With No Proof of Charges, is Andrew Brunson a victim of strained Turkey-U.S. Relations?
International relations are murky. They involve competing interests, multiple levels of actors, all operating within the current status of policies, at both an individual and organizational level.
The current state of geopolitics is always shifting. A country can have both a relationship that is cooperative and antagonistic with other nations. For example, China and the U.S. are both engaged in clandestine operations against each other, but China is also the United States’ biggest trading partner and both countries are trying to alleviate tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
A perfect example of this is the tragic case of Andrew Brunson. Andrew Brunson is a Protestant pastor who has lived in Turkey for more than 20 years. He has never been convicted of a crime while in the country and has focused on his congregation of around 25 members. He has been accused of assisting the 2016 coup attempt against President Erdogan and his AK party and being tied to the Gulen Movement, which is a loose collection of Islamic individuals who follow the teachings of Fethullah Gulen, an Islamic mystic living in the United States since 1999.
At first, the government told Pastor Brunson that he and his family would be deported. Then he was held in jail without bail. Now a prosecutor has publicly stated he will be seeking life imprisonment for Mr. Brunson.
What is the evidence that an American Protestant pastor has been working with an Islamic social movement? Unknown. The documents relating to the case have not been released. The government has claimed this is for national security reasons.
And this is where the story gets even more complicated.
While the Trump Administration has called out Erdogan’s government for Brunson’s imprisonment, their relationship is strange. Gulen was called out as an extremist by Michael Flynn, the disgraced former national security advisor. Flynn, if you remember, was caught accepting hundreds of thousands in cash from a Turkish businessman for pushing a certain agenda, possibly including a plan for Gulen to be sent back to Turkey for arrest. And while Erdogan has been criticized for what is clearly a human rights violation, Trump has praised him for his presidency and for his subsequent actions against the failed coup.
What could this be about then?
Well, it could be an attempt at a trade. Turkey wants Gulen. They could be increasing the pressure by hoping the United States could negotiate Brunson’s release on giving up Gulen. It could be about Syria. The Trump Administration has armed Kurdish fighters in Syria. Turkey hates this because they claim the Kurdish fighters are linked to the PKK, a Kurdish organization in Turkey that has been engaged in asymmetrical warfare with the Turkish government for decades. In other words, Turkey believes Trump may be giving weapons to a terrorist organization who fights against Turkey.
It is unclear what the motivation for Turkey is. Just as it is unclear what Andrew Brunson’s crime has been besides living in a country under a ruler who has expanded his own power, decreased human rights, and was infamously known for unleashing his bodyguards on protestors while visiting the United States.
The fate of Andrew Brunson remains to be seen. But after over a year of imprisonment with no evidence of proof, the chance of a virtuous resolution must be getting bleaker.