A controversial Turkish airline accused of mistreating women, being anti-Israel, and conducting cargo flights to Iran was one of the featured sponsors of a recent White House gala for travel bloggers, according to regional reports.
Turkish Airlines, the country’s national carrier, was one of the "main sponsors" of a Tuesday evening summit at the White House for international travel bloggers, according to Turkey’s Hurriyet Daily News.
The participation of Turkish Airlines in the White House event sparked some protest from foreign policy experts who point to the carrier’s controversial history, which includes accusations of arms shipments to Iran, the mistreatment of female employees, and the past sponsorship of a virulently anti-Israel conference.
Turkish Airlines began cargo flights to Iran in 2013, despite tight sanctions on the Islamic Republic.
Turkish officials, which maintain close ties to Iran, said at the time that Western sanctions do not matter and that they would only abide by United Nations Security Council actions on Tehran.
Reports emerged in March that Turkish Airlines was making arms shipments to Nigeria, according to purported audio comments made by an airline official and posted to YouTube.
"I do not know whether these [weapons] will kill Muslims or Christians. I feel sinful," a Turkish Airlines executive reportedly says on the audiotape, according to a Hurriyet report.
Turkish Airlines denied the specific weapons shipments to Nigeria, but admitted that it does make such deliveries.
"The shipments of weapons and military materials by Turkish Airlines are being properly conducted under the frame of official procedures according to principles defined by international law and International Air Transport Association (IATA)," the airline reportedly said in a statement at the time. "For arms shipments, senders and receivers can deliver their cargo by Turkish Airlines Cargo after obtaining the necessary permissions from authorities."
The airline came under fire in 2012 for sponsoring an anti-Israel conference hosted by an organization fiercely critical of the Jewish state. The conference featured speeches by the wife of an imprisoned Palestinian terrorist and those working to delegitimize Israel on college campuses.
Turkish Airlines also has been embroiled in multiple controversies over the way in which it treats female employees.
The carrier received a flurry of criticism in 2013 when new uniforms for flight attendants included what some described as overly modest dress for women.
"The new designs included a long skirt, a small cap, and a long coat for women, which, according to some Twitter users, are very traditional and uncomfortable for flight attendants," Today’s Zaman reported at the time.
Outrage also ensued after the airline banned its female flight attendants from wearing red lipstick and nail polish.
Crewmembers and others said that the ban is a sign of the country’s tilt towards a more strict observance of Islamic law, according to reports in USA Today and elsewhere.
A female Turkish Airlines flight attendant was fired from the company earlier this year after she posed for photos in a bathing suit and low-cut clothing.
The stewardess and part-time model, who had posed for a magazine shoot, was canned by the company for not exhibiting "certain standards and qualities," the airline said in a statement to the Daily Mail.
This incident also was viewed as a sign that the carrier is beholden to religious standards of modesty.
Michael Rubin, a former Pentagon adviser and regional expert, criticized the White House for permitting Turkish Airlines to sponsor its summit.
"Turkish Airlines is a flagship state company for a regime which murders bloggers," Rubin said. "What's next? Iran Air sponsoring Rosh Hashanah? Saudi Airlines sponsoring a women's reception?"
"Someone in the White House should be fired because Turkey uses events such as this to demoralize dissidents and claim White House support for its clamp down on media," Rubin said.