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…]
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…]
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…]
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.
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.
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…]
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…]
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…]
The Associated Press reports: The lawyer for a model and former Miss Turkey says she could face up to two years in prison for social media posts that prosecutors have deemed to be critical of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Emre Telci said Wednesday an Istanbul prosecutor is demanding that Merve Buyuksarac be prosecuted on charges of insulting a public official. A court will decide whether to start proceedings.
Buyuksarac was detained last month for sharing a satirical poem on her Instagram account. She denies insulting Erdogan.
She becomes the latest figure to face trial for insulting Erdogan, amid fear the country is lurching toward authoritarian rule. [Continue reading…]
— Conflict News (@rConflictNews) February 21, 2015
Aaron Stein and Michael Stephens write: Just days after finalizing an agreement to train a new rebel force inside Turkey to attack the Islamic State, Turkish forces moved into Syria to evacuate some 40 soldiers protecting the Suleyman Shah Tomb: a small Turkish enclave on the eastern bank of the Euphrates river, 30 kilometers from the Turkish border town of Karkamis. The operation included 39 tanks, 57 armored vehicles, and an estimated 572 military personnel. The soldiers removed the body of Suleyman Shah and transported his remains to an area just opposite the Turkish town of Esmeler.
In their analysis of the operation, Stein and Stephens come to these conclusions:
It is important to put this operation into perspective: Ankara launched a limited incursion to evacuate a tomb that had come under threat. The coalition, the Kurds, and the FSA did much of the heavy lifting. Turkey, however, has proven yet again that its role in the Syrian conflict must not be overlooked. It has links to all the main actors operating in northern Syria and is able to generally get its way with most of them, albeit with the occasional disagreement.
The biggest change appears to be Ankara’s approach to ISIS. Since 2013, Turkey had treated ISIS as an irritant, rather than a major security threat, but the Suleyman Shah operation is the clearest sign to date that this approach is changing. However, it is far too early to determine whether this will result in Turkey changing its approach to the coalition’s military operations. All signs indicate that Turkey will not agree to increase its role in the coalition by opening up Incirlik Air Force base for armed strikes, or by allowing its planes to bomb ISIS directly.
Turkey’s role will remain limited to the train and equip, intelligence sharing, and border enforcement, rather than engaging ISIS from the air. In fact one must consider that now that the potential embarrassment of an ISIS takeover of the Tomb has been avoided, Turkey will take a more relaxed stance to events south of its border, and it is unlikely that another Turkish military incursion will be repeated. It is more likely that Turkey will continue with the policy it has pursued thus far: border defense at airports, increased military deployments along certain areas of the border, and the training of the new rebel brigade with US assistance. This signals one key change: Turkey is now attacking ISIS through the use of proxies, which Ankara had previously rejected, in favor of focusing on Assad.
The Associated Press reports: Chairs flew and lawmakers traded punches. A brawl in Parliament over a new security bill has forced the spotlight on mounting suspicions that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s real goal is to hand himself more tools to crush dissent.
Five lawmakers were injured early Wednesday in the fight that broke out as opposition leaders tried to delay a debate on the legislation.
The government says the measures to give police heightened powers to break up demonstrations are aimed at preventing violence such as the deadly clashes that broke out last year between Kurds, supporters of an Islamist group and police. Critics say that the new measures are part of a steady march toward blocking mass demonstrations that threaten Erdogan’s iron grip over Turkish politics.
The bill would expand police rights to use firearms, allow them to search people or vehicles without a court order and detain people for up to 48 hours without prosecutor authorization. Police would also be permitted to use firearms against demonstrators who hurl Molotov cocktails. Demonstrators who cover their faces with masks or scarves during violent demonstrations could face four years in prison.
Crucially, the measures would give governors — not just prosecutors and judges — the right to order arrests. [Continue reading…]
Aaron Stein writes: In April 2011, senior members of Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) met in Ankara to discuss the unrest in Syria. The meeting focused on Syria and how the government should respond to Bashar al-Assad’s violent suppression of antigovernment demonstrations. For the AKP, the unrest posed a unique set of challenges. Since 2002, Turkey had prioritized good relations with Damascus, arguing that areas of northern Syria were part of what they called Turkey’s “natural hinterland.”
