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Hidden Politics: Facts of the Brunson Crisis Between the U.S and Turkey

The U.S Government started sanctions against Turkey due to the fact that Pastor Brunson, who has been in custody for nearly 2 years, is not released yet.

At the first stage, Suleyman Soylu, Turkey’s Minister of Internal Affairs and Abdulhamit Gul, Minister of Justice, were included in the sanctions lists. According to the official statement from Washington, should Brunson and other USA citizens are not released, Turkey will face more “unprecedented” sanctions.

The developments show that the U.S Government is not bluffing. Whereas Turkey called it “reciprocity” and chose the politics of inflaming the crisis.

This situation caused huge fluctuations in Turkish economy, which already was not having the best days recently. In fact, the USD fluctuations happened on Monday showed that the marketplace is not joking. On top of Pastor Brunson, there are also many more crisis topics such as other imprisoned American citizens, embassy employees, S-400 air defense systems, and embargo on Iran.


The attitude of the Trump administration is clear; Pastor Brunson and the other USA citizens must be released immediately. The Trump administration is bound towards this matter. The enactments in the Congress includes the “condition of the release of Brunson”.

There are also psychological factors of the matter.

Brunson incident is already a matter of honor for the Trump administration.

As you may recall, there were some negotiations carried out between USA and Turkey for the release of Brunson and they had come to an agreement. According to the agreement in question, while Pastor Brunson would be released, Hakan Atilla, Deputy General Manager of Halkbank who is sentenced in the U.S for breaking the sanctions against Iran would be sent back to Turkey, and the fines inflicted to Turkey would be kept “at a reasonable level”. However, Turkey’s request towards “closing of two different investigations about Halkbank” made the agreement come to grief.

Hakan Atilla
Hakan Atilla

This is where the U.S Government’s red line was crossed.

Meaning the investigations about Halkbank. There are two different investigations carried out, one by US Department of

Treasury, and the other by US Attorney for the Southern District of New York.


I was one of the few journalists who followed the hearings on the premises in Southern District Court of New York. I remarked in those articles and underlined in my periscope broadcasts the following; “Even though Hakan Atilla is standing in the dock, we can construe from the questions of the prosecutors that this case will be followed by other cases. Especially over the “financing of terrorism…”

It would be naïve to think that Erdogan regime does not know where the case is going. Though the officers-not the reporters- of Anadolu Ajansı (Anadolu Agency – a state-run international news agency) concentrated more on how to dilute the case instead following it.

But the embassy officials, who were keeping notes and have followed the case from the beginning to the end, were keeping Ankara updated.

If nothing else, we do know that they are following my articles and periscope broadcasts closely.


Erdogan regime made their choice towards “crisis” at this point.

Even if you are the president of USA, you cannot close an investigation by giving instructions to a prosecutor. In fact, US

Attorney for the Southern District of New York even arrested Trump’s personal lawyer.

Ankara indeed knew that an investigation could not be closed with a political pressure in a country, where a prosecutor does not abstain from arresting even Trump’s lawyer.

Erdogan wanted the “impossible” and formed a basis towards inflaming the crisis.

To put it simple, Erdogan’s biggest fear is the statements of Zarrab, “for whom he burned up Turkey”, against himself and an investigation to be opened about him with the “financing of terrorism” accusation.

This is why he pulled the matter to the political field from the legal platform, just like he did with the 17-25 December, 2013 corruption investigations in Turkey.

The arrest of Pastor Brunson with absurd accusations and the negotiations of “give a pastor, receive a pastor” are all parts of this strategy.

Even though Erdogan introduced Gulen as a “pastor”, and said “give a pastor, receive a pastor”, his real agenda has always been Zarrab.

Erdogan never wanted Gulen.

Despite all of his initiatives, when he couldn’t get Zarrab, in other words, when he couldn’t settle on something, he started the conflict phase.

If he would have gotten Zarrab from USA before, today we wouldn’t have a Brunson or an S-400 crisis.


Even though Erdogan is “the man of huge comebacks” (like in Russia and MV Mavi Marmara examples), there is no turning back from the crisis with USA.

Even if Erdogan would send away Brunson in his private plane with an apology letter, there are more crisis lined up. For example, the embargo on Iran is the foreshadow of a huge crisis.

And Turkey’s purchase of the S-400 air defense systems from Russia is even a bigger matter than Brunson or the embargo on Iran.

Just like in the Zarrab cases, Erdogan has to clash with USA for the S-400s. Because he approached to Russia too much for his personal security, and he does not have the luxury to make Putin angry.

As a result;

Erdogan’s confliction with USA is sort of a “personal” matter. His biggest fear is to face an investigation about him with the “financing of terrorism” accusation over the Zarrab and Halkbank cases.

To arrest Pastor Brunson to use him against USA as a trump card had nothing to do with Gulen or Atilla. His goal was to get Zarrab, and then closed the Halkbank centered investigations.

At this point, the whole point for Erdogan is his personal security. The moment when he sees no risk over the Zarrab case against himself, everybody they slandered today suddenly will be his friends.

In an opposite situation, he will introduce the economic problems as if they are “the tricks of the foreign powers” thanks to the ongoing tension with USA, and also he will change the route to Russia with the following discourse: “Since we stand firm against the West, they are sanctioning us.”

Eventually, even if USD rises to 10 TRY because of the Brunson crisis, his own mass is ready to buy the “foreign powers” discourse.

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Adem Yavuz Arslan
Adem Yavuz Arslan
Adem Yavuz Aslan is a leading Turkish investigative journalist in exile based in Washington, D.C.

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