Drop any links that you think may be useful for getting to grips with ‘Syrian issues’ in this thread.
Here is a sample .
Drop any links that you think may be useful for getting to grips with ‘Syrian issues’ in this thread.
Here is a sample .
With hundred of thousands of barrels of its oil stuck in the Turkish Mediterranean port of Ceyhan, unable to be sold on the world market because of its continuing row with Baghdad, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) is discovering just how landlocked and boxed in it is in terms of utilizing the vast oil reserves under its control.
Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani has been conducting shuttle diplomacy between Baghdad and Ankara to facilitate an agreement.
Author Semih Idiz
Posted February 18, 2014
KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani shuttled between Istanbul and Baghdad again in the last few days in a fresh attempt at overcoming the problem, but with little apparent success. Baghdad appears determined to stick to its guns and prevent the KRG from selling oil from northern Iraq unilaterally, saying this violates Iraq’s constitution.
Baghdad also has support from Washington, where administration officials fear the energy cooperation between Turkey and the KRG will increase the risk of splitting up Iraq — already in the throes of sectarian strife — and are consequently putting pressure on Ankara over its energy dealings with the Iraqi Kurds.
Iraq’s constitution says oil revenues, regardless of where the reserves are located in the country, have to go through Baghdad and allocates the autonomous Kurdish region 17% of total revenues.
Nouri al-Maliki’s government argues that the KRG can only export its oil after an agreement is reached between Erbil and Baghdad on how to proceed in this matter.
Baghdad has also threatened to cut the KRG out of its share of Iraq’s vast oil revenues, should it go ahead and sell its oil unilaterally.
Iraqi Oil Minister Abdul Kareem Luaibi told Reuters in January that the government would take legal action against Turkey and consider canceling all contracts with Turkish firms if Ankara enabled the exporting of KRG oil before an agreement between Erbil and Baghdad is reached.
Such an agreement, though, has been elusive because of Kurdish claims of sole ownership over oil reserves discovered in northern Iraq after the region gained political autonomy from Baghdad following the US invasion in 2003.
KRG officials are disappointed that a comprehensive package of agreements they signed with Turkey in November 2013 has not become fully operational yet.
The package includes an agreement on multibillion-dollar oil pipelines connecting northern Iraq with Turkey, which would enable the KRG to eventually export up to 2 million barrels of oil per day when fully implemented, making it an important regional energy player independent of the central government.
Currently the KRG is using the existing pipeline from Kirkuk — which technically remains under Baghdad’s control — to Ceyhan where Turkey has a storage capacity of 2.5 million barrels set aside for Kurdish oil. As of December, when the KRG’s connection to the Kirkuk pipeline was opened, the 425,000 barrels of Kurdish oil has been stored in Ceyhan waiting to be sold on world markets.
In the meantime, the KRG has been trucking small amounts of crude oil to Turkey for domestic consumption, but this is considered to be negligible compared with the potential that exists if the proposed system of pipelines is fully up and running.
There has been little love lost between the predominantly Sunni government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the predominantly Shiite Maliki government because of Turkey’s cooperation with the KRG in the energy field, as well as sectarian-based differences over Syria.
Ankara nevertheless appears reluctant to aggravate the situation with Iraq further given the increasing instability and turmoil in the region due to the Syria crisis, which has also left the two countries facing similar threats, especially from radical jihadist groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS).
There is also the estimated trade of about $12 billion annually between Turkey and Iraq that experts say has to be factored in by Ankara. Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu visited the Iraqi capital in November for talks designed to smooth the path for a rapprochement between the sides and to lay the groundwork for a visit by Erdogan to Baghdad and Maliki to Ankara.
Those visits have yet to occur, however, and this may be an indication that differences remain which still have to be ironed out. Meanwhile, Iraqi officials are said to be still suspicious of Turkey’s intentions.
“Turkey must now choose either to turn its back on Baghdad and go ahead with its deal with the Kurds, or suspend direct exports from the region until an agreement is reached between the central government and Erbil,” Reuters quoted an unnamed Iraqi official as saying in January.
“Unfortunately, facts on the ground show that Ankara eventually will go ahead with its deals with the Kurds at the expense of its relations with Baghdad,” the official added.
Iraqi suspicions increased after media reports in Turkey indicated that the first batch of KRG oil in Ceyhan, worth $90 million, had been sold through the Trans Petroleum Co. in Singapore without approval from Baghdad.
