Turkey holds prosecutors over spy agency’s Syria-bound truck

Reuters: Turkey on Wednesday arrested four prosecutors and a gendarme officer for trying to carry out a search of Syria-bound trucks belonging to the state intelligence agency that they suspected of illegally carrying arms for rebels fighting Syria’s government.

Local media said the arrests were part of a crackdown by President Tayyip Erdogan on followers, within the judiciary and police, of a U.S.-based Islamic cleric he accuses of trying to oust him. Seventeen army officers were held last month in the same case.

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The cost of Turkey’s genocide denial

Ronald Grigor Suny writes: Turkey, like many other nations, celebrates its founding moments as a heroic struggle against internal and external enemies. The perpetrators of atrocities imagine themselves instead to be victims.

After Pope Francis reminded the world that the centenary of the greatest atrocity of World War I was approaching and the European Parliament condemned Turkey’s continued efforts to conceal, distort and evade the facts, Mr. Erdogan responded by claiming that the Turks had experienced “far more suffering than what the Armenians went through,” while his prime minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, accused European lawmakers of anti-Turkish racism.

Such obstinate refusal to come to terms with history’s darker chapters is not unique to Turkey. Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, has refused to acknowledge and apologize for what Imperial Japan did during its colonial annexation of Korea or in China in the 1930s and during World War II. Russians agonize over but repeatedly temper their assessments of Stalin’s crimes; Poles and Ukrainians turn away from the brutalities of the anti-Semitic pogroms before and during World War II.

Americans, Australians and Israelis shy away from confronting the foundational crimes that were committed against those living on the territory that they coveted but which they wanted emptied of indigenous people. It is often forgotten that former victims can easily become perpetrators in their drive to make a nation.

There are examples of straightforward recognition and public repentance. After the Holocaust and much soul-searching, a democratic Germany acknowledged what the Nazis had done. The record of fascist atrocities is now taught in schools and memorialized throughout the country without relativizing the horrors by referring to what Germany’s enemies did.

As Pope Francis put it, “Concealing or denying evil is like allowing a wound to keep bleeding without bandaging it.” Courageous Turkish and Kurdish historians have long realized this, and they have defied the government by challenging the traditional nationalist account that blames Armenians for their own destruction.

These historians have sought to reconstruct what happened in 1915 and examine why the Young Turks convinced themselves that Armenians were an existential threat to the future of their empire. Their thankless but necessary task is to lay the groundwork for honest scholarship that involves the uncovering of the pain that governments would prefer to bury forever. [Continue reading…]

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Turkey faces delicate battle against ISIS sympathizers at home

Reuters reports: Defne Bayrak’s husband was a suicide bomber who killed CIA operatives in a 2009 attack in Afghanistan. Now, she is among the hundreds of Turks using social media to show support for Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq.

Turkey, a Sunni Muslim nation with a secular constitution, is a member, albeit reluctantly, of the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State. Most of its 77 million people are deeply opposed to the militant group’s savage tactics.

But pockets of Turkish social media hum with pro-Islamic State activity and at least six websites provide daily updates on its self-declared caliphate, carved out in Syria and Iraq. An October survey by pollster Metropoll said up to 12 percent of Turks do not see the group as a “terrorist organization”.

This sympathy is of growing concern to officials in Ankara, diplomats and security experts say, as they fear a network of fighters, recruiters and facilitators is being cultivated in Turkey to support Islamic State operations over the border. [Continue reading…]

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Turkey’s century of denial about the Armenian genocide

The New York Times reports: The crumbling stone monastery, built into the hillside, stands as a forlorn monument to an awful past. So, too, does the decaying church on the other side of this mountain village. Farther out, a crevice is sliced into the earth, so deep that peering into it, one sees only blackness. Haunting for its history, it was there that a century ago, an untold number of Armenians were tossed to their deaths.

“They threw them in that hole, all the men,” said Vahit Sahin, 78, sitting at a cafe in the center of the village, reciting the stories that have passed through generations.

Mr. Sahin turned in his chair and pointed toward the monastery. “That side was Armenian.” He turned back. “This side was Muslim. At first, they were really friendly with each other.”

A hundred years ago, amid the upheaval of World War I, this village and countless others across eastern Anatolia became killing fields as the desperate leadership of the Ottoman Empire, having lost the Balkans and facing the prospect of losing its Arab territories as well, saw a threat closer to home.

