The Daily Beast reports: Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is planning a military intervention into northern Syria to prevent Syrian Kurds from forming their own state there, despite concerns among his own generals and possible criticism from Washington and other NATO allies, according to reports in both pro- and anti-government media.
In a speech last Friday, Erdogan vowed that Turkey would not accept a move by Syrian Kurds to set up their own state in Syria following gains by Kurdish fighters against the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, in recent weeks. “I am saying this to the whole world: We will never allow the establishment of a state on our southern border in the north of Syria,” Erdogan said. “We will continue our fight in that respect whatever the cost may be.” He accused Syrian Kurds of ethnic cleansing in Syrian areas under their control.
Following the speech, several news outlets reported that the president and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu had decided to send the Turkish army into Syria, a hugely significant move by NATO’s second biggest fighting force after the U.S. military. Both the daily Yeni Safak, a mouthpiece of the government, and the newspaper Sozcu, which is among Erdogan’s fiercest critics, ran stories saying the Turkish Army had received orders to send soldiers over the border. Several other media had similar stories, all quoting unnamed sources in Ankara. There has been no official confirmation or denial by the government. [Continue reading…]
AFP reports: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that Turkey will never allow the establishment of a Kurdish state in Syria after major gains by Kurdish fighters.
In a strong-worded warning late on Friday, Erdogan accused the Kurds of ethnically cleaning other communities from land they have taken after pushing back Islamic State forces from the Turkish border.
“I say to the international community that whatever price must be paid, we will never allow the establishment of a new state on our southern frontier in the north of Syria,” Erdogan was quoted by Turkish media as telling guests at a dinner to break the Ramadan fast. [Continue reading…]
The Wall Street Journal reports: In the three-way war ravaging Syria, should the local al Qaeda branch be seen as the lesser evil to be wooed rather than bombed?
This is increasingly the view of some of America’s regional allies and even some Western officials. In a war now in its fifth year, in which 230,000 people have been killed and another 7.6 million uprooted, few good options remain for how to tackle the crisis.
The three main forces left on the ground today are the Assad regime, Islamic State and an Islamist rebel alliance in which the Nusra Front — an al Qaeda affiliate designated a terrorist group by the U.S. and the United Nations — plays a major role.
Outnumbered and outgunned, the more secular, Western-backed rebels have found themselves fighting shoulder to shoulder with Nusra in key battlefields. As the Assad regime wobbles and Islamic State, or ISIS, gains ground in both Syria and Iraq, reaching out to the more pragmatic Nusra is the only rational choice left for the international community, supporters of this approach argue. [Continue reading…]
Aaron Stein writes: Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has been an outspoken advocate for the use of military force to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Since severing ties with the Syrian regime in September 2011, Ankara has been a critical provider of military and humanitarian aid for a host of rebel groups operating throughout northern Syria.
Until now, AKP has managed to resist any changes to its policy owing to its outsize and repeated victories at the polls—even as the Syria conflict has spilled over the border in the form of terrorist attacks, lethal artillery fire, and downed Turkish aircraft. A driving force behind AKP decision-making has been the fear of seeing a semiautonomous Kurdish region spring up in Syria’s ungoverned north; specifically one ruled by the dominant, far-leftist Democratic Union Party (PYD).
Ironically, by trying to keep the PYD at bay, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan undercut his personal appeal in Turkey’s Kurdish majority southeast and undermined his former party’s efforts to continue to attract support from religiously-minded Kurds. This key constituency defected from the AKP in this past election, choosing instead to vote for Turkey’s fourth largest political party, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). [Continue reading…]
The Daily Beast reports: Recep Tayyip Erdogan bent the constitution and election rules in a drive to become the all-powerful leader of this strategically important NATO country. But in parliamentary election on Sunday, Erdogan saw his high hopes come crashing down to earth as voters dealt him the first national defeat of his career.
Erdogan critics said the vote was a watershed moment for Turkey as the country spoke out against a leader who wanted all power for himself.
“The era of Erdogan is over,” declared historian Ahmet Insel.