Ankara, however, has denied these reports. “Even if a barrel of oil had passed through Ceyhan, Baghdad would have been informed of this and a daily receipt would have been given to the central government noting how much of a sale was made,” Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz told members of the Petroleum Platform Association in the city of Kayseri on Feb. 17.
“This is Iraq’s oil, not Turkey’s. Thus, Baghdad will be informed, because it is an issue related to Iraq’s income. So far, there has not been any oil that has gone through Ceyhan, but this does not mean it won’t be transferred in the future. We’ll share all information with Baghdad,” Yildiz added.
Barzani arrived in Istanbul on Feb. 14, where he held talks with Erdogan and Yildiz to see how the problem could be overcome. Two days later, he was in Baghdad for talks on the topic, which reportedly produced little, if any, results.
The KRG and the central government have failed to resolve their differences despite a US-sponsored “seven-point agreement” signed between Barzani and Maliki in April 2013.
Tellingly, though, the sides were not prepared to give the impression of a breakdown in talks after Barzani’s failed mission to Baghdad this week. “Iraq’s Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani emphasized the importance of reaching an agreement over the outstanding issues between the Kurdistan Region and Iraq,” a statement from Maliki’s office in Baghdad said later, indicating that the talks would go on.
Meanwhile, there are those who argue that the KRG and Baghdad are actually making progress. Reuters quoted Mehmet Sepil, the president of Anglo-Turkish firm Genel Energy, on Feb. 6 as saying, “We have never been this close to a deal.” Sepil added, “The issues that caused an impasse have been identified. There’s been quite a bit of progress made.”
While the KRG and Baghdad remain locked in tough negotiations, the Kurdish media are reporting that the KRG is ultimately relying on the presence in northern Iraq of giant international oil companies, including ExxonMobil of the United States, Total of France and Gazprom Neft of Russia, to alter the picture to the KRG’s advantage.
“These companies are so powerful that they can change national policies,” the English-language edition of the Kurdish daily Rudaw reported on Feb. 17, also indicating that “from the very beginning of the row (with Baghdad) it has been obvious that, one way or another, Kurdish oil will flow overseas.”
The Financial Times, in a report on Jan. 26 bound to have displeased the Kurdish leadership, indicated, however, that although Kurdish crude is now flowing to Ceyhan, where it is being stored, major oil companies are shying away from responding to the KRG’s call for bids for this oil.
“We will not be involved in KRG tenders until we have a much better understanding of the ramifications for our relationship with Iraq,” the paper quoted an unnamed senior executive from what it said was one of the world’s largest energy companies.
It’s “obvious that, one way or another, Kurdish oil will flow overseas,” as Rudaw put it, but it seems that this will not be exclusively on Kurdish terms if the emerging picture is anything to go by.
Read more: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2014/02/turkey-baghdad-oil-kurdistan-region-iraq.html?utm_source=Al-Monitor+Newsletter+%5BEnglish%5D&utm_campaign=1f1e05ec4f-January_9_20141_8_2014&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_28264b27a0-1f1e05ec4f-93145129#ixzz2tp8sMNg8
On Feb. 2, the Turkish daily Vatan published an interview with Cemil Bayik, one of the leading “commanders” of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). The interviewer, Rusen Cakir, is a prominent Turkish journalist known for his expertise on the Kurdish issue, political Islam and the current political battle between the governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the Gulen movement. No wonder Bayik addressed this hot topic in Turkish politics. At the PKK headquarters in northern Iraq’s Kandil Mountains, the guerrilla leader shared various views about Turkish politics, but the bottom line was the Vatan headline: “Behind the [Gulen] community, there is America; they want to get rid of Erdogan.”
The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) may believe that the enemy of my friend is my enemy.
Author Mustafa Akyol Posted February 3, 2014
Translator Ezgi Akin
This was perfectly in line with the AKP government’s explanations of the recent corruption probe: a foreign-backed conspiracy — if not “coup attempt” — by the pro-Gulen “parallel state” within the Turkish state. Bayik’s statement was, in other words, music to AKP ears.
