Syrian refugee wins appeal against forced return to Turkey

The Guardian reports: The EU-Turkey migration deal has been thrown further into chaos after an independent authority examining appeals claims in Greece ruled against sending a Syrian refugee back to Turkey, potentially creating a precedent for thousands of other similar cases.

In a landmark case, the appeals committee upheld the appeal of an asylum seeker who had been one of the first Syrians listed for deportation under the terms of the EU-Turkey deal.

In a document seen by the Guardian, a three-person appeals tribunal in Lesbos said Turkey would not give Syrian refugees the rights they were owed under international treaties and therefore overturned the applicant’s deportation order by a verdict of two to one. The case will now be re-assessed from scratch. [Continue reading…]

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Turkey’s new PM makes top priority legalizing the executive power that Erdogan already wields

Reuters reports: Turkey’s incoming prime minister said on Sunday his top priority was to deliver a new constitution to create an executive presidency, giving President Tayyip Erdogan the broad powers he has long sought.

As delegates from the ruling AK Party unanimously elected Transport Minister Binali Yildirim as their new party leader, and therefore the next premier, Yildirim left no doubt that he would prioritize the policies closest to Erdogan’s heart.

An ally of Erdogan for two decades, the 60-year-old was the sole candidate at the special congress, called after Ahmet Davutoglu said he would step down this month, following weeks of public tension with Erdogan.

Yildirim said in a speech a new constitution was necessary to legitimize the existing situation, in what appeared to be a tacit acknowledgment that Erdogan has been gone beyond the presidency’s traditionally ceremonial role. [Continue reading…]

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Kurdish militants reportedly shoot down Turkish security forces helicopter

The Washington Post reports: They were used to stalk Russian helicopters in Afghanistan, and the United States has worked hard to keep them out of chaotic Syria. But now Kurdish guerrillas battling Turkey’s security forces may now have shoulder-fired missiles — an acquisition analysts say will seriously challenge Turkish air power and potentially intensify fighting in the region.

On Saturday, media affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a leftist militant group battling the Turkish state, posted a video purporting to show a fighter downing a Cobra attack helicopter with a man-portable air-defense system — or MANPADS — in the mountains of southeastern Turkey on Friday morning. Arms observers said this is the first time they have seen PKK fighters successfully using MANPADS in their four-decade fight against the Turks.

About four minutes into the video, the fighter, clad in camouflage fatigues, crouches on a verdant hillside with the weapons system on his shoulder. When the launcher locks on its target — a helicopter whirring noisily on the horizon — the fighter stands to fire. The heat-seeking missile swoops through the air and strikes the Cobra’s tail, sending the aircraft spinning and eventually crashing into the mountainside. [Continue reading…]

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Turkish military’s influence rises again

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The Wall Street Journal reports: After 13 years of being methodically marginalized during Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s tenure atop Turkish politics, the army is regaining its clout as the president sidelines his political rivals.

Turkey’s military, which has forced four civilian governments from power since 1960, is re-emerging as a pivotal actor alongside Mr. Erdogan, who has long viewed the army as a potentially dangerous adversary.

Mr. Erdogan’s moves to sideline political opponents — he forced out his handpicked prime minister this month amid a power struggle — has cleared the way for Turkey’s generals to play a greater role in shaping Mr. Erdogan’s attempts to extend his global influence.

Turkish generals are tempering Mr. Erdogan’s push to send troops into Syria, managing a controversial military campaign against Kurdish insurgents, and protecting Turkey’s relations with Western allies who view the president with suspicion. By steering clear of politics, they re-emerged as a central player in national security decisions.

“The Turkish military is the only agent that wants to put on the brakes and create checks-and-balances against Erdogan,” said Metin Gurcan, a former Turkish military officer who now works as an Istanbul-based security analyst.

It is in Syria where the military is most clearly acting as a check on the president. When Mr. Erdogan last year debated sending Turkish forces into Syria to set up a safe zone for those fleeing the fighting, military leaders expressed strong reservations, former Turkish officials and allies of Mr. Erdogan said. That, they said, helped put the idea on hold.

