Rear Admiral Mustafa Ugurlu has become the first known Turkish military officer to seek asylum in the United States, as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan conducts a massive purge in the wake of last month’s failed coup attempt.
Two U.S. officials told Reuters that an unnamed Turkish officer, who has been working at the NATO Allied Command Transformation in Norfolk, Virginia — the only NATO command located in North America — filed an application for asylum.
There are said to be 26 Turkish military personnel working at the base, with Ugurlu identified as the Assistant Chief of Staff for Command and Control, Deployability and Sustainability. The BBC notes Urgulu participated in the NATO conference held in Poland in April.
An official at the Turkish embassy in Washington D.C. identified the officer as Rear Admiral Ugurlu, stating that on July 22, “he left his badges and his ID at the base and after that no one has heard anything from him.”
The Turkish government did not officially identify Urgulu as the asylum-seeker, but there appears to be little doubt among international media that it is him. Reuters states Urgulu is defying a recall order from the Turkish government, while the BBC more specifically states he has been “named by prosecutors in the western Turkish city of Izmir” as part of a “military espionage case involving the leaking of information.”
Turkey’s TRTWorld is not playing coy, naming Rear Admiral Mustafa Seki Urgulu as a “pro-coup fugitive” who is “on the run,” along with eight other generals and admirals, in a post last week.
An anonymous source within the Turkish military told TRTWorld the fugitives included “two rear admirals, four commodores and a brigadier general.”
Rear Admiral Hayrettin Imran and Commodores Ayhan Bay, Nazmi Ekinci, and Irfan Arabacl were also named, along with Brigadier General Ali Kalyoncu, described as the officer who “ordered the tanks to proceed toward the center of the capital Ankara on the night of the bloody putsch.”
If Ugurlu is granted asylum, it will add more strain to an already tense relationship between the U.S., Europe, and Turkey. NATO has been taking pains to present the coup, and Erdogan’s purge, as no great threat to operations, but it seems unlikely that officials of such high rank could be swapped around without causing problems.
Turkey is already angry at the U.S. for refusing to extradite Fethullah Gulen, the imam blamed by the Erdogan government for masterminding the coup attempt. Reuters quotes Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag warning that “anti-American feeling among Turks” is “turning into hatred,” and can only be sated by handing Gulen over.
A defense official told Reuters there were a total of about 160 Turkish military personnel currently on assignment within the United States, including students participating in exchange programs, and only one of them has received a recall notice from the Turkish government to date.