The United States and Turkey have drastically scaled down visa services available to nationals of each other in what is quickly escalating into a major incident.
The tit-for-tat policy was triggered when the US, on Sunday, announced the suspension of the processing of all non-immigrant visas in Turkey as the US reassesses “the commitment of the government of Turkey to the security of US mission facilities and personnel”.
This was responded to by a like measure by Ankara on Monday with its Embassy in the US closed. It also shut down its online visa system to US citizens.
In his statement disclosing the restrictions, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said, “For the embassy in Ankara to take such a decision and implement, it is upsetting”.
How it all started
The first event in this domino of actions was the arrest last week of US consulate employee and Turkish citizen Metin Topuz over allegations of espionage and links to US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen.
The US embassy had at the time of the arrest expressed its dissatisfaction with the move, describing the allegations as “wholly without merit”.
This was made all the worse when Turkey announced the imminent arrest of another consular officer.
The action by Turkey is a recurrent theme in its bilateral dealings with nations it is at odds with.
It had arrested German citizens as it demands the repatriation of Turkish citizens who sought and received refugee status in Germany. This led to Germany warning its citizens against visiting Turke; a move likely to be echoed by the US.
Gulen, whose extradition from the US Ankara has been demanding, is a wanted man in Turkey after being fingered by the current administration as the mastermind behind the July 2016 failed coup that sought to unseat President Erdogan.
In a crackdown of immense proportions, the Turkish government had in the aftermath instituted harsh measures in the country and arrested over 40,000 people in connection to the coup.
Effect of restrictions
The US restrictions mean Turkish citizens cannot obtain visas into the US except they are immigrants; intend to stay permanently.
In the case of Turkey, US citizens can still get visas but cannot do so in their home country as Ankara only suspended “visa services regarding the US citizens at our diplomatic and consular missions in the US”.
The latest impasse has affected gravely what has been a deteriorating relationship between the two nations.
The degeneration of a relationship with a nation the US saw as an ally in the fight against IS in Syria came about due to amultiplicity of factors.
One of which is the US refusal to hand Gulen over and the US lateness in condemning the coup plotters when the incident occurred in 2016.
The Turkish government also took umbrage at the military support provided by the US to Kurdish militias fighting against Isis in Syria. This is because Turkey considers the People’s Protection Units (YPG) an affiliate of the Kurdistan Workers party (PKK), a separatist insurgency and designated terrorist group.