An imam assigned to Crimea by Turkey's state-run Presidency of Religious Affairs (DİB) said he was deported by Russia under "false pretenses" following the downing of a Russian fighter jet that violated Turkish airspace last month.
Hikmet Yuvacı, an imam from the western Turkish city of Denizli, said his deportation was based on the expiry of his residence permit in Crimea, which was annexed from Ukraine last year. The imam denied it and said he was legally eligible to stay in the peninsula.
Yuvacı was dispatched to Crimea in March by the DİB as a coordinator. He had served as a DİB representative in St. Petersburg before and claims he never encountered problems in the country, before the downing of the jet that strained relations.
He said "a wild anti-Turkish sentiment" has emerged in Russia after the incident and it "soon spread to the Crimean peninsula." "I witnessed the hatred against Turks after the incident. (Authorities) did everything they could to expel us from the country. I had several troubles and landed in court after they confiscated my passport. The court ordered my deportation, citing the expiration of a legal deadline for residence though that was not the case. I did not surpass the legal period of stay but they deported me anyway," he said.
The imam stated that his office in Crimea was raided by Russian intelligence before the court process and it was searched for hours. "They could not find anything to implicate me in any crime," he said. Yuvacı claimed eight other Turkish officials in other Russian cities also faced imprisonment and deportation.
His remarks echo similar complaints by Turks in Russia. Russia's arbitrary detentions of Turkish nationals through bureaucratic loopholes, often citing misuse of residence permits, were the source of complaints. The Turkish diaspora said they faced increased scrutiny as the Kremlin took a hostile stance against Turkey following the jet downing.
Russia was quick to impose trade sanctions and canceling visa-free travel for Turkish citizens following the incident that angered President Vladimir Putin. Ankara has criticized the Russian response as "childish" and "emotional."
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