Skip to main content

How two clerics topped agenda of Erdogan-Trump meeting

Turkey's Protestant community fears that Ankara could use an imprisoned American pastor as a bargaining chip to press for the extradition of Pennsylvania-based Turkish preacher Fethullah Gulen.
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L) and U.S President Donald Trump deliver statements to reporters in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, U.S. May 16, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque - RTX363IZ
Read in 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's May 16 meeting with his US counterpart Donald Trump was eagerly anticipated in Turkey amid fury over Washington's decision to supply heavy weapons to the People's Protection Units (YPG), a Syrian Kurdish group that Ankara sees as a terrorist organization. As expected, Erdogan protested the Trump administration's move and, in another major bilateral issue, pressed for the extradition of Fethullah Gulen, the Pennsylvania-based Turkish cleric who stands accused of masterminding the coup attempt last year. Yet, Trump made a counterdemand that few in Turkey had foreseen, urging the release of American pastor Andrew Brunson, held in Turkey since October on terrorism-related charges that prosecutors have yet to lay out in an indictment.

Brunson, based in Turkey for more than two decades, was the pastor of the Resurrection Church in Izmir, Turkey’s third largest city, where he lived with his family as part of a tiny Protestant community. His life changed in the wake of the coup attempt on July 15, 2016, as Ankara launched a massive crackdown on suspected Gulenists and unrelated oppositional quarters. Brunson received written summons from the police on Oct. 7, and promptly reported to the police station, accompanied by his wife. There he learned he was considered a national security risk under a measure known as "code G-82," which normally leads to deportation. With no other explanation, the Brunsons were taken to a deportation center in Izmir. Though his wife was later released, Brunson spent more than 60 days in the facility, barred from contacting his lawyers and US consular officials. In December, he was imprisoned pending trial.

Access the Middle East news and analysis you can trust

Join our community of Middle East readers to experience all of Al-Monitor, including 24/7 news, analyses, memos, reports and newsletters.


Only $100 per year.