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Turkey: Purged Turkish NATO officer risks Erdogan's retaliation

Turkish authorities branded a former high-ranking NATO officer a "terrorist" and imprisoned him.

After escaping back to Brussels, he told DW's Teri Schultz that staying silent about what he saw is no longer an option.

Former Lieutenant Commander Cafer Topkaya (above) said that he is stepping out of the shadows to tell what he experienced "for those who can't meet the press, who can't meet the journalists, who can't even meet their lawyers now that they are in prison and they can't prove their innocence."

The lifelong naval officer said he is "not afraid of [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan or his partners...or Turkish intelligence" and wants the West to know what is happening inside Turkey.

Topkaya is one of thousands of Turkish military officers who were summarily condemned by Erdogan as being supporters of US-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom the president blames for instigating the failed 2016 coup from his exile in Pennsylvania.

In the massive purges that are still taking place in Turkey, those military personnel trained and stationed in western countries became particular targets. Erdogan ordered virtually all of them back to Ankara to face "questioning," a euphemistic term for what effectively meant imprisonment in most cases.

Many chose not to go and to become stateless in their countries of residence after the Turkish government canceled their passports and their salaries. But when he was summoned to an "urgent meeting" in Ankara in October 2016, Topkaya said he felt obliged to follow those orders out of a deep sense of duty. He surmised that even if there were routine questions to answer, it would quickly become clear that he had nothing to do with the coup attempt or the Gulenist movement.

"I have never been close to the Gulen movement," Topkaya explained. "I'm a secular person. I was educated in the Western style. I respect all religions, all ideologies but I'm not a member of any of them." He felt secure in his record of being a lifelong navy officer with a so-called Cosmic security clearance, the highest granted by NATO. His wife, Meskure, shared his reasoning and wasn't worried as the family kissed him goodbye for what they thought would be two days.

When first brought before a prosecutor, Topkaya remembers finding it difficult even to stand and think from lack of food, and he quickly found that what he thought would be his defense — his trusted position at NATO — was now considered part of his "crimes." "[The judge] said, 'You are working for NATO, aren't you?' I said, 'Yes, I'm working at the headquarters on behalf of the Turkish army and I was appointed by the commander of the Turkish army,'" Topkaya recalled. "But I couldn't convince her [to release me]. Being pro-west and pro-NATO is a big crime in Turkey now."

For the complete report from DW click here

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