Oct 12 2018

Turkey could not afford to hold Brunson any longer - Barkey

Henri Barkey, a prominent expert on Turkish-U.S. relations, told Ahval that the decision to release American Pastor Andrew Brunson on Friday was to be expected and that the Turkish government could not afford another strong reaction from the U.S. President Trump due to the worsening economic situation in Turkey. 

Barkey said, “Trump felt double crossed and gave a very strong reaction” following the breakdown in June of a deal between Washington and Ankara that was expected to secure the pastor’s release. Turkey instead placed him under house arrest.

Since then, U.S. has placed sanctions on Turkish ministers and doubled metal tariffs as Trump fired off fierce tweets criticizing Turkey and accusing Ankara of pursuing hostage diplomacy by holding the pastor.

Following the spat between countries, the Turkish lira declined sharply and created ever greater problems for an already weak Turkish economy, Barkey said. “The Turkish Government could not afford another situation in which Trump would go after them and push the lira even further down.” 

Barkey argued that these events have led to “another charade today in which the secret witnesses” against pastor Brunson “recanted their testimonies.”

Witnesses for the prosecution provided confusing and contradictory statements in Friday’s hearing. Three witnesses who had provided evıdence for the prosecution, reversed their testimonies.

For Barkey, a Turkey scholar who worked in the State Department during Bill Clinton's presidency, “there are still serious problems” between the countries, including the ongoing detention of several U.S. citizens and employees.

“This case of foreign service nationals, including Hamza Uluçay, whose demands to be released were rejected today. I doubt these people will be released because I don’t think this White House care much about them beside Brunson,” said Barkey.

The Mardin 3rd Criminal Court on Friday rejected the release demand for Hamza Uluçay, an employee of the U.S. Consulate Adana in southern Turkey who is accused of membership of a terrorist organisation.

Hamza Uluçay had been working as a translator at the U.S. Consulate in Adana for 36 years. He was first detained on Feb. 23, 2017. He was then referred to a local court in Mardin for arrest but released on probation on March 7, 2017. He was detained for the second time following the prosecutor’s objection to his release. 

Lehigh University professor Barkey said, "Turkey is still very upset about US role in Syria and US alliance with the Syrian Kurds. We will see whether the relations improve dramatically. Turkish press today there seems to be the US still the biggest enemy."

The Turkish Presidency’s Communications Director, Fahrettin Altun, said on Twitter that the court’s ruling on Friday proved the Turkish judiciary had acted independently. Altun said that the U.S. government has tried to put pressure on Turkish judiciary and threatened Turkey with sanctions over the Brunson case. 

According to Barkey, "Brunson and other consular officials detained by the Turkish government essentially are pawns by the Erdoğan government to extract more concessions."

However, Barkey argued, in this case Erdoğan did not get many of the concessions he had hoped for.