Turkey targets supporters of Erdogan foe in police raids

Reuters reports: Turkish police detained dozens of people including senior police officers and bureaucrats allegedly linked to President Tayyip Erdogan’s foe Fethullah Gulen on Tuesday, widening a campaign against the exiled Muslim cleric after Sunday’s election.

The prosecutor’s office in the western city of Izmir said it ordered the arrest of 57 people believed to be members of the “Gulenist terror group”, on allegations they sought a purge of the army by engineering a 2012 espionage trial.

Gulen was the “number one” suspect in the latest investigation, according to the Dogan news agency. [Continue reading…]


Turkey’s slide into dictatorship is about to speed up

By Bahar Baser, Coventry University and Ahmet Erdi Öztürk, University of Ljubljana

Turkey’s president, Recep Tayip Erdoğan, appears to have strengthened his grip on the country after the Justice and Development Party (AKP) won an outright majority in a snap election just five months after an inconclusive poll. It is a result that will shock and frighten many in the country.

Unofficial preliminary results, appeared to give the AKP 49.3%, followed by the centre-left Republican People’s Party (CHP) on 25.7%, the far-right Nationalist Action Party (MHP) on 12.1% and the pro-Kurdish left-wing Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) on 10.5%. The AKP is predicted to take 312 seats in the 550-seat parliament, the CHP 135 seats, the HDP 60 and the MHP 43.

This result is a big surprise, since pre-election polls forecast a result not much different from that of the June election – and it undoubtedly owes a lot to the toxic atmosphere in which the election was held.

As reported widely around the world, the campaign was anything but fair. The AKP not only controls the army, but also holds sway over the judiciary and much of the media. The party and President Erdoğan effectively dominated pre-election airtime on the country’s public broadcaster, the Turkish Radio and Television Corporation (TRT), which once again displayed blatant favouritism toward the government and Erdoğan.

More worryingly still, reports are circulating of vote-rigging. The news agencies announced the results very rapidly. The election was called for the AKP within only a few hours, despite the fact that many votes were not even delivered to the counting boots. Social media was abuzz with allegations of election fraud, as angry Turks documented their claims with photographs and videos.

[Read more…]


Turkey’s elections campaign unfair, say international monitors

The Guardian reports: International observers of Turkey’s parliamentary elections have criticised the climate of “violence and fear” that preceded the vote, saying the security environment, arrests of opposition activists and stifling of press freedoms combined to make the campaign “unfair”.

The Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has said he deserved respect from the whole world following Sunday’s result. But the international election observation mission that monitored the polls expressed serious concerns at a press conference in Ankara on Monday.

“This campaign was unfair and characterised by too much violence and fear,” said Andreas Gross, the Swiss head of the mission representing the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe (Pace).

In a stunning victory that secured 317 seats, the Justice and Development party (AKP) which Erdoğan founded and which is led by the prime minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, regained the outright majority it had lost in June’s inconclusive election. Saying the Turkish electorate had voted for stability, Erdoğan on Monday urged the international community to accept the election results. [Continue reading…]

The Wall Street Journal reports: Angry young Kurds clashed with police here in the de facto capital of the country’s Kurdish southeast as it became evident on Sunday that the party backing President Recep Tayyip Erdogan would regain its lock on power.

Young men set up barricades and fired bullets into the air, accusing the government of fraud. Police fired tear gas and water cannons to disburse the activists as Kurdish hopes of expanding their political clout suffered another setback.

“Now Turkey will become a one-man state,” said Elif, a university student in Diyarbakir, as she watched election results on television. “The peace process was also just to boost his own power. I don’t believe he will restart [peace talks].”

The unexpected triumph for Mr. Erdogan’s loyalists in Parliament undercut Kurdish politicians who have been trying to bring an end to a renewed conflict. [Continue reading…]


Turkey: When the state steals newspapers

Mustafa Akyol writes: What happened in Turkey on Oct. 28 is something that should enter the Guinness Book of World Records, if it ever includes a chapter on “authoritarianism.” Two newspapers and two news channels, all very critical of the government, were taken over by government-appointed “trustees.” In less polite terms, they were practically stolen by the state.