In fact, it was not just Bayik but also the very leader of the PKK, the jailed Abdullah Ocalan, who recently took a stance supportive of the AKP against Gulen followers. From his prison cell on Imrali Island, he spoke against “those who want to set our country ablaze once again with the fire of a coup.” This was interpreted in the Turkish media as support for Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. No wonder AKP deputy Mehmet Metiner, an Erdogan loyalist, publicly commended Ocalan for his stance.
But why is the PKK — a terrorist group, by Turkish and most international definitions — sympathetic to the AKP in Turkey’s new power struggle? And why does this matter?
The first question has a simple answer: The PKK sees the AKP government, especially Erdogan, as its partner for “peace.” The organization has fought the Turkish state relentlessly since 1984 with a guerilla war that has claimed more than 40,000 lives, but the “political solution” that liberals have been advocating became possible only under Erdogan. In late 2012, a “resolution process” began based on covert talks between the Turkish government and Ocalan, and the conflict has been silent ever since. Both sides complain that the other is too timid to take the promised steps, but both sides seem willing to keep the peace as well.
On the other hand, the Gulen movement is known to be skeptical of this peace process. In fact, the AKP has accused the Gulen movement’s “parallel state” within the police and judiciary of trying to “sabotage the peace process.” The “Turkish National Intelligence Organization crisis” of February 2012 is interpreted as one of the earliest signs of this intention. Since then, it has been whispered in Ankara, and lately exposed in the press, that the Gulen community is against peace with the PKK.
One wonders why. The movement is globally known for moderation and pacifism, and Fethullah Gulen publicly praised “peace” when the deal with the PKK first went public. However, journalists close to the movement have repeatedly raised concerns about how the AKP government is “fooled” by the PKK. (I wrote in May 2013 for Al-Monitor that “the Gulen movement is not against the peace process, but is skeptical of its success and critical of its methods.”) Since then, such criticisms of the peace process have only increased in the pro-Gulen media.
These days, the pro-Erdogan camp, in its usual conspiratorial tone, explains the uneasiness of the Gulen movement with the peace process as a sign of its “high treason.” Accordingly, the peace process disturbs “the powers that want to weaken Turkey,” and since the Gulen movement is a puppet for those evil powers, they treacherously sabotage what is good for Turkey. However, using Occam’s razor, one can find a simpler explanation: The Gulen movement considers the PKK a threat, specifically to the movement’s facilities in predominantly Kurdish southeastern Turkey, including a wide network of schools, dormitories and charities. The PKK has targeted these institutions over the years, saying they “steal Kurdish children” from being PKK militants and make them followers of the pro-Turkish teachings of Gulen.
Gulen himself noted this tension recently in a rare interview, given to the BBC. Gulen said Ocalan was “uneasy with what we were doing with the Kurdish people” in reference to the extension of Hizmet schools deep in Kurdish territory. “They didn’t want our activities to prevent young people joining the militants in the mountains. Their politics is to keep enmity between Kurdish and Turkish people.”
This should explain why there is a conflict between the Gulen movement and the PKK, and why the latter supports the AKP, its “peace partner,” against the movement. How this will influence Turkish politics is a separate matter.
The PKK is loathed by the majority of Turkish society, so its support will not be of much help there for the government. Only the left-wing liberals who ardently support the peace process see it as a reason to stand by the AKP. However, the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) has 26 seats in parliament and some 6% to 8% of the votes, according to various polls. This political bloc may be an ally for Erdogan in the coming months, even in the presidential elections of next summer, where Erdogan, if he runs, will need the majority of all votes.
In short, the PKK has taken a clear side in the AKP-Gulen conflict in favor of the AKP, and this has an understandable logic. Instead of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” logic, it’s the other way around: “The enemy of my friend is my enemy.”
Mustafa Akyol is a columnist for Al-Monitor’s Turkey Pulse and a columnist for Turkish Hurriyet Daily News and Star. His articles have also appeared in Foreign Affairs, Newsweek, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and The Guardian. He is the author of Islam Without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty. On Twitter: @AkyolinEnglish
Original Al-Monitor Translations
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Read more: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2014/02/pkk-supports-akp-gulen-conflict.html?utm_source=Al-Monitor+Newsletter+%5BEnglish%5D&utm_campaign=e0ae6ede91-January_9_20141_8_2014&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_28264b27a0-e0ae6ede91-93145129#ixzz2sOdqiSEi
Gul proposes Turkey-Iran cooperation in Syria
In his official visit to Italy Jan. 28-31, President Abdullah Gul met twice with Turkish columnists covering his trip. His remarks provided opportunities to observe how deep his longtime political differences with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan have become.