The debate returned last week when Mr. Erdogan threatened to send Turkish troops into Syria to end weeks of Islamic State rocket attacks on a Turkish border town.

Sending large numbers of combat troops into Syria is still a hard sell for the military, allies of Mr. Erdogan and U.S. officials said. If Turkey were to act without the support of the U.S. and its other North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies, the military fears its soldiers could be bombed by Russian jets and would face international condemnation.

“This is a very realistic headquarters. They know what Turkey’s armed forces are capable of. They’re not adventurous,” said Can Kasapoglu, a defense analyst with the Center for Economic and Foreign Policy Studies, a Turkish think tank.

The Turkish military and Mr. Erdogan’s press office both declined to discuss their relationship.

The restoration of the Turkish army’s influence has resurrected concerns all the way up to the presidential palace that generals might try to topple Mr. Erdogan, a polarizing figure whose extensive crackdown on domestic dissent has triggered alarm in Western capitals, according to people familiar with the matter. [Continue reading…]

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Don’t blame Sykes-Picot for the Middle East’s mess

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Steven A. Cook and Amr T. Leheta write: Sometime in the 100 years since the Sykes-Picot agreement was signed, invoking its “end” became a thing among commentators, journalists, and analysts of the Middle East. Responsibility for the cliché might belong to the Independent’s Patrick Cockburn, who in June 2013 wrote an essay in the London Review of Books arguing that the agreement, which was one of the first attempts to reorder the Middle East after the Ottoman Empire’s demise, was itself in the process of dying. Since then, the meme has spread far and wide: A quick Google search reveals more than 8,600 mentions of the phrase “the end of Sykes-Picot” over the last three years.

The failure of the Sykes-Picot agreement is now part of the received wisdom about the contemporary Middle East. And it is not hard to understand why. Four states in the Middle East are failing — Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Libya. If there is a historic shift in the region, the logic goes, then clearly the diplomatic settlements that produced the boundaries of the Levant must be crumbling. History seems to have taken its revenge on Mark Sykes and his French counterpart, François Georges-Picot, who hammered out the agreement that bears their name.

The “end of Sykes-Picot” argument is almost always followed with an exposition of the artificial nature of the countries in the region. Their borders do not make sense, according to this argument, because there are people of different religions, sects, and ethnicities within them. The current fragmentation of the Middle East is thus the result of hatreds and conflicts — struggles that “date back millennia,” as U.S. President Barack Obama said — that Sykes and Picot unwittingly released by creating these unnatural states. The answer is new borders, which will resolve all the unnecessary damage the two diplomats wrought over the previous century.

Yet this focus on Sykes-Picot is a combination of bad history and shoddy social science. And it is setting up the United States, once again, for failure in the Middle East.

For starters, it is not possible to pronounce that the maelstrom of the present Middle East killed the Sykes-Picot agreement, because the deal itself was stillborn. Sykes and Picot never negotiated state borders per se, but rather zones of influence. And while the idea of these zones lived on in the postwar agreements, the framework the two diplomats hammered out never came into existence.

Unlike the French, British Prime Minister David Lloyd George’s government actively began to undermine the accord as soon as Sykes signed it — in pencil. The details are complicated, but as Margaret Macmillan makes clear in her illuminating book Paris 1919, the alliance between Britain and France in the fight against the Central Powers did little to temper their colonial competition. Once the Russians dropped out of the war after the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, the British prime minister came to believe that the French zone that Sykes and Picot had outlined — comprising southeastern Turkey, the western part of Syria, Lebanon, and Mosul — was no longer a necessary bulwark between British positions in the region and the Russians.