Worried that the Christian Armenian population was planning to align with Russia, a primary enemy of the Ottoman Turks, officials embarked on what historians have called the first genocide of the 20th century: Nearly 1.5 million Armenians were killed, some in massacres like the one here, others in forced marches to the Syrian desert that left them starved to death.

The genocide was the greatest atrocity of the Great War. It also remains that conflict’s most bitterly contested legacy, having been met by the Turkish authorities with 100 years of silence and denial. For surviving Armenians and their descendants, the genocide became a central marker of their identity, the psychic wounds passed through generations.

“Armenians have passed one whole century, screaming to the world that this happened,” said Gaffur Turkay, whose grandfather, as a young boy, survived the genocide and was taken in by a Muslim family. Mr. Turkay, in recent years, after discovering his heritage, began identifying as an Armenian and converted to Christianity. “We want to be part of this country with our original identities, just as we were a century ago,” he said.

The 100th anniversary will be commemorated on April 24, the date the Ottomans rounded up a group of Armenian notables in Istanbul in 1915 as the first step in what historians now agree was a wider plan of annihilation. Armenians from Turkey and the diaspora are preparing to gather in Istanbul’s central Taksim Square to honor the dead. They will also hold a concert featuring Armenian and Turkish musicians.

Similar ceremonies will be held in capitals around the world, including in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, where Kim Kardashian, who is of Armenian descent, recently visited with her husband, the rapper Kanye West, to highlight the genocide.

The Turkish government acknowledges that atrocities were committed, but says they happened in wartime, when plenty of other people were dying. Officials stoutly deny there was ever any plan to systematically wipe out the Armenian population — the commonly accepted definition of genocide. [Continue reading…]

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Turkish army clashes with PKK

Fehim Taştekin writes: Guns had fallen silent thanks to a de facto cease-fire and the peace process had been moving along, if not at desired pace. The country was preparing for general elections when clashes broke out between the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) at Agri, a province near the border with Iran. Suddenly, Turkey found itself experiencing terror and chaos. The clashes in Agri followed warnings that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) might resort to provocation as it tries to set up a presidential system and ensure that the pro-Kurdish People’s Democracy Party (HDP) does not cross the 10% electoral threshold.

Mayhem ensued. Even before the clashes ended, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused the HDP of politicking under the shadow of guns. HDP Co-chair Selahattin Demirtas accused the AKP of panicking over unfavorable opinion polls, saying, “What happened at Agri was a pre-planned provocation.”

What was the incident that amplified political tensions so much?

According to the government version, in the village of Yukaritufek of Diyadin township in Agri province, PKK members organized a spring festival. The government received intelligence that the terror outfit would use the occasion to spread propaganda and pressure people to vote for the HDP in coming elections. The governor of Agri instructed the provincial gendarmerie command to send a special forces detachment of 15 soldiers to the location. It was reported that terrorists opened rifle fire on soldiers deployed near the village. After 12 hours of combat, the TSK announced that four soldiers had been wounded, five PKK members had been killed and one had been captured. [Continue reading…]

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Is Turkey heading towards one-man rule?

The Daily Beast reports: Is NATO ally Turkey on track to become a country under one-man rule?

With parliamentary elections scheduled for June 7, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is trying to cement his all-powerful role in Turkish politics by sending his son-in-law to parliament. Berat Albayrak, 42, a former executive turned newspaper columnist — who is married to Erdogan’s older daughter, Esra — is running for a seat for Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Istanbul. Some media reports suggest Albayrak could be promoted to a ministerial post after the vote.

Other Erdogan confidants on the AKP ticket, which was published this past week, include Mucahit Arslan, an adviser, Aydin Unal, a former speechwriter, and Ali Ozkaya, Erdogan’s lawyer.

Although the constitution says the president has to be above politics, Erdogan, who was elected president last August, continues to control the ruling party and to direct the government of his successor as prime minister, Ahmet Davutoglu. Erdogan has chaired two cabinet meetings as president this year. The president has also openly campaigned for the AKP ahead of the June elections. In a speech on Wednesday, he accused opposition parties and media of supporting terrorism.

Erdogan, 61, aims for a big win for the APK in June to push through constitutional changes to change Turkey’s system of government, moving it from a parliamentary to a presidential one — with himself at the top, of course. He says he wants 400 out of 550 seats in the new parliament filled with deputies who support the switch to the presidential system. [Continue reading…]

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Saudi Arabia, Turkey discussing unlikely alliance to oust Syria’s Assad

Huffington Post reports: Turkey and Saudi Arabia, two nations with a long history of rivalry, are in high-level talks with the goal of forming a military alliance to oust Syrian President Bashar Assad, according to sources familiar with the discussions.

