The decision of the United States to impose sanctions against Turkey sparked immediate reactions from the public, adding to the already heightened anti-Americanism in Turkey after the July 15, 2016 coup attempt. Furious with Washington's decision to impose sanctions over what has been known as the Brunson case, some even called for closing down the U.S. İncirlik Air Base. Experts, on the other hand, argue that Turkey should take rational steps to solve the situation through diplomatic channels. Showing immediate reaction to Washington's steps, many flocked to their social media accounts to criticize the U.S. Some even suggested closing down the İncirlik Air Base in southern Adana province and turning it into a public park. The criticism against the U.S. was uniting social media users, despite their apparent ideological differences. Political parties, business establishments and NGOs also showed reaction to the controversial sanctions.
On Twitter, a #İncirlikKapatılsın (shut down İncirlik) hashtag was started and used by thousands of social media accounts. "İncirlik should be shut down and turned into a public park where everyone can enjoy themselves. Perfect time for it," an account with the handle @celebi1903 wrote yesterday. On Wednesday the U.S. Treasury issued sanctions against Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu, and Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gül in retaliation over Turkey's detainment of terror-linked American pastor Andrew Brunson. Another hashtag, #ABDyeBoyunEğmeyeceğiz (We will not bow down to the U.S.), was among the trending topics in the country. "Let's put an end to fooling ourselves. The U.S. is not our strategic ally. It is our strategic enemy," Doğu Perinçek, the chairman of the Patriotic Party (VP), wrote on his official Twitter account and shared it with the #ABDyeBoyunEğmeyeceğiz hashtag.
Many other social media accounts showing a unified solidarity with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said the attack was not justified and that the aim of the U.S. was to harm Turkey's interests.
While traditionally anti-Americanism was popular among marginal left or conservative groups in the country, recently it has become a mainstream.
According to a February 2018 research by Optimar Research Company, 71.9 percent of the participants expressed that they see themselves as anti-American, while 22.7 percent expressed that they are partially anti-American. The survey was conducted with 508 people from 26 different provinces of Turkey.
Another research that was conducted by AGS Global with the participation of 393 working people showed that 66 percent of the people held a negative view of the U.S. while only 13 percent expressed that they have a positive opinion about the country.
According to a survey done by Kadir Has University, Istanbul, 60.2 percent saw the U.S. as the top country posing threats to Turkey. The survey was conducted by the Center for Turkish Studies at Kadir Has University and titled "Public Perceptions on Turkish Foreign Policy."
In the June 24 elections, main opposition Republican People's Party's (CHP) presidential candidate, Muharrem İnce, had vowed to close down İncirlik as an election promise.
"Imposing sanctions against two ministers cannot be acceptable; the move is aiming to undermine Turkey's prestige and is also violating international law," said Mesut Hakkı Caşın, a professor and head of the International Relations Department at İstinye University in Istanbul.
"States take rational steps in line with rule of law and the interests between them are mutual. Turkey should take rational steps that will protect its foreign policy interests," Caşın added. The statement issued by the U.S. Treasury said Gül and Soylu were targeted due to their "leading roles in the organizations responsible for the arrest and detention of pastor Andrew Brunson."
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders also commented on the sanctions on Wednesday night, saying they reflected the U.S. belief that Brunson "is a victim of unfair and unjust attention by the government of Turkey."
Brunson, a Christian pastor from North Carolina who has lived in Turkey for more than two decades, was indicted on charges of helping the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ), which is responsible for the failed 2016 coup, as well as supporting the PKK terrorist organization.
The case of Brunson, who was a pastor at the Resurrection Protestant Church in Izmir, has been a thorny issue between Turkey and the U.S. Washington has repeatedly called for the release of Brunson, claiming he was "unjustly detained."
Brunson was released and placed under house arrest on July 25 following an appeal by his lawyer, who objected to his extended detention in an earlier hearing, citing health problems the 50-year-old defendant suffers from. On Tuesday, a Turkish court rejected an appeal for Brunson to be released from house arrest during his trial.
Meanwhile, there are those who are speculating on various conspiracies going around. Speaking to the TRT World broadcaster, Sibel Edmonds, former FBI translator, foreign policy specialist and founder of independent news organization Newsbud, said yesterday that some "deep-state" elements within the U.S. could try to murder Pastor Brunson while he was under house arrest.
