Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin said Thursday that the United States is preparing more sanctions against Turkey if American pastor Andrew Brunson is not released from custody. “We have more that we’re planning to do if they don’t release him quickly,” he said. Mr. Mnuchin gave the update at a Cabinet meeting, where President Trump said Turkey is not turning out to be a great friend of the U.S. Mr. Trump said of the pastor, “He’s a very innocent man.” The administration sanctioned two top Turkish officials last week over the imprisonment of Mr. Brunson, who was released from jail last month but is still being detained on house arrest. Turkey has accused him of fomenting an attempted coup, but the U.S. says the charges are phony. Turkey is also seeking the extradition from the U.S. of a Muslim cleric whom it accuses of inciting the coup attempt.
A Wall Street Journal reporter’s sentencing by a Turkish court this week, to two years behind bars by “spreading terrorist propaganda,” marks the latest in the government’s escalating hostility not only with the press, but with any figure tied to the West. Ayla Albayrak — a dual Finnish-Turkish citizen — was tried in absentia, and thus won’t have to join the prison ranks unless she returns, but dozens of other western professionals aren’t so fortunate. Serkan Gölge, a 37-year-old NASA scientist of Turkish descent, who was vacationing with family in the quiet southern town of Hatay recently was arrested by the government, as was Turkey-based American pastor Andrew Brunson, who had been residing in Turkey without incident for more than 20 years. Furthermore, Ismail Kul, a chemistry professor at Widener University in Pennsylvania and his real estate agent brother, Mustafa Kul, were apprehended in August last year while on summer vacation in Bursa. Then last week, Turkish authorities arrested U.S. consulate employee Metin Topuz on terrorism charges and this week, they announced that they were seeking a second unnamed U.S. consulate worker. In February, fellow consulate employee Hamza Uluçay too was abruptly detained. These are just a few of the many western-linked — most of whom hold dual citizenship in Turkey — who have been swept up in President Tayyip Erdoğan’s ongoing purge in the wake of the July 2016 failed coup attempt to remove him from power. The common thread with all who are being incarcerated? Suspected ties — however indirect, vague or unproven — to Fethullah Gülen, the Pennsylvania-based Islamic cleric who Erdogan accuses of orchestrating the coup despite his vehement denials, or to The Kurdistan Workers’ Party or PKK. The Kurdish militant group is closely associated to The Women’s Protection Units or YPJ, who the U.S. is training and funding to fight ISIS in Syria. But any ties are considered terrorist ties and diplomatic tensions between Turkey and the United States seemingly have been escalating since the failed coup attempt and since the U.S. upped its support of People’s Protection Units or YPG in closing in on the ISIS-controlled Raqqa over a year ago. And those tensions hit a high this week, with governments in both countries precipitously suspending nonimmigrant visas for each other’s citizens. Some experts anticipate that things are likely to only get worse, and more westerners will be jailed or targeted inside the country as collateral damage, if the U.S. does not cave to pressure and agree to Gülen. “Bilateral relations with Turkey are deteriorating because President Erdoğan seeks to use the U.S. as a scapegoat to advance his political agenda and maximize his own political power,” Jim Phillips, senior research fellow for Middle Eastern Affairs at the Heritage Foundation, said…
Agreed.. This story is developing..
Archaeologists may be close to finding the grave of St. Nicholas beneath a church in southern Turkey. St. Nicholas, a 4th-century Greek Bishop who became famous for his acts of generosity, is the historical inspiration for Santa Claus. On the Saint’s death in 343, he was buried in a church in the ancient city of Myra. The modern Turkish town of Demre now stands on the site once occupied by Myra. Experts say they have likely identified the Saint’s tomb beneath the ancient St. Nicholas Church in Demre. Cemil Karabayram, Director of Surveying and Monuments for the province of Antalya, told the Hurriyet newspaper that electronic surveys have revealed a “special section” beneath the church that may contain St. Nicholas’s tomb. “We will reach the ground and maybe we will find the untouched body of St. Nicholas,” he told Hurriyet. “We appointed eight academics of different branches to work here.” Archaeologists are employing CT-scanning technology and geo-radars in the church. They are now planning to carefully remove mosaics from the stone floor of the church before they can access the grave believed to contain St. Nicholas’s body. It has long been believed that the Saint’s bones were removed from the Demre site in the 11th century and taken to Bari in Italy, where the Basilica di San Nicola was built to house the remains. Citing records studied by the archaeologists, however, Karabayram says that another set of remains may have been taken to Italy. The church where the Saint’s bones were originally interred was rebuilt during the 11th century, records say. “According to these notes, this church was demolished and rebuilt,” Karabayram told Hurriyet. “During the reconstruction, traders in Bari took the bones. But it is said that these bones did not belong to St. Nicholas but to another priest.”