The talks are being brokered by Qatar. As the partnership is currently envisioned, Turkey would provide ground troops, supported by Saudi Arabian airstrikes, to assist moderate Syrian opposition fighters against Assad’s regime, according to one of the sources.

President Barack Obama was made aware of the talks in February by the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad al Thani, during the emir’s visit to the White House, one source said. A White House spokesperson declined to comment.

The administration has generally encouraged Persian Gulf countries to step up and do more on their own to promote regional security, particularly in Syria, but such talk has largely remained just talk. It’s unclear whether this case will be different, but Saudi Arabia’s recent intervention in Yemen indicates the nation is becoming bolder with its own forces, rather than relying on proxies.

Following his meeting with the emir of Qatar, Obama said that the two leaders had “shared ideas” for how to remove Assad.

“We both are deeply concerned about the situation in Syria,” Obama said. “We’ll continue to support the moderate opposition there and continue to believe that it will not be possible to fully stabilize that country until Mr. Assad, who has lost legitimacy in the country, is transitioned out.”

“How we get there obviously is a source of extraordinary challenge, and we shared ideas in terms of how that can be accomplished,” he added.

Since those remarks, the United States has continued daily airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria and modest training programs for vetted members of the Syrian opposition — but has not publicly offered any strategy for how to negotiate an end to Assad’s rule. [Continue reading…]

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Pope provokes Turkish anger by again referring to the Armenian genocide

The Daily Beast reports: The first time Pope Francis dropped the g-word when describing the systematic massacre of as many as 1.5 million Armenians at the hands of the Turkish Ottoman Empire during World War I was on June 3, 2013, just a few months into his papacy in an address to Nerses Bedros XIX, head of the Armenian Catholics in Vatican City. “The first genocide of the 20th century was that of the Armenians,” he told those gathered for a special Mass.

Then, the Vatican public-relations team swung into action, softening the pontiff’s perceived intent. Turkish officials called the comment a disappointment, but largely brushed it off as a rookie mistake for a new pope who was not yet versed in Vatican-style political diplomacy.

When he repeated the claim on Sunday in front of hundreds at a Mass inside St. Peter’s Basilica dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the tragic events, the reaction was different. Turkey immediately summoned the Vatican’s ambassador in Turkey for crisis talks, and by nightfall had called its ambassador to the Holy See back to Ankara. In recalling their ambassador, the Turkish foreign minister said in a statement that the Turkish people would not recognize the pope’s statement, “which is controversial in every aspect, which is based on prejudice, which distorts history, and reduces the pains suffered in Anatolia under the conditions of the First World War to members of just one religion.”

Meanwhile, the Vatican press machine didn’t blink—offering no explanations or apologies for the pope’s choice of words, even as the reverberations were felt all the way to Washington and beyond. The Vatican press office instead sent out the text for similar sentiments expressed by John Paul II in 2001. “We’ve learned by now that this pope is not politically correct,” Vatican expert Robert Mickens, editor in chief of the Catholic magazine Global Pulse told The Daily Beast. “No doubt the secretary of state cautioned him about using the g-word, but this is proof once again that the pope does what he wants to do.” [Continue reading…]

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U.S. military sidesteps red tape to coordinate with PKK

The Daily Beast reports: On the volatile front lines facing the so-called Islamic State outside the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk, American military personnel have been coordinating with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), according to a local commander from the left-wing guerrilla group that is still on the U.S. State Department list of foreign terrorist organizations.

Ageed Kalary commands a unit of about 30 PKK fighters positioned some 500 meters from the front. He claims that he has met with U.S. military personnel accompanying commanders from Iraq’s Kurdish Regional Government, whose soldiers are known as the Peshmerga, and which has strong, open American support. The last direct encounter, he said, was in December. But the coordination does not have to be face to face.

“The Americans tell us what they need and share information but there is no formal agreement,” he says about the U.S. military’s interaction with a group that earned its “terrorist” label for the tactics it employed in its 29-year armed struggle against Turkish rule. [Continue reading…]

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Only the finest white tea in Erdogan’s White Palace

Pinar Tremblay writes: The AKP’s grip on the media is well documented in Turkey and is used not only to prevent embarrassing news from spreading, but also to generate a false positive image in the public opinion of the president and his family.

