After Trump welcomed Erdogan, the Turkish president’s bodyguards beat up protesters in Washington

CNN reports: Nine people were injured during a protest outside of the residence of the Turkish ambassador in Washington, DC on Tuesday, according to the official Twitter account of Washington, DC fire and EMS department.

About two dozen demonstrators showed up outside of the embassy just hours after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with President Donald Trump at the White House.

“We are protesting (Erdogan’s) policies in Turkey, in Syria and in Iraq,” said Flint Arthur of Baltimore, Maryland.

Arthur accused Erdogan supporters of breaching police lines and attacking protesters on at least three separate occasions.

A Facebook video captured at the scene shows several protesters covered in blood.

“They think they can engage in the same sort of suppression of protest and free speech that they engage in in Turkey,” Arthur said. “They stopped us for a few minutes … but we still stayed and continued to protest Erdogan’s tyrannical regime.”

The victims were transported to George Washington University Hospital.

The incident came as Trump extended a warm welcome to Erdogan, an authoritarian-style leader who had a strained relationship with the previous US administration. [Continue reading…]

This is a particularly lame piece of reporting. There aren’t many observers who had any difficulty in identifying the men in dark suits, recognizing them as not merely Erdogan “supporters” but more importantly as representatives of the Turkish state.

This isn’t authoritarian-style behavior — it’s authoritarianism plain and simple and it’s being given license to operate on the streets of Washington D.C.. And note who the police arrested and who they just waved away.

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U.S. arms Kurds who are ISIS enemies, Turkey enemies, Assad friends

Citizen journalist Muhammad Noor (a pseudonym) writes from PKK-controlled Manbij: When Islamic State extremists captured Manbij three years ago, they forced the population to pray at mosque, ordered women to wear full chador and they beheaded their opponents in public.

But if you attended their religious courses and agreed to their rules you could get a job and earn enough to sustain your family.

That world turned upside down last August, when a Kurdish-led ground force with U.S. air support ousted ISIS from Manbij. Arabs were among the fighters in the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces or SDF, but it was Kurds from outside Syria who suddenly became our new masters.

Local Kurds, who comprise 10 per cent of the population of 100,000, became the privileged class. They now dominate local commerce and they get special treatment from the police. Religious observance shifted 180 degrees. Traditional practice such as covering women is forbidden—not by decree but in practice. Anyone who objects can be arrested and tortured. I know from personal experience.

Since August, all the key positions in the SDF and in the Manbij administration were taken over by Kurds from outside Syria—from the Kurdistan Workers Party or PKK. We called them Qandilians, those trained in Qandil, Iraq, the PKK’s mountain stronghold.

You knew them from the cars they drive, festooned with posters of Abdullah Ocalan, the founder of the PKK, who’s now sitting in a Turkish jail near Istanbul. They didn’t use their real names; they operated behind the scenes.

Make no mistake. We were very happy to be rid of ISIS. But the new order became so oppressive that some Arabs spoke openly about the “good old days of ISIS.” They saw the new Kurdish masters as destroying the social fabric, spoiling centuries of good relations between Arabs, Kurds and Turkmens. [Continue reading…]

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Trump to arm Syrian Kurds, even as Turkey strongly objects

The New York Times reports: President Trump has approved a plan to provide Syrian Kurds with heavier weapons so they can participate in the battle to retake Raqqa from the Islamic State, the Pentagon said on Tuesday.

American military commanders have long argued for arming the Y.P.G., a Kurdish militia that contains some of the most experienced fighters among the Syrian force that is battling the Islamic State.

But Turkey has vociferously objected to such a move, insisting that the Kurdish fighters are linked with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or the P.K.K., which both it and the United States regard as a terrorist group.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey is scheduled to meet with Mr. Trump in Washington this month, and the American decision on arming the Kurds is likely to figure prominently in the discussion. Mr. Erdogan is expected to press Mr. Trump to give Turkey and the Syrian rebels it backs a bigger supporting role in the assault on Raqqa. [Continue reading…]

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Russia reaches deal for Syria safe zones, but some rebels scoff

The New York Times reports: Russia, Iran and Turkey signed a memorandum on Thursday to create four “de-escalation zones” in Syria, to reduce bloodshed in a war now in its seventh year, but many questions remained about the plan.

Presented at talks in Astana, Kazakhstan, the memorandum was the most ambitious of recent proposals, but it was not signed by the Syrian rebels or government. Rebel representatives said it left too many loopholes for the Syrian military to continue what the rebels called indiscriminate bombings of civilian areas.

