US and Turkey mutually suspend all non-immigrant visa services

The US mission to Turkey said on Sunday it had suspended all non-immigrant visa services at all US diplomatic facilities in Turkey, on the grounds that it needed to “reassess” Turkey’s commitment to its personnel.

“Recent events have forced the United States government to reassess the commitment of government of Turkey to the security of US mission and personnel,” the statement by the mission in Ankara said.

“In order to minimize the number of visitors to our embassy and consulates while this assessment proceeds, effective immediately we have suspended all non-immigrant visa services at all US diplomatic facilities in Turkey.”

Last week, a US consulate employee in İstanbul was arrested on charges of links to the Gülen Movement, a move condemned by Washington as baseless and damaging to ties between the NATO allies.

Turkey has also suspended US visa applications in retaliation for the latest decision by the US Embassy in Ankara to suspend all non-migrant visa services at its diplomatic facilities in the country. By using exactly the same wording Turkish Embassy in the US has stated Sunday that “Recent events have forced Turkish Government to reassess the commitment of the Government of the United States to the security of Turkish Mission facilities and personnel. In order to minimize the number of visitors to our Embassy and Consulates while this assessment proceeds, effective immediately we have suspended all non-immigrant visa service at all Turkish diplomatic facilities in the US. This measure will apply to visas in passports as well as e-Visas and visas acquired at the border.”

Turkish Justice Minister Abdülhamit Gül said on Monday that he thought the US would review its shock decision to halt visa services at diplomatic facilities in Turkey. Gül claimed that the arrest ruling for İstanbul Consulate staff member Metin Topuz was unconnected to the government and a “ruling of the Turkish judiciary.”

The minister also described as “inappropriate” and “unfortunate” recent remarks by departing US Ambassador to Ankara John Bass, in which he said some in the Turkish government are “more in pursuit of a vengeance.”

Meanwhile, US decision to suspend all non-immigrant visa services at its diplomatic missions in Turkey has prompted reactions among ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) circles. Linking the US decision to the Turkish military operation in Idlib in Syria, Hamza Dağ, deputy chairman of the AKP, on his Twitter account called on John Bass, the departing US ambassador to Turkey, to leave the country, saying “Piss off!” and mentioning the US Embassy Twitter account.

Burhan Kuzu, senior member of the AKP and former top adviser of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, reacted to the decision on Twitter: “Our military walking all over the US in Syria has disturbed the US. Cowards die many times before their deaths. You will not stop the rise of Turkey.”

Describing the visa decision as a reaction to the revelation of relations between the Gülen movement and the US, pro-government journalist Halime Kökçe on Twitter called on the new ambassador who will replace Bass not to come to Turkey.

While Barış Ertem, an academic at İstanbul Technical University, called on the US mission to completely leave Turkey and declared people who have rationalized US decision “traitors,” Islamist journalist Adem Özköse tweeted: “Yankee Go Home… Close Incirlik Air Base…”

The US Embassy in Turkey had issued an official statement on Twitter on Thursday concerning the arrest of a locally employed staff member in İstanbul on Wednesday and had stated that “The United States Government is deeply disturbed by the arrest of a locally-employed staff member of the US Consulate General İstanbul on October 4, and by leaks from Turkish government sources seemingly aimed at trying the employee in the media rather than a court of law. We believe these allegations to be wholly without merit,” the US Embassy said on its official Twitter account, adding “Baseless, anonymous allegations against our employees undermine and devalue this longstanding partnership.”

Metin Topuz, a staff member, allegedly had regular phone calls before corruption investigations went public Dec. 17-25, 2013 with then-İstanbul Deputy Public Prosecutor Zekeriya Öz and the chiefs of police in charge of the probes.

US Ambassador to Turkey John Bass had also expressed his disturbance at the arrest of Topuz, a longtime employee of the consulate. “I am deeply disturbed that some people in the Turkish government prefer to try this case through media outlets rather than properly pursuing the case in a court of law before a judge. That does not strike me as pursuing justice, it seems to me more a pursuit of vengeance,” Bass said.

Metin Topuz was detained on Sunday under the order of the anti-terror and organized crime unit of the İstanbul Public Prosecutor’s Office and was arrested by a court on Thursday, the Hürriyet daily reported.

As part of the investigation targeting alleged members of the Gülen movement, the İstanbul Chief Prosecutor’s Office anti-terror and organized crime unit had filed a case against chiefs of police Yakup Saygılı, Nazmi Ardıç, Mahir Çakallı and Mehmet Akif Üner and fugitive former prosecutor Zekeriya Öz.

The Gülen movement is a global civil society movement inspired by the views of US-based Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, who the AKP government and autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan accuse of masterminding a failed coup attempt on July 15, 2016 despite Gülen’s repeated denials of any involvement.

Meanwhile, a detention warrant has been reportedly issued for another US Embassy staff. According to a report by Hürriyet daily on Monday, the person facing detention warrant hasn’t left the embassy and yet to be captured.

The Turkish Lira slid 2,5 percent and stocks tumbled 4 percent early on Monday after the United States and Turkey cut back visa services, signaling a sharp regression in relations between the NATO allies. The Turkish currency was hit and stood at 3,7 against the dollar, retreating from 3,6160 at the close on Oct. 6. It was quoted as having touched a level of 3,9223 overnight.

The lira also plunged to historic lows against the euro, hitting 4,49 early on Monday before recovering to 4,33. The dispute also hit shares in flag carrier Turkish Airlines, which dropped 8 percent, while the main BIST 100 stock index dropped 4 percent to below 100,000 points. Elsewhere in the shares market, Pegasus Airlines dropped 6,8 percent.

Turkey survived a controversial military coup attempt on July 15, 2016 that killed 249 people. Immediately after the putsch the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government along with President Erdoğan pinned the blame on the  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’s Justice Ministry announced on July 13 that 50,510 people have been arrested and 169,013 have been the subject of legal proceedings on coup charges since the failed coup. Turkish government has also suspended or dismissed more than 150,000  judges, teachers, police and civil servants after the coup attempt.

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