In the end, the meeting’s participants decided to cautiously support Assad, albeit while prodding him to make political concessions to allow the exiled Syrian Muslim Brotherhood to reenter Syrian politics. Unlike during the Arab Spring protests in Egypt, when Turkey called on President Hosni Mubarak to step down after only eight days of rallies, Ankara’s initial preference in Syria was for the regime to reform and remain in power. To this end, Recep Tayyip Erdogan—then prime minister and now president—dispatched two trusted advisers to try to convince Assad to make cosmetic democratic reforms to appease the protesters. In April 2011, he sent Intelligence Chief Hakan Fidan to try to convince Assad to deescalate the unfolding crisis. Thereafter, he dispatched Ahmet Davutoglu, foreign minister at the time and now prime minister, on numerous occasions. Despite these efforts, neither man was successful. In September 2011, Turkey severed ties with the regime and began to take active part in regional efforts to overthrow the Syrian dictator. [Continue reading…]
Mustafa Akyol writes: As any Turkey watcher would easily confirm, hostility to the West has increasingly marked the rhetoric of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, his ruling Justice and Development (AKP) and pro-government media in the past two years. Especially since the Gezi Park protests in June 2013, the narrative of Erdogan and his entourage has revolved around Western “conspiracies” and a “national will” that is bravely fighting them.
Yet for those familiar with the AKP’s 14-year history, this may have come as a surprising turn. When the AKP was created in 2001, hostility to the West was not something with which it identified itself. On the contrary, party founders claimed to have disowned the Islamist, anti-Western “National View” tradition from which they came. Likewise, in the first years after the AKP came to power in 2002, Westernization (i.e., integration with the European Union) was the party’s prime objective. Back then, Europe was the source not of treacherous conspiracies that had to be thwarted, but of democratic criteria that had to be embraced.
Not surprisingly, the fiercest opposition to the AKP during that period from 2002 to 2010 was mounted by the anti-Western breed of Turkish secularists, known as neonationalists. This quarter — whose slogan is “Neither the US nor the EU, but a fully independent Turkey” — accused Erdogan’s government of “selling Turkey out to imperialism.” In 2007, one of Turkey’s best-selling books was nonsense titled “Moses’ Children,” which declared Erdogan to be a “crypto-Jew” colluding with the Elders of Zion. In the same era, the argument that Turkey should move closer to Russia instead of the EU was promoted by neonationalist generals, who would be implicated in the alleged Ergenekon coup plot to overthrow the AKP. [Continue reading…]
Reuters: A Turkish prosecutor formally accused a Dutch journalist of ‘terrorist propaganda’ on Monday, and asked she be jailed for up to five years, local media reported on Monday, a move that will deepen fears over press freedom in the NATO member state.
Security forces briefly detained freelance journalist Frederike Geerdink last month and raided her home in Diyarbakir, the largest city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish south-east.
The indictment, accepted by a Diyarbakir court, accuses Geerdink of posting messages on social media in favor of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), including a display of the group’s flag, according to Hurriyet Daily News (HDNER).
Today’s Zaman reports: The president’s insistence on a presidential system, demonstrated by his recent remarks that the issue should be a topic during the upcoming election campaign, may be considered a reflection of his lust for power as well as an attempt to prepare the groundwork for a shift to that system should the ruling party be victorious in the June elections.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said in the past week that he wants a strong presidential system to replace the current parliamentary system of government, saying the shift should be a topic during the upcoming election campaign.
Claiming, in sharp contrast to reality, that most developed countries are governed by a presidential system, he told a group of journalists on his way back to Turkey from Africa: “That shows that this [system] produces [better] results. Given this, why should we put shackles on our feet [by sticking to a parliamentary regime]?”
But according to Mahmut Akpınar, a security analyst at the Ankara-based Center of Law, Ethics and Political Studies (HESA), Erdoğan’s real motive might be different.
“His [the president’s] lust for power as well as his desire to keep the ruling party under control at all times has a role in Erdoğan’s effort,” Akpınar told Sunday’s Zaman.
If the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) manages to get enough votes in the elections on June 7 to change the Constitution in favor of a presidential system, Erdoğan will have all the power in his hand, whereas now he mostly enjoys symbolic powers.
According to Akpınar, Erdoğan aims, by bringing the issue up for discussion ahead of the elections, to psychologically prepare society for a shift to a presidential system from a parliamentary democracy, hoping that the ruling party will win the elections.
“By repeatedly bringing the issue up for discussion, he wants to create the impression among the public that voters will have also voted on this issue. If the AKP [AK Party] gets enough votes [to obtain power], the voters will be considered to have in this way given their approval [for a presidential system],” he said. [Continue reading…]
— KobaneNews (@Kobane33) January 27, 2015
Vice News reports: On Monday, the same day Kurdish fighters in Syria decisively broke the Islamic State’s bloody and sustained siege of Kobane, a senior leader of the extremist group called for jihadists to carry out fresh Paris-style attacks across Europe.