In an attempt to showcase Emine Erdogan as a frugal, simple and environmentally friendly first lady, pro-AKP Yeni Safak Daily published a profile of how she manages the palace’s kitchen. Some intriguing details were revealed. In an effort to minimize waste, the Erdogan family recycles lemon and apple peels into vinegar. They also use their olive and date pits to make sauces. (Al-Monitor could not verify what kind of sauce can be made from these pits.) It appears that Emine is conscious about organic farming and investigates in detail all the origins of the products that enter the palace. We also learned that she had recommended dry mango slices to the first lady of Mali, Keita Aminata Maiga. According to the Yeni Safak article, Maiga was reportedly complaining about not being able to export mangos because of a short shelf life. Emine then recommended to dry mango slices to assist in Mali’s exports. But nothing got the attention of the Turkish public more than the white tea discussed in the article. The first lady of Turkey recommended that we all reconnect with Mother Nature and consume only the most natural products, and confessed that the most frequently consumed tea at the palace is white tea from the Rize region on the eastern Black Sea coast of Turkey.

So what is the big deal? White tea is sold in well-stocked supermarkets all over the world, along with black and green tea, at $3-$4 for a pack of 20 tea bags. But that is not the white tea consumed at the presidential palace in Turkey. Indeed, even most residents in Rize are not aware of this white tea, which sells for about $1,800-$2,000 per kilo (2.2 pounds). Considering the increasing poverty and the fact that 22 million out of 77 million people in Turkey live on an average monthly income of $320, this most unrefined and luxurious white tea is not available at your regular supermarket. The majority of Turks, who are mostly black tea drinkers, have not even heard of white tea. The white tea consumed at the palace caused an uproar in social media, where people ridiculed the allegedly modest palace life of the Erdogan family. [Continue reading…]

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Turkey’s Erdogan says can’t tolerate Iran bid to dominate Middle East

Reuters: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan accused Iran on Thursday of trying to dominate the Middle East and said its efforts have begun annoying Ankara, as well as Saudi Arabia and Gulf Arab countries.

Turkey earlier said it supports the Saudi-led military operation against Houthi rebels in Yemen and called on the militia group and its “foreign supporters” to abandon acts which threaten peace and security in the region.

“Iran is trying to dominate the region,” said Erdogan, who is due to visit Tehran in early April. “Could this be allowed? This has begun annoying us, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries. This is really not tolerable and Iran has to see this,” he added in a press conference.

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Erdogan has all but destroyed Turkish journalism

Yavuz Baydar writes: Among journalists, the truth universally acknowledged is that bad news commands more column inches than good. In Turkey, the even more depressing truism is that much of the bad news has to do with the news industry itself.

Those of us trying to preserve our integrity as journalists fight a constant rearguard action – against proprietors who set little store by integrity, and against a government that tries to accrue power by restricting freedom of expression and ringfencing public debate.

Recent headlines have been devoted to the arrest of the journalist Mehmet Baransu. He was detained for a story he wrote in 2010, based on (literally) a suitcase of military documents, handed over to him by a whistleblowing officer, which implicated senior commanders in an attempted coup d’état, codenamed Sledgehammer.

The subsequent court proceedings – both in their scale and the liberal use of pre-trial detention – proved bitterly controversial. There is little doubt that the government interfered and was more interested in taming its own military than producing justice. The defence was able to cast doubt on the authenticity of some (but by no means all) of the evidence. So there is reason to believe that some of the convictions – suspended pending a retrial – were unsound.

Yet this is not why Baransu has been thrown in prison. He is accused not of misleading the courts but of handling state secrets, despite the fact that he had handed the leaked documents over to state prosecutors. Having got the military under its thumb, the government now requires its cooperation and has turned on the journalist who once made the government’s case.

Worse still, much of the government media is egging the prosecutors on. Imagine Glenn Greenwald being arrested and then the rest of the press urging the authorities to throw away the key. The current state of journalism is only a reflection of how polarised Turkish society has become under the divisive rule of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. [Continue reading…]

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The smugglers who take foreign would-be ISIS jihadis into Syria

The Guardian reports: On small dirt tracks, several minibuses and cars are waiting, each of them going to different points on the border, but all accessing Isis-controlled territory. Little by little, the minibus empties, and when it arrives in a nearby border town, which the Guardian is not naming to protect those quoted in this piece, only two passengers are left.

At the bus station, two teenage boys immediately approach, offering to take the remaining two passengers to the wire.

“Only 10 [Turkish] lira [£2.60],” offers Ahmed*, a boy in ill-fitting, mud-stained trousers, his bare feet barely filling his worn-out shoes.

