By Raffi Bedrosyan
In August 2018, US President Trump angrily announced that sanctions will be implemented against Turkey, and personally against the Turkish ministers of interior and justice. What was the reason for Trump’s fury? The refusal to release Andrew Brunson, a US evangelical pastor arrested and jailed over two years ago, on still unproven charges of aiding terrorist organizations in Turkey and aiding the failed coup attempt against President Erdogan in June 2016. The alleged mastermind of the failed coup attempt is Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish cleric who lives in exile in Pennsylvania and Erdogan has repeatedly demanded his extradition from the US. In the absence of any real evidence, the Americans have not complied with the Turkish demands for Gulen’s return, and therefore, Turkey resorted to an age old tactic of hostage taking to achieve its objectives. The arrest and jailing of pastor Brunson, as well as several Turkish employees of the American Embassy in Turkey were meant to pressure the US to exchange them for Gulen. President Erdogan was even quoted a few months ago to have stated: ‘You give me my cleric, I give you your pastor’.
The use of hostages is a normal state of affairs in Turkish politics. Other recent examples include the arrest of a German journalist of Turkish descent, used as a hostage to secure the return of several Turkish military officers who had sought asylum in Germany. A similar demand for the return of Turkish military officers who fled to Greece was made by Turkey by taking hostage a Greek soldier who allegedly crossed the Greek-Turkish border.
The Greek, Armenian and Jewish minorities living in Turkey have been treated as hostages by the Turkish state throughout history. The religious and community leaders of these three minorities are pressured to declare their allegiance to the government, despite openly discriminatory conditions, unfair legislations, denials of historic facts, and so on. The pressure on the hostage minorities is maximized during crisis times. The most recent example is again related to the Pastor Brunson affair. Just as Trump demanded the release of the pastor, for no apparent reason, out of blue, all the minority religious leaders including the Armenian Acting Patriarch, the Greek Patriarch, the Jewish Chief Rabbi were paraded with one of the presidential aides of Erdogan and signed a declaration that ‘minorities live happily in Turkey, completely free to practice their religious and citizenship rights without any pressure’. It was obvious that the declaration that the minorities are not under pressure was obtained by pressure applied by the state on the minority leaders who had to comply obediently – or else… Sometimes, the state does not even have to exert any pressure and, as a classic case of Stockholm Syndrome, some minority leaders like the chairman of an Istanbul Armenian hospital foundation, voluntarily profess their love for their Turkish masters or parrot the state version of history.
This pattern keeps on repeating itself in Turkey. During the Cyprus crisis in the 1960s and 1970s, the Greek Patriarch in Istanbul was obliged to condemn the Greeks and praise the Turkish invasion of Cyprus. When German Parliament recognized the Armenian Genocide and acknowledged its responsibility, the Istanbul Armenian Acting Patriarch condemned the decision and defended the Turkish version of history. When Israel takes any steps against Palestinians or Moslems in general, the Jewish minority in Turkey pays for it with attacks and vandalism against Jewish synagogues, shops and homes. When Greece is perceived to treat its Moslem citizens unfavorably, the Greek minority in Istanbul is punished by the state as retribution.
Sometimes one hostage community is used against another hostage community. When Armenians worldwide started to push for Armenian genocide recognition in the parliament of several states, the Jewish minority leaders in Istanbul were pressured to actively engage Jewish parliamentarians and influential political leaders in those countries to stop the genocide recognition legislation. The Jewish minority leaders in Istanbul were ‘persuaded’ by the Turkish state to convince the Jewish lobby in the US to counteract Armenian and Greek lobbies.