It appeared that Turkish intelligence agents were on their way to capture me and send me back to Turkey. Three hours later, we were on an emergency flight to Singapore, and then to Romania. Turkey missed its chance to arrest me but canceled my passport and forced me to remain stranded in Romania.
But I was lucky, unlike Orhan Inandi, a Turkish educator in Kyrgyzstan who was kidnapped by Turkish agents last month and is believed to be kept in the Turkish Embassy in the country’s capital. Despite international pleas, Inandi’s fate is still a mystery.
This Jamal Khashoggi-style detention is part of Turkey’s global campaign to locate, kidnap and bring back Turkish dissidents.
Former national security adviser Michael Flynn was offered millions to help forcibly remove the Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen in 2016. Gulen resides in rural Pennsylvania, and the Turkish government blames him for all the country’s woes. Last month, Turkey said its intelligence agents captured Gulen’s nephew, a schoolteacher in Kenya, and brought him back to Turkey.
The Turkish government has requested the extradition of Gulen from the United States for many years, but Washington says Turkey failed to present any evidence of tangible wrongdoing by Gulen.
Inspired by the teachings of Gulen, Turkish educator Inandi went to Kyrgyzstan after the collapse of the Soviet Union to start what are today known as the most successful science-based schools in the country. No wonder tens of thousands of people in Kyrgyzstan, including lawmakers and officials, have mobilized to find and free the kidnapped educator.
Since the failed military coup attempt in 2016, Turkey’s diplomatic missions around the world have been largely focused on spying on its citizens, keeping tabs on their activities and organizing the kidnapping of dissidents. Failure of the international community to display a unified response to these renditions has given impetus to the Turkish government to keep continuing with these global illegal activities.
It is astonishing that Turkey, which had been at the forefront of international outcry when Khashoggi was killed in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, is engaging in similar criminal activities in many countries in the world, including the United States.
Once one of the closest U.S. allies, Turkey has continued drifting away from the West in the past decade and has increasingly been cozying up to Russia. It wasn’t a surprise that President Biden decided to call his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, three months after he became the president, a clear illustration of discontent Washington has had with Turkey.
Most of this soured relationship is thanks to Erdogan’s massive crackdown on the opposition to transform Turkey into his own image. More than a quarter-million people have been sentenced on terrorism charges since 2016, thanks to a vague Turkish law used to punish the opposition, in Erdogan’s bid to consolidate power. The crackdown is so relentless that it recognizes no boundaries, and Turkish dissidents abroad, including me, have felt Erdogan’s long arms.
When Belarus forced a Lithuania-bound plane to change its course last month and snatched an outspoken journalist, the European Union displayed a united front and imposed sanctions on Minsk, a significant measure to underscore red lines when it comes to international criminal activities. This type of tangible international reaction has been missing on Turkey and its unceasing global campaign of renditions.
Thousands of Turkish dissidents have fled Erdogan’s oppressive regime in the past five years, and every single one of them is living in fear that they could be the next to be kidnapped. Not only does it create a fearful environment for Turks who found a safe haven in foreign countries, but it also undermines the sovereignty of these countries.
It is time for the United States to take the lead and marshal international support against such renditions, no matter who is doing it. Ignoring Turkey’s illegal actions in other countries only encourages other dictators to follow suit.