NASA scientist Serkan Golge, shown in the kitchen of the family's Houston home, has been held in a Turkish jail for more than a year.
NASA scientist Serkan Golge, shown in the kitchen of the family's Houston home, has been held in a Turkish jail for more than a year.
Photo courtesy of Kubra Golge

U.S. Consulate Finally Allowed to See NASA Scientist Held in Turkey

After sitting in a Turkish jail cell for more than year, Serkan Golge, the 37-year-old NASA scientist who holds both Turkish and American citizenship, has finally been allowed to meet with a representative from the U.S. Consulate in Ankara.

Golge, a physicist who works as a senior researcher at NASA's Johnson Space Center, is one of at least seven American citizens who were swept up in the aftermath of the failed coup to overthrow President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey in July 2016. He has been held in solitary confinement for months, only allowed to see his wife, Kubra, through a screened window once a week, and up until now even American representatives were not permitted to see him.

Last year, Golge was visiting family and preparing to embark on the trip back to Houston with Kubra and their two young sons when he was arrested.

He was accused of being a CIA operative and a supporter of Fethullah Gülen — the Islamic cleric who started a popular modernist movement of Islam in Turkey, a former political ally Erdogan has subsequently blamed for the coup attempt —  based on various bits of information prosecutors have claimed are evidence of an association with Gülen, including the bank Golge used while in Turkey and a single U.S. dollar bill discovered in his parents’ house after he was arrested, as we wrote in our August cover story.

Unfortunately, Golge's story is currently a common one in Turkey. Since the failed coup attempt, more than 150,000 Turks have been suspended from work and more than 50,000 have been arrested. Erdogan continues to claim that all of them have clear ties to the uprising, despite numerous stories showing that many of the arrests are based on simple possession of an American dollar.

But in Golge's case, he theoretically had a trump card since he and his wife have been passport-holding U.S. citizens since 2011.

However, relations between the United States and Turkey have been particularly tense since the failed coup. Erdogan was irate when the Obama administration was not as quick as he thought it should be to condemn the uprising against his government, and U.S. representatives were subsequently denied access to Golge and the other Americans arrested in the wake of the coup attempt. Since this access is a diplomatic courtesy between countries, not a right, there was little the Americans could officially do.

Meanwhile, despite the efforts of Golge's friends, colleagues and various groups to raise awareness about his plight, the national media was slow to report the story (until recently), U.S. elected officials have not been terribly responsive, and the White House, under both the Obama and the Trump administrations, has remained publicly silent on Golge's plight, as has most of the federal government.

Until now.

Earlier this month the already frayed relations between the United States and Turkey were put under more stress when a Turkish citizen who was working as a U.S. Consulate employee in Istanbul was arrested and accused of being a terrorist (Erdogan has had Gülenists declared official agents of terrorism) and a spy. The situation quickly devolved and the United States suspended visa services in Turkey, which caused Turkey to respond by suspending visa services in the United States.

But it looks like Turkish officials are trying to repair the strained ties between the longtime allies by finally allowing U.S. access to Golge and the other American citizens held in Turkish jails and prisons.

On Tuesday, after the Turkish government announced officials have started allowing U.S. Consulates to finally gain access to Golge and the other American citizens currently held in Turkey, U.S. Embassy Spokesman David Gainer specifically mentioned Golge's case, and noted that a U.S. consular representative met with Golge a week ago.

"We can confirm that we were granted consular access to Mr. Golge for the first time on October 17, 2017," Gainer stated. (Gainer declined to say more about the political riptide Golge and the other American citizens are caught in.)

Gainer did not mention Golge unprompted — a reporter for an online Turkish outlet asked the question, and then another reporter, with the Daily Sabah, followed up with Gainer, he told the Houston Press.  But his comment on Golge still marks the first time the U.S. government has talked publicly about Golge's case, aside from brief, succinct and opaque email responses from the U.S. State Department. It's a far cry from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson demanding Golge's release, or U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley decrying his imprisonment from the floor of the United Nations, or President Donald Trump publicly mentioning the situation Golge and other American citizens find themselves in, but it's a start.

Serkan's wife, Kubra, also confirmed that the U.S. consulate met with her husband.

On top of that, Kubra says the Turkish Ministry of Justice has also requested Golge's court files, although it is unclear if this request is related to the U.S. consulate visit or what it could mean for Golge's case. Either way, after he has spent more than a year in a Turkish cell, the United States has finally gotten access to Golge.

He is still being held in solitary confinement, although at this point the regular cells are so crowded that solitary confinement is more of a benefit than a problem, aside from the fact that he can only read the books in the prison library. Overall, though, he is in fairly good health, Kubra says.

Golge's last scheduled hearing ended up being delayed because his lawyer was out of the country, but his next hearing is slated for November 16. It's tempting to hope for good news next month, but Kubra is only allowing herself to be cautiously optimistic. At this point, it's too painful to let herself feel more than that.

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