Nor are the Middle East’s modern borders completely without precedent. Yes, they are the work of European diplomats and colonial officers — but these boundaries were not whimsical lines drawn on a blank map. They were based, for the most part, on pre-existing political, social, and economic realities of the region, including Ottoman administrative divisions and practices. The actual source of the boundaries of the present Middle East can be traced to the San Remo conference, which produced the Treaty of Sèvres in August 1920. Although Turkish nationalists defeated this agreement, the conference set in motion a process in which the League of Nations established British mandates over Palestine and Iraq, in 1920, and a French mandate for Syria, in 1923. The borders of the region were finalized in 1926, when the vilayet of Mosul — which Arabs and Ottomans had long associated with al-Iraq al-Arabi (Arab Iraq), made up of the provinces of Baghdad and Basra — was attached to what was then called the Hashemite Kingdom of Iraq.

On a deeper level, critics of the Middle East’s present borders mistakenly assume that national borders have to be delineated naturally, along rivers and mountains, or around various identities in order to endure. It is a supposition that willfully ignores that most, if not all, of the world’s settled borders are contrived political arrangements, more often than not a result of negotiations between various powers and interests. Moreover, the populations inside these borders are not usually homogenous.

The same holds true for the Middle East, where borders were determined by balancing colonial interests against local resistance. These borders have become institutionalized in the last hundred years. In some cases — such as Egypt, Iran, or even Iraq — they have come to define lands that have long been home to largely coherent cultural identities in a way that makes sense for the modern age. Other, newer entities — Saudi Arabia and Jordan, for instance — have come into their own in the last century. While no one would have talked of a Jordanian identity centuries ago, a nation now exists, and its territorial integrity means a great deal to the Jordanian people.

The conflicts unfolding in the Middle East today, then, are not really about the legitimacy of borders or the validity of places called Syria, Iraq, or Libya. Instead, the origin of the struggles within these countries is over who has the right to rule them. The Syrian conflict, regardless of what it has evolved into today, began as an uprising by all manner of Syrians — men and women, young and old, Sunni, Shiite, Kurdish, and even Alawite — against an unfair and corrupt autocrat, just as Libyans, Egyptians, Tunisians, Yemenis, and Bahrainis did in 2010 and 2011.

The weaknesses and contradictions of authoritarian regimes are at the heart of the Middle East’s ongoing tribulations. Even the rampant ethnic and religious sectarianism is a result of this authoritarianism, which has come to define the Middle East’s state system far more than the Sykes-Picot agreement ever did. [Continue reading…]

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Whatever happened to the ‘Turkish model’?

Mustafa Akyol writes: About five years ago, everyone was talking about the “Turkish model.” People in the West and in the Muslim world held up Turkey as a shining example of the compatibility of Islam and democracy. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who was then prime minister and is now president, was praised as a reformist who was making his country freer, wealthier and more peaceful.

These days, I think back on those times with nostalgia and regret. The rhetoric of liberal opening has given way to authoritarianism, the peace process with the Kurdish nationalists has fallen apart, press freedoms are diminishing and terrorist attacks are on the rise.

What went wrong? Erdoganists — yes, some of them call themselves that — have a simple answer: a conspiracy. When Mr. Erdogan made Turkey too powerful and independent, nefarious cabals in the West and their treacherous “agents” at home started a campaign to tarnish Turkey’s democracy. Little do they realize, of course, that this conspiracy-obsessed propaganda, the self-righteousness it reflects and the hatred it fuels are part of the problem.

To understand why the Turkish model has let us all down, we have to go back to the 2001 founding of Mr. Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party, or A.K.P. At that time, Turkey was under the thumb of secularist generals who would overthrow any government they couldn’t control. In 1997 they ousted the A.K.P.’s Islamist predecessor, so the founders of the new party put forward a post-Islamist vision. They had abandoned their old ideology, they declared. Their only priorities now were bringing Turkey into the European Union and moving the country toward liberal democracy. [Continue reading…]

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Turkey PM to quit as Erdogan consolidates power

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The Wall Street Journal reports: Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu was expected to announce Thursday that he is stepping down as premier, amid a power struggle with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that complicates Ankara’s efforts to forge deeper ties with Europe and the U.S.