Going into Sunday’s poll, Erdogan had called on voters to give his ruling party AKP at least 330 deputies in parliament in order to change the constitution and introduce a presidential system with him at the helm. As Erdogan’s plan did not include checks and balances to limit executive power, the opposition called the move a dictatorial power grab—and voters agreed. Not only did the AKP fail to reach the 330 deputies demanded by Erdogan, it lost so many votes on Sunday that it dropped down to 256 lawmakers; at least 276 are needed to form a majority government. “AKP government is history, Super President is history,” tweeted journalist Yusuf Kanli. [Continue reading…]
The Washington Post reports: The deciding factor in this election was the emergence of the People’s Democratic Party, or HDP, which came in fourth with 12 percent of the vote. For a political party to enter Turkey’s parliament, it has to pass a threshold of 10 percent of the total vote. The HDP did so and will command an estimated 78 seats in the 550-seat legislature, mostly won at the expense of the AKP.
It was a remarkable achievement for a party that was formed less than three years ago and has direct ties to the violent three-
decade Kurdish separatist insurgency in Turkey’s southeast. The war between the militant Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, and the Turkish state has claimed 40,000 lives since it first flared in the early 1980s.
“From now on, HDP is Turkey’s party. HDP is Turkey, Turkey is HDP,” the party’s leader, Selahattin Demirtas, said Sunday evening at a news conference in Istanbul.
The party framed itself as a leftist movement for all Turks and boasted a diverse slate of parliamentary candidates, including representatives of virtually all of Turkey’s major ethnic groups, a large number of women and the nation’s first openly gay candidate. [Continue reading…]
Alev Scott writes: Turkey fulfilled the legacy of Gezi Park yesterday. What protesters could not accomplish two years ago has now been achieved. Such a resounding vote for change – for the first time in 13 years – means the ludicrously named Justice and Development party (AKP) has lost its majority. Nobody expected this. As the votes came in last night and the opposition’s amazed celebrations began, no one partied harder than supporters of the minority rights-focused Peoples’ Democratic party (HDP), which blossomed out of the Gezi movement, and whose success in the face of intimidating odds proved the key to the AKP’s undoing.
There are now serious questions to be asked about Turkey’s political future in the wake of this extreme transformation, but on waking up this morning my overriding urge was to sing “Ding dong, the witch is dead!” and dance like a liberated Munchkin. Of course I’m talking about President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who failed to surface yesterday evening after his ambitions for an executive presidency had been crushed with satisfying finality – and about whom I would never have written such blasphemous sentiments if his party still retained a majority.
Being a writer in Turkey in recent years has meant self-censoring while admiring those braver than you – such as the journalist Can Dündar, who was sued last week by Erdoğan and now faces two life sentences for a “treasonous” news story. It has meant clothing your criticism in feeble witticisms and slightly despising yourself for scattering the word “alleged” into perfectly obvious accounts of government corruption. [Continue reading…]
Der Spiegel reports: Everybody wants to catch a glimpse of Selahattin Demirtas, the man who will supposedly save Turkey from President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Young students and men with grey beards stream into the lecture hall at Bogazici University in Istanbul. All of the seats are occupied; people are sitting on the floor and standing against the walls. Demirtas steps on to the stage, and when he sees people thronging at the entrance, he calls out: “Just come on the stage!”
The spectators cheer, and a few boisterous ones make a dash for Demirtas, who patiently poses for selfies. A young man presses a baby in his arm and takes a photo. The bodyguards watch in frustration, but Demirtas smiles.
The words “Büyük Insanlik,” meaning “great humanity,” are written on the screen behind him. It is the slogan of the People’s Democratic Party (HDP), an alliance between the Democratic Regions Party (BDP) and Turkish left-wing groups that is led by Demirtas. He is Kurdish, 42 years old, a human right’s lawyer from Diyarbakir and a challenger to the president. By running for office, he is hoping to end the omnipotence of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).
His success or failure could decide whether Turkey will finally become the land of Erdogan — or whether democracy still has a chance. [Continue reading…]
Following a month of fierce campaigning, the people of Turkey are preparing to head to the polling stations for the nation’s general election. This is set to be one of the most important elections in the history of the Turkish Republic, since its results may mean political overhaul. On June 7, the people will decide whether the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) will win an absolute majority, or be required to form a coalition government for the first time since coming to power in 2002.
Turkey is a secular parliamentary democracy. Legislative power is vested in the Turkish Grand National Assembly, while executive power is exercised by the prime minister and the Council of Ministers. Turkey also has a president whose role, at present, is largely ceremonial.