Turkish President Abdullah Gul is distancing himself from the political culture and foreign policy of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.
Author Kadri Gursel Posted February 3, 2014
As a columnist who took part in both meetings and asked questions of the president, my observation is this: Gul, who set up the Justice and Development Party (AKP) with Erdogan and who, until he became president, was the party’s second in command. He has plainly distanced himself from Erdogan’s wordview. It is not an exaggeration to say that the distance between them is becoming increasingly ideological.
We all know that the president, in contrast with the AKP government, defends Turkey’s EU perspectives, reforms, state of law and freedom of press. In the days following the dramatic intensification of the strife between the AKP and the Fetullah Gulen movement after the corruption investigations that directly targeted Erdogan’s family and close political associates, the divergence between the narratives of Gul and Erdogan was also reflected by their actions.
We have to remember the initiatives of the government to make legislative moves that would totally eliminate the independence of the judiciary were blocked, thanks to the firm stand of Gul, before the European Union stepped in.
As with many of the political developments in Turkey, it is also impossible to predict how the ideological divergence between Gul and Erdogan will affect the AKP. To make a reasonable guess, one has to wait for the outcome of the March 30 local elections. Only then we will be able to say what kind of role Gul is planning to fill in national politics and in the future of the AKP.
For the time being, let’s lay out how Gul has deviated from his old comrade Erdogan, especially in foreign policy.
The first issue is Syria. We can observe that the president of Turkey is more realistic and has a more rational approach as compared to that of Erdogan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, and that he doesn’t ignore politics the way they do.
In his Jan. 30 talk with journalists in Rome, Gul suggested working with Iran on the issue of Syria, saying,
“Iran’s launching of a dialogue with the international community and the Western world and better prospects for solving problems through politics will make the world a more comfortable place. The beginning of a new era with Tehran may also enable engaging Iran on the Syrian issue. We spoke with Iranian President [Hassan] Rouhani on how essential it is to work together on the Syrian issue and develop alternatives. We tasked our foreign ministers to work on this. There is another opportunity that could arise from joint efforts. If Turkey can be in close and sincere cooperation with Iran on Syria, we can come up with proposals to the international community, and the Western world can take our proposals seriously.”
The prerequisite for Gul’s proposal is the development of a Syrian policy along rational and secular lines instead of the ideological basis favored by Erdogan and Davutoglu.
Gul’s words were made even more interesting by their timing, coming a day after Erdogan told the journalists in his plane returning from Tehran that “there was no agreement with Iran on Syria.”
For Ankara to work together with Tehran, which today is in the opposite camp over Syria, it first has to take a reality check and accept that the Syrian regime is not going away in the foreseeable future.
Gul has done this reality check and demonstrates that, unlike Erdogan and Davutoglu, he can empathize with the actors in the opposite camp. He said, “In an interview I gave to Foreign Affairs two years ago, I had said that there are no other countries committed to the opposition as much as Iran and Russia are for Syria. I was talking about the West and about Turkey. For Iran, Syria is an existential issue; for us, it is a humanitarian issue. For Russia, it is an issue of warm seas, of having a single base. On the other side, some talk about how [the United States] will be the one to end the war with its known policies. Today, Damascus has the stronger hand. How did they get to Geneva?”
In terms of Turkey’s threat analysis, Gul’s opinions are distinctly more realistic and up to date than those of Erdogan and Davutolgu, the architects of Ankara’s crumbled Syrian policy. Asked about the Turkish army’s retaliation for a Jan. 30 mortar round fired by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), the president said, “We don’t have any reason to be optimistic about when Syria will achieve salvation. If a strong transition government had emerged from Geneva, we would have had some hope, but it wasn’t to be. The second point is the threats and dangers for Turkey of the existing situation. In that environment of uncertainty, many groups emerged. It is not only a war between the regime and the opposition but also within the opposition. There are no targets. If these [battles] are taking place along our 900-kilometer [559-mile] border, you can’t know where they will spread to. Such situations create and provoke extremism, radicalism. You will not know where they will end.
