Turkish Rear Admiral Mustafa Ugurlu has formally requested asylum in the United States, following a Turkish government “detention order” which sought to capture him in the wake of last month’s failed military coup. Turkey has rounded up large numbers of generals and admirals in a broad purge of military leadership since the coup.
Rear Admiral Ugurlu is in a different situation, however, because he was stationed in Virginia at the time of the coup, at NATO’s Allied Command Transformation headquarters in Norfolk. Turkish embassy officials say that on July 22, he left his badges and ID at the base and “disappeared,” refusing to turn himself in for detention.
Though US officials declined to offer any details on the case itself, they did confirm that “an unnamed rear admiral” was now seeking asylum in the United States. This is clearly Ugurlu, as he was the only Turkish officer of that rank within the United States at the time.
The US is already facing an extradition battle with Turkey over cleric Fethullah Gulen, who Turkey accuses of being the mastermind of the coup. The US has so far declined to extradite him, insisting on evidence before doing so, a fact which has fueled condemnations from Turkey and insinuations that the US was in on the coup itself.
The admiral’s case looks to be far dicier, as he’s an active member of an allied military who was deployed to the United States by that military. At the same time, Turkey’s post-coup purge has been roundly criticized internationally, which makes returning him unconditionally a risky move.
Whether the US hands him over or grants his request for asylum, they’re likely to get a considerable backlash, either from the international community in general or from Turkey. Handing Ugurlu over without a hearing would risk accusations the US is kowtowing to Turkey, and doing so after a hearing would suggest the highest ranking Turkish military officer in the US at the time was involved in the coup, which itself would raise more rumors of US complicity.
Turkish officials have been less than understanding about requests for evidence before extraditing Gulen, and are doubtless to be even more adamant that Ugurlu must be returned. In refusing, the US would risk worsening bilateral ties with the key ally even more, and Turkey’s pro-Erdogan media would seize upon it as proof the US is protracting people involved in “their plot.”