The memorandum calls for a pause in fighting, including government airstrikes, and for unhindered aid deliveries in and around the four main zones still held by rebels unaffiliated with the Islamic State. It also calls for all parties to fight jihadists like the Islamic State and the Qaeda-linked group once known as the Nusra Front.

The top United Nations envoy dealing with Syria, Staffan de Mistura, called the memorandum an “important, promising, positive step in the right direction.”

But some rebels, in rejecting the deal, said they would not accept Iran as a guarantor and reiterated their demands for the ouster of Iran-backed militias like Hezbollah, an end to arbitrary detentions, and other concessions the government is unlikely to grant. [Continue reading…]

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To freeze Syria war, Russia proposes setting up ‘de-escalation zones’

The New York Times reports: Russia is circulating a draft proposal to Syrian rebel groups and diplomats that envisions pausing the war in Syria through the creation of safe “de-escalation zones,” with outside troops possibly acting as buffers between the antagonists.

The draft proposal, shared with The New York Times on Wednesday by participants at Syria talks held in Astana, Kazakhstan, is one of the most detailed suggestions to emerge in recent months in the rocky negotiations to halt the war, now in its seventh year.

The proposal would apply to Syrian government and rebel forces in the four main areas of the country where insurgents unaffiliated with the Islamic State still hold significant territory.

But it faces a number of challenges, most notably acceptance by the Syrian government and the insurgent groups attending the talks.

The insurgent groups suspended participation in the talks on Wednesday to protest what they described as heavy bombing by the Syrian government’s Russian-backed forces the day before that killed dozens, including civilians.

The Russian proposal does not specify measures to prevent government warplanes from carrying out such bombings. Rebels said they remained suspicious of Russian guarantees, regardless, because Russia has been unable or unwilling to curb government attacks on civilians.

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia said on Wednesday that the proposal had the backing not only of Russia but also of Iran, another ally of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, and Turkey, which backs some anti-Assad groups.

“We as guarantors — Turkey, Iran, Russia — will do everything for this to work,” Mr. Putin said in remarks carried on Russian television, speaking in Sochi, Russia, after meeting with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey.

The proposal was made as the United States, another supporter of some anti-Assad groups, appeared to be re-engaging in the negotiations after a prolonged absence.

Stuart E. Jones, the acting assistant secretary of state, was in Astana, the most senior American official to participate in Syria talks since President Trump took office. [Continue reading…]

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Erdogan expands his crackdown on dissent

The New York Times reports: The Turkish government expanded its crackdown on dissent and free expression over the weekend, purging nearly 4,000 more public officials, blocking access to Wikipedia and banning television matchmaking shows.

A total of 3,974 civil servants were fired on Saturday from several ministries and judicial bodies, and 45 civil society groups and health clinics were shut down, according to a decree published in Turkey’s official gazette.

Turkish internet users also woke up on Saturday to find that they no longer had access to Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia written by volunteers.

The dismissals mean that an estimated 140,000 people have now been purged from the state and private sectors, and more than 1,500 civil groups closed, since a failed coup last year.

It also ends opposition hopes that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan may ease the crackdown and build greater national consensus after his narrow victory in a recent referendum to expand the power of his office.

Instead, Mr. Erdogan has accelerated the process. Since the referendum, and before Saturday’s move, the police had detained more than 1,000 workers and suspended a further 9,000 accused of having ties to an Islamic group founded by a United States-based cleric, Fethullah Gulen.

The organization was once allied with Mr. Erdogan, but is now accused by the government of masterminding the failed attempt to overthrow him in July. Those purged on Saturday were also accused of having connections to Mr. Gulen. [Continue reading…]

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Turkey just banned Wikipedia, labeling it a ‘national security threat’

The Washington Post reports: If you try to open Wikipedia in Turkey right now, you’ll turn up a swirling loading icon, then a message that the server timed out.

Turkey has blocked Wikipedia. If you’re inside the country, you can only access the online encyclopedia through a virtual private network connection to a system outside the country.

Turkish officials reportedly asked the online encyclopedia to remove content by writers “supporting terror.”

Wikipedia “has started acting as part of the circles who carry out a smear campaign against Turkey in the international arena, rather than being cooperative in fight against terror,” ministry officials said, according to Al Jazeera. It tried to show Turkey “at the same level and in cooperation with terror groups.”

