Urgent Action Alert:

Oppose Helicopter Sale to Turkey!

The U.S. government is considering exporting 145 attack helicopters to Turkey this spring. Now is the time to support peaceful negotiations between the Turkish government and its Kurdish population, not to encourage further military conflict by exporting weapons of war.

Write to your member of Congress to oppose this sale!



In March 2000, the Turkish government will decide which of five models—Bell Textron's AH-1W Super Cobra, Boeing's AH-64 Apache Longbow, Eurocopter's UHU-HAS Tiger, Agusta's A-129 International, or Kamov Helicopter's Ka-50/2 Black Shark (in cooperation with Israeli Aircraft Industries)—will win the bid for 145 attack helicopters, a deal worth about $3.5 billion. While Turkey apparently finds the U.S. models technically superior and more politically palatable, anticipation of Congressional opposition to the sale might prompt it to choose a different helicopter instead.

Initial criticism of the sale was voiced by human rights and arms control groups in 1997, but was matched by forceful industry lobbying, leading the State Department to forge a compromise deal. A marketing license was granted to the U.S. companies, but State promised to condition approval of an export license—if a U.S. helicopter were to be selected—on specific improvements in Turkey's human rights and democratic practices. Among the areas highlighted for improvement were:

·        Decriminalization of free speech

·        Release of political prisoners (including journalists and Members of Parliament)             

·        An end to torture and police impunity

·        Re-opening of non-governmental organizations closed by Turkish authorities          

·        Democratization and expansion of political participation

·        Lifting the state of emergency in the southeastern part of Turkey

·        Resettlement and aid to internally displaced persons

These conditions have not been met; the government of Turkey has made little progress on human rights, especially vis-à-vis its Kurdish population. The Turkish regime has spent more than $120 billion on its military campaign against the rebel Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and continues to pursue all-out military victory despite repeated calls for an end to the fighting by the PKK. For example, after the PKK announced it was laying down its arms and withdrawing from Turkey in September 1999, the Turkish military sent thousands of troops over the Iraqi border to pursue them in retreat. Supplying the Turkish military with such a large quantity of attack helicopters will only encourage Turkey to pursue military, rather than peaceful and democratic, remedies to the conflict. The sale of attack helicopters could also contribute directly to future human rights abuses in the war. Other U.S.-supplied helicopters have been used to carry out indiscriminate attacks on civilian targets, and nothing in Turkey's record indicates such practices will change.

Moreover, Turkey has consistently failed to address the human rights and economic problems that have fueled support for this rebellion in the first place. The Government of Turkey has prohibited all legal avenues for Kurds in Turkey to express themselves politically or culturally. Kurdish language television and radio broadcasts are forbidden. Four democratically-elected mayors from the main Kurdish political party (People's Democracy Party or HADEP) were arrested in February 2000 for alleged connections to the PKK. The Turkish Government is preparing a legal case to close HADEP and another Kurdish-based political party, which would eliminate a possible interlocutor for the Kurds in eventual peace talks. Fourteen other political parties have been banned since 1982.

More generally, the persecution of peaceful opposition leaders continues at record levels, torture continues with impunity, and the military regularly interferes with the democratic process and the work of elected officials. Journalists and opposition leaders have been silenced through intimidation and prison sentences. In the fall of 1998, Turkish courts upheld a sentence against the mayor of Istanbul, a leader of the Islamic movement, and extended the sentence of Leyla Zana, a Kurdish ex-Deputy, for allegedly "inciting religious hatred" and "racial hatred," respectively. The PKK’s leader Abdulah Ocalan was captured in early 1999 and sentenced to death in a trial that human rights groups have decried as unfair, not least because his lawyers were threatened and given only restricted access to Ocalan. In October 1999 several journalists imprisoned for their political views were released, but until the laws criminalizing expression of certain opinions are repealed, journalists will still operate in a climate of fear.

The U.S. State Department has reason enough to reject the helicopter deal based on Turkey's failure to make the requisite improvements in its human rights practices. But another strike against the deal is the large degree of technology transfer Turkey requires in order to co-produce the helicopters. Turkey would gain access to sensitive technology with which it aims to become an independent producer and exporter of helicopters. Along with creating future competition, co-production deprives the supplier of many jobs, undermining the defense industry's claim that the contract would be an enormous boon to the U.S. economy.


Dear Rep./Sen. X,

I am writing to seek your support in opposing a possible sale of 145 U.S. attack helicopters to Turkey because of serious ongoing human rights abuses in that country. Currently, Bell Textron’s AH-1W Super Cobra and Boeing’s AH-64 Apache Longbow are under consideration for this deal. The State Department issued a marketing license to the two companies in December 1997, yet conditioned final export license approval on specific improvements in the human rights situation in Turkey.

These conditions have not been met. Persecution of peaceful Kurdish and other opposition leaders is at record levels, torture continues with impunity, and the military regularly interferes with the democratic process and the work of elected officials. Moreover, the war with the rebel Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in the Southeast continues unabated despite the capture of PKK leader Abdulah Ocalan and his repeated attempts to end the PKK’s violent conflict through peaceful negotiations. Supplying the Turkish military with such a large quantity of attack helicopters will only encourage Turkey to pursue military, rather than peaceful and democratic, remedies to the conflict.

Both the State Department and international human rights organizations have documented the use of U.S. weapons by Turkish security forces in the commission of past human rights abuses. In the course of its 15-year-old war with Kurdish insurgents in the Southeast, Turkish forces have used U.S. attack helicopters and fighter jets to destroy over 3,000 villages, leaving an estimated 1-2 million Kurds homeless.

The U.S. government has a responsibility to prevent the future use of U.S. arms in human rights abuses by halting exports until the conflict is peacefully resolved and the rule of law is back in force throughout the country. Stability in Turkey depends on a strong democracy, a fully-enfranchised population, and peace in the southeast. By providing the tools with which Turkey wages war against its own citizens, the U.S. government will not promote the long-term security of either Turkey or the United States.

One of the two U.S. companies is likely to win the attack helicopter bid. I urge you to make your opposition to the sale of these helicopters known to the Secretary of State and the White House long before Congress is officially notified of the sale.

Respectfully yours,

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