Syrian smugglers such as Ali and his friend Ahmed take both goods and people across into Isis territory. They witness horror, routinely, and shrug it off.

“Just yesterday Isis beheaded three FSA [Free Syrian Army] fighters,” Ahmed says, laughing. He drops to his knees and bows his head, re-enacting the scene he says he witnessed, making a gesture imitating a sword coming down on his neck with one hand. “They chopped their heads off like this!”

Another Syrian Turkomen who had just crossed back into Turkey nods. “We saw a crucified man on the way to the border. You have no idea what we see in Syria every day now. Our lives are like a horror movie.”

Ali says he has helped to carry the luggage of countless foreigners crossing the border to reach the self-declared Islamic State. “There were French men who took their entire families with them to Syria,” he recalls. “Once I carried a bag full of dollar notes across. The guy I helped was going to give it to Isis.”

Hundreds of foreigners are believed to have used crossing points like this, though the most high-profile recent cases – the three British schoolgirls who absconded to Syria last month – are thought to have crossed farther east.

Business is thriving, the smugglers say. “We carry weapons and ammunition across as well,” says Ali. “The drivers [of the minibuses] get 500 lira per bag.”

Neither of them are Isis supporters. “No, I don’t like them. But what can I do?” asks Ahmed, grinning. “It’s a job, and I need the money.” [Continue reading…]

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ISIS recruits still entering Syria from Turkey

The New York Times reports: Under pressure from its allies in the West, Turkey has made it harder for would-be jihadists to slip across the border and join the ranks of the Islamic State group at its base in northern Syria.

But it has been unable — or unwilling — to halt the flow as the group, also called ISIS or ISIL, continues to replenish forces depleted in battle.

Smugglers from border villages who have long earned a living ferrying pistachios, sugar, cigarettes and fuel across the border say they are compelled by the Islamic State to traffic in jihadists, under the threat of death or the end of their livelihoods. Sometimes they receive a late-night phone call from an ISIS commander inside Syria directing them to receive a recruit at a luxury hotel in this city to escort across the border.

“Things have become more difficult because Turkey has stricter procedures on the border,” one smuggler who gave only his first name, Mustafa, said in an interview at a cafe in Killis, a border town.

Even so, he said, he always finds a way, and sometimes the Turkish border guards in his village, who know him, look the other way.

The increased pressure means the frenetic days of 2012 are over. Foreign jihadists, with long beards and trademark fanny packs who once filled the cafes and streets in border towns, now slip quietly through Turkey, trying to attract little attention. Military supply shops, which once openly sold black headbands printed with Islamist slogans, body armor and, sometimes, weapons to foreigners on their way to Syria, have taken their business into back rooms. [Continue reading…]

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Turkey moves closer to becoming a fully fledged police state

By Cengiz Gunes, The Open University

The Turkish parliament has been debating the government’s proposed new security law, generally called the “domestic security package”. So far, the first 16 articles of the proposed law have been passed by the parliament amid fighting between the opposition and the government MPs, and discussion on the remaining articles is expected to resume shortly.

The government has an absolute majority in parliament, and will face little difficulty in passing the law eventually, but the opposition is determined to do all it can to delay the process.

It objects to the way the government is rushing the law through the parliament without proper parliamentary scrutiny, and to the actual measures the new law contains, which they fear will further undermine Turkey’s fraying democracy.

There are concerns that by giving extensive powers to the police to suppress political protests, the law will not just fuel Turkey’s worsening poltical polarisation – it will turn the country into a police state.

Tightening the screws

The law raises the prospect of increased arbitrary detention, excessive use of firearms by police and politically motivated criminal investigations. Amnesty International has called the proposed law a serious threat to human rights, and Human Rights Watch has also voiced its concerns but it is not only the human rights organisations that fear the consequences once parliament passes the law.

Kati Piri, the European parliament’s Turkey rapporteur, described the proposals as a threat to the essential conditions for a democratic state and as another step away from European values – sentiments echoed by American diplomats.

The proposals will allow the police to keep people in detention for up to 48 hours without the need of a judge’s approval, and adds fireworks, hand catapults and metal marbles to the long list of items considered to be weapons. People caught possessing them will face prison sentences of between two-and-a-half to four years.

A swat team in Istanbul.
EPA/Sedat Suna

Similar penalties are proposed for protesters who cover their face during protests in order to protect themselves against the excessively used tear gas, or who wear any clothing resembling a uniform.