The Ministry of Transport, Maritime Affairs and Communications told the Daily Sabah, a pro-government newspaper, that Wikipedia was blocked for “becoming an information source acting with groups conducting a smear campaign against Turkey in the international arena.” The ministry did not cite specific examples of offending content. Officials also said the site would not be unblocked until Wikipedia opened an office in the country and started paying taxes. [Continue reading…]

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Top Pentagon watchdog launches investigation into foreign payments Michael Flynn received

The Washington Post reports: The Pentagon’s top watchdog has launched an investigation into money that former national security adviser and retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn received from foreign groups and whether he failed to obtain proper approval to do so, lawmakers and defense officials said Thursday.

The Pentagon has in the past advised retiring officers that because they can be recalled to military service, they are subject to the Constitution’s rarely enforced emoluments clause, which prohibits top officials from receiving payments or favors from foreign governments.

On Thursday, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (Md.), the top Democrat on the Oversight Committee, released an Oct. 8, 2014, letter in which a Defense Department lawyer warned Flynn upon his retirement from military service that he was forbidden from receiving payments from foreign sources without receiving permission from the U.S. government first.

Flynn received $45,000 to appear in 2015 with Russian President Vladimir Putin at a gala dinner for RT, a Kremlin-controlled media organization. He also worked as a foreign agent representing Turkish interests for a Netherlands-based company, Inovo BV, which paid his company $530,000 in the fall. [Continue reading…]

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Pentagon expands rebuke of Turkey over Iraq, Syria strikes

The Washington Post reports: The Turkish government gave the United States less than an hour’s notice before conducting strikes on partner forces in Iraq and Syria, the U.S. military said on Wednesday, stepping up its criticism of airstrikes the United States said endangered American personnel.

Col. John Dorrian, a U.S. military spokesman, said the lead time failed to provide adequate notice to reposition American forces or warn Kurdish groups with whom the United States is partnering against the Islamic States.

“That’s not enough time. And this was notification, certainly not coordination as you would expect from a partner and an ally in the fight against ISIS,” he said, using an acronym for the Islamic State.

American officials expressed indignation at the Turkish bombing, which killed as many as 20 Kurdish fighters in Syria and, according to the U.S. military, five Kurdish peshmerga troops in a coordinated attack across the border in northern Iraq. According to the Turkish government, both attacks targeted members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which both Ankara and Washington consider a terrorist group.

A defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss operations, described the assault as a “massive, highly coordinated attack” involving more than 25 strike aircraft.

In Syria, the Turkish jets targeted leadership sites used by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a Kurdish-dominated force that has emerged as the United States’ primary military partner in Syria, according to a second U.S. official. Turkey has objected to that alliance because, it says, the SDF’s largest component, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), is a PKK affiliate.

Despite the Turkish position, Dorrian signaled the United States would continue its support for the SDF, as it would for Iraqi government troops across the border.

“These are forces that have been integral in fighting ISIS. They’ve been reliable in making progress against ISIS fighters under very difficult and dangerous conditions,” he said. “They have made many, many sacrifices to help defeat ISIS and that keeps the whole world safer. So that is our position on that.” [Continue reading…]

Kom News reports: Kurdish Women’s Protection Units (YPJ) spokeswoman, Nesrin Abdullah, has said that the group’s forces will withdraw from the operation to capture the Islamic State’s stronghold, Raqqa, if the US doesn’t take concrete action against Turkish airstrikes targeting Kurdish forces in Syria.

“The is unacceptable in international law. If the USA or coalition or the US [State Dept.] spokesperson can only say, ‘We are concerned or we are unhappy’ [about Turkey’s airstrikes] then we will not accept this. If this is the reaction, we do not accept it. It means they accept what was done to us,” Abdullah told Sputnik Turkish on Wednesday.

The spokeswoman for the all female YPJ, which is part of the People’s Protection Units (YPG), a leading force in the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces that has encircled Raqqa, went on to say that unless the US gave a concrete response they would withdraw from the operation. [Continue reading…]

AFP reports: Fighting erupted on Wednesday along Syria’s northeastern border between Turkish forces and Kurdish militiamen, as tensions boiled over in the aftermath of deadly Turkish air strikes the previous day.

The strikes against the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) have thrown the complexity of Syria’s war into sharp relief and even sparked calls for a no-fly zone in the country’s north.

The skies over northern Syria are increasingly congested, with the Syrian government, Turkey, Russia and the US-led international coalition all carrying out bombing raids across the region. [Continue reading…]

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ISIS faces exodus of foreign fighters as its ‘caliphate’ crumbles

The Guardian reports: Large numbers of foreign fighters and sympathisers are abandoning Islamic State and trying to enter Turkey, with at least two British nationals and a US citizen joining an exodus that is depleting the ranks of the terror group.