The make up of the national assembly is determined using a system of proportional representation. Political parties must win a minimum of 10% of the national vote in order to take up any seats: the highest electoral threshold of any country in the world.
Today’s Zaman reports: Cumhuriyet Editor-in-Chief Can Dündar — for whom President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is demanding a life sentence, an aggravated life sentence and an additional 42-year term of imprisonment for publishing video footage of what the daily said were arms being transferred to Syria on trucks operated by the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) — has been receiving more and more support both from Turkey and overseas.
Erdoğan filed a criminal complaint against Dündar on Tuesday after prosecutors launched a probe investigating the newspaper and Dündar for the publication. The footage released by Cumhuriyet on Friday showed gendarmerie officers and police officers opening crates on the back of trucks that contained what the daily said were weapons and ammunition sent to Syria in January 2014. The footage contradicts the government’s earlier claim that the trucks were only carrying humanitarian aid to Turkmens in the war-torn country.
The prosecutor has requested the maximum penalty of an aggravated life sentence, one life sentence and an additional 42 years in jail, Cumhuriyet said.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) has harshly criticized Turkey over the criminal investigation started against the Cumhuriyet daily and its editor-in-chief for the daily’s report on Syria-bound trucks carrying arms from Turkey, stating that the probe targeting the daily should be dropped immediately. [Continue reading…]
Graham E. Fuller writes: On 7 June Turkey’s democratic system will be deeply tested in a fateful parliamentary election; at stake is preservation of rule of law and liberal democracy against an increasingly authoritarian-minded President.
Bottom line: if President Erdoğan’s AKP party is able to win big, the entire system of separation of powers in Turkey will likely reach breaking point. Erdoğan will have gained the carte blanche he seeks to mold, shape and steer the state any direction he wants in a semi-legal form of one man rule. And this comes at a time when his presidency has become ever more erratic, arbitrary, error-prone, corrupt, vengeful and out of touch.
I find it surprising to be writing this. My book published one year ago, “Turkey and the Arab Spring: Leadership in the Middle East,” examined the extraordinary first decade of the AKP party in Turkey under Prime Minister Erdoğan’s leadership. Up until 2011 it may have been the best government Turkey has ever had since it adopted democratic rule in the 1950s. Erdoğan’s successes can be measured in terms of deeper democratization, astonishing economic growth and prosperity, expansion of social services, the successful removal of the military from politics, the forging of an expansive and visionary foreign policy (with new emphasis on independence from failing US policies in the Middle East), and a modern reconsideration of what an Islamic-leaning government can mean in a democratic order. At that time Turkey became the preeminent model of success for a region that possessed little leadership, vision or progress.
A great degree of the credit for Turkey’s foreign policy successes — a huge expansion of the range of Turkish ties, interests and outreach — belongs to Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, the chief architect of these policies. Under Erdoğan’s AKP Turkey underwent profound, and, I argue, irreversible change in reinventing itself as a major regional power extending its activities and interactions across all of Eurasia, the Middle East, Africa and even into Latin America. Turkey accepted and normalized its Islamic heritage. The AKP had won three successive elections with growing proportion of votes each time — unprecedented in Turkish political history due to broad public satisfaction with the party’s accomplishments.
But it was not to last. After ten years in power, few governments anywhere can remain immune from corruption. [Continue reading…]
Henri J. Barkey writes: The upcoming June 7 parliamentary elections may prove to be far more dramatic than any in Turkey’s recent past. No matter what the outcome, the country is likely to be heading into an unprecedented crisis.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has staked Turkey’s future constitutional order on the outcome of the vote. Erdogan, after 11 years as prime minister with the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), has assumed the largely ceremonial position of president. While the president is supposed to be impartial, he has been campaigning ferociously in support of his old party because he wants it to win a comfortable majority in parliament — more than 330 seats in the 550-seat parliament, to be precise. Such an outcome will enable him to lay the groundwork for a new political system, which would shift power from the prime minister to a French-style executive president.
Erdogan is a towering figure of Turkish politics. He dominates his party, which in principle is being run by his handpicked prime minister, Ahmet Davutoglu. He has also succeeded in neutralizing the once dominant force of Turkish politics, the armed forces. He is used to getting what he wants, and brooks no opposition — just ask his erstwhile ally, the religious leader Fethullah Gülen, whose powerful network of schools, media outlets, and business associations in Turkey are being dismantled piece by piece after a falling out with Erdogan.