“This is why there is a big difference between our threat perception of four or five years ago, and our threat perception of today. At that time, the biggest threat for us was the struggle against [Kurdistan Workers Party] terror. Today, we see diverse, numerous groups. We have to be much more careful now. I want to say that our southern border is more difficult. If the Turkish armed forces today refrain from getting involved, who knows, tomorrow you may have to deal with a much more formidable force.”
It is a known fact Erdogan is defining the corruption investigations as an international conspiracy to remove him from power. His government allies and supportive media back this discourse.
On the evening of Jan. 28, Gul was asked a question about the conspiracy theory. A journalist from the pro-government media asked, “Don’t you think that in recent days, the Western media is drawing a portrait of an unstable Turkey?” He gave this interesting reply: “You complain. You gripe and demand that they should treat our affairs positively. Because of its nature, the press is generally expected to be critical. … You have to look at this as an objective media analysis. … There may well be those abroad who intentionally want to paint a negative portrait of Turkey, but it is not correct to group them together with ‘They want to show us in negative light; they are campaigning against us.’ Let’s not forget that these are newspapers that used to print headlines about the ‘reformist government in Turkey.’ They used to lavishly praise our successes. That is why we have to be objective. At times, you come across articles that stand out as excessively negative and biased. Some, however, write critically when they observe the debates in Turkey. You should not put them all in same basket as enemies of Turkey. That would be a mistake. We will then see everyone as our enemy, which, of course, is not the case.”
There are four main points to Gul’s response:
Gul is not giving credit to the conspiracy allegations of Erdogan and his coterie.
He is accepting that the press has to be critical, and supporting the freedom of the press.
His suggestion that a press that only sees the positive sides of the government will cease to be “the press,” a strong admonishment of the pro-AKP media.
Gul reminds us that newspapers currently critical of Turkey once wrote favorably of it. This is an implicit criticism by Gul of the negative direction the AKP government has been taking in recent years.
The president referred to recent unfavorable changes in Turkey when responding to a question about preparations for an international campaign on the centennial of the Armenian genocide. He said, “2014 and 2015 will be crucial years. Turkey will confront many tough questions on international platforms. Three or four years ago, as a shining country with many friends, we were thinking that we could overcome these tough questions. To be honest, with the global situation, our problems that require attention and our domestic issues will make these international questions more difficult to handle. Our government is making some preparations. … We have to find ways to remind others of the importance of being friends with Turkey.”
These remarks by Gul contain criticism of how Turkey has become isolated and suffered soft-power losses globally and regionally because of the policies pursued by the Erdogan-Davutoglu team since 2010.
We have to emphasize that Gul’s observations and attitude have strong and favorable reflection in the AKP base and within the party structure, and that he is not alone.
Read more: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2014/02/gul-proposed-iran-joint-effort-syria.html?utm_source=Al-Monitor+Newsletter+%5BEnglish%5D&utm_campaign=e0ae6ede91-January_9_20141_8_2014&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_28264b27a0-e0ae6ede91-93145129##ixzz2sOXJXQe1
TEHRAN, Iran — In public, it was all about economies, treaties and bilateral relations. Behind closed doors, however, the visit to Iran by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was all about Syria, Syria and Syria.
Author Ali Hashem Posted January 30, 2014
Behind closed doors, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan talked with Iranian leaders about common ground on Syria and a more effective dialogue between the Syrian government and the opposition.
“There are still differences, that’s obvious, but they’re not as crucial as they were before,” a source in Tehran commented to Al-Monitor in discussing Erdogan’s visit. “Almost two years ago, Erdogan came to Iran and insisted on meeting [Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei to tell him that Iran’s bet on Assad would not yield any benefit. Back then, the leader told the Turkish guest, review your policies, your strategies, and come back. [Bashar al-] Assad won’t fall.”
Erdogan is back, and he is still in favor of toppling Assad, but according to the source, he is almost convinced that this is only a wish.
“There are alternatives that have been discussed during the past months, and in this visit, they were finalized. Turkey has its own people in the opposition, and they’ve been isolated by the current backed by Saudi Arabia,” the source explained. “The need for change in Syria can be met by bringing together both the regime and the opposition. [These] talks can be more efficient than the ones taking place in Montreux. Even if it took place at the same location, the idea is giving the talks a strong push, with both regional powers playing a positive role in convincing their allies to come to terms.”
