'Maybe I'm Not As Safe As Before': Turkish Admiral Seeking Asylum In U.S. Speaks Out Mustafa Ugurlu who was charged with staging a July, 2016 coup but denied any involvement, says while his family has been embraced in Norfolk, Va., he fears the Turkish state will track him down.
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'Maybe I'm Not As Safe As Before': Turkish Admiral Seeking Asylum In U.S. Speaks Out

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'Maybe I'm Not As Safe As Before': Turkish Admiral Seeking Asylum In U.S. Speaks Out

'Maybe I'm Not As Safe As Before': Turkish Admiral Seeking Asylum In U.S. Speaks Out

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Mustafa Ugurlu never planned to begin a new life in Virginia. He was a rear admiral in Turkey's military, and he and other officers were on a NATO deployment in Virginia in 2016 when chaos erupted at home. It was the failed coup attempt against Turkey's president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Ugurlu and his colleagues were implicated, and they sought asylum here in the U.S.

When we spoke to him and several colleagues last time, we masked their voices to protect them. Now he is speaking on the record with an accusation that Erdogan staged the coup so he could tighten his grip on power. If the coup were real, he says, Erdogan would be gone.

MUSTAFA UGURLU: More than 60% of the admirals and generals were arrested. And if they wanted to make a real coup, it will be very successful one.

GREENE: Many analysts say this was an attempted coup. Nevertheless, afterwards, Erdogan's government rounded up tens of thousands of people - military officers, academics, journalists. Admiral Ugurlu's daughter fled on one of the last planes out after the coup, and she's been with her dad here.

UGURLU: She wanted very much to become a psychologist. But anyway, she found another way - now managed her life - very successful businesswoman and about to marry an American gentleman.

GREENE: She met him in Virginia Beach.

UGURLU: Yes. She's a kind of social butterfly.

GREENE: (Laughter).

Now, the Turkish embassy gave NPR a statement stressing that the coup killed 251 people, and they accused Ugurlu of using false claims to win asylum. This didn't surprise the admiral. He said the Turkish government labels any critical voices terrorists. Ugurlu is just hoping his asylum in the U.S. is approved.

What if the United States denies your request? What would you do then?

UGURLU: I think there's no option for me. I will return back and - to my country, and my destiny will be to my classmates' destiny, I guess.

GREENE: You think you would end up in jail.

UGURLU: Exactly. They will pick up me at the airport, and they will torture me, I am 100% sure, because almost all of my classmates are in jail, in life in prison without no parole. And they were tortured during the first days after the coup attempt. And they were just in holiday or somewhere else. They were like me. They were not guilty, I believe.

GREENE: Well, I know, you know, you were in the Turkish military for 30 years, and you are now describing this military coup, as it's been called, and suggesting that this was maybe all a farce - that it was made up by Erdogan and his government. What makes you believe that?

UGURLU: After this corruption scandal, he started to lose power. And I believe July 15 wasn't a coincidence. It was an important milestone in our last journey towards a dictatorship, and now dragging Turkey into dark waters.

GREENE: Well, you say dark waters. I mean, this is a country that is a very important NATO ally. I mean, if - should the United States and other NATO countries consider coming out and saying that Turkey is no longer a reliable ally and consider - I mean, I know there's no official way to do this easily or quickly, but perhaps have NATO without Turkey in it?

UGURLU: I strongly believe Turkey need NATO and NATO need Turkey. If an investigation can be done for the coup, it may be a key point. Then Erdogan will have no credibility in his own country. I just want what is reality to surface.

GREENE: Are you still in touch with some of your former military colleagues who are in Turkey?

UGURLU: We are trying not to communicate with them because we believe they are being tapped, and they are being followed. And their families are still under extreme pressure. They are not allowed to leave the country, too. So they are finding other ways to run away from the regime. But many women and children drowned and died while they were running out of their homeland. People are dying while they are escaping from their country. So we are trying not to communicate much with them because we don't want to make their situation worse.

GREENE: I want to ask you about your community there in Virginia Beach. How many other, you know, former officers are there with you waiting for asylum?

UGURLU: As you know, we have been accepted by the American community with a great kindness and respect in Virginia Beach, Hampton Roads. We have started a sistership (ph) program with one of the respectful local community here. Each Turkish family has an American sister family. We are exchanging cultural values. And we learn from them honestly, you know? Also, they taught us, how can we help others, you know? It is - they're also working in other - their own charitable organization, and they helped us to create our owns (ph).

GREENE: Well, and I know you lost your salary from the military, obviously. So what have you been doing for work?

UGURLU: We started to run a shop with my wife. Actually, she is running the shop, and I am helping her.

GREENE: What kind of shop is it?

UGURLU: It's a kind of woman apparel.

GREENE: Like a dress shop.

UGURLU: Yes.

GREENE: And she runs it, and you give her some help.

UGURLU: Yes. She is my boss now.

GREENE: (Laughter) Well, that sounds great. I mean, it sounds like you two are finding a new and different life here in the United States together.

UGURLU: Yes. We are happy. But we always think about our friends. Their torture is still going on. They are prisoned (ph) in lifetime. Their families are in difficult condition. And they are suffering from this one. This is what we think, you know?

GREENE: How much do you miss home?

UGURLU: Too much. It's my country, David - now in the wrong hands, but it's my country. And we miss it a lot. We miss our country. We miss our agency. We miss our Black Sea. We miss our friends - everything you can imagine. And I believe I will turn back one day. This is my country.

GREENE: Well, admiral, I hope you get back to your country at some point. And thank you so, so much for taking time to speak with us.

UGURLU: Thank you. Thank you, David.

GREENE: That was Mustafa Ugurlu, a former rear admiral in Turkey's military.

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