If you haven’t seen the news, here is a summary of what happened: The media in question – dailies Bugün and Millet and TV channels KanalTürk and BugünTV – are owned by Koza İpek Holding. It was no secret that the holding’s boss, Akın İpek, has been a follower of Fethullah Gülen and a financial supporter of the Gülen Movement. Since this movement turned from President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s best ally to worst enemy, every institution affiliated with it has been under legal scrutiny. Koza İpek Holding faced an investigation, too. But nothing yet has been found that is illicit.

Yet still, a famous judge (who had become famous last year by banning Twitter, at the behest of the government) took a fateful decision last Monday. He referred to an article in the penal code which says that a “trustee” can be appointed to a company if necessary to reveal any evidence, while the company goes through an investigation. He also noted Koza İpek Holding is a suspect of “terrorism.”

But were there any credible basis for this “terrorism” charge? Were there any guns or bombs involved? Not really. It is just that the president began calling the Gülen Movement a “terrorist organization” after a corruption investigation that targeted his government. It is not a legal definition, in other words, it is political rhetoric. [Continue reading…]


Details revealed in chilling plot to kill anti-ISIS activists in Turkey

NBC News reports: The double murder achieved its goal. It sent the message that, even here in the relative safety of Turkey, ISIS and its supporters can reach its critics.

The bodies of 22-year-old Ibrahim Abdel Qader and 20-year-old Fares Hammadi were found early Friday in an apartment in the Turkish town of Sanliurfa. Qader had been stabbed dozens of times and both men were, in the gruesome fashion that has become ISIS’s trademark, beheaded.

The deaths of the two young Syrians, both members of a citizen-journalist group called “Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently,” sent shockwaves through the exile Syrian community here.

How did two young men, known targets of ISIS who took measures to protect themselves, end up dead?

NBC News has now learned the answer to that question: In an exclusive interview, Ibrahim’s brother, Ahmed, explained what happened. [Continue reading…]


ISIS assassinates prominent Syrian activists in Turkey

The Daily Beast reports: This month, ISIS perpetrated the worst terrorist attack in modern Turkey’s history. Today, it dispatched an assassin to murder two Syrian activists from the “capital” of the so-called caliphate, and wasted no time boasting of its cross-border reach.

Fares Hammadi and Ibrahim Abd al-Qader were both members of the grassroots anti-ISIS organization known as Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently (RBSS). Not long after the jihadist takeover of their hometown of Raqqa City in 2014, they fled to Urfa, southern Turkey, where they set up shop coordinating the group’s media from a putatively safe place. But ISIS found them somehow.

“In the morning, somebody, we don’t know who, exactly, but he was from ISIS—entered their apartment and shot them in the head,” Abu Ibrahim al-Raqqawi, one of the Raqqa-based members of RBSS, told The Daily Beast via Skype. “Then he beheaded them. There was a third friend who was coming to the apartment. He found their bodies. He was shocked.” [Continue reading…]


Turkey set to return to single-party rule in boost for Erdogan

Reuters reports: Turkey looked set to return to single-party rule after the Islamist-rooted AK Party swept to victory in a general election on Sunday, a major boost for embattled President Tayyip Erdogan but an outcome likely to sharpen deep social divisions.

Prime Minister and AKP leader Ahmet Davutoglu tweeted simply: “Elhamdulillah” (Thanks be to god)

Security forces fired tear gas at stone-throwing protesters in the mainly Kurdish southeastern city of Diyarbakir as results filtered in, with support for the pro-Kurdish opposition falling perilously near the 10 percent threshold to enter parliament.

