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Time to Act as Rogue State Turkey Holds U.S. Pastor, Greek Soldiers as Political Prisoners

Αssociated Press

FILE - Turkish paramilitary police officers escort Greek soldiers Aggelos Mitretodis and Dimitros Kouklatzis in Edirne, Turkey, Friday, March 2, 2018. (DHA_Depo Photos via AP)

The unjust imprisonment of Angelos Mitretodis and Dimitris Kouklatzis, the two Greek officers being held in Turkey since March after being captured during a routine border patrol, represents a major Turkish provocation and serious diplomatic issue forGreece. The situation involving their whereabouts at the time of capture is unclear, with Turkey allegedly stating that they crossed into the Turkish border, but the possibility of a staged kidnapping inside the Greek border being just as likely, in light of the recent brinksmanship and hybrid warfare being exhibited by this regional troublemaker.

Nonetheless, Greece is not the only nation with which Turkey is at odds over its use of judiciary hostage taking for the advancement of its national interests. The case of Andrew Brunson, an American pastor and Christian missionary who has been jailed in Turkey since the summer of 2016 awaiting trial, has escalated into a full-blown diplomatic row, having now reached the highest level of American politics after becoming a nationwide story. Sixty-six U.S. Senators sent a letter to Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan in April demanding the release of Mr. Brunson, who is accused of having ties with the masterminds of the failed coup of July, 2016 and being a supporter of the Kurdish organization PKK, considered a terrorist organization in Turkey.

President Trump himself has gone on record defending the pastor’s innocence and rebuking Turkey for its actions, tweeting that “Pastor Andrew Brunson, a fine gentleman and Christian leader in the United States, is on trial and being persecuted in Turkey for no reason. They call him a spy, but I am more a spy than he is…” Similar language has been used by Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Senator Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Mr. Brunson’s home state, even attended a hearing for the defendant in Turkey last month, only to see it be postponed in an ongoing ploy to use Mr. Brunson as a bargaining chip.

In both instances, it’s clear that Turkey is seeking a prisoner exchange. Shortly after the coup, seven Turkish officers accused of siding with the supposed plotters fled to Greece seeking asylum, as they were facing a death sentence in Turkey. More importantly, the billionaire imam Mr. Gulen has called the U.S. home since the late 1990s, andthe American government has refused to extradite him despite Turkish pressure. A high-profile case in New York involving two Turks, Reza Zarrab and Mehmet Hakan Atilla, who were involved in helping Iran evade U.S. sanctions and have ties to President Erdogan, is also preoccupying Turkey, which is attempting to keep its trade deals and political indiscretions secret.

Inadditiontotheinvolvementofthe Senate and Trump Administration, a strong legal and publicity campaign is being mounted by the American Center for Law and Justice on Mr. Brunson’s behalf, with news spreading over social and news media, as well as diplomatic channels. The underlying component of the message is very telling: “This isn’t a real trial – it’s a show trial. He’s being held as a political prisoner because of his Christian faith.”

No one is better apt to testify to this truth than the Greek people, who have endured persecution –genocide – at the hands of Turkey. In the 20th century, together with the other indigenous Christian populace of Anatolia, Greeks suffered a genocide that became the blueprint for the Holocaust two decades later, and which continues to be denied by Turkey until the present day.

Perhaps that’s why the taking of American and Greek political prisoners in today’s Turkey also represents a unique moment to speak up for the injustices that so many have endured in Turkey. Meanwhile, this nation continues to reap unimaginable benefits from the West, while demonstrating a blatant disregard for the rule of law.

Together with its military might, the U.S. possesses the means to destroy the image of its enemies through a merciless barrage of media stories, films, and documentaries. As an example, even though forty years have passed, Turkey’s image is still reeling from the effects of the film “Midnight Express.” The common fate bonding the two Greek officers with the American pastor should be pointed out by Greece and Greek-Americans. Similarly, the upcoming commemoration of the Pontian Genocide (together with the other genocides against Christian populaces in Thrace, Asia Minor, and Armenia, which must all be mentioned in one breath, lest any of the victims be forgotten) also represents an opportunity to educate the American people on the plight of Christians in a land that was once the cradle of Christianity.

Meanwhile, there are various legislative efforts taking place on Capitol Hill to restrict the sale of F35 fighter jets to Turkey. Together with a resolution by three U.S. Senators to block the sale, if Mr. Brunson remains imprisoned and Turkey proceeds with plans to buy Russian S-400 missiles, there is talk in the House ofsuspending weapons sales until a report is created to analyze worsening tensions between Washington and Ankara. Passage of such legislation would constitute a major political victory.

Turkey’s Foreign Minister vowed that it will retaliate against the U.S. if Washington blocks the supply of F-35s. Threats of this sort can only help to undermine the overrated standing that Turkey still enjoys among some U.S. government agencies and help shape a more favorable geopolitical strategy, securing Greek and American interests.

The Greek-American community should lend its full support to the efforts on behalf of Mr. Brunson’s safe return, and ask that similar solidarity be shown for imprisoned Greek officers Mitretodis and Kouklatzis.

Moreover, this is an opportunity for Greek diplomacy to raise a key point at the upcoming NATO Summit in July. Instead of pressuring for FYROM’s admission to the alliance, NATO leadership should safeguard the well-being of their members’ soldiers and ensure Turkey respects the rule of law, rather than behave like a rogue state.

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