their country due to a US decision to withdraw its troops and that he invited a young and inexperienced interpreter to the meeting instead of an official interpreter to keep the deal secret.

Erdoğan denied the claims, saying the criticism about his interpreter stemmed from the fact that she wears a headscarf.

The CHP leader reiterated his claims in a series of tweets posted on July 15, saying, “Whenever Erdoğan took our young lady [Abushanab] with him as an interpreter in diplomatic meetings, either millions of illegal asylum seekers entered our country, or they had our nation sign contracts at a very high cost.”

It was claimed in the complaint filed with the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office, which was released on social media by Abushanab’s lawyer Sezgin Tunç, that Kılıçdaroğlu’s remarks constituted an attack on Abushanab’s personal rights.

The complaint urged the prosecutor’s office to open a case against Kılıçdaroğlu on charges of threats, hatred and discrimination, prevention of public duty and insulting a public officer in addition to crimes to be determined “ex officio” by the office.

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 of 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.

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. Turkish law banned the wearing of Islamic-style headscarves in public institutions at the time.

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

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

The Justice and Development Party (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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