The decision, which followed a nearly two-hour meeting between the two leaders, signaled the likely dissolution of Turkey’s most important political partnership. It also created new concerns for European leaders about Turkey’s commitment to implementing its side of a migration deal that would secure visa-free travel to the European Union for Turkish citizens.

Earlier Wednesday, the bloc’s executive arm endorsed the deal—a measure Mr. Davotoglu sought in exchange for stemming Europe’s refugee crisis.

In the West, the Turkish premier is widely seen as a reformer who was interested in deepening long-term cooperation with Europe, and one who had emerged as a principal interlocutor between Washington and Ankara in recent years. Mr. Erdogan, by contrast, is viewed with skepticism, if not open derision, by European leaders critical of the president’s crackdowns on domestic dissent.

Mr. Davutoglu’s decision to step aside could worsen relations between Ankara and Washington, which is relying on Turkey in its deepening fight against Islamic State.

Tensions between Messrs. Erdogan and Davutoglu have been building for weeks as each man sought to demonstrate his influence over negotiations with Western leaders working to solidify a tenuous deal that has curbed the flow of migrants and refugees seeking sanctuary in Europe, Western officials and political allies of the two men said.

On Wednesday night, the two men met at Mr. Erdogan’s palace in the Turkish capital for a closely watched meeting to try to hammer out their differences.

After the meeting, Turkish officials said Mr. Davutoglu would stand down as leader of the ruling Justice and Development Party in a special convention to be held in the next few weeks, an unprecedented move in more than half a century of parliamentary democracy in the country. That will in effect end his tenure as prime minister and pave the way for Mr. Erdogan to choose a new ally to serve in the post.

The president’s office said it wouldn’t comment on Mr. Erdogan’s regular weekly meeting with Mr. Davutoglu, and referred questions regarding the ruling party to the prime minister’s office. A spokesman for the prime minister didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Critics of Mr. Erdogan cast the meeting as a palace coup by a man intent on consolidating power.

“Erdogan needs a 100% ‘yes man,’ ” said Aykan Erdemir, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a former opposition lawmaker in Turkey. “He doesn’t want any dissent.” [Continue reading…]

Reuters reports: Davutoglu had offered only lukewarm support for Erdogan’s vision of a stronger presidency and the decision to remove him follows weeks of tensions. His successor is likely to be more willing to back Erdogan’s aim of changing the constitution to create a presidential system, a move that opponents say will bring growing authoritarianism.

“Palace Coup!” said the headline in the secularist opposition Cumhuriyet newspaper.

“From now on, Turkey’s sole agenda is the presidential system and an early election,” said Mehmet Ali Kulat, head of the pollster Mak Danismanlik, which is seen as close to Erdogan. He forecast an election in October or November.

Erdogan wants Turkey to be ruled by the head of state, a system he sees as a guarantee against the fractious coalition politics that hampered the government in the 1990s. His opponents say this is merely a vehicle for his own ambition.

“These are critical developments in my mind in Turkey – likely setting the long-term direction of the country, both in terms of democracy, but (also) economic and social policy and geopolitical orientation,” said Timothy Ash, strategist at Nomura and a veteran Turkey watcher. [Continue reading…]

Mustafa Akyol writes: On the night of May 1, in just a few hours, a brand-new political blog became a national hit in Turkey. Titled Pelican Brief — apparently a pun on the 1993 Hollywood thriller — the site presented a single entry, which was a long diatribe against Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. Its significance lay in not just whom it attacked, but also on whose behalf it appeared: Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s all-powerful president.

The writer merely identified himself as “one of those who would sacrifice his soul for the CHIEF.” The latter word, which was used in the text 73 times and always in caps, was a reference to Erdogan. The writer was intentionally anonymous, but soon people who know Ankara well began to whisper that it was a journalist very close to Erdogan and who could have written this only with a green light from the president’s office.