Both Turkey and Iran have decided that they need to maintain good strategic relations, as both feel the heat of terrorism and regional differences vis-a-vis other powers. The Iranian supreme leader’s words were as clear as day. He was reported as saying that Iranian-Turkish relations are the best in centuries, and both countries have to seize the opportunity to solidify their relations. Erdogan, for his part, offered that when he visits Iran, it feels like a second home. He added that they have to work together to the extent that ministers of both governments feel as if they are working in the same government.
Khamenei is known to be extremely selective in his choice of words. He is, after all, the supreme leader, the head of the regime, the man who makes decisions on strategic matters. In speaking about Syria, he is saying what his allies in Damascus might be too intimidated to say to the Turks, although, according to Al-Monitor’s source, “it’s not the case” since they are aware of all the details and understand the need to have Turkey as an ally and a strategic partner.
The meetings are expected to continue between Ankara and Tehran to assess the situation on the ground. According to the source, coordination on the Syrian crisis is at the highest levels. “The countries are to unify their efforts. They see themselves in the same boat, and they have the same rivals. The region needs three main pillars to stand again. Turkey and Iran are two [of them]. An Arab partner is needed, and this is what they are working on. Iraq could play this role, but so can other countries in the region.”
Three weeks before Erdogan’s visit to Tehran, Al-Monitor learned that a high-ranking delegation from Iran had visited Ankara, carrying information about the situation in Syria. The delegation met high-ranking Turkish officials, including Erdogan, and there was agreement on exchanging information and coordinating closely on the situation in Syria. The meeting also included some non-Iranian and non-Turkish figures. The exchange apparently continues.
Read more: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2014/01/erdogan-iran-syria-shift.html?utm_source=Al-Monitor+Newsletter+%5BEnglish%5D&utm_campaign=c9c95b63ee-January_9_20141_8_2014&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_28264b27a0-c9c95b63ee-93145129#ixzz2s1Bu3o9l
Where is Turkey Going?
by Veli Sirin
January 3, 2014 at 5:00 am
The unraveling of relations between Erdoğan and Gülen has begun to overshadow the details of the corruption scandal that brought it about.
As the crisis of Turkey’s government and the country’s competing Islamists is deepening, the attitude of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, leader of the ruling Justice and Development Party, known as AKP, is hardening – as are the positions of his opponents.
With new developments emerging daily, Erdoğan was confronted on January 1, 2014 with a petition by the former army general staff chief, Gen. İlker Başbuğ, that Başbuğ be released from a life sentence handed down against him on August 5, 2013, in the “Ergenekon” conspiracy trials, in which the Islamist government accused members of the secular military of supposedly trying to bring the government down. As described in the leading national media platform, the Hürriyet Daily News, Başbuğ was one of 275 suspects charged in the “Ergenekon” affair; other high military officials, journalists and academics were subjected to “aggravated life sentences,” which replaced death sentences, in the “Ergenekon” proceedings.
As noted in the same Hürriyet article, Başbuğ based his demand for exoneration on Erdoğan’s claim that “gangs within the state” and “members of the parallel state” had penetrated the judiciary, police, and other official structures. Erdoğan’s chief advisor, Yalçin Akdoğan, implied that members of the judiciary had “framed” military officers in the “Ergenekon” case.
Senior AKP legislator Mustafa Elitaş, told Hürriyet Daily News that Turkey could change laws to allow a retrial of the military officers convicted of plotting to overthrow Erdoğan. According to that Hürriyet Daily News account, Elitaş said of the army defendants, “We will, if necessary, make new legal arrangements to stop people’s unjust treatment.”
At the same time, and as reflected in the same Hürriyet Daily News post of December 31, former army General Çetin Doğan, accused and convicted of a similar plot in the “Sledgehammer” trial of military leaders, which ended in 2012, is preparing a complaint against a 20-year prison term imposed on him.
Erdoğan’s chief advisor, Akdoğan, then reversed course. In a press statement quoted by Today’s Zaman, another major Turkish newspaper, Akdoğan declared, “It is wrong to the utmost degree to use my previous writings to say that I have called some trials ‘false,’ ‘baseless,’ ’empty’ and ‘fabricated.’ Just as prosecutors need evidence to issue criminal charges, the defense, believing the evidence presented is false, needs to provide its own evidence to support its argument.”