The U.S. claims it has the right to impose sanctions under the Global Magnitsky Act of 2016, which permits the government to target entities that participate in human rights violations or corruption anywhere in the world. The act allows for travel bans, seizure of U.S. assets and prohibitions on conducting business with U.S. entities.
It was first adopted to punish the Russian government for the death of tax accountant Sergei Magnitsky in a Russian prison in 2009.
Nurşin Ateşoğlu Güney, an international relations professor from Bahçeşehir Cyprus University, stated that the recent incidents do not solely stem from the Brunson case or the upcoming U.S. elections in November. She highlighted "it should be explained by taking geopolitics into consideration and the fact that Turkey has started to take independent steps."
Güney also stressed that "escalating tensions would not benefit anyone, yet if the U.S. decides to continue to escalate the crisis, Turkey would retaliate, but act rationally."
With the latest incident, the U.S. has pushed relations with Turkey to the edge. The ties between the two NATO allies have been strained over various issues including Turkey's purchase of the S-400 defense system from Russia and the extradition issue of the FETÖ leader who resides in the U.S., and Washington's support of the PKK-affiliated People's Protection Units (YPG) in Syria.
Güney underscored that "The attitude of the U.S. toward Turkey in recent years had caused strong criticisms from the public."
The already existing seeds of anti-Americanism in the country have been particularly on the rise, given the fact that the U.S. has failed to extradite the FETÖ leader, Fetullah Gülen, despite Turkey providing many boxes of evidence suggesting his links to the failed coup on July 15, 2016.
During the failed July 15 coup attempt, 250 people were killed and more than 2,200 were injured. Many FETÖ suspects, including some prominent figures in the cult, have fled to the U.S. since then.
While the sanctions have put a deep dent on political relations between Ankara and Washington, military cooperation does not seem to be affected so far. Turkey is still coordinating with the U.S. in Manbij, northern Syria, on the withdrawal of YPG terrorists from the province. The U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis said earlier this week that the recent diplomatic rift is not affecting military cooperation between the two NATO allies.
On demands regarding closing down the İncirlik Air Base, Caşın stressed that he believes that there is no need to close the base and deport the U.S. military personnel. He also underscored the statements coming from the Pentagon saying that military ties will not be affected by political tensions.
Pointing to the visit of NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, Caşın said that "Scaparrotti had meetings with both the Turkish defense minister Hulusi Akar and Chief of Staff Yaşar Güler which shows that the U.S. does not want to rupture ties with Turkey."
Çaşın was referring to Curtis Scaparrotti, the commander of the U.S. European Command and the NATO Supreme Allied Commander of Europe, who has been on a visit to Turkey this week. Yesterday, Scaparrotti visited İncirlik Air Base and also the western İzmir province, where pastor Brunson is currently under house arrest, to visit the NATO base in the province. Caşın added that "it is seen that other NATO allies have a stance which favors the protection of ties with Turkey. This was apparent in the previous summit in Brussels. "
No right to intervene in judicial process
Following the step by the U.S., Turkey has strongly objected to the decision stressing that the U.S. has no right to give instructions to the country regarding a legal case.
The Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Wednesday that Turkey "strongly protests" the U.S. decision to sanction two of its ministers and calls on the country to reverse its "wrong decision."
"The decision targeting two ministers does not comply with state solemnity and cannot be explained by the concepts of law and justice," the statement added. Vice President Fuat Oktay slammed the sanctions by tweeting yesterday morning that in the wake of the recent developments, the world has witnessed that being a great state has nothing to do with the economy, military and geography.
Criticizing recent policies of Trump, Oktay added that, "In order to be a great state, one must act in line with international law, abiding by international agreements, remaining loyal to principles of justice and respect, upholding the interest of his own people above minor interest groups and always standing by the oppressed."
Commenting on the sanctions imposed on him, Justice Minister Gül tweeted on Wednesday night that he "does not have any account to be frozen or any property to be seized abroad."
Soylu also responded by saying that he does not have assets in the U.S. Mocking the sanctions against him, Soylu said the only asset in the U.S. is the FETÖ leader. Referring to the U.S. persistence on not handing Fethullah Gülen to Turkey despite numerous boxes of evidence, Soylu said, "We will not leave him there. We will take him."