The blog post began by reiterating the standard Erdoganist narrative: that there are so many conspiracies against Turkey, and the only thing that protects the nation is the wisdom and power of its president. “Ladies and gentlemen, this is an intimidating country in which every superpower is playing chess,” the author argued, only to warn, “Even if you topple one traitor here, [these superpowers] will immediately bring another one. … They will even turn our own people against us. So open your eyes and look around. And see what I see.” [Continue reading…]

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Turkish journalists accuse Erdoğan of media witch-hunt

The Guardian reports: Can Dündar appears in good spirits for a man facing espionage charges and a possible life sentence.

The editor of Cumhuriyet, one of the last remaining bastions of media opposition to Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, had appeared in court that morning over a documentary he produced on government corruption. It is one of two cases against him – in February, he was released from prison pending a spying trial over a story on arms shipments to Syria.

“Turkey has never been a paradise for journalists but of course not a hell like this,” he said in an interview in his office. “Nowadays being a journalist is much more dangerous than ever and needs courage and self-confidence.

“It’s a kind of witch-hunt … like McCarthyism in the US in the 1950s.”

Turkish journalists say local media outlets are facing one of the worst crackdowns on press freedoms since military rule in the 1980s. Prosecutors have opened close to 2,000 cases of insults to the president since Erdoğan took office in 2014, prominent journalists appear in court two or three times a week, Kurdish journalists are beaten or detained in the country’s restive south-east and foreign journalists have been harassed or deported. [Continue reading…]

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As bombs fall, Aleppo asks: ‘Where are the Americans?’

The Telegraph reports: Recovering in Turkey after a deadly air strike on a hospital in Aleppo, all that Abu Abdu Tebyiah could think about was the six children he had been forced to leave behind.

Mr Tebyiah was critically injured when the Syrian regime dropped three bombs on al-Quds hospital next to his house in the east of the city last Thursday.

He was one of a lucky few allowed over the border to receive treatment for his broken ribs and pelvis, wounds that would probably have killed him otherwise. But the 49-year-old shop owner was taken away so quickly that he had little chance to tell his rescuers that his children were waiting for him at home.

“They are too young to be on their own,” Mr Tebyiah told the Telegraph. “The government is using barrel bombs on our neighbourhood again, so I stopped them going to school. They are now in great danger.”

Mr Tebyiah said the only way to bring his children to Turkey, which closed its border to fleeing Syrians earlier this year, was to pay smugglers $500 for each child – money he did not have.

“I have to find a solution as soon as possible,” he said. “Or I don’t want to think what will happen.”

Fighting has intensified in Syria’s second city this week, claiming over 250 lives and ending in all but name a much-vaunted ceasefire agreed in February.

Now the opposition-controlled eastern side of Aleppo is braced for an offensive by Bashar al-Assad’s regime and his Russian and Iranian allies. If Assad succeeds in recapturing the whole of the city, it could change the course of the war.

As the regime’s bombs dropped on their houses, hospitals and schools, residents wondered where their supposed protectors, the Americans, were.

Many had been optimistic that the ceasefire, brokered by the United States and Russia, was the ray of hope that Aleppo needed after enduring four years of killing since Syria’s war came to the city in 2012. [Continue reading…]

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Syria can’t get worse? Check out the Turkish border

Politico reports: The border crossing where hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees entered Turkey in the first years of the war is almost deserted. It’s been closed for a year, and any Syrian hoping to be smuggled to safety in the neighboring country risks being shot.

Just across the frontier, in Syria, the situation is infinitely worse. Some 45,000 civilians were displaced by recent fighting between moderate rebels and ISIL in mid-April, and 20,000 are sleeping out in the open, aid workers say.

“People are sitting on blankets, sleeping under the trees,” Ali al-Sheikh, a Syrian humanitarian volunteer, said at the Kilis border crossing Saturday. “They are short of drinking water. There are very few tents. There is sewage all around.”

This is the scene that German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Council President Donald Tusk didn’t see when they visited a model refugee camp 50 kilometers from the border last weekend. The town of Kilis, whose 90,000 inhabitants have been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for their warm reception of 130,000 Syrians, was deemed too dangerous to visit.