Two members of a Turkish nationalist youth group were detained after trying to put a sack over the head of a U.S. soldier at an air base in southern Turkey, according to Turkish media reports. The state-run Anadolu Agency reported Sunday that two members of the right-wing group, Yalcin Semir Akarsu and Cenk Kizilirmak, were placed under house arrest after the incident that occurred Saturday at the Incirlik air base in Adana province. There was no immediate reaction from U.S. or Turkish officials. Turkey’s private Dogan news agency says Kizilirmak filmed his friend as he chased the soldier. The nationalist Turkish Youth Union posted footage on Twitter in which the man identified by Dogan as Akarsu is heard as saying, “You put a sack over our soldiers’ heads in 2003. You are responsible for that and for the terrorism in our country.” He was referring to an incident in July 2003 in which a group of Turkish special forces operating in northern Iraq were arrested by U.S. soldiers and led away with hoods over their heads to be interrogated. They were released after 60 hours in response to protests by top Turkish leaders, but what became known as “the Hood event” was seen by many Turks as a deliberate insult. Akarsu also was referring to the recent series of bombings in Turkey since last summer, some claimed by Kurdish militants and others blamed by the authorities on the ISIS terror group. “You cannot leave your base, but we can come to your prison and put this sack (on your head),” he said. Incirlik is a critical base in the fight by the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS, and includes strike aircraft, drones and refueling planes. Last month, the State Department and Pentagon ordered the families of U.S. diplomats and military personnel Tuesday to leave posts in southern Turkey due to “increased threats from terrorist groups” in the country.
Craziness.. To see a video of this guy trying to put the sack over the U.S. soldier’s head, click on the text above. We need to vigilant and alert to things like this.
A first group of migrants were ferried from the Greek islands to Turkey Monday as part of a controversial European Union plan to curb migration to Europe. Under heavy security, authorities on the Greek islands of Lesbos and Chios put 202 people on boats bound for Turkey — the first to be sent back as part of the plan, which has drawn strong criticism from human rights advocates. The first vessel arrived later in the Turkish port of Dikili where migrants were taken to red-and-white tents for registration and health checks. About a dozen people stood at the port holding a banner that read “Welcome refugees. Turkey is your home.” A second vessel was expected soon after. Authorities said most of the people in the first batch are Pakistani nationals. Turkey and the European Union reached a deal last month which stipulates that migrants who reach Greece illegally from Turkey after March 20 will be returned to Turkey unless they qualify for asylum. For every Syrian turned back, a Syrian refugee is to be resettled from Turkey to the EU. Monday was the designated start date for transfers and marks a symbolic, successful benchmark in the agreement, which has been plagued by concerns over human rights and the adequacy of preparations taken in Greece and Turkey, the primary players in its implementation. The numbers transferred, however, were smaller than initially forecast. “All of the migrants returned are from Pakistan except two migrants from Syria who returned voluntarily,” Giorgos Kyritsis, a spokesman for a government refugee crisis committee, told state TV. “There is no timetable for returns. Examining (asylum) applications will take some time.” About 4,000 migrants and refugees are being detained on Greek islands since the agreement came into effect March 20. Kyritsis said 136 migrants were deported from Lesbos and 66 from the nearby island of Chios, where riot police clashed with local residents hours earlier during a protest against expulsions.
Greece, a socialist country on the verge of bankruptcy, is even starting to realize that they can’t take all of these so-called “refugees” from Syria, Pakistan, and elsewhere in the middle east. We’ll, of course keep on eye on this developing story…
Charter schools that may soon be operating on military bases in the United States are linked to what the Turkish government describes as an Islamic cult run by Fethullah Gülen, a powerful cleric living in Pennsylvania. The allegations come from lawyer Robert R. Amsterdam, founder of international law firm Amsterdam and Partners LLP, writing at The Hill. As Amsterdam forthrightly discloses early in the piece, his firm has been “engaged by the Republic of Turkey – a key NATO ally in a hotbed region – to conduct a wide-ranging investigation into the operations and geopolitical influence of the Gülen organization, which is behind the Coral Academy of Science and over 140 other public charter schools scattered across 26 American states.” This is a reference to the Muslim cleric Gülen, whom Amsterdam describes as “a reclusive but influential Imam living under self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania to avoid criminal prosecution in his native Turkey.” Gülen is a powerful and determined opponent of the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The Coral Academy of Science in Las Vegas is negotiating with the United States Air Force to open a charter school at Nellis Air Force Base this fall. Amsterdam says his firm’s investigation revealed that the Gülen organization “uses charter schools and affiliated businesses in the U.S. to misappropriate and launder state and federal education dollars, which the organization then uses for its own benefit to develop political power in this country and globally.” He also alleges that the organization abuses the H1-B visa program to import Turkish teachers into the United States, improbably claiming there are no qualified American teachers available for the positions, and then controls these Turkish educators by holding their visas hostage, even using the threat of deportation to force salary kickbacks from the teachers. Amsterdam says that contributions, both voluntary and coerced, from Gülen’s estimated six million followers around the world give his organization assets worth $20 billion to $50 billion. Amsterdam describes the schools’ secret agenda as trying to “instill Turkish culture and Gülenist ideology in our American students,” with an eye toward creating “a Gülenist following of high