Turkey’s Erdogan reported to have threatened to flood Europe with migrants

Reuters reports: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan threatened in November to flood Europe with migrants if European Union leaders did not offer him a better deal to help manage the Middle East refugee crisis, a Greek news website said on Monday.

Publishing what it said were minutes of a tense meeting last November, the euro2day.gr financial news website revealed deep mutual irritation and distrust in talks between Erdogan and the EU’s two top officials, Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk.

The EU officials were trying to enlist Ankara’s help in stemming an influx of Syrian refugees and migrants into Europe. Over a million arrived last year, most crossing the narrow sea gap between Turkey and islands belonging to EU member Greece.

Tusk’s European Council and Juncker’s European Commission declined to confirm or deny the authenticity of the document, and Erdogan’s office in Ankara had no immediate comment.

The account of the meeting, in English, was produced in facsimile on the website. It does not state when or where the meeting took place, but it appears to have been on Nov. 16 in Antalya, Turkey, where the three met after a G20 summit there. [Continue reading…]

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As Syrians flee anew, neighbors’ altruism hardens into resentment

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The New York Times reports: When the Syrian refugees first started streaming into this bedraggled border town, Gassim al-Moghrebi was their tireless benefactor, distributing donations of food, money and clothes and sheltering as many as possible in two apartments he owned.

“All of Ramtha was just like me,” Mr. Moghrebi said, describing a good will rooted in family ties that spanned the border, and sympathy for the victims of a pitiless war. “One man had 10 apartments. He gave them to the Syrians for free.”

But now, as Syria witnesses a new escalation of violence, including waves of Russian airstrikes, and as Syrians flee for safety again by the tens of thousands, neighboring countries are increasingly overwhelmed and reluctant to let them in. In many places, that early altruism has hardened into resentment — an ominous turn for those fleeing war.

Desperate Syrians are backed up at the borders of Jordan and Turkey, barred from entering or else just allowed to trickle in. Increasingly, they find escape routes closing. [Continue reading…]

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Turkey’s academics pay heavy price for resisting Erdoğan’s militarised politics

By Celal Cahit Agar, University of Exeter and Steffen Böhm, University of Exeter

While the EU and the US have turned a blind eye to the Turkish government’s brutal clampdown in Kurdish regions, Turkish academics who have spoken out about the regime’s increasingly dictatorial policies have faced punishment and even imprisonment.

A petition published in early January by the Academicians for Peace initiative, criticising the Turkish state’s political and military attacks against the Kurdish people, raised a red flag with its signatories stating: “We will not be a party to this crime.” They wrote:

The Turkish state has effectively condemned its citizens in Sur, Silvan, Nusaybin, Cizre, Silopi, and many other towns and neighborhoods in the Kurdish provinces to hunger through its use of curfews that have been ongoing for weeks. It has attacked these settlements with heavy weapons and equipment that would only be mobilized in wartime. As a result, the right to life, liberty, and security, and in particular the prohibition of torture and ill-treatment protected by the constitution and international conventions have been violated.

In response, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan immediately demanded that all institutions in Turkey take action: “Everyone who benefits from this state but is now an enemy of the state must be punished without further delay.”

[Read more…]

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The West must stop giving Turkey a free pass

Behlul Ozkan writes: Last month, more than 1,200 Turkish and foreign academics signed a petition calling attention to the continuing humanitarian crisis in many Kurdish-majority towns in southeastern Turkey, which are the site of fighting between the Turkish Army and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or P.K.K. The petition decried the Army’s shelling of urban areas and the imposition of weekslong, 24-hour curfews, which have left many civilians unable to bury their dead or even obtain food. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan publicly denounced the signers as “so-called intellectuals” and “traitors.” Within days, antiterror police had detained and harassed dozens of the signatories.

Mr. Erdogan’s actions shouldn’t have been surprising. The president has a history of jailing journalists and cracking down on media companies critical of his policies. And yet this time the response from his supporters was exceptionally chilling: A pro-Erdogan organized crime boss proclaimed, “We will take a shower in your blood,” while the office doors of some of the academics were ominously marked with red crosses.

