The U.S. taxpayer-funded Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, led by former Congressman Lee Hamilton, is giving out its annual award for public service Thursday, and the winner is ... Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu!
Davutaoglu "personifies the attributes we seek to honor at the Woodrow Wilson Center," Hamilton said in announcing the event, adding that his "contributions have been numerous and significant."
The Turkish foreign minister has been in the news a lot lately, such as when he said the Israeli incident aboard the Gaza flotilla "is like 9/11 for Turkey."
He was also a key figure in the Brazilian-Turkish drive to head off new U.N. sanctions on Iran by striking an 11th-hour fuel-swap deal, an agreement the Obama administration has dismissed as inadequate and unhelpful.
House Foreign Affairs Middle East subcommittee chairman Gary Ackerman, D-NY, wrote to Hamilton Wednesday to express his "deep concern and dismay" over the award to Davutoglu.
"Turkey's foreign policy under Foreign Minister Davutoglu's leadership is rife with illegality, irresponsibility and hypocrisy," he wrote, citing Turkey's denial of the Armenian genocide, its occupation of northern Cyprus, Turkey's vote against new Iran sanctions, and what Ackerman described as the ongoing "demonizing" of Israel as exhibited during the flotilla crisis.
"A foreign leader who represents and defends this kind of foreign policy, one who has championed Turkey's most odious efforts to deny to others the human dignity that Turkey rightly expects for its own people, is not a worthy recipient of the WWC Public Service Award," Ackerman wrote.
The center was created in 1968 by an act of Congress as a private/public partnership, and U.S. taxpayers contribute about a third of the center's annual revenue.
Many lawmakers are fed up with what they see as Turkey's unhelpful actions in the international arena.
"There will be a cost if Turkey stays on its present heading of growing closer to Iran and more antagonistic to the state of Israel," Rep. Mike Pence, R-IN, told a news conference Wednesday. "It will bear upon my view and I believe the view of many members of Congress on the state of the relationship with Turkey."
Rep. Eliot Engel, D-NY, called recent actions by Turkey "disgraceful."
In an emailed statement, the Wilson Center explained, "Awardees are selected based on a collective body of their lifelong career and achievements ... Awardees are not chosen for their political views ... and we do not endorse the views of Woodrow Wilson Awardees on specific issues."
The statement also said that the event was a fundraising event and that Congress has been pushing the center to find more private sources of funding. "These Awards Dinners have been critical for helping to raise some of the funding the Wilson Center needs," the statement said.
"Mr. Davutoglu has had a diverse career as a scholar, a professor, a political scientist, an author, a civil servant, an international diplomat, and currently as Turkey's Minister of Foreign Affairs... He also fits the Wilsonian mold of being both a scholar and a policymaker," the statement reads, noting that Davtoglu was invited to accept the award in August 2009.