achievers, incubated in our local community schools across the country.” He says this agenda has been pursued by Gülenist schools in other countries and warns, “there is great peril in allowing it to flourish in this country,” noting that Gülen’s organization has been described by international authorities as a cross between a secretive political movement and a cult. There is little doubt that Gülen has great influence in Turkey and has been fighting a political war against the Erdogan government, with many Turkish news stories ultimately tracing back to Gülen, although the international press does not always mention him. For example, the Turkish government’s recent crackdown on several news agencies is part of the Erdogan-Gülen war, as Erdogan has accused them of having ties to Gülen. Zaman, for example, a formerly anti-Erdogan publication, was accused of having ties to Gulen before being seized and turned into a newspaper that now runs headlines like “Praise Heaped on Erdogan! The Most Courageous Leader.” “Erdogan accuses Gülen of conspiring to overthrow the government by building a network of supporters in the judiciary, police and media. Gülen denies the charges,” the UK Guardian reported in early March, echoing the accusations leveled by Amsterdam at The Hill. Amsterdam cites estimates that Gülen’s network of schools, and the followers they indoctrinated, ultimately gave him control over “more than half of the entire Turkish police force.” As the Guardian recalls, it was a corruption investigation in 2013 by “police and prosecutors seen as sympathetic to Gülen,” targeting Erdogan’s inner circle, that kicked off the feud between the former political allies. Gülen was in the Turkish headlines again on Thursday, as Hurriyet Daily News reports the Turkish General Staff denying that “some members of the military allegedly linked to the Fethullah Gülen movement were planning a coup d’état” while Erdogan is visiting the United States. The General Staff further accused media outlets floating such speculation of seeking to undermine the morale of the armed forces and said it would take legal action against them. Given that one of the outlets in question is Newsweek, the prospects of such legal action succeeding seem remote. One opposition party politician insisted that Turkey’s political system is too strong to suffer a coup and offered the rather circular argument that if Gülen’s operation — which he referred to as the “Fethullahist Terror Organization” or FETO — was strong enough to pull off a coup, they would not need one; in essence, they would be able to take over the government without the fireworks of attempting to overthrow the Turkish armed forces. The Gülen movement prefers to be known as “Hizmet,” and through its news portal on March 25, it published an editorial from Gülen strongly denouncing the Brussels terror attack. “Regardless of the perpetrators and their stated purposes, every terrorist attack is a murder and an attack on the sanctity of life itself, and deserves condemnation in the strongest terms. Neither a religion nor any human being with a conscience can condone such cruelty,” he wrote. “Those who carry out such attacks and who support the perpetrators are oblivious to the ethos of the religion that they proclaim, and inflict the biggest damage to the religion’s reputation in the world. Those who consciously perpetrate such acts have lost touch with their very humanity, and do not represent any religious identity.” Such sentiments are unlikely to alleviate the suspicions of Gülen’s critics, who charge that his influence is a national security threat. “In light of Gülen’s modus operandi elsewhere, the Department of Homeland Security should be asking itself why such a non-transparent, religion-based organization would seek to establish itself on our military bases, teaching the children of our service men and women,” Amsterdam concludes at The Hill.
How crazy is this?!? I’ve spent some time at Nellis AFB in Vegas.. and I’m pretty sure military parents there would not want their kids being exposed to this..
Turkey warned of consequences on Saturday after saying a Russian SU-34 jet had violated its airspace despite warnings, once more stoking tensions between two countries involved in Syria’s war, but Russia denied that there had been any incursion. In a similar incident in November, Turkey shot down a Russian warplane flying a sortie over Syria that it said had violated its airspace, triggering a diplomatic rupture in which Russia imposed economic sanctions. Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Major-General Igor Konashenkov denied that any Russian plane had entered Turkish airspace, and called the Turkish allegation “pure propaganda”. He said Turkish radar installations were not capable of identifying a particular aircraft or its type or nationality, and that no verbal warning had been issued in either English or Russian. Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said in its statement that the Russian ambassador had been summoned late on Friday, and that the violation was a clear sign that Russia wanted issues between the two countries to escalate. “We are making a clear call to the Russian Federation not to violate Turkish airspace, which is also NATO airspace,” the statement said. “We are emphasizing once again that the unwanted consequences of such irresponsible behavior will belong fully to the Russian Federation.” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the violation had taken place, and urged Russia to “take all necessary measures” to ensure NATO airspace was not violated again. “Previous incidents have shown how dangerous such behavior is,” his statement said. Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said he wanted to meet his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin after the incident. “I told our Foreign Ministry to convey my desire to meet Mr Putin personally. There has been no answer on this yet,” Erdogan told reporters at the airport before departing for a visit to Latin America. The downing of the Russian warplane in November left relations between the two countries in tatters. Russia responded with economic sanctions that have hit Turkish exports and tourism revenues.
Turkish Pres. Erdogan is fascist bully. But, hey.. He’s one of our bullies. And, he sure is a thorn in Vlad’s backside. Not a lot of world leaders have the stones to do that; certainly not our wimp-in-chief. So, the best thing we can do is let him have at it with Vlad…and just sit back and watch. 🙂