Ironies abound in the current Turkish turmoil. Erdoğan and AKP were widely reported to have mounted the “Sledgehammer” and “Ergenekon” proceedings in a long-term Islamist bid to cut down the influence of the secularist military. London Guardian correspondent Simon Tisdall, noted on September 25, 2012 that Turkish military commanders had carried out three coups, between 1960 and 1980 (including a full-fledged takeover in 1971), and had forced AKP out of power in 1997.
Tisdall continued, “Tensions between the AKP and the military, proud guardians of [Turkey]’s secularist legacy, were at times acute. It is not difficult to imagine the generals wanted rid of Erdoğan.”
The AKP seems caught between its desire to defend the two anti-military trials and to rein in a process that has escaped its control, with the judiciary turning on Erdoğan’s party leaders. A December 31, 2013 Reuters news agency wire ascribed to AKP deputy prime minister Ali Babacan a claim that subversion of the AKP administration was the motive for a “graft inquiry [that] became public on 17 December with a series of raids and detentions of senior businessmen close to Erdoğan, and of the sons of three ministers.”
The same Reuters account pointed out that “Erdoğan has, without naming it, accused a movement led by the Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen of creating a ‘state within a state,’ using influence in the police and judiciary in a campaign to discredit the government. The [Gülen-led] Hizmet (Service) movement controls a global network of schools and businesses. Tensions have grown between the two former allies over elements of foreign and domestic policy and moves to close Gülen’s private schools in Turkey.”
Fethullah Gülen was born in Turkey in 1941 near the city of Erzurum but since 1999 has lived in rural Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania, according to a profile of him by Alexander Christie-Miller posted by The Christian Science Monitor Gülen came to the U.S., Christie-Miller wrote, “after fleeing Turkey over charges of seeking to topple the country’s secular government.” London Financial Times writer Daniel Dombey, however, stated that Gülen had moved to America for “medical treatment.”
Gülen was portrayed as “soft-spoken,” “modest,” and tolerant of Turkey’s non-Muslim religious minorities, including “Nestorian Christians, Protestants [and] Jews,” in an article about him by Brian Knowlton of The New York Times. The newspaper Today’s Zaman, quoted above, is owned by the Gülen movement.
Erdoğan, for his part, has become known for conspiratorial claims. When the corruption scandal struck the AKP government in December, the prime minister was cited by Emre Peker in The Wall Street Journal.
Erdoğan claimed, according to Peker, that the investigation of financial crimes in his administration was “the work of foreign powers uncomfortable with Turkey’s rising economic and political clout. ‘If we don’t respond to these operations in the harshest, most decisive manner today, rest assured that these conspiracies will continue to engineer our national will in the future,’ he said.”
Prime Minister Erdoğan further used an idiom flavored with aggression. Hürriyet Daily News reported that Erdoğan said in a speech in Ordu, a northern Turkish city, “Those who want to establish a parallel structure alongside the state, those who have infiltrated into the state institutions … we will come into your lairs and we will lay out these organizations within the state.”
Gülen, in reaction to the implication by Erdoğan and his supporters that Gülen, and his followers in the judiciary and police had turned against the AKP, burst out with rhetoric that belied his long-cultivated image of unruffled tranquility. Gülen issued a video sermon, rebroadcast widely on Turkish television channels, in which he denounced “Those who don’t see the thief but go after those who chase the thief … May Allah bring fire to their homes.”
Erdoğan replied in a subdued manner, on December 22, before leaving on a trip to Pakistan: “We pray for Muslims to reach the right way, not for their damnation. Cursing is such a trick among Muslims it will return to one who did this like a boomerang.”
The unraveling of relations between Erdoğan and Gülen has begun to overshadow the details of the corruption scandal that brought it about. On December 17, fifty individuals were arrested in Istanbul and Ankara. The focal point of the investigation was a deal between Turkey and Iran for Turkey to provide gold in payment for Iranian oil, circumventing international financial sanctions against Tehran.
Charges in the case included money laundering, bribery and fraud. The accused include the sons of three members of Erdoğan’s cabinet, who resigned on December 25: Interior Minister Muammer Güler, Economy Minister Zafer Çağlayan, and Environment Minister Erdoğan Bayraktar. Hürriyet Daily News reported that Bayraktar complained of pressure to quit, and gave up his AKP parliamentary seat as well as his ministry. Bayraktar concluded, “For the sake of the well-being of this nation and country, I believe the prime minister should resign.”