Polling results have varied quite a bit in this election. The AKP is averaging support in the low 40s, while the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) is polling in the mid- to high 20s and the nativist Nationalist Action Party seems likely to receive roughly 13 percent of the vote. It is unlikely, but possible, that the AKP will win fewer than 276 seats, which would force the formation of a coalition government. AKP supporters appear worried and have put together a very aggressive campaign — using state resources for the task, and crowding out the other parties from the airwaves.
What stands in the way of Erdogan and his 330 seats in parliament is the People’s Democratic Party (HDP), which represents a significant majority of Turkey’s Kurdish population. [Continue reading…]
Stephen Kinzer writes: This was to be an extraordinary week in my career and life. It has turned out to be just that — but hardly in the way I expected.
I arrived here [Gaziantep, Turkey] Tuesday morning to receive a great honor. The mayor and city council decided several months ago to make me an honorary citizen in recognition of reporting I did years ago that resulted in saving exquisite Roman mosaics about to be lost to flooding.
A lavish ceremony was planned. Tickets were printed. A professional interpreter was engaged so I would not have to expose my fractured Turkish.
Upon my arrival, however, my acutely embarrassed hosts sat me down and told me the ceremony, and my honorary citizenship, had been cancelled by personal order of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Gaziantep’s mayor was given the order while attending a United Nations conference in Paris. Later, according to one of my friends here, Erdogan’s office sent her a fax describing me as “an enemy of our government and our country.” Attached as evidence was a Jan. 4 column I wrote for the Boston Globe that included a critical paragraph about Erdogan.
It said, “Once seen as a skilled modernizer, he now sits in a 1,000-room palace denouncing the European Union, decreeing the arrest of journalists, and ranting against short skirts and birth control.” [Continue reading…]
The Daily Beast reports: Within sight of an unoccupied watchtower, and a couple of hundred meters from the border gate at Akcakale on the Syrian-Turkish border, two small girls are skipping on stacks of piping ready for shipment to the town of Tel Abyad, now controlled by the Islamic State, or ISIS, across what the Turks claim is a locked-down frontier.
It is the weekend and so in this slow-paced, dusty border town, decorated with multi-colored banners and pennants of Turkish political parties campaigning for next month’s parliamentary polls, no one is hurrying to transport the suspicious cargo. And so here the pipes, several meters long and three inches in diameter, remain.
Around the corner there are more pipes — larger ones, six inches in diameter. Smugglers say the piping can sustain high pressure and will be used by jihadists in Syria to manufacture pipe bombs, improvised explosive devices and launch-tubes for mortars. [Continue reading…]
The Daily Beast reports: It’s less than four weeks to go before parliamentary elections in Turkey on June 7, and it looks like President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is panicking. Or worse.
A popular refrain among his political opponents, and on the street, is that Erdogan has lost his marbles and is driven by an insatiable appetite for power. Ever since he moved into a lavish 1,100-room palace in Ankara last year, Erdogan has been accused of succumbing to an out-of-control urge for grandeur. Kurdish politician Abdullah Zeydan says the president “thinks he is a sultan.” Meral Aksener, a nationalist politician and deputy speaker of parliament, claims Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu was telling people behind closed doors that Erdogan “is out of his mind.”
“Obviously, there is panic,” said Yavuz Baydar, a respected journalist.
At a minimum there is frustration for the president of this country with huge strategic importance, which has the second largest army in NATO and borders Iran, Iraq and Syria or, if you will, the Islamic State. Over the course of 12 years in power, first as prime minister and since last year as president, Erdogan has overseen unprecedented economic stability and growth in Turkey, trimmed the power of the military, with its long history of coups and its reputation as “the deep state,” and entered into an important dialogue with Kurdish politicians and even Kurdish rebels.
But polls say Erdogan, 61, will probably fail to get the majority he wants to push through sweeping constitutional changes to give himself unlimited but as yet unspecified power as president. The economy has grown sluggish of late, unemployment is on the rise, and the political opposition is resurgent, all of which spells trouble for Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). Some polls suggest the AKP could even lose its majority in parliament. [Continue reading…]
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.
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…]
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…]
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…]
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…]