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who as a former academic might have been expected to come to his colleagues’ defense, announced that he “did not regard the petition as falling under the rubric of free speech.” He then set out on a trip to several European countries in order to encourage foreign investment in Turkey’s foundering economy. In Britain and Germany, Mr. Davutoglu received a warm welcome from Prime Minister David Cameron and Chancellor Angela Merkel. The European Union’s response to the latest crackdown on dissent in Turkey amounted to little more than a statement calling the persecution of the academics “extremely worrying.”

Many prominent Western academics and non-governmental organizations have been vocal in censuring the persecution suffered by their Turkish counterparts. The European Union’s lack of action on Turkey’s crackdown on academic freedom and human rights would therefore be inexplicable but for one crucial detail: As the European Union faces its largest refugee crisis since World War II, the 2.5 million Syrians currently in Turkey are a huge bargaining chip for Ankara. Europe’s leaders are well aware of this. [Continue reading…]

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Will Turkey risk military confrontation with Russia?

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Semih Idiz writes: Tensions between Russia and Turkey continue to escalate following the downing in November of a Russian Su-24 fighter jet that strayed into Turkish airspace.

Questions are being raised now whether the two countries are heading for a military confrontation. A leading Turkish military expert told Al-Monitor that such a Russian move could spell disaster for Turkey.

Turkey accused Russia of violating its airspace again last week and summoned Russia’s ambassador in Ankara to lodge a formal protest. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu also warned Moscow that it was playing with fire and would have to face the consequences. [Continue reading…]

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Ambulances halted as Turkey besieges Kurdish town

Al Jazeera reports: At least 10 civilians injured in clashes have died in southeastern Turkey over the past two weeks because ambulances could not reach them to take them to hospitals.

The people have either bled to death on the street or in homes, or were admitted to hospitals only after it was too late – and residents fear there will be more deaths in the coming days.

The deaths have occurred since the Turkish government began enforcing a round-the-clock, open-ended curfew on Cizre, a majority-Kurdish town with a population of 120,000. Some have risked going outside to buy daily necessities, while carrying a white flag to show they are not a threat; others have remained holed-up indoors.

The Turkish government says the curfew, which has been in effect since December 14, is necessary in its fight against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an armed group that the Turkish government labels as “terrorists”. Human rights organisations Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have accused Turkish security forces of using disproportionate violence in clashes with armed, PKK-affiliated young people in Cizre, noting that dozens of civilians have died as a result. [Continue reading…]

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Syrian rebel splits deepen after failed ‘merger’ with Nusra

Reuters reports: The leader of al Qaeda’s Syrian wing tried unsuccessfully at a recent meeting to convince rival Islamist factions to merge into one unit, several insurgency sources have told Reuters.

Abu Mohamad al-Golani, head of the Nusra Front, even suggested he was willing to change the name of his group if the others, including the powerful Ahrar al-Sham organisation, agreed to the deal, the sources said.

But he made clear that Nusra would not cut its ties with al Qaeda, and its allegiance would remain to Ayman al-Zawahri, who took over as leader after U.S. Navy SEALS killed Osama bin Laden in 2011.

Much was riding on the outcome of the meeting, which the sources said took place about 10 days ago.

Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham are the most powerful groups in northern Syria: when they briefly teamed up with other Islamists last year in an alliance called the Fatah Army, the rebels scored one of their biggest victories by seizing the city of Idlib. [Continue reading…]

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10 children among the dead as refugee boat capsizes off Turkey

The New York Times reports: One photo showed a small boy, perhaps 3 years old, dressed for a mild winter — dark blue pants and coat, a sky blue sweater for extra protection. The grown-up who had dressed him for the journey — barely five miles across the Aegean Sea — had cared enough to put on matching socks, with little blue cars. The boy was lying face up on the rocks. A winter hat, sky blue with a white pom-pom, covered his lifeless face.