Stefan Aristidou, from Enfield in north London, his British wife and Kary Paul Kleman, from Florida, last week surrendered to Turkish border police after more than two years in areas controlled by Isis, sources have confirmed to the Guardian.

Dozens more foreigners have fled in recent weeks, most caught as they tried to cross the frontier, as Isis’s capacity to hold ground in Syria and Iraq collapses. Some – it is not known how many – are thought to have evaded capture and made it across the border into Turkey.

Aristidou, who is believed to be in his mid-20s, surrendered at the Kilis crossing in southern Turkey along with his wife – said to be a British woman of Bangladeshi heritage – and Kleman, 46. The American had arrived at the border with a Syrian wife and two Egyptian women, whose spouses had been killed in Syria or Iraq, Turkish officials said.

Aristidou said he had travelled to Syria to settle rather than fight. The officials said he had admitted to having been based in Raqqa and al-Bab, both of which had been Isis strongholds until al-Bab was recaptured by Turkish-backed Syrian opposition forces earlier this year. He went missing in April 2015 after flying to Larnaca in Cyprus. Neighbours told the Guardian that he had adopted Islamic dress shortly before he disappeared. [Continue reading…]

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Critics in Turkey question credibility of judges who oversaw vote

The New York Times reports: The credibility of the judges who oversaw Turkey’s referendum last week is being called into question because most of them were hastily appointed when President Recep Tayyip Erdogan purged the judiciary after last summer’s failed coup.

A narrow majority of Turks voted on April 16 to change the Constitution in a poll that formally granted vast new powers to the office of the Turkish presidency beginning in 2019 and informally validated the already-authoritarian mind-set of Mr. Erdogan.

But the legitimacy of Mr. Erdogan’s victory has been tainted by accusations of voter fraud at polling stations across the country — and by an odd series of erratic decisions on the day of the vote by the judges who head the electoral commission. Eight of the 11 judges on the panel had been recently replaced.

The opposition has questioned the results of thousands of ballot boxes, after videos showed evidence of ballot-box stuffing and voter intimidation on the day of the vote, and opposition campaigners faced prolonged intimidation during the campaign that preceded it.

But the single biggest controversy was the last-minute decision by the electoral commission to override electoral law and allow officials to count what the opposition says are millions of votes that lacked an official stamp proving their authenticity. [Continue reading…]

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EU Ankara negotiator calls for suspension of Turkey accession talks

Reuters reports: The European Union should formally suspend Turkey’s long-stalled talks on membership if it adopts constitutional changes backed at a referendum last week, a leading member of the EU parliament responsible for dealings with Ankara said on Wednesday.

Kati Piri said ahead of a plenary debate on the matter that if President Tayyip Erdogan implemented his new charter, giving him even more powers, Turkey would close the door on membership.

Erdogan said on Tuesday that Turkey would not wait forever to join the bloc, just a day after the EU executive’s top official for membership talks asked Europe’s foreign ministers to consider other types of ties with Turkey when they meet on Friday.

Ties between EU states and their NATO ally Turkey soured in the aftermath of a failed coup last July as the bloc was taken aback by Erdogan’s sweeping security crackdown that followed. [Continue reading…]

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Flynn’s Turkish lobbying linked to Russia

Politico reports: The Turkish man who gave Mike Flynn a $600,000 lobbying deal just before President Donald Trump picked him to be national security adviser has business ties to Russia, including a 2009 aviation financing deal negotiated with Vladimir Putin, according to court records.

The man, Ekim Alptekin, has in recent years helped to coordinate Turkish lobbying in Washington with Dmitri “David” Zaikin, a Soviet-born former executive in Russian energy and mining companies who also has had dealings with Putin’s government, according to three people with direct knowledge of the activities.

This unusual arrangement, in which Alptekin and Zaikin have helped steer Turkish lobbying through various groups since at least 2015, raises questions about both the agenda of the two men and the source of the funds used to pay the lobbyists.

