Turkish defense minister urges Germany to return suspected Gülenist soldiers

Turkish defense minister urges Germany to return suspected Gülenist soldiers

Turkish defense minister urges Germany to return suspected Gülenist soldiers

AFP photo

Turkish Defense Minister Fikri Işık urged German authorities on Jan. 29 not to cooperate with “terror” and drop the asylum applications of 40 Turkish NATO soldiers that were on duty in the country.

German media outlets reported that 40 Turkish NATO soldiers, most of whom are high-ranking officers, applied to German authorities to acquire asylum in the country and that German immigration officials and the German Interior Ministry were conducting standard procedures on the individuals.  

The soldiers are suspects in Turkey over links to the network of U.S.-based preacher Fethullah Gülen, which is widely believed to have orchestrated the failed coup attempt on July 15, 2016. 

“We are saying it not only for Greece but for all Europe,” the minister said on a visit to Edirne, recalling that the top court in Greece refused to extradite eight soldiers who fled to the country one day after the coup attempt.

“Cooperation with terror is like being in the same bag as a snake,” added Işık. “Now the same thing is the case for Germany ... These 40 people applied for asylum. The German judiciary and German authorities should evaluate this [application] very carefully and definitely not accept the asylum applications.”

Işık’s remarks came on the eve of a visit by German Chancellor Angela Merkel to Turkey. 

Merkel will be in Ankara on Feb. 2 to discuss bilateral ties, as well as the situation in Syria and the migrant deal between Turkey and the European Union.

Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu last week said Turkey could cancel a readmission deal with Greece in reaction to the release of the eight soldiers. Such a decision could mean the end of the already-struggling migrant deal, which helped curbed the number of migrants going to Europe through the Aegean Sea.

Ankara has also said it would cancel the deal if the EU continues to refuse to extend visa-free travel to the Schengen zone to Turkish citizens.

On account of the latest incident, Turkey’s request for the extradition of the coup suspects, as well as the Gülen network’s activities in Germany, are likely to be high on the agenda during Merkel’s meetings. 

While German laws permit the asylum of foreigners who are being persecuted for political reasons, the German parliament’s foreign affairs commission head, Norbert Röttgen, said the process over the asylum application is “totally legal, and political thought cannot and will not have an influence.”

Işık, meanwhile, said he would meet his German counterpart in the near future, reiterating that it was “unacceptable” that Germany was protecting individuals who were suspected of being members of the organization that attempted to stage a coup d’état in Turkey.

“This would be a situation that would have very serious consequences. Therefore, at this point, our call to the world is to increase cooperation with Turkey against terror. Turkey is leading a very sincere and serious fight over this issue. It should not be abandoned,” said Işık.

Two of the 40 Turkish officers seeking asylum in Germany rejected any links to the coup attempt in interviews to the German media. 

One of the officers reportedly said he watched the coup attempt on the night of July 15, 2016, at home on TV but was suspended from his post a couple of weeks after the incident without receiving any explanation.

Both of the officers said they did not play a role in the coup attempt but feared they would face arrest if they returned to Turkey.