Erdoğan pursues his plan for even greater power

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Politico reports: If you’ve been listening to Recep Tayyip Erdoğan this past month, you’d be forgiven for thinking the Turkish president was intent on redrawing his country’s borders.

In a series of provocative speeches, he has lamented the loss of Ottoman territories, complained that Turkey “gave away” islands to Greece, and invoked a century-old plan that included the Iraqi cities of Mosul and Kirkuk in Turkey’s boundaries.

“We did not accept the borders of our country voluntarily,” Erdoğan said in one of his speeches. Yet while he has used this expansionist rhetoric to argue that Turkey has a say in the ongoing battle for Mosul, his target audience are not Greek or Iraqi officials. Rather, it’s intended for potential voters back home — election talk ahead of a looming referendum on the nature of his presidency.

Erdoğan’s long-standing ambition to replace Turkey’s parliamentary system with an executive presidency — a constitutional change that would grant him significantly greater powers — is inching closer to becoming reality. This month, ministers and officials began floating a timeline, suggesting that a parliamentary vote could be held early next year with a subsequent referendum in April.

After this summer’s attempted coup, Erdoğan’s popularity has soared; a popular vote may well succeed. Yet it remains uncertain whether his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) will be able to shore up enough support from other parties to reach the necessary parliamentary majority to call a referendum.

Politicians across the otherwise deeply divided opposition parties object that the introduction of a presidential system would allow the increasingly authoritarian Erdoğan to rule Turkey unchecked.

The president’s best bet is the nationalist opposition: Their leader, Devlet Bahceli, signaled he would not challenge a plebiscite in recent weeks. If his parliamentary group follows suit, the AKP could take their proposal to a referendum.

Hence the belligerent rhetoric. The talk of Turkey’s rights regarding parts of Iraq and the Aegean islands plays well with the nationalists, who often bemoan the territorial concessions made in the 1920s by the crumbling Ottoman Empire.

“Erdoğan is a savvy politician who understands very well the sort of emotional chords of the Turkish public,” said Sinan Ülgen, a former Turkish diplomat and visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe. “This is part of an overall strategy to shore up national support that started in the wake of the elections last June.” [Continue reading…]

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Why the Middle East knows not to trust the United States

David Ignatius writes: When the United States fights its wars in the Middle East, it has a nasty habit of recruiting local forces as proxies and then jettisoning them when the going gets tough or regional politics intervene.

This pattern of “seduction and abandonment” is one of our least endearing characteristics. It’s one reason the United States is mistrusted in the Middle East. We don’t stick by the people who take risks on our behalf in Iraq, Egypt, Lebanon and elsewhere. And now, I fear, this syndrome is happening again in Syria, as a Kurdish militia group known as the YPG, which has been the United States’ best ally against the Islamic State, gets pounded by the Turkish military. [Continue reading…]

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Turkish government gave security services ‘blank cheque’ to use torture says Human Rights Watch

Reuters reports: Turkey has effectively written a “blank cheque” to security services to torture people detained after a failed military coup attempt, a U.S.-based rights group said on Tuesday, citing accusations of beatings, sleep deprivation and sexual abuse.

A report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) said a “climate of fear” had prevailed since July’s failed coup against President Tayyip Erdogan and the arrest of thousands under a State of Emergency. It identified more than a dozen cases raised in interviews with lawyers, activists, former detainees and others.

A Turkish official said the Justice Ministry would respond to the report later in the day; but Ankara has repeatedly denied accusations of torture and said the post-coup crackdown was needed to stabilise a NATO state facing threats from Kurdish militants as well as wars in neighbouring Iraq and Syria. [Continue reading…]

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Fears battle for Mosul could open new front in wider Sunni-Shia conflict

Simon Tisdall writes: The risk that military operations to expel Islamic State terrorists from Mosul in northern Iraq could morph into a new frontline in the wider conflict between the Sunni and Shia branches of Islam has intensified with Turkey’s disputed entry into the fray.

Binali Yıldırım, Turkey’s prime minister, confirmed reports that Turkish troops based in the contested Bashiqa area outside Mosul were firing on Isis positions with artillery, tanks and howitzers. Yıldırım said the bombardment followed a request from Kurdish peshmerga forces.

But Iraq’s joint operations command flatly denied Turkish involvement. “[Iraq] denies Turkish participation of any kind in operations for the liberation of Nineveh,” it said on Monday, referring to the Iraqi province of which Mosul is the capital.