In June, the AKP lost the overall majority it had enjoyed since 2002. Erdogan had presented Sunday’s polls as a chance to restore stability at a time of tension over Kurdish insurrection and after two bombings, attributed to Islamic State, while critics fear a drift to authoritarianism under the president. [Continue reading…]


The battle for Turkey: Can Selahattin Demirtas pull the country back from the brink of civil war?

Christopher de Bellaigue writes: In the autumn of 1990, 16 years into the Kurdistan Workers party’s (PKK) insurgency against the Turkish state, a political activist named Vedat Aydin rose to his feet to address a human rights conference in the capital, Ankara. When Aydin began to speak, it was not in Turkish, the official language of the state, but Kurmanji, a Kurdish dialect that had for decades been effectively banned in public places. The result of this gesture was pandemonium. The moderator of the conference demanded that Aydin switch to Turkish; a fellow Kurd came mischievously onto the platform to translate. Around half those present walked out, and Aydin was detained by police and briefly jailed.

Eight months later Aydin was arrested again, back home in the city of Diyarbakir, in what is effectively the capital of Turkish Kurdistan. Two days after that, his mutilated body was discovered in the countryside outside the city.

Turkish security forces perpetrated thousands of extra-judicial executions of Kurdish activists in the 1990s – along with village clearances and torture on a massive scale – but few provoked the anger of ordinary Kurds more than the killing of the man who had achieved notoriety by standing up to the linguistic proscriptions of the state. On 5 July, 1991, the day of Aydin’s funeral, they came out in their tens of thousands in Diyarbakir.

Among the mourners that day was an 18-year-old local boy called Selahattin Demirtaş, the second son of a plumber and his wife who had given their seven children as stable an upbringing as they could manage in the dirt-poor regional capital.

To Tahir and Sadiye Demirtaş this had meant acquiescing to the official claim that all citizens of the country, bar a few tiny minorities, were Turks. It was only from school friends that Selahattin had learned of the existence of the Kurds, a people that had been living on the mountainous intersection of Mesopotamia and Asia Minor long before the first incursions by Turkish nomads in the 11th century. State propaganda and the collusion of his parents had left Demirtaş unsure as to whether he was a Turk or a Kurd. On 5 July all ambiguity was removed.

The first that Demirtaş saw of the violence that day was when he was swept up in a wave of youngsters being chased by plainclothes policemen wielding planks of wood. Later on, as he recalled in an interview last year with a Turkish newspaper, “they opened fire on the crowd from all sides … the wounded couldn’t be treated because if they went to hospital they would be arrested. And despite all this the newspapers depicted the people of Diyarbakir as responsible for what happened!”

According to the government, eight people were killed that day. Kurdish sources put the figure at more than 20. For Demirtaş, the Diyarbakir killings were an epiphany of the kind that hundreds of thousands of Kurds have experienced over the past 40 years – generally in response to a government atrocity. Such incidents have secured continuous support for the PKK’s war against the Turkish state. “That day,” Demirtaş has said, “I became a different person. My life’s course changed … although I didn’t fully understand the reason behind the events, now I knew: we were Kurds, and since this wasn’t an identity I would toss away, this was also my problem.”

A quarter of a century later, Demirtaş is the embodiment of the Kurds’ political aspirations in Turkey. He is also the exponent of an inclusive politics that is startlingly new, and that owes much to the liberal traditions of the west – so much, in fact, that an admiring ambassador in Ankara recently described him to me as “the only Turkish politician that would not be out of place in a European capital”. But Demirtaş is also the civilian adjunct of a brutal armed movement, caught between bomb and ballot box – a man in the middle. [Continue reading…]


Crackdown on Turkish media ahead of crucial election

The National reports: Police armed with water cannon, tear gas, and a court order, forced their way into the headquarters of a media group in Istanbul on Wednesday, just days ahead of fresh parliamentary elections.

Earlier this week, Turkish authorities effectively seized control of the media group’s parent company, Koza Ipek Holding, by placing it under the management of a panel of trustees. The company has been placed under investigation over its links to the Gulen movement, an Islamic group opposed to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). Prosecutors have accused the two TV channels and two newspapers run by the company of spreading terrorist propaganda.

