Turkish media is reporting May 19 that EPC teaching elder Andrew Brunson is being accused of being a “Kurdish sympathizer” and a “Gülenist.” The timing of the media reports potentially reveals Turkey’s response to President Trump and Vice President Pence’s pleas to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on May 16 to release Brunson from prison and allow him to return to the United States. Brunson has been held since October 2016.
“I cannot stress enough how significant these accusations are,” said Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk. “In fact, the Turkish government views them as nothing less than treason.”
Hurriyet, the leading English-language news outlet in Turkey, reported that prosecutors are citing Brunson for “delivering sermons to the Kurds with a ‘special purpose’”—wording that implies support for an ethnic group that Turkey is waging a military campaign against. The Kurds are a minority group in Turkey (primarily located in the eastern and southeastern parts of the country, as well in Iran, Iraq, and Syria) and for many years have unsuccessfully pressed for more autonomy.
Yeni Şafak, a pro-Erdoğan news outlet, published an article yesterday under the headline “FETO Chaplain” that condemned Brunson for supporting Islamic cleric Fethulah Gülen, who has lived in the United States since 1999. Gülen leads a loose organization involved largely in education but also in other areas. Gülen and Erdoğan are former allies, but in 2015 the Turkish government labeled his movement the Fethullahist Terror Organization—or FETO—and classified it as terrorist. Erdoğan blames Gülen and FETO for leading a coup attempt against him last summer that ultimately failed. Gülen has repeatedly denied the charge.
“It is time to redouble our prayer efforts,” Jeremiah said in a statement to the EPC. “Please take time in your worship services this weekend to plead to the Lord on Andrew’s behalf.”