And on top of all this, the proposed law closes off avenues of redress and protection against police brutality.

[Read more…]

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Are Turkey and Saudi Arabia working together against Iran?

Fehim Taştekin writes: The relationship between Turkey and Saudi Arabia until now has been treated as almost sacrosanct and is one that is not argued about. Although Turkish and Saudi views on regional issues do not always coincide, both Ankara and Riyadh have kept their bilateral relations away from regional squabbles. Turks, in general, associate Saudi Arabia with pilgrimage (hajj) and oil prices. Aware of the tense rivalry for regional influence between Saudi Arabia and Iran, Turkey has tried to maintain good relations with both countries, and it was in Syria that Turkish and Saudi interests meshed. Although they agree that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad must go, the Turkish-Qatari axis competes with that of Saudi Arabia in Syria. Some suggest that the failure of the Syrian opposition to get its act together was because of this competition. A similar rivalry is now seen in Egypt because of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government’s backing of the Muslim Brotherhood, and in Libya because of the AKP’s support of the Tripoli government instead of the one in Tobruk. Although Saudi Arabia is the most prominent supporter of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who toppled the Muslim Brotherhood, and of the Tobruk government in Libya, Turkey has not raised its voice against Riyadh while disparaging other countries. Now, Erdogan is adding a new controversial dimension to the unblemished Turkish relationship with Saudi Arabia.

During his visit to Saudi Arabia between Feb. 28 and March 2, Erdogan in his meeting with the new Saudi king, Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud, reached an agreement to increase Saudi-Turkish support of the Syrian opposition to levels that would enable the two countries to achieve their goals there. According to journalists accompanying Erdogan, Salman also promised to support Turkey in declaring a no-fly zone.

The two leaders, in addition to discussing Syria, Iran, Yemen, Palestine and Egypt, also reached an understanding that illustrates how Turkey is now being dragged into the much more dangerous issue of Iran. [Continue reading…]

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The secularization of Turkey

Mustafa Akyol writes: Since the Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in 2002, Turkey’s “Islamization” has been a recurrent theme in the media. Over the past two years — during which time Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish president and AKP leader, has combined increasingly authoritarian rule and an overtly Islamist narrative — this theme has become more common and assumed greater validity. It is often asked whether Turkey is turning into “another Iran,” and most commentators take it for granted that, at the very least, Turkey is becoming more “conservative.” Turkish academic Volkan Ertit, a doctoral candidate focusing on the sociology of religion at Radboud University, in the Netherlands, emphatically argues otherwise.

In his new book, “The Age of Anxious Conservatives: Turkey, That Moves Away From Religion” (Endiseli Muhafazakarlar: Dinden Uzaklasan Turkiye), Ertit presents ample evidence suggesting that the power of religion is actually declining in Turkish society. To Ertit, the “secularization of society” means the decline in the “impact of the individual’s faith in the sacred on the actual conduct of life.” In this regard, he thinks Turkey is certainly on a secularization path. If the trend were toward Islamization, he argues, Turkey should have experienced the following:

  • Increased religiosity among young generations than in older generations
  • Decline in the visibility of homosexuality
  • Decline in the rate of premarital flirtation
  • Decline in the rated of premarital and extramarital sex
  • Increase in the belief in supernatural beings
  • Greater preference for dress that does not reveal body shapes
  • Greater impact of the “sacred” on daily affairs

What one sees in Turkey, however, Ertit says, is the opposite. [Continue reading…]

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Öcalan calls on PKK to convene conference on laying down arms

Today’s Zaman reports: The jailed leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (pkk) calls on the outlawed group to convene a conference in spring on laying down its arms, the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (hdp) announced on Saturday, in a landmark step towards ending the PKK’s 30-year-old armed campaign.

“I invite the PKK to convene an extraordinary congress in spring months to make the strategic and historic decision on the basis of ending the armed struggle,” HDP’s Sırrı Süreyya Önder quoted Öcalan as saying at a joint news conference with Deputy Prime Minister Yalçın Akdoğan and Interior Minister Efkan Ala in İstanbul. Two other HDP lawmakers, Pervin Buldan and İdris Balüken, also attended the conference, which followed a 45-minute meeting between the HDP delegation and Akdoğan and Ala.

“We call on all democratic parties to support this democratic solution,” Önder said, asserting that Turkey is “closer than ever to peace.”

“We have reached an important point in the settlement process,” Akdoğan told the same conference. He said the democratic progression will gather momentum once arms are left aside. [Continue reading…]

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