Violence is on the rise, with ISIL militants frequently firing rockets from Syria into Turkey. Since January, 17 people have been killed and 61 wounded in cross-border attacks. The latest occurred the day before Merkel and Tusk’s visit aimed at propping up the controversial EU-Turkey deal that the German chancellor regards as key to limiting the arrivals of refugees in Europe. [Continue reading…]

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A Syrian rebel’s slaying in Turkey points to the long, lethal reach of ISIS

The Washington Post reports from Nizip in Turkey: On a drizzly afternoon this month, they gathered in the tree-lined cemetery here to bid farewell to a charismatic rebel and outspoken enemy of the Islamic State.

The mourners wept as they hoisted his coffin, draped in the three-star flag of Syria’s opposition. They proudly recalled his valor in battles against government forces and his defiance of the religious extremists who have tried to overtake their rebellion.

But the way that Zaher al-Shurqat’s life ended filled those at his funeral with dread.

An apparent Islamic State militant followed the 36-year-old into an alley in the Turkish city of Gaziantep and fired a round into his head. He was the fourth prominent Syrian critic of the Islamic State to be assassinated in the past six months in southern Turkey, far beyond the militants’ stronghold in Syria.

“We’re not safe here in Turkey. ISIS is watching us,” said a 24-year-old former rebel who attended the funeral in Nizip, a town about 30 miles east of Gaziantep. As do many fellow Syrians who have taken refuge in the area, the man spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of the militant group, also known as ISIS and ISIL. [Continue reading…]

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‘My soul is in Damascus’: Portraits of life on the refugee trail

In a moving series of sketches, Ghaith Abdul-Ahad captures grueling journeys blighted by poverty and exploitation: Last summer, the Turkish port city of Izmir became the springboard for hundreds of thousands of refugees hoping to reach Greece. They came looking for smugglers to take them to sea – and lifejackets to keep them alive. Every third shop on Fevzi Pasha Boulevard, a wide shopping street that led to the smugglers’ quarter, was happy to oblige.

“Original Yamaha,” shopkeepers would shout to passing refugees. “Come in and try one.” Some shoe-sellers and tailors put their usual stock in the basements, and started selling crudely made lifejackets instead. Smugglers block-booked the rooms of nearby hotels for their clients. Greece lay just across the Aegean.

In 2015, if there was a ground zero for Europe’s migration crisis, it was here, on the western Turkish coast. But a few months on, a deal has been struck between the EU and Ankara which should see most migrants arriving in Greece being deported back to Turkey, and the picture is very different. The hotels are empty. And the shopkeepers on Fevzi Pasha Boulevard are largely back to their original stock.

Sitting in a cafe in front of the train station, a thick orange scarf wrapped around his neck, a Syrian tailor watches people timidly as his son makes castles out of sugar cubes. A few weeks ago this cafe and the square teemed with smugglers conducting their illicit trade in the open, and refugees negotiating prices. Today, two Turkish police officers stand on a street corner to scare away smugglers and their clients. [Continue reading…]

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Dutch journalist ‘detained in Turkey’ over Erdogan criticism

Deutsche Welle reports: Ebru Umar, a columnist for the Dutch “Metro” newspaper, says she has been detained for publishing tweets critical of the Turkish president. This comes after a diplomatic spat between Turkey and the Netherlands.

The detention occurred at Umar’s home in the western Turkish resort town of Kusadasi late Saturday, according to a post on the journalist’s Twitter account. [Continue reading…]

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Angela Merkel, accused of betraying core values, faces a balancing act with Turkey

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The New York Times reports: Last September, Chancellor Angela Merkel was widely seen as an idealist, charitably welcoming hundreds of thousands of refugees to Germany in the face of stiff opposition at home and from European allies. But the influx swiftly became too much to handle.

