Jarrett Dang 10/18/18
Andrew Brunson, an American pastor from North Carolina, was released from Turkish custody on October 12 after being jailed for 2 years on terrorism charges, reports the New York Times.
Andrew Brunson and his wife arrived back in the United States after 15 years of living in Turkey on October 13 and attended a press conference with U.S. President Donald Trump in the Oval Office. There, Mr. Brunson thanked President Trump and prayed for him, putting his hand on the President’s shoulder and saying, “I ask that you give him wisdom to lead this country into righteousness.”
The 50-year-old Protestant pastor was the subject of a tense diplomatic spat between the United States and Turkey regarding the legality of his detention. According to The Atlantic, Turkey imprisoned Mr. Brunson in October of 2016 on charges of being a member of a terrorist organization and plotting to overthrow the Turkish government.
Mr. Brunson’s detention came just months after the failed coup d’état attempt in July of 2016 by rogue elements of the Turkish military. These groups sought to oust President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Since the coup attempt, Erdogan’s government has cracked down on dissidents within the government and civil society, including high-ranking bureaucrats, judges, and intellectuals.
It seems Mr. Brunson is being used as a political bargaining chip, according to The Economist. Part of the charges against him assert that he supported the 2016 coup attempt.
The United States has maintained that the charges are outlandish, with State Department spokesman Heather Nuart saying in a press statement that, “We have seen no credible evidence that Mr. Brunson is guilty of a crime and are convinced that he is innocent.”
President Erdogan proposed a deal to the Trump Administration that would have negotiated a high-level prisoner swap between Andrew Brunson and Fethullah Gulen, a Muslim cleric formerly allied with President Erdogan that is now living in self-imposed exile in the United States. The Turkish government has repeatedly placed responsibility for the coup attempt on Mr. Gulen and has unsuccessfully tried to get the U.S. to extradite him back to Turkey.
This proposed deal fell, however, when a Turkish court subjected him to house arrest and refused to release him. President Trump escalated tensions and ordered economic sanctions on the already-struggling Turkish economy, according to Foreign Policy. The U.S. government banned two Turkish officials and upped tariffs on metal exports to the U.S.
Turkey’s currency, the lira, lost value at an alarming rate following the imposition of U.S. sanctions. Rising interest rates in the U.S. combined with the sanctions spooked investors, and caused a decrease in confidence about Turkey’s future economic prospects.
According to the Associated Press, the lira had lost 45% of its value since the beginning of the year and inflation was at an annual high of 15.9% in mid-August.
The release of Andrew Brunson has alleviated some tension between the two nations. The Wall Street Journal reported that since the release of Brunson the lira’s value climbed to a 2-month high but is still down 40% of its value since the beginning of the year.
U.S.-Turkey relations still remain strained with many problems existing between the two NATO allies. The US has put a hold on Turkey’s order of over 100 F-35 stealth fighter jets and has demanded that Turkey cancel its purchase of Russian missile defense systems.
In the short run, Brunson’s release could pave the way for Turkish-American affairs to return to normal.