Ever since last July’s failed coup attempt, the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the president of Turkey, has engaged in an orgy of arrests, dismissals, purges of judges, journalists, academics, public servants, and military officers. Some 150,000 people have been removed from state institutions or universities, often on the mere suspicion of being affiliated with the cleric Fethullah Gülen, a onetime ally of Erdogan who he accuses of plotting the coup; some 50,000 people have been arrested in connection with the failed coup, still awaiting their day in court a year later.
The real victims of the purges are the thousands of Turks who have been detained for almost a year on what are, more often than not, spurious charges. Among the detained are the Altan brothers, Ahmet and Mehmet, one a renowned novelist and journalist, the other an economist and professor. One of the crimes they are accused of: sending subliminal messages on the eve of last year’s coup through a television program encouraging the overthrow of the government.
But Germans are not the only ones being targeted. Andrew Brunson, an American pastor, found his life inexplicably upended when he was arrested in early October 2016, also for supposedly supporting a terrorist organization. He has been kept in jail since, and the pro-Erdogan Turkish press has had a field day conjuring up ludicrous stories about him. One such story: that Brunson is a CIA employee who helped the Gülen organization and the Kurdish insurgency. There is also Serkan Göle, a 37-year-old Turkish American NASA scientist who went to Turkey to visit family with his wife and two young sons, but was picked up by Turkish authorities on his way home. He has been in jail for a year. He, too, stands accused of being a CIA agent and, because he had a $1 bill in his possession—not unusual for someone who lives in America—a member of a terrorist organization. In his youth, he attended Gülen-linked schools, including one university where he benefitted from a Turkish state scholarship.
The Turkish leadership is playing hardball: It has gone after the Americans because the United States has yet to positively respond to Ankara’s request to extradite Gülen. Ankara has supplied reams of material that supposedly support the case for his extradition that the Justice Department has found to be inconclusive and well below the evidentiary threshold needed to take away someone’s green card. In addition, the Turkish government is seeking the release of Reza Zarab from a detention center in Manhattan. Zarab is the Iranian-Turkish vice president of a bank in Turkey suspected by the U.S. government of masterminding illegal trade schemes designed to help Iran circumvent nuclear-weapons sanctions while financially benefiting Turkish officials.
This type of heavy-handed Pyongyangian behavior from a NATO member has backfired in Europe. Angela Merkel, the chancellor of Germany, is frustrated at the continuous detention of her citizens, and has made it clear to Ankara that it will pay a price—Germany, Turkey’s largest trading partner, is also home to 2.5 to 3 million Germans of Turkish descent. Uncharacteristically, it has announced a wide-ranging set of measures, including a travel warning to its citizens contemplating visiting Turkey. It has also called for a review of European Union aid contributions to Ankara—totaling some $650 million—to support the country’s Customs Union agreement with the EU, and of export credit guarantees for German companies investing in Turkey.
Source: The Atlantic