The Council of Europe’s commissioner for human rights, Nils Muiznieks, called the police raids “a particularly disturbing illustration of the dangerous path Turkey has undertaken in recent months as regards its stance on media freedom”.

The press in Turkey is no stranger to censorship and intimidation. Top officials, including president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, are known to order editors to pull content and sue unsympathetic cartoonists. Journalists shy from investigative reporting, particularly when it comes to corruption, for fear of treading on tender corporate toes. Those who rub government bigwigs the wrong way are routinely let go.

But in the run-up to Sunday’s election, poised to determine Mr Erdogan’s political future, and amid renewed fighting in the Kurdish south-east, the media crackdown has grown increasingly fierce. Some of the Turkey’s most renowned journalists have been placed under investigation for allegedly defaming Mr Erdogan in opinion columns or on social media. A leading cable provider has removed seven channels, all run by companies linked to the Gulenists, from its platform. [Continue reading…]


New allies in northern Syria don’t seem to share U.S. goals

McClatchy reports: After the failure of its $500 million program to stand up a Syrian volunteer force to battle Islamic State extremists, the Obama administration has begun an effort to enable Arab militias to fight alongside a Kurdish force that has gotten U.S. air support for the past year.

The stated U.S. aim is to oust the Islamic State from its de facto capital of Raqqa in Syria. But if the Shammar tribal militia, the biggest in Hasaka province, is any example, many Arab forces on the ground have a different agenda. For that matter, so does the Kurdish People’s Protection Force, or YPG, which dominates this area and has worked closely with the United States since the siege last year of the border town of Kobani.

The road to the palace of Sheikh Humaydi Daham al Hadi, the head of the Shammar tribe, winds through vast wheat fields in this isolated corner of eastern Syria, past checkpoints manned by YPG fighters, and then by his own guards.

Hasaka, an oil, gas and grain producing area, is now part of what the YPG calls Jazera, one of three cantons that comprise Rojava, or west Kurdistan, a 200-mile-long corridor on Syria’s border with Turkey. The Syrian government, which still has troops in at least two cities, has acquiesced to YPG control.

Because Turkey views the YPG as a terrorist group and has closed its borders because of the YPG’s affiliation with the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, the only way into Rojava is by a ferry across the Tigris River from Iraq and hours of driving on secondary roads.

Welcoming visitors in his vast reception room, Sheikh Humaydi says his goal is to lead a Shammar tribal uprising against the Islamic State “to liberate Syria, Iraq and beyond.” But he also wants to carry on a 2-century-old struggle against conservative Wahabi Islam, which he said destroyed the last Shammar emirate, and he favors the breakup of Saudi Arabia, where the puritanical sect dominates. “We are already working on that,” he said. [Continue reading…]


Istanbul has more Syrian refugees than all of Europe says David Miliband

The Associated Press reports: Nearly 60% of refugees are living in cities today and there are currently more Syrian refugees in Istanbul than in all the rest of Europe, the head of the International Rescue Committee has said.

David Miliband told The Associated Press in an interview Monday that “the iconic image” of a refugee being someone in a camp has changed.

He said so many people are fleeing conflict and chaos that there’s no room for them in camps. Equally important, he said, is that most people don’t want to be in refugee camps and when they’re displaced for a long time, they want to earn a living — even if that means working in the black market.

Miliband gave the example of Istanbul, without citing any figures. The International Rescue Committee said there are currently more Syrian refugees in Istanbul – some 366,000 – than the rest of Europe put together.

Currently, there are 20 million refugees in the world, including 2 million in Turkey, and 40 million people uprooted and displaced in their own countries, which Miliband called “a grisly world record.” [Continue reading…]


Plans by U.S. to capture ISIS’s capital already go awry

The Washington Post reports from Ain Issa: In this abandoned desert town on the front line of the war against the Islamic State in Raqqa, local fighters are fired up by announcements in Washington that the militants’ self-proclaimed capital is to be the next focus of the war.