Fireworks lit up the dark night in Turkish and Syrian towns and refugee camps across the border from the embattled Syrian town of Kobane Monday night, while elated Kurdish residents bearing flame torches flooded the streets, celebrating the liberation of their friends, family, and neighbors, who until earlier that morning had been under militant control since September. In the distance, the Kurdish flag flapped silently on a hill east of Kobane — a declaration of the resilience of peshmerga fighters and rebel brigades who had fought deadly battles to drive out the extremists for four months. [Continue reading…]
David L. Phillips writes: The battle for Kobani is significant for several reasons:
- It’s a major setback for Daesh’s propaganda campaign. Daesh uses its aura of invincibility to gain recruits. In Kobani, Daesh was bloodied and beaten.
- It has brought global attention to the Kurds of Syria and their social revolution, which is based on grass-roots democracy, women’s empowerment, and environmental sustainability.
- It was a public-relations disaster for Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Turkey sealed its border to cut off Kobani’s defenders. Erdogan demanded that the U.S. impose a no-fly-zone and a security buffer in exchange for Turkey’s cooperation with the U.S.-led multinational coalition fighting Daesh. Many observers (including this author) allege Turkey is providing military, logistical, financial and medical support for Daesh and other jihadists.
- It did what no Kurdish leader could do: Kurds from Syria, Turkey, Iraq, and Iran found common cause in forming a united front against terrorism and the Islamic State’s fascist nihilism.
The Islamic State’s defeat in Syria followed a victory for the Peshmerga in Sinjar, where they defeated Daesh and saved thousands of Yazidis. The Iraqi armed forces is also rolling up Daesh in Iraq’s Diyala province.
Despite these battlefield gains, challenges remain. Thousands of displaced persons need assistance resettling to their ruined homes in Kobani. Villages around Kobani are still under control of Daesh. Cooperation between Washington and the Democratic Union Party, which represents Syrian Kurds, is shallow and should expand.
Today Kurds rejoice. The world applauds their heroism — and joins their celebration.
When Daesh’s obituary is written, Kobani will be enshrined as the turning point in the struggle to destroy the Islamic State.
Today’s Zaman reports: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has ruled out any possibility of accepting an autonomous Kurdish government in northern Syria similar to the one in northern Iraq, saying a government like this would cause major problems in the future.
In his remarks to reporters on his way back to Turkey after an African tour, Erdoğan criticized the United States’ policy on Syria, which doesn’t involve toppling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
“[The US] doesn’t want to make moves that target the [Syrian] regime. It says [toppling the government] is not among its targets. If it doesn’t take place, there won’t be any solution. What would happen? The same thing that happened in Iraq will happen. We don’t want a new Iraq. What is this? Northern Iraq… [We don’t want] a northern Syria to appear! It is not possible for us to accept this,” Erdoğan said.
“I know the burden on Turkey is heavy. We have to keep our stance [firm] on this issue. Otherwise, after a northern Iraq, there would be a northern Syria. These formations will cause big problems in the future,” he concluded.
Erdoğan also pointed to the three Kurdish autonomous administrations formed by Syrian Kurds in January 2014, and once more scolded the US for only placing importance on Kobani. [Continue reading…]
Hurriyet Daily News: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said that the European Union “must admit Turkey” as a member if it opposes Islamophobia.
Erdoğan became the first Turkish President who visited Djibouti on Jan. 24, one day after he interrupted his Horn of Africa tour to attend King Abdullah’s funeral in Saudi Arabia. Djibouti President Ismail Omar Guelleh welcomed his Turkish counterpart at the Djibouti City airport.
Turkish President, who had visited Ethiopia as the first stop of his tour, touched upon a number of foreign policy issues during his joint press conference with Guelleh, which was attended by the members of the large Turkish delegation that included cabinet members such as Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu.
Stressing that the past decade saw the deaths of thousands of Muslims in the region, Erdoğan slammed the “coup-makers” in Egypt. “3,000 Muslims were killed in one day. It is unprecedented in recent history,” Erdoğan said, criticizing the Egyptian government for the crackdown against the Muslim Brotherhood.
“We host 1,700,000 Syrians. We spent $5.5 billion so far,” Erdoğan continued, before stressing that the international community contributed with just $250 million. “The total number of Syrian refugees in Europe is 130,000″ he added. “The world watches [Syria] as a spectator. The dominant powers, the EU, they all just watch it. And whom they strike at? Muslims…”