‘Should I change my religion?’ asks a US-Turkish dual citizen stuck in Turkey, decrying the Trump administration’s sole focus on securing the release of a jailed Christian pastor
The US administration has gone all out in its efforts to secure the release of an evangelical Christian pastor standing trial on what are widely believed to be trumped-up espionage and terrorism charges, but it has noticeably neglected to come to the defense of other American citizens and local US government employees held by Ankara on equally baseless allegations.
US President Donald Trump has recently tweeted out threats of “large sanctions” to be imposed on Turkey if American pastor Andrew Brunson is not immediately freed and allowed to leave the country, as has Vice President Mike Pence.
The US Congress has also gotten involved, with six senators introducing bipartisan legislation to restrict loans from international financial institutions to Turkey “until the Turkish government ends the unjust detention of US citizens.”
Despite the inclusion of “US citizens” in its wording, not all American citizens have received the attention accorded to Brunson. A case in point is that of Serkan Gölge, a NASA scientist with dual US-Turkish citizenship who in February was convicted on terrorism charges that the US says are “without credible evidence” and sentenced to seven-and-a-half years in prison.
“When I read the newspapers, I feel frustrated sometimes like they’re only trying to save Brunson but not us,” said his wife, Kübra Gölge, who like her husband holds dual citizenship. She feels the US government “is paying less attention to his case,” NBC News reported on Tuesday.
Among the evidence submitted by a prosecutor in Gölge’s case was a one dollar bill found in his brother’s room.
Dollar bills are considered by the Turkish government to be a secret sign of connections to Pennsylvania-based Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, who is blamed for a 2016 coup attempt in Turkey, a charge he strongly refutes.
Gölge denied in an Oct. 13 hearing that the one dollar bill belonged to him.
Kubra Gölge said she was especially frustrated by a letter signed by 66 US senators in April warning Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan the US would take measures if Brunson wasn’t released.
The letter did say that other US citizens and Turkish employees of the US government were being detained for political purposes, but only named Brunson and did not detail any other cases.
“I feel frustrated, [Brunson’s] not the only guy whose life went down,” Kübra Gölge said. “We are also citizens.”
Serkan and Kübra Gölge were visiting Turkey with their two sons in July 2016 when the scientist was detained by police amid accusations he was involved in the failed coup.
Serkan Gölge has been behind bars ever since, and his wife said she has been banned from leaving the country with their sons, aged 2 and 7.
The family also had to sell their house in Houston, Texas.
Recent tweets from Trump calling Brunson “a great Christian” and “a fine gentleman and Christian leader” made another American stuck in Turkey wonder if he is getting equal help from the US, according to NBC.
“As an American citizen, I wish [the] president and vice president brought up our names,” said İsmail Kul, a 45-year-old Turkish-American who was also jailed following the failed coup.
Kul, a chemistry professor who worked at Pennsylvania’s Widener University, lived in the US for 25 years, he said, and was vacationing in Turkey when the coup attempt happened.
He was detained in August 2016 on accusations of links to Gülen. He was released in January of this year. However, Kul said he is banned from leaving the country.
He questioned whether being Muslim might be the reason his case isn’t getting the same attention as Brunson’s.
“[Trump] was saying he’s a good Christian, his family needs him, he’s a good husband. Are we bad people, you know? Don’t my family need me? Didn’t I serve America?” Kul said. “Should I change my religion?”
A State Department official told NBC News that it continues to urge Turkish officials to resolve cases of US citizens and local employees of the US government who are detained on “scant evidence,” but until now all the attention has been focused on Brunson.
A recent report authored by Henri Barkey, a professor of international relations at Lehigh University, and Eric Edelman, a former US ambassador to Turkey, has highlighted the plight of three US foreign service nationals (FSNs), Turkish employees of the US mission in Turkey — largely ignored by the Trump administration and the press — who have also been detained by Turkish President Erdoğan’s security apparatus.
“The three men have been detained in Turkey on bogus charges. Two are in jail, and one is under house arrest. As with tens of thousands of others imprisoned by the Turkish authorities in recent years, the charges against them are the product of paranoid conspiracy theories that beggar the imagination,” wrote the authors.
Hamza Uluçay, a 37-year veteran of the US diplomatic service, has been jailed since February 2017 based on “evidence” that dollar bills found in his home constituted proof of his involvement in the abortive coup. Twenty-year State Department veteran Metin Topuz was likewise detained for allegedly attempting to overthrow the Turkish government and suspected links to the Gülen movement. Nazmi Mete Canturk, who is charged with espionage and attempting to overthrow the government, has been under house arrest since January.
“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,” Barkey and Edelman wrote, adding: “It is quite possible that Erdogan will release Brunson …[which] would be welcome, but it would also present a danger that the U.S. government would consider the matter of unjustified detentions resolved — condemning Uluçay, Topuz and Canturk to years in Turkish jails.”