But there is still no sign of the help the United States has delivered ostensibly for the use of the Arab groups fighting the Islamic State, nor is there any indication it will imminently arrive, calling into question whether there can be an offensive to capture Raqqa anytime soon.

Fifty tons of ammunition air­dropped by the U.S. military last week and intended for Arab groups has instead been claimed by the overall command of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG, which is fighting alongside Arab units but overwhelmingly dominates their uneasy alliance, according to Kurdish and Arab commanders.

The question of whether Arab or Kurdish fighters get the weapons is crucial, in part because of Turkish sensitivities surrounding the United States’ burgeoning relationship with the Syrian Kurds. Turkey accuses the YPG of affiliation with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, designated a terrorist organization by Ankara and Washington, and has already lodged a complaint with the U.S. Embassy in Ankara that the YPG received the weapons intended for Arabs.

Just as significant, however, is the recognition that Kurds are unlikely to be able — or perhaps even willing — to fight for the Sunni Arab lands controlled by the Islamic State, including Raqqa, the jewel in the crown of the militants’ self-styled caliphate and a city the Kurds do not aspire to govern. [Continue reading…]


Russian-led offensive in Syria triggers new wave of refugees fleeing to Turkey

VOA reports: Turkish officials say 50,000 refugees have left the Syrian city of Aleppo and are heading to the border, but it remains unclear whether they will be allowed to enter Turkey after a hazardous journey dodging airstrikes and negotiating checkpoints manned by disparate rebel militias, including al-Qaida’s affiliate in Syria.

For months now border gates have been officially closed to new refugees, and those fleeing are forced to pay smugglers to enter illegally – sometimes using tunnels to escape the killing fields.

The rich can bribe border-gate guards — the going rate is $700 per person — the poor may get across after paying smugglers $50 to $100 per person to sneak past Turkish border guards patrolling farm-fields and olive-tree orchards adjacent to the border.

Russian airstrikes and a Syrian army ground offensive mainly in the countryside to the south and east of the city of Aleppo have triggered the surge in Syrians heading for the border. Syria Turkmen Council President Abdurrahman Mustafa said he also estimates about 50,000 people have left the city and are picking their way down pot-holed roads, through checkpoints and past ruined villages to Turkey. [Continue reading…]


Russian ambassador in Turkey says PKK not a terrorist organization

Rudaw reports: Following his recent summoning by Ankara over alleged arming of Syrian Kurds, Russian Ambassador to Turkey Andrey Karlov said that his country does not consider the Kurds in Syria or the PKK terrorists.

“We understand Turkey’s concerns with regard to global terrorism. Especially after the terrorist attack in Ankara the other day.” Karlov told Russian news agency Ria Novosti on Saturday. “But neither the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) nor the Democratic Union Party (PYD) are considered terrorist organizations by either Russia or the United Nations Security Council,”

Karlov’s statement came just days after the Turkish foreign ministry summoned the Russian and American ambassadors over reports that Washington and Moscow had provided weapons to Kurdish Peoples Protection Units (YPG) whom Ankara believes are linked to the PKK. [Continue reading…]


Turkey ready to accept six-month transition period for Syria’s Assad, say officials

Reuters reports: Turkey is ready to accept a political transition in Syria in which President Bashar al-Assad stays in symbolic power for six months before leaving office, and is discussing the plan with Western allies, two senior government officials said on Tuesday.

NATO member Turkey has long been one of Assad’s fiercest critics, insisting that no lasting peace can be achieved in Syria without his removal from power.

