Barkey and Edelman: US should focus on detained State Department staff in Turkey

US President Donald Trump has a moral obligation to come to the aid of three State Department employees jailed in Turkey, wrote Henry J. Barkey, a professor of international relations at Lehigh University and a senior fellow for the Middle East at the Council on Foreign Relations, and Eric Edelman, the US ambassador to Turkey between 2003 and 2005, in an opinion piece for The Washington Post.

The trio, Hamza Uluçay, the first of the three to be detained in February 2017, Metin Topuz and Nazmi Mete Cantürk have been held on charges described by the authors as “the product of paranoid conspiracy theories that beggar the imagination.”

Unlike Andrew Brunson, an American pastor jailed in Turkey on terrorism charges since 2016 and whose detention has caused an escalating diplomatic crisis between the two countries, the three State Department employees are Turkish nationals. Their cases have received little publicity.

“The unwillingness of Washington to apply public pressure on Turkey to release these State Department employees sends an alarming message to other locally employed staff in Turkey: They are all subject to intimidation and pressure from Turkish authorities, and their employer doesn’t have their back. In effect, Turkish intelligence now has leverage over part of U.S. operations, shattering diplomatic conventions. Many of these local employees have resigned. Worse, the Turks’ actions may be copied by other authoritarian states that notice the U.S. government’s indifference,” wrote Barkey and Edelman.

The authors said the United States had a duty to ensure the safety of employees in its overseas missions and said a failure to do so hampered the effectiveness of the State Department around the world.

They also urged Congress to use the likely imminent conformation process for a new ambassador to Turkey to hold the US administration accountable for the safety and security of all its employees.

Hundreds of thousands of people in Turkey have been the subject of legal proceedings in the last two years on charges of membership in the Gülen movement since the coup attempt in July 2016, a Turkish Justice Ministry official told a symposium on July 19, 2018.

“Legal proceedings have been carried out against 445,000 members of this organisation,” Turkey’s pro-government Islamist news agency İLKHA quoted Turkish Justice Ministry Deputy Undersecretary Ömer Faruk Aydıner as saying.

Turkey survived a controversial military coup attempt on July 15, 2016 that killed 249 people. Immediately after the putsch, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government along with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan pinned the blame on the Gülen movement.

Fethullah Gülen, who inspired the movement, strongly denied having any role in the failed coup and called for an international investigation into it, but President Erdoğan — calling the coup attempt “a gift from God” — and the government initiated a widespread purge aimed at cleansing sympathizers of the movement from within state institutions, dehumanizing its popular figures and putting them in custody.

Turkey has suspended or dismissed more than 150,000 judges, teachers, police and civil servants since July 15. On December 13, 2017 the Justice Ministry announced that 169,013 people have been the subject of legal proceedings on coup charges since the failed coup.

Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu announced on April 18, 2018 that the Turkish government had jailed 77,081 people between July 15, 2016 and April 11, 2018 over alleged links to the Gülen movement. (SCF with Ahval)

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