The little boy was among 37 people — most of them believed to be Syrians fleeing war and trying to reach European shores — who died when their boat capsized on Saturday and washed up on the rocky shoals of the Turkish coast. At least 10 children died in the accident, according to reports from The Associated Press, which came as the rival parties in Syria were in Geneva, squabbling over the terms of sitting down for peace talks.

Another photo showed a Turkish rescue worker carrying a child, slightly older, maybe old enough to be in first grade. He was wearing jeans and a red life jacket. His eyes appeared to be half open, staring at the rescue worker who was putting him into a body bag. [Continue reading…]

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Greece resists role as European Union’s gatekeeper

The New York Times reports: On a recent weekday, 40 buses jammed into the parking lot of a gas station near the Macedonian border, carrying thousands of refugees who had survived a perilous crossing on wintry seas from Turkey.

Now they were approaching ground zero in the intensifying debate over how to curb the unceasing stream of men, women and children from war-ravaged and poor nations in the Middle East and Africa heading to the safety and prosperity of Europe.

After trying and largely failing to persuade Turkey to stem the flow, Europe has reached a critical point in the migrant crisis. With few options left, short of halting the war in Syria, much of the Continent is coalescing around proposals that would harden the border with Macedonia and effectively turn Greece into a giant processing center for migrants.

At the border crossing here — one of the busiest gateways for migrants on the path north and the site of occasional violence between the authorities and frustrated migrants — Greece has played that filtering role to some degree for months. In theory, Greece is allowing only Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans to continue toward their preferred destinations in Germany and Austria. [Continue reading…]

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Syria: YPG international brigade in recruit call for foreigners to attack Turkey

IBT reports: Westerners fighting alongside Kurdish militants have urged other foreigners sympathetic to their struggle to carry out attacks against Turkey in an online video that threatens to complicate upcoming peace talks on Syria.

An English-speaking man with the face covered by a scarf is seen delivering the international call to arms in a six-minute clip titled Revolutionaries! Join the Resistance of Bakur! – a reference to Kurdish areas in south-eastern Turkey. “We call on all revolutionaries worldwide – join the resistance. This is not the time to sit at home and ponder what might be,” he says, reading from a written statement, while standing with a Kalashnikov leaning on his leg.

The man is flanked by other gunmen, who, according to Kurdish news agency ANF, are all members of an international brigade within the Popular Protection Units (YPG), a large Kurdish militia in Syria. “Attack the institutions of the Turkish state all over the world. Come to Kurdistan and join the forces of YPJ, YPS and the guerrillas,” he says. [Continue reading…]

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Remember photos of Erdogan’s aide kicking a protester? Now they’re blocked in Turkey

Mashable reports: Famous images showing an aide to Turkey’s prime minister kicking a protester in the wake of a national tragedy are slowly vanishing from the internet in Turkey.

The photographs were taken after a fire killed 301 miners in the spring of 2014 and they quickly became symbols of the government’s callous reaction to the worst industrial accident in Turkey’s history.

Yet anyone in Turkey today who tries to find the famous photos of Yusuf Yerkel winding up for a kick aimed a protester who was already on the ground — and restrained by security — will find that many webpages showing the image are blocked. [Continue reading…]

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ISIS is leading Turkey’s AK Party into a trap

While reviewing a recent ISIS propaganda video, “Turkey and the Fire of Racism,” Hilmi Demir writes: [ISIS] presents itself as a force for correcting nationalism and returning humanity to the natural flow of its history. In this sense, it is not unlike Communism, which advertised a humane post-capitalist utopia. In the video, scenes displaying nationalism, such as Hitler’s Germany, Nasser’s Egypt and Atatürk’s Turkey have an industrial feel to them, often from old newsreels or deliberately distorted images. In contrast, ISIL militants talking into the camera invariably sit against a background of greenery — trees or shrubbery. Before the militants speak, the camera shows cuts of children playing, and birds gliding over a pristine pond. The underlying message is that ISIL is the only polity in the world in sync with God’s creation.