Iraq’s obfuscation reflects deep anxiety in Baghdad about predominantly Sunni Muslim Turkey’s intentions. The Shia-led, Iranian-backed government of Iraq’s prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, is under pressure not to tolerate the presence on Iraqi soil of troops from a country alleged to have previously aided the Sunni jihadis of Isis. [Continue reading…]

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Turkey’s push to join battle for Mosul inflames tension with Iraq

The New York Times reports: A dispute between Iraq and Turkey has emerged as a dramatic geopolitical sideshow to the complicated military campaign to retake Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, from the Islamic State.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey has insisted on a role in the battle for Mosul, trying to ramp up an involvement in Iraq that has already alarmed the Iraqi government.

“We have a historical responsibility in the region,” Mr. Erdogan said in a recent speech, drawing on his country’s history of empire and defeat, from Ottoman rule of the Middle East to its loss in World War I. “If we want to be both at the table and in the field, there is a reason.”

In response, the normally mild-mannered Iraqi prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, warned last week of a military confrontation between Turkey and Iraq. If Turkish forces intervene in Mosul, he said, they will not “be in a picnic.”

“We are ready for them,” Mr. Abadi said. “This is not a threat or a warning, this is about Iraqi dignity.”

The rift between Turkey and Iraq is no mere diplomatic row; it is a stark example of the complete breakdown in sovereignty of not just Iraq but Syria as well. The Islamic State has erased the borders between the two countries, while Turkey has stationed troops in both countries without the permission of either government. [Continue reading…]

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How Ataturk became a model for Erdogan

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Mustafa Akyol writes: Since he was elected as Turkey’s president in August 2014, Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been hoping to redesign the Turkish Constitution to introduce an executive presidential system. The July 15 failed coup put that discussion aside for a moment, but not for long. Last week, the leader of the opposition Nationalist Action Party, Devlet Bahceli, who has lately emerged as a political ally of Erdogan, announced that his party could help the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) take the presidential system to a referendum. As a result, political observers began to expect a referendum in early 2017. In fact, government spokesman Hayati Yazici made the plan clear by noting that a constitutional amendment may come to the parliament in January and that a referendum could be held in April.

Given Erdogan’s popularity, which was only boosted with the public reaction to the coup attempt, the referendum would very likely get a “yes” vote. This would be followed by an election to choose the new president, a second ballot that Erdogan could easily win. Erdogan, in other words, may well be the first leader of the second Turkish Republic whose political system will revolve around an executive presidency.

What kind of presidency would this be? An answer to this question came from Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag, an Erdogan confidant, last week. “[Mustafa Kemal] Ataturk’s era was presidential system in action,” he said, asking, “Can you name any prime minister of that era with the exception of [Ismet] Inonu? You can’t.” This reference to Ataturk surprised some observers, because the conservative/Islamic political camp that Erdogan and his party comes from has traditionally not been a fan of Ataturk and his staunchly secularist era. Turkish-American academic Timur Kuran noted the irony here, tweeting: “Turkish Islamists have treated Ataturk’s regime as a destructive dictatorship. Now AKP uses Ataturk to justify its own monopoly of power.” [Continue reading…]

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Turkey purges NATO military envoys after failed coup

Reuters reports: Turkey has fired hundreds of senior military staff serving at NATO in Europe and the United States following July’s coup attempt, documents show, broadening a purge to include some of the armed forces’ best-trained officials.

In a classified military dispatch seen by Reuters, 149 military envoys posted to the alliance’s headquarters and command centres in Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and Britain were ordered on Sept. 27 to return to Turkey within three days.

Most were dismissed from service on their arrival, arrested and imprisoned, according to a Turkish military official at NATO and two farewell letters sent by departing Turkish officials emailed to colleagues at NATO and seen by Reuters. [Continue reading…]

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Iraqi PM rejects Turkish claim on Mosul campaign

The Associated Press reports: Tensions between Turkey and Iraq continued to escalate Wednesday as Iraq’s prime minister rejected Turkish claims that their forces must be included in an operation to retake the militant-held city of Mosul.

“We will liberate our land through the determination of our men and not by video calls,” Haider al-Abadi said late Tuesday night on his Twitter account, mocking the Turkish president’s nationally broadcast video call to a TV journalist amid a failed coup attempt in July.

