Scotland's leader of Pakistani origin defends inviting Erdoğan following criticism

Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Scotland's First Minister Humza Yousaf has defended inviting Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to his country despite the Turkish president's woeful human rights record.

A freedom of information release to The Herald showed the offer was made at a controversial meeting between the pair at the COP28 summit in December. Those talks sparked criticism from within the SNP due to concerns about Turkey's treatment of Kurds.

The Scottish first minister, of Pakistani origins, claimed he would raise human rights concerns with Erdoğan were they to meet in Scotland.

The invite has been criticised by the SNP's government partners, the Greens.

It came after the first minister said he was not "comfortable" with the word "national" in the SNP's name because it can be "misinterpreted".

Asked about the invitation to the Turkish president, Yousaf told reporters at Holyrood: "I said the next time he's in the United Kingdom why not come up to Scotland."

He added: "Why on earth would Scotland not look to seek to engage with a Nato ally and of course with somebody we would seek to do business and trade with?"

The first minister said he would raise human rights concerns "as I tend to do whenever I have meetings with international leaders".

He added: "But I should say of course we do that in a way that also recognises we're on a human rights journey as are other countries."

Minutes from the meeting at the COP28 summit revealed the pair had discussed the conflict between Israel and Hamas and Yousaf's parents-in-law, who were trapped in Gaza for several weeks.

The SNP leader denied to reporters that the invite to Erdoğan was related to evacuating his family members from Gaza.

The Turkish government under Erdoğan, who has led the country for more than 20 years, is a staunch supporter of Hamas and the Palestinian cause.

In a post on X, formerly Twitter, Scottish Greens MSP Ross Greer pointed out the Turkish regime's "ethnic cleansing of the Kurds", bombing civilians in Syria and Iraq, imprisoning opposition politicians "on nonsense charges" and shutting down independent media and human rights groups.

Turkey has conducted military operations against Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) bases inside Turkey and across the border in Syria and Iraq as part of what it says are efforts to prevent terror attacks.

The PKK, which has Marxist-Leninist roots, was formed in the late 1970s and launched an armed struggle against the Turkish government in 1984, calling for an independent Kurdish state within Turkey.

Mr Greer went on to say the Scottish government "wouldn't roll out the red carpet" for Russian President Vladimir Putin or Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Scottish Conservative external affairs spokesperson Donald Cameron: "The public will question if Humza Yousaf's invitation to President Erdoğan to visit Scotland overstepped the mark, especially given his record on a number of topics."

Erdoğan made a three-day state visit to the UK in 2018, which included a meeting with the Queen at Buckingham Palace. He also appeared alongside then-Prime Minister Theresa May at a media conference.

Kurdish-born SNP councillor Roza Salih said she was "disgusted" by Yousaf's meeting with Mr Erdoğan in December as Turkey had stepped up attacks on Kurdish groups in Syria.

The UK government also threatened to withdraw support for Scottish ministers during overseas visits since no UK official was present.

Before being questioned about the invite to the Turkish president, Yousaf told BBC Radio 4's Political Thinking with Nick Robinson podcast that he had concerns about his own party's title.

"I've never really been comfortable with the fact that we have national in our party's name," he said.

The first minister explained that was not because he thought founding members of the SNP had any "far-right nationalist inclination" but because the term can be "misinterpreted".

He told the podcast that the SNP had developed a "very strong brand" based on being a "civic national party".

"We're a party that believes it doesn't matter really where you come from - what's important is where are we going together," the SNP leader said.

"And there's no doubt about our politics being very routed in the left and the centre left of political discourse."

READ MORE: Opposition accuses Erdoğan of abandoning the “Blue Homeland” – The Turkish president responded with references to Barbaros.

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