A part of the video features a militant speaking in Kurdish (with Turkish and Arabic subtitles), in an appeal to “Muslim Kurds, especially those living in Turkey.” ISIL here is seeking to establish its credentials as a post-racial society. Addressing the Marxist-Leninist Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK), the militant asks, “Do you believe that your salvation will come from the hands of atheists [the PKK and its backers]?” He continues, “Under the shadow of Sharia, the only thing separating Arab and non-Arab alike is their piety,” he says. In its own way, ISIL is making a progressive claim. Unlike Turkey, which it sees as being dominated by a single “tribe,” everyone in ISIL territory is equal under its law.

International observers who accuse the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) of aiding ISIL might be surprised that the video takes the longtime Islamist government into its crosshairs. The AK Party, according to the video, clothes itself in Islamist rhetoric while acting as the “Crusaders’ hand of tyranny in the region.” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is specifically labeled an apostate who perpetuates the secular agenda of Turkey’s foundation. [Continue reading…]

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Jailed Turkish editor slams EU deal with Erdoğan’s ‘fascist government’

The Guardian reports: The editor of Turkey’s most influential dissident newspaper has said in an interview from his prison cell that the country’s ongoing crackdown on journalists is the worst in its history and that he was imprisoned for doing his job.

Can Dündar, the editor-in-chief of Cumhuriyet, also said the EU was betraying its democratic values by seeking a rapprochement with the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, in the hope that he would stem the flow of refugees into Europe while ignoring human rights violations.

“We always looked at the European Union as an anchor, a model to raise the standard of democracy in Turkey to universal levels, not as leverage to dictatorships,” he said. “Now, if the EU, in order to stop the influx of refugees by turning our lands into a big concentration camp, agrees to turn a blind eye while Erdoğan spurns democracy, human rights, freedom of press and rule of law, it means that the EU is discarding its founding principles in order to protect its short-term interests.” [Continue reading…]

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Istanbul suicide bomber went from dental school to ISIS

BuzzFeed reports: The man who blew himself up in Istanbul on Tuesday, killing 10 people, was a former dental student and member of ISIS who may have initially planned to carry out the attack on New Year’s Eve, sources told BuzzFeed News.

Nabil Fadli went from student at Aleppo University to anti-government rebel before casting his lot with ISIS radicals, people who knew him said.

“We fought for our revolution, but they wanted to build their Islamic state,” said one former rebel who fought alongside Fadli against the brutal government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, requesting anonymity because he feared retaliation from ISIS for speaking to the press. “We thought he was a good guy, but he’s a son of a bitch.”

Turkish authorities are still working to piece together a profile of Fadli, who entered the country as a refugee before attacking the heart of Istanbul, ratcheting up Turkey’s conflict with ISIS. But interviews with those who knew him in Syria provide new details about his path to terror — one that has become all too common over the course of the war.

They were still trying to come to grips with Fadli’s attack, which they saw as not only an act of terror, but also a bid to demonize 2 million of his countrymen who have been forced to take refuge in Turkey. “I was shocked when I heard what he did in Istanbul,” said Mohammed Bakir Hussein, who recalled studying with Fadli at Aleppo University, describing him as a well-liked student, quiet and conscientious. “It’s a very terrible thing.”

“He did it to make problems for the refugees,” the former rebel said. “He killed 10 people, but he put the 2 million Syrians in Turkey at risk.” [Continue reading…]

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Turkish prosecutors to investigate academics over Erdoğan petition

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The Guardian reports: Turkey has launched an investigation into academics who signed a petition criticising the military’s crackdown on Kurdish rebels in the south-east that angered President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

More than 1,200 academics from 90 Turkish universities calling themselves “Academicians for Peace”, as well as foreign scholars, signed the petition last week calling for an end to the months-long violence.

Entitled “We won’t be a party to this crime”, the petition urged Ankara to “abandon its deliberate massacre and deportation of Kurdish and other peoples in the region”.

It was signed by dozens of foreign luminaries and intellectuals, among them the US academic Noam Chomsky and the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek. [Continue reading…]

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