By Ann Suellentrop
I am part of a group called Advocates for Silenced Turkey (AST). We are Turkish refugees and Americans who seek to expose the human rights abuses going on in Turkey. I want to give some background on the country and its recent history before telling a little of the story of my friend, Aslihan Kas.
Turkey bridges Europe and Asia and is in a geopolitically strategic location. It shares borders with Greece and Bulgaria to the northwest; the Black Sea to the north; Georgia to the northeast; Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Iran to the east; Iraq to the southeast; Syria and the Mediterranean Sea to the south; and the Aegean Sea to the west. Turks form the vast majority of the nation’s population, and Kurds are the largest minority. Turkey’s capital is Ankara, while its largest city and financial center is Istanbul. The president is Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and his government has often been described as Islamist and authoritarian.
Turkey is one of the world’s earliest permanently settled regions and was once a global power under the Ottoman Empire. It is currently part of the European Union and holds about 60 nuclear weapons from the U.S. under NATO. On July 15, 2016, there was an attempted coup in Turkey against Erdogan and the government. According to Wikipedia, the attempt was carried out by a faction within the Turkish Armed Forces whose members have never been identified. They attempted to seize control of several places, including the Bosporus Bridge, and they bombed the Turkish Parliament and Presidential Palace, but were defeated. An assassination attempt against Erdogan failed.
The Turkish government said the coup leaders were linked to the Gülen movement, also known as Hizmet (service) or Cemaat (community), which has spread worldwide. Some refer to it as a sub-sect of Sunni Islam. It is designated by the Turkish government as a terrorist organization, “FETO” Fethullah Terrorist Organization. It is led by Fethullah Gülen, a Muslim preacher, scholar and Turkish businessman who has lived in the U.S. since 1999. Following the coup attempt, there were widespread purges.
My friend, Aslihan Kas, describes the Gülen movement as promoting self-improvement, education, the development of good character and being a useful citizen. She says Fethullah Gülen started this movement about 60 years ago, setting up a bank and starting over 30 Turkish universities. Aslihan said she loved her teachers in high school. She learned from them to be a good, honest person, learned to be nonviolent and learned about human rights. She says they are being unfairly scapegoated for the attempted coup. She says the day and night of the coup attempt was terrible, and the next day on TV she saw friends being arrested and tortured. She was a biology teacher and spent 7 days in jail before escaping from the terror to the U.S to join her husband and two children.
Because of the coup attempt, says Aslihan, the Erdogan regime closed 35 hospitals, 934 schools, 109 student hostels, 104 foundations, 1,125 associations, 15 universities, and 19 unions. She adds that 280,000 people were held in custody, 94,900 people were arrested, 25,912 people were put in jail, and more than 800 babies were with their mothers in jail.
—Ann Suellentrop belongs to the PeaceWorks-KC Board of Directors and is a leader in the KC-area chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility.