On July 15, 2016, various members of the Turkish armed forces attempted to overthrow Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government. Over 300 people were killed and 2,000 injured. Eventually the Turkish government suppressed the attempted coup d’etat and enacted harsh measures, with responses condemned by western governments, leading to the imprisonment of tens of the thousands from various professions across the military, political spectrum, as well as journalists, and educators, claiming that they were followers of cleric Fethullah Gulen. The United States and European Union, who have political, military, and financial interests with Turkey, a member of NATO and working towards membership into the EU (prior to the coup at least), has an increasingly strained relationship with the Turkish government.
“The crackdown that followed the coup attempt was symptomatic of the government’s increasing authoritarianism,” according to Human Right Watch. “Under the state of emergency, the president presides over the cabinet, which can pass decrees without parliamentary scrutiny or possibility of appeal to the constitutional court. Many decrees passed contain measures that conflict with basic human rights safeguards and Turkey’s obligations under international and domestic law. These include provisions allowing for dismissal from public service without an investigation, confiscation of property without judicial review, police custody of up to 30 days, and the reintroduction of incommunicado detention in which detainees can be denied access to a lawyer in the first five days of custody, giving rise to heightened risks of ill-treatment.”
This also includes dozens of Americans, who have been jailed for “allegedly playing a part of a failed coup last year,” writes the New York Times.
Part of the deteriorating relationship between the United States and Turkey centers around cleric Fethullah Gulen, who Erdogan blames for masterminding last year’s coup. Erdogan has been demanding his return from the United States for over a year.
“I call on the United States and President Barack Obama. Dear Mr. President, I told you this before. Either arrest Fethullah Gulen or return him to Turkey. You didn’t listen. I call on you again, after there was a coup attempt. Extradite this man in Pennsylvania to Turkey! If we are strategic partners or model partners, do what is necessary,” Erdogan said.
Gulen, who went into self-imposed exile and departed Turkey for Pennsylvania in 1999, has denied having any role in the coup. “As someone who suffered under multiple military coups during the past five decades, it is especially insulting to be accused of having any link to such an attempt. I categorically deny such accusations,” Gulen said in a statement last year.
Secretary of State John Kerry, a day after the coup was suppressed, said that they’d be willing to extradite Gulen, if Turkey can provide evidence to their claims. “We fully anticipate that there will be questions raised about Mr. Gulen. And obviously we would invite the government of Turkey, as we always do, to present us with any legitimate evidence that withstands scrutiny. And the United States will accept that and look at it and make judgments about it appropriately.”
According to a story by the Times, it’s believed that Erdogan is holding jailed Americans hostage because the United States i hasn’t returned Gulen.
Mr. Erdogan himself seemed to confirm the suspicion last month, when he told a gathering of police officers in Ankara that he would hand over an American pastor, Andrew Brunson, once the United States gave him Mr. Gulen.
“They say, ‘Give us this certain pastor,’” he said, recounting his meeting with American officials. “You have another pastor in your hands; give him to us,” he railed. If Mr. Gulen were handed over, the president said, he would sort out Mr. Brunson’s judicial case. “Give him to us and we will put yours through the judiciary; we will give him to you,” Mr. Erdogan said.
This story took another nose-dive when Turkey arrested United States consulate employee Metin Topuz, accused of “espionage and links to Gulen.” The United States Embassy in Turkey announced it was “immediately suspending all nonimmigrant visa services at diplomatic facilities across Turkey.” In a tit-for-tat, Turkey announced an identical statement soon after.
In addition to the coup supported by Gulen, this relationship has strained further by the United States support of the Syrian Kurds, who are fighting ISIS in Syria. “The Syrian Kurds are aligned with Turkey’s Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which is considered a terrorist group by both Turkey and the United States,” writes the Washington Post.
The United States isn’t the only nation with a strained relationship with Turkey, who is increasingly being viewed as an authoritarian government. When Turkey created a referendum to give Erdogan absolute power, Germany prevented Turkish officials from campaigning Turkish nationals living in Germany. German Chancellor Angela Merkel called for “accession negotiations to be stopped” in Turkey’s bid to join the European Union. In response, Erdogan said Merkel, and her election rival Marvin Schulz, to “bowing to down to populism and prejudice.” Turkey’s deputy Prime Minister added:
EU never had a credible commitment to let Turkey in. Merkel isn’t only shooting herself in the foot but also jeopardising future of Europe! https://t.co/nHRHmyWjEc
— Mehmet Simsek (@memetsimsek) September 4, 2017