Earlier Tuesday, Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkish forces cannot be excluded from the long-awaited operation to retake Mosul, telling Iraq’s al-Abadi to “know his place.” [Continue reading…]

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Warming relations between Russia and Turkey as Putin and Erdogan revive pipeline deal

The New York Times reports: Amid increasingly tense relations with the United States over Syria, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia took advantage of a routine meeting in Istanbul on Monday to advance the Kremlin’s reconciliation with Turkey, including an agreement to revive a suspended natural-gas pipeline project.

The new pipeline, known as the Turkish Stream, would run under the Black Sea to Turkey and then the Greek border, allowing Russian gas to reach Western markets without using Russia’s existing export pipelines through Eastern Europe.

The pipeline would make it much easier for Russia to cut off gas supplies to neighboring countries like Ukraine without disrupting sales to countries farther west like Italy or Austria. Russia has been trying for years to establish such an export route.

Mr. Putin’s appearance at an international energy conference was his first visit to Turkey since a crisis in relations between the countries after Turkey’s downing of a Russian fighter jet along the border with Syria in November 2015, in which a Russian pilot was killed. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, nominally an ally of the United States in Syria, patched things up with a letter of apology and a trip to St. Petersburg in August.

The two have sought to use their warming relationship both at home and abroad to indicate that they are not politically isolated and remain central players in any Syria solution. They sat next to each other in the front row of the World Energy Congress in Istanbul, laughing together, and later met for bilateral talks. [Continue reading…]

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Is Russia pulling Turkey away from the West?

Mustafa Akyol writes: A binational meeting was held in Moscow Oct. 2, bringing together Ahmet Tunc — an adviser of Melih Gokcek, the mayor of Ankara and a strong supporter of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan — and Aleksandr Dugin, a “special representative” of President Vladimir Putin. In the meeting, Dugin made the sensational claim that he himself helped save Turkey from the military coup by informing Turkish authorities about some “unusual activity” in the military July 14, a day before the coup attempt. He also claimed that the coup plot took place “because Erdogan had begun to turn toward Russia.”

Dugin also urged his Turkish guests to reconsider the orientation of their country. “You know, they are not welcoming Turks to Europe,” he said, in reference to Turkey’s unpromising bid to join the European Union. “Yet while Europe’s doors are closed to you, Russian ones are open.”

If Dugin were an ordinary Russian political scientist, these words would not mean much. But he is widely acknowledged as a major ideologue of the Putin regime. Western media outlets have dubbed him “Putin’s brain” and the “prophet of the new Russian Empire.” He is known for promoting “Eurasianism,” which seems to be “a scheme for uniting all the global enemies of liberalism under Russian leadership.” [Continue reading…]

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Baghdad bridles at Turkey’s military presence, warns of ‘regional war’

Reuters reports: Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has warned Turkey that it risks triggering a regional war by keeping troops in Iraq, as each summoned the other’s ambassador in a growing row.

Relations between the two regional powers are already broadly strained by the Syrian civil war and the rise of the Islamic State militant group.

Turkey’s parliament voted last week to extend its military presence in Iraq for a further year to take on what it called “terrorist organizations” – a likely reference to Kurdish rebels as well as Islamic State.

Iraq’s parliament responded on Tuesday night by condemning the vote and calling for Turkey to pull its estimated 2,000 troops out of areas across northern Iraq.

“We have asked the Turkish side more than once not to intervene in Iraqi matters and I fear the Turkish adventure could turn into a regional war,” Abadi warned in comments broadcast on state TV on Wednesday. [Continue reading…]

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Turkey suspends thousands of police, shuts down TV station as crackdown widens

Reuters reports: Turkish authorities suspended nearly 13,000 police officers, detained dozens of air force officers and shut down a TV station on Tuesday, widening a state-ordered clampdown against perceived enemies in the wake of July’s failed coup.

The police headquarters said 12,801 officers, including 2,523 chiefs, had been suspended because of their suspected links to U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Ankara accuses of orchestrating the attempt to overthrow the government.

Gulen, who lives in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania, denies any link to the putsch which has shaken the country and led to the deaths of more than 240 people.

The suspensions came hours after deputy prime minister Numan Kurtulmus announced that the cabinet had approved a 90-day extension to a state of emergency, renewing President Tayyip Erdogan’s powers to govern by decree at least until January.

The emergency measures, if approved by parliament, mean Erdogan can take decisions without oversight of the Constitutional Court, Turkey’s highest legal body. [Continue reading…]

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