Fast forward, and this year it is a rather different Angela Merkel at the helm, with an approach toughened by experience. This is the pragmatic Angela Merkel, who entered a calculated deal with an increasingly authoritarian President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey to try to stanch the migrant flow.

Ms. Merkel now stands accused by a new chorus of critics of not only betraying her ideals on immigration but also of jeopardizing core European values, as the costs of doing business with Mr. Erdogan become painfully clearer by the week.

Mr. Erdogan, who has stifled the news media at home and shown little tolerance for criticism, has used his new leverage in Europe to extend his brand of censorship to Germany, employing diplomatic threats, and now a private lawsuit, to try to silence a German comedian who skewered him.

The satirist, Jan Böhmermann, had earned plaudits but also criticism when, on his TV show two weeks ago, he read a crude poem, which he himself labeled “abusive criticism,” and accused Mr. Erdogan of lewd behavior and fierce political repression.

That case has now become Exhibit A in the unpalatable bargains Ms. Merkel has made in pursuit of security and political survival, or what might be known as realpolitik version 2016. [Continue reading…]

The New York Times reports: Chancellor Angela Merkel, caught in a bind by Turkey’s bid to silence a German satirist who lampooned President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said on Friday that her government would allow the case to go forward, but that the outdated law that permits it would be repealed with effect from 2018.

Announcing the decision to allow the court case against Jan Böhmermann, the comic, to proceed, Ms. Merkel repeatedly insisted that Germany backs the freedom of press, opinion and culture and believes in the rule of law. “Not the government, but the courts and the legal system will have the last word,” she said.

Pointedly referring to Turkey as a partner and a NATO ally, Ms. Merkel said that Germany expects the government in Ankara to heed democratic norms and that Berlin has observed attempts to restrict freedom of media and the justice system in Turkey “with great concern.” [Continue reading…]

Anna Sauerbrey writes: Though it’s a fact often overlooked by the rest of the world, Germany is a funny place — seriously. Long before Jon Stewart and Samantha Bee redefined topical American humor, comedians here perfected the art of sharp political satire.

For the most part, German politicians get the joke. But now politics and comedy are colliding in a new way — a collision that exposes the tragicomedy of modern European politics in a way that no late-night monologue ever could. [Continue reading…]

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Syria peace talks — democracy left out in the cold

Saleh M. Mohamed writes: This week, United Nations talks meant to chart a path toward a peaceful, democratic future for Syria are set to resume in Geneva. But, in an absurd twist, the legitimate representatives of a large, democratically governed area in the country will not be invited to attend.

This area is called Rojava, in the northern part of Syria, and despite its frequent description as “Kurdish,” it is governed inclusively by Kurds, Arabs, and the area’s other ethnic groups. Furthermore, its self-defense forces are part of the Syrian Democratic Forces backed by the United States that have advanced toward Raqqa, the center of the Islamic State’s power in Syria.

Both in strategic and moral terms, Rojava’s existence is a rare bright spot in this conflict. So the exclusion of its representatives from the U.N. process is not only unfair, but makes no sense if the aim of the talks is to establish a viable path to democracy in Syria.

The primary reason for this injustice is that Turkey opposes Rojava’s military force, the People’s Protection Units, or Y.P.G., claiming it is one and the same with the P.K.K., a Kurdish group with a long history of armed conflict with the Turkish government.

This is not true. Both groups are Kurdish, but the Syrian Kurds, with their Arab allies and international support, are locked in a difficult, but thus far successful, battle against the Islamic State. The Y.P.G.’s fight is about Syria, not Turkey. Its role is to defend the institutions of self-government in Northern Syria (the party of which I am co-president, the Democratic Union Party, is part of this political coalition, along with other parties and civil society organizations).

It’s a fair question to ask what kind of democracy this is. Its central philosophy is that people should govern themselves from the bottom up, and so as much decision making as possible is left to local assemblies. These assemblies, furthermore, are designed to ensure a voice for non-Kurdish minorities and for women. This is real and genuinely inclusive democracy, and it deserves to be supported, not ignored. [Continue reading…]

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