The Tatlidil Forum was established in 2011 by prime minister David Cameron and Turkish premier Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to “facilitate and strengthen relations” between the two countries. Tatlidil means “sweet talk” in Turkish.
Since it launched, the annual off-the-record two-day conference, which takes place alternatively in Turkey and Britain, has been attended by a wide cross-section of senior UK politicians, ministers, royalty and businessmen.
The group does not disclose its funders, although the Foreign Office recently said it contributed £11,700 to the 2022 forum.
But the Foreign Office told Declassified Tatlidil is not a government body so it couldn’t answer any questions about it. Neither would it divulge who co-funds it or even when and where the next conference will be.
It said: “Turkey is a key partner to the UK and an important NATO ally. The Tatlidil Forum is not a government body. The Foreign Office provides limited financial support.”
Tatlidil’s funders have included BAE Systems and Rolls-Royce, two of Britain’s largest weapons companies. MBDA and QinetiQ, two more UK arms manufacturers, also appear to be sponsors.
The array of British corporations backing the event has also included oil majors Shell and BP.
Erdoğan is an autocrat who was prime minister of Turkey from 2003-14, and since then has occupied the Presidency. It appears the Tatlidil forum is a key mechanism the British establishment uses to promote its commercial and military interests in Turkey.
The Tatlidil group has two British chairs. One is Jack Straw, UK foreign secretary from 2001-5, and a key advocate for the illegal invasion of Iraq. Straw appears close to the Erdoğan regime.
In 2011, as the Tatlidil launched, Straw wrote an op-ed in the Times calling for increased UK support for Erdoğan’s Turkey. He wrote “the UK has been honourable and strategic in its support for Turkey”, which he called the “most democratic state in the wider Middle East”.
The following year, in 2012, Reporters Without Borders called Turkey the “world’s biggest prison for journalists”.
Also in 2012, Straw, then an MP, flew to Turkey’s capital Ankara to receive the country’s highest order available to individuals who are not heads of state. He was presented with the Order of the Republic of Turkey by then president Abdullah Gül, who reportedly praised Straw for his role in the UK invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Straw has also taken a pro-Turkey position on the illegal occupation of northern Cyprus, which is not recognised as a country by any state in the world outside of Turkey. In 2019, after Turkey’s illegal invasion of Syria, Straw even gave a “humanitarian award” to Erdoğan’s wife at a ceremony in London.
Straw’s British co-chair is Sir Julian Horn-Smith, the former deputy chief executive of Vodafone and an adviser to the bank, UBS.
The group also has two Turkish chairs. One is Reha Denemeç, a senior advisor to Erdoğan, and co-founder of the incumbent Islamist AK Party.
Denemeç worked as a senior executive of an energy conglomerate with interests throughout Central Asia, and is now vice-chair of STM, a consultancy servicing the Turkish weapons industry and military.
The other Turkish co-chair is Bülent Göktuna, founder and chairman of Mineks International, a huge consultancy that serves the aerospace sector, which appeared in the Panama Papers. Göktuna himself appeared in the Paradise Papers.
None of Tatlidili’s six meetings with itineraries posted online have apparently addressed Turkey’s awful human rights record, which has been facilitated by British arms and diplomatic support.
Turkey has Nato’s second largest standing army. Since 2016, Erdoğan has launched three major, and illegal, invasions of Syria to target the country’s main Kurdish militia — the People’s Protection Units or YPG, which is fighting ISIS and is a UK ally. In April, Turkey launched another illegal invasion of Iraq.
Turkey has also been key to Islamic State’s operations. The New York Times noted in 2016: “From the start of the Islamic State’s rise through the chaos of the Syrian war, Turkey has played a central, if complicated, role in the group’s story. For years, it served as a rear base, transit hub and shopping bazaar for the Islamic State.”
Domestically, the Erdoğan regime has promoted a violent crackdown on dissent and the Kurdish population in Turkey. There has been severe repression of the HDP, the left-wing pro-Kurdish party, including the arrest of its elected politicians on trumped-up terrorism charges.
The Tatlidil Forum appears to be centred on opening up Turkey, a lucrative market for British business, even further. Trade in goods and services between the two countries was £18.1bn in 2021, an increase of 20% from the previous year.
British investment in Turkey totaled £7.1bn in 2020, more than doubling from the previous year.
Arms exports appear particularly important. In the decade following the establishment of the Tatlidil forum in 2011, the British government approved the export of £1.8bn in weapons to Turkey. The most common items with licences granted were components for combat vehicles and helicopters.
The UK government suspended new arms licences for Turkey after its illegal 2019 invasion of Syria, but last December the government of Boris Johnson quietly resumed normal licencing.
Prince Andrew is not mentioned as a Tatlidil official on its website, but of the six schedules posted from 2011-17, the Royal attended in 2013, 2014, 2017. He also attended in 2018.
According to former UK foreign minister Alan Duncan, Prince Andrew is the Patron and President of the Tatlidil Forum, “a job he does very well”, he claimed.
Duncan notes that Prince Andrew had a “bilateral meeting” with President Erdoğan at the 2017 event. Both men then made speeches.
The 2018 event opened with a gala dinner at which then foreign secretary Boris Johnson – sat a seat away from Prince Andrew – welcomed guests.
Prince Andrew’s involvement came after a 2014 Florida court filing alleged he was one of several prominent figures to have participated in sexual activities with a minor later identified as Virginia Giuffre.
The UK Foreign Office and Buckingham Palace would not clarify if Prince Andrew is still President and Patron of the Tatlidil Forum or if he will attend the next meeting.