“Work on a plan for Assad’s departure is under way … (Assad) can stay for six months and we accept that because there will be a guarantee of his departure,” one of the officials told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“We have moved forward on the issue to a certain degree with the United States and our other allies. There is not an exact consensus on when the six-month period would begin, but we think it won’t be too long.” [Continue reading…]


Turkey’s self-inflicted disaster

Suat Kiniklioglu was a member of the Turkish Parliament from 2007-11. He writes: Although I am a former air force officer and I believe strongly in the virtues of a secular state, I joined the A.K.P. in 2007 because I believed Turkey was at a critical juncture. I had little regard for the militant secularism and nationalism harbored by many within Turkey’s old establishment. The election of Abdullah Gul in 2007, who was almost blocked from becoming president because his wife wore a head scarf, was a critical moment for the consolidation of our democracy. By that time, the A.K.P. had already put Turkey into accession negotiations with the European Union, managed an impressive economic growth story and improved Turkey’s international standing. In many quarters, Turkey was seen as an inspiration for other Muslim countries.

It’s true that the A.K.P. was never a liberal party, but it had a clear interest in Turkey’s democratization. That’s why the party enjoyed support from democrats, liberals and some social democrats who were eager to balance the excesses of the stern old secularist regime. Both in Parliament and abroad we enjoyed the moral high ground of normalizing civil-military relations, overseeing a growing economy and obtaining greater democratic legitimacy through growing support from the electorate. I comforted myself in thinking that the European accession process would serve as an anchor if the A.K.P.’s conservatism ever pulled the country off course.

By 2009, the process had slowed down. Then, in September 2010, a referendum allowed Recep Tayyip Erdogan, then the prime minister and now the president, to shape the judiciary to his own liking. After that vote, he believed he had defeated the establishment for good. Regrettably, he came to the conclusion that he no longer needed the moderates in the party.

When I examined the new candidates list in 2011 I immediately understood what was going on. He had decided to root out all of the democrats, liberals and moderate conservatives. Those who replaced us were ideologically conservative Islamists who showed absolute loyalty to him. [Continue reading…]


Turkey is buying its way into the EU with a deal that won’t solve the refugee crisis

By Durukan Kuzu, Coventry University

The EU has struck a deal with Turkey designed to stem the flow of Syrian refugees into Europe. It offers Turkey a multi-billion euro aid package to handle refugees and take back refugees who entered the EU from Turkish territory, eventually giving them a legal right to settle and work.

In return, the halted talks on advancing Turkey’s EU membership bid will be jump-started, and the EU will accelerate visa-free access for Turks who want to visit the Schengen area.

The deal certainly looks like a win-win scenario for president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his ever-pragmatic counterparts in Europe. Many of them fervently blocked Turkey’s accession to the EU only a few years ago after deciding Turkey’s human rights record was not befitting an EU member state. Now, with the prospect of relief from the refugee crisis, those concerns seem to have been shelved.

[Read more…]


Syrian refugees face growing resentment in Turkey

The Wall Street Journal reports: The European Union is looking to Turkey for more help in containing the flow of refugees that have fed the greatest migration in Europe since World War II. It is considering a pledge of up to $3.4 billion in aid requested by Turkey — after the bloc offered $1.1 billion last month — while Turkey in return demands speeding up its membership negotiations with the union and visa liberalization for its citizens.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel traveled to Istanbul on Sunday to secure Turkish authorities’ assistance in containing the refugee influx to Europe via Turkey.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been dismissive of Europe’s newfound alarm over a refugee crisis his government has been long trying to manage — and frustrated by fellow North Atlantic Treaty Organization members who have rebuffed his calls to create a safe haven in northern Syria that could reduce the flow of refugees uprooted by war. That has left Turkey to shoulder much of the responsibility, Turkish officials say.

“The two million Syrians are not a burden only financially, but also in other terms,” Omer Celik, spokesman of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, told reporters Friday. “The best solution would be to set up the safety zone inside Syria, settle the Syrians there, and provide them assistance through Turkey.”

The government has handed out just 6,000 work permits to Syrians, a tiny percentage of the immigrant workforce. And less than 15% of Syrian children in Turkey are able to go to school, according to the United Nations’ refugee agency. [Continue reading…]