A Canadian man being detained by officials in his native Turkey was forcibly separated from his wife and children at the airport and his whereabouts are now unknown, says a family friend based in Ottawa.
Nurcan Topcuolgu, a neighbour and friend of Ilhan Erdem, said she spoke with his wife early Thursday morning in Istanbul.
“They refused to give her any information whatsoever,” said Topcuolgu, who acted as a de-facto spokesperson for the Erdems on Thursday after news broke of Ilhan’s detention.
“She doesn’t know what the next step is for her husband. She’s left helpless in Turkey.”
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According to Topcuolgu, the trouble began when Erdem showed his passport to a border control officer in Turkey. The document was taken, returned, then taken again before “six or seven” police officers took the entire Erdem family – including the two adults, a nine-year-old girl and a nine-month old baby – into custody and transported them to a nearby police station.
Erdem was then separated from the rest of the family, Topcuolgu said.
“It would be a nightmare for a child to see their dad taken away by policemen.”
Global Affairs Canada confirmed Thursday morning that a Canadian citizen had been detained in Turkey, but did not identify Erdem by name. Spokesman Francois Lasalle said Canadian consular officials are in contact with Turkish authorities and are providing consular assistance to the family.
Erdem, a dual national who first arrived in Canada in 2001, was identified as the detainee by Ottawa’s Anatolian Heritage Federation. Turkish media say both he and another Canadian man, Davud Hanci, are accused of being associates of Fethullah Gulen, the U.S.-based cleric that the Turkish government accuses of masterminding the July 15 coup attempt that killed more than 200 people.
“I totally disagree with that,” said Topcuolgu of the accusation that Erdem was somehow involved in the coup. “I’ve known them for years and years.”
Erdem was a member of the Hizmet movement, she added, an “educational and cultural” movement that has been described as a global network based on Gulen’s teachings. But he was certainly not the leader of the movement in Canada, Topcuolgu said, as Turkish officials seem to be suggesting.
“The coup, from what I read, from what I see, is all the government’s plan,” she said. “If you’re not a government mouthpiece, then you’re done. Your life is done.”
On Thursday afternoon, Global Affairs Canada confirmed that Canadian diplomats in Turkey had been unable to contact either Erdem or Hanci.
According to the U.S. State Department, the Turkish government does not permit Turks with two nationalities, and who are arrested in Turkey, to contact officials from the other country for help.
With files from the Canadian Press.