U.S. and Turkey Resume Issuing Non-Immigrant Visas

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Starting November 6th, the U.S. mission in Turkey partially resumed processing visa applications for Turkish nationals after services were suspended last month in response to Turkey arresting a U.S. consulate staff member.

The U.S. announced the partial resumption of visa processing after it claimed to receive assurances from Turkey that no local embassy staff would be detained or arrested for performing their official duties.

The Turkish Embassy in the U.S. said it will also begin processing visa applications of U.S. citizens on a limited basis but denied the U.S. claims of assurances.

In October, Turkey arrested Metin Topuz, a Turkish national who was working as liaison officer of the U.S. Consulate General in Istanbul. Topuz was accused of supporting U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, who the Erdogan regime believes was behind last year’s attempted military coup. Although Turkey blames Gulen for the coup, Gulen denied any involvement and the Turkish government has largely failed to produce evidence of Gulen’s involvement.

The U.S. claimed the arrest was baseless and damaging to bilateral relations and indefinitely suspended all non-immigrant visa applications for Turkish citizens inside Turkey. Turkey reciprocated by stopping the issuance of non-immigrant Turkish visas to U.S. citizens until further notice unless they applied outside the U.S.

Several U.S. citizens and Turkish nationals working for the U.S. mission in Turkey have been detained as the government continues with its post-coup purge of all those they allege are linked to Gulen and the coup attempt. Many are accused of terrorism and espionage.

U.S.-Turkey relations have already been strained from the failed military coup and the Syrian civil war. Turkey blames the U.S. for failing to extradite Fethullah Gulen, who resides in rural Pennsylvania.

Gulen remains a largely elusive figure. An Islamic cleric whose movement is based in Turkey but with operations worldwide, some have described Gulen’s movement as tolerant and oriented towards modernity in comparison to other Islamic political movements. Critics however note its secretive nature and documented efforts to infiltrate its members into police and judiciary positions within the Turkish government.

When Recep Tayyip Erdogan came to power as Prime Minister in 2003, his party the Justice and Development Party (AKP) which is an Islamist party, formed an alliance with the Gulen movement to undermine the secular military establishment by jailing major Turkish political and military figures in what were believed by many to be trumped charges of a coup attempt.

The alliance ended in 2013 as allegedly Gulen-linked prosecutors initiated search warrants and investigations into dozens of individuals, including the sons of three ministers and an AKP mayor, over corruption charges related to an Iranian gold smuggling case. This was followed in 2014 with accusations that the Turkish intelligence service was supporting Al Qaeda in Syria. In both cases the AKP successfully squashed the investigations.

In the Syrian civil war, the U.S. is allied with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which is mostly composed of and led by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG). Turkey views the YPG as an extension of the terrorist group the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) which is waging an insurgency in Turkey.

Despite tensions between the two countries, President Trump has vowed to repair U.S. ties to Turkey. Turkish Prime Minister Yildrim is set to visit the U.S. this week with Vice President Pence and the visa dispute and the extradition of Gulen will likely be discussed.

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