Judges say issue should be left to judiciary
In relation to the issue, the Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSK) deputy chairman Mehmet Yılmaz also criticized the U.S. decision yesterday and regarded the sanctions imposed on the two ministers as an interference to the independent Turkish jurisdiction. He indicated that respect for international laws and an independent judiciary requires a revocation of this decision immediately.
"The independence and neutrality of the Turkish jurisdiction are safeguarded by the Turkish constitution. There is no place for the acts and functions of the executive within the jurisdiction of every country where rule of law is enshrined. Decisions of the judges and prosecutors are not affected by anything but lawfully obtained evidence." Yılmaz said.
Parties in Parliament protest decision
Political parties in the Parliament protested the decision promptly late Wednesday. All the political parties, except pro-PKK Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), in Parliament protested against the U.S. sanctions imposed on two ministers.
"We say no to the U.S. threats with common solidarity and determination of our nation," stated the Justice and Development Party (AK Party), the CHP, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and the Good Party (İP) in a joint statement.
It added that it was the right of the executive body, or the presidency, to give a necessary response to the U.S. based on the principle of international reciprocity. Main opposition CHP Chairman Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu also slammed the decision yesterday, calling for a "tit-for-tat" rule in Turkish foreign policy. "What we need to do is to issue a sanctions list for two ministers in the U.S. just like they did to us," Kılıçdaroğlu said. "We are expecting that from our government. This issue needs to be followed carefully," he added.
The MHP leader yesterday called for retaliation against the U.S. sanctions on two Turkish ministers. "Those who bully Turkey should be put in their place," Devlet Bahçeli told reporters in the capital Ankara. "Those who want their pastor back, should give us a pastor," he said referring to FETÖ leader Gülen.
Business world says diplomacy should solve issues
As the U.S. has been threatening to impose economic sanctions, high-level officials pointed to diplomacy to resolve conflicts.
Accordingly, Treasury and Finance Minister Berat Albayrak stated that the decision is unacceptable emphasizing that even if the U.S maintains its stance on "this wrong decision," the effects on Turkey and the Turkish economy will be restricted as speculative moves which aim to disrupt the economy will be unsuccessful. He added that our priority is to restore the strained relations between the two allies through diplomacy and constructive means. Following the U.S. announcement of the sanctions, the lira suffered about a 2 percent loss against the U.S. dollar.
The President of the Board of Directors Turkish Industry and Business Association (TÜSİAD), criticized the U.S. sanctions yesterday by saying that the decision in question is incompatible with the nature of the strategic alliance between the two countries and may lead to irreversible deterioration of relations. The President of the Foreign Economic Relations Board (DEİK), Nail Olpak has condemned the "unacceptable" sanction decision by saying that the patronizing mentality of the Trump administration overshadows international law norms and international agreements and violates the principal of respectability. He has expressed his hope for the normalization of relations recalling the two allied power's lengthy history and the political culture of diplomacy.
He also pointed out that the Trump administration, which has not been handing Gülen over to Turkish authorities despite bilateral agreements due to "independence of jurisdiction," contradicts itself with their decision and sanctions in violation of the independence of Turkish jurisdiction.
Turkish Exporters' Assembly (TIM) head İsmail Gülle said the pastor's case is about justice, not politics. Turkey's independent judiciary will make decisions without any discrimination, Gülle said. Turkish Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges of Turkey (TOBB) Chairman Rıfat Hisarcıklıoğlu said the U.S. should reverse its decision. "It is not possible to accept the decision of U.S. President Donald Trump's administration, which is against international laws and practices," Hisarcıklıoğlu said.
Moscow slams Washington 'destructive' move
The move against Turkey also faced international criticism. Russian lawmakers have criticized the U.S. move as "counterproductive and destructive."
Alexay Chepa, the deputy head of the International Committee of the State Duma, said in an interview with Anadolu Agency (AA) on Wednesday that imposing sanctions had become "kind of a U.S. routine." "Every day we hear some news that the U.S. either impose sanctions or announces a trade war against those who do not want to act as the U.S. wants," Chepa said. Iranian Foreign Minister Cevad Zarif tweeted yesterday saying that the move "illustrates not just the U.S. administration's policy of pressure and extortion in lieu of statecraft, but that its addiction to sanctions knows no bounds."
*Contributed by Tuğçe Kılıç