Although Turkey is a NATO ally, its president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has grown increasingly authoritarian and friendly with Putin. And the hiring of Flynn by Alptekin came at a time when Flynn was working for Trump’s campaign and Putin’s government was under investigation for interfering with the U.S. election. [Continue reading…]

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No, Erdogan was not an authoritarian all along

Steven A Cook writes: With last Sunday’s controversial and contested referendum, Turkey’s nondemocratic future is clear. The 18 constitutional amendments that Turks approved promise to set the country firmly in an authoritarian direction that will be difficult to reverse. With broad new powers, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan can rule with virtual impunity. The conduct of the referendum, which international observers have declared unfair, and its outcome are part of a broader story about Turkey’s transformation from a once-promising candidate for European Union membership to autocracy. How did this happen?

There are a number of competing and hotly debated explanations. For many Turks and Western analysts, the answer is straightforward: Erdogan is, and has always been, an authoritarian. It is a compelling argument. Over the past decade, Erdogan has jailed large numbers of journalists and opponents, decapitated the armed forces, employed force against peaceful protesters, and manipulated Turkey’s political institutions to ensure his and the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) dominance of the political arena.

For all its appeal, though, the claim is a little too neat and fails to account for the messy contingencies of politics, missed opportunities and competing worldviews. It is impossible to know what is in people’s hearts and minds, but Turkey’s return to one-man rule may be as much about the dynamic interaction of the country’s domestic political struggles, the choices that Europeans have made, those that Americans did not make and, yes, Erdogan’s worldview. [Continue reading…]

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Turkey arrests dozens over referendum protests

The New York Times reports: Dozens of members of Turkey’s political opposition were arrested in dawn raids on Wednesday, as a crackdown began on those questioning the legitimacy of a referendum on Sunday to expand the powers of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Mr. Erdogan has claimed a narrow 51.4 percent to 48.6 percent victory in the vote, but protesters in pockets of the country have marched in the streets every night since then to demonstrate against what they assert was a rigged election.

After warnings from Mr. Erdogan, at least 38 people accused of participating in the protests were rounded up Wednesday morning or issued arrest warrants, according to lawyers and relatives of the detained.

Despite the arrests hundreds of people gathered in several cities across Turkey on Wednesday evening in a show of defiance. [Continue reading…]

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Calls for referendum annulment rise in Turkey

Amberin Zaman writes: Allegations of fraud in Turkey’s April 16 referendum show no signs of abating despite government denials that any irregularity occurred.

Today, the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) petitioned the Supreme Electoral Board (YSK) for the vote on boosting the powers of the presidency to be annulled.

CHP Deputy Chairman Bulent Tezcan, who lodged the appeal, called the referendum “organized vote theft.” He was referring in particular to the board’s controversial last-minute decision to breach its own rules and accept ballots without official seals. The opposition charges it did so to clear the path for cheating. The amendments squeaked through with a razor-thin margin at 51%.
[Continue reading…]

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Syrian refugees choose Turkey

Charles Simpson, Zeynep Balcioglu, and Abdullah Almutabagani, write: At first glance, the March 2016 EU–Turkey deal, which gives visa-free travel and 3 billion Euros ($3.3 billion) in relief aid to Turkey if it stems the flow of refugees to Europe, seems to have worked. Turkey now hosts three times the number of Syrian refugees as all of Europe, and according to data from the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex), there has been a dramatic drop in the number of refugees moving from Turkey to Greece since the deal was enacted. However, for many refugees, the real reason behind the decrease in refugee flows into Europe lies in their own widespread preference to remain in Turkey, where they perceive a better life is possible.

Earlier statistical analysis by Oxford University researchers found the drop in migration predated the EU-Turkey deal and therefore could not be causally connected. A series of interviews with Syrian refugees confirm this trend, indicating most refugees interviewed wanted to stay in Turkey and were using their socioeconomic resources to facilitate integration. Many of those who did travel to Europe found life there was not necessarily the paradise they anticipated and in many cases communicated back to Syrians in Turkey that the journey’s risk was not worth the reward.

Those refugees in Turkey with the resources to do so are buying homes, learning Turkish, starting businesses, enrolling in schools, and forming communities. They face a range of obstacles, including health service inadequacies, a language barrier, and racism. Not all refugees in Turkish cities are lucky: while many refugees in Turkey have found informal work, most are underemployed, underpaid, and have a difficult time finding jobs that meet their qualifications or educational level. Still, most of those interviewed—even those who had lived in Europe or had close relatives living there—reported a preference for life in Turkey over Europe. Turkey offers them looser enforcement of employment regulation, more established Syrian communities, a familiar religion and culture, and geographic proximity to Syria that gives hope for return. Three communities are particularly illustrative of the appeal Turkey holds: Fatih and Sultanbeyli in Istanbul, and Manisa near Izmir. [Continue reading…]

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