Others under arrest include Süleyman Aslan, chief executive officer of Halkbank, a state institution, and an Iranian-Azerbaijani businessman, Reza Zarrab, according to Isobel Finkel of Bloomberg News.
Hürriyet Daily News said police “reportedly have found $4.5 million in cash stored in shoe boxes in Aslan’s home.” The cash-laden shoeboxes were shown repeatedly on Turkish television.
The Bloomberg News article of December 23 asserted “the next target of investigation [could involve] construction contracts with an NGO [non-governmental organization] that allegedly has connections to Erdoğan’s son Bilal.” The Bloomberg reportage also noted that the “government purged at least 60 police chiefs,” aggravating the conflict with Gülen, whom the Bloomberg reporter stated “has a wide following in the police and judiciary.”
A December 26 Deutsche Welle report announced the latest turning point in the case, when “The attorney responsible for corruption investigations in Istanbul, Muammer Akkaş, was removed from the case after allegations of leaking information to the media.”
Erdoğan “appeared to threaten Akkaş,” according to Daniel Dombey of the Financial Times. Dombey wrote, “‘What kind of prosecutor is this?’ Mr Erdoğan asked his audience. ‘The chief prosecutor takes the file from him and this gentleman gets up and screams. Just wait – we have business to settle with you.’ “
Hürriyet Daily News described Erdoğan as continuing “vitriolic attacks” in a speech he delivered in Akhisar, a neighborhood in the western Turkish town of Manisa that day.
The anti-Erdoğan portion of the Turkish public has contributed in its own distinctive manner to the crisis of Islamist power. When Erdoğan appeared in Manisa on December 29, Nurhan Gül, a female pensioner, waved a shoe-box, symbolizing the corruption at Halkbank, from her balcony to express her discontent with Erdoğan during his speech. She was detained by the Prime Minister’s security guards, taken to a police station, and questioned for four hours, then released. But Erdoğan was apparently irritated to learn that Nurhan Gül had become a national hero immediately, and that Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, leader of the secular opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), had called her with congratulations.
Hürriyet Daily News columnist Serkan Demirtaş, noted the arrest of the shoebox-waving pensioner and concluded, “This is [the] time for President Abdullah Gül, who is only watching developments so far, as the head of the nation, to step in and assign the State Audit Board (DDK) to study whether claims of a parallel state or gangs within the state are accurate. The problem is about the functions of the state and it is Gül’s constitutional duty to deal with this growing crisis.”
Turkey seals border against al-Qaeda
The turmoil on the Turkish border is likely to intensify following major operations by the Syrian army in Aleppo and Idlib. The regime’s move pushed opposition forces northward against the border and prompted infighting between them. At the moment, the Turkish border, already the scene of crucial developments because of crossings of refugees, militants, arms and ammunition as well as traditional smugglers, had become even more volatile because of the clashes between the Islamic Front and the al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS).
Turkey has closed its gates after al-Qaeda captured three border crossings into northern Syria, with potential implications for armed groups operating in Syria.
Author Fehim Taştekin Posted January 23, 2014
The Syrian border crossings of Bab al-Salameh, Carablus and Tal Abyad, which face the Turkish crossings of Kilis-Oncupinar, Gaziantep-Karkamis and Sanliurfa-Akcakale, respectively, were captured by ISIS one after the other. When Turkey closed the crossings because of this development, the trucks waiting there to cross into Syria were diverted to the Cilvegozu border crossing at Reyhanli-Hatay. But after the Jan. 20 car-bomb attacks at Syria’s Bab al-Hawa facing Cilvegozu, Turkey closed this crossing as well. The queue of trucks waiting at Cilvegozu was 30 kilometers (19 miles) long on Jan. 22. Only Syrians wanting to go back to their country are allowed to cross.
FSA couldn’t hold out.
A senior official told Al-Monitor that although Bab al-Hawa is technically under the control of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), ISIS has a presence in the area and passages are therefore risky. He said, “There was stiff opposition to al-Qaeda at Tal Abyad, which is across from our Akcakale border crossing. But when al-Qaeda got the upper hand in the clashes, FSA people manning the crossing abandoned their weapons at the border and escaped to Turkey. Turkmen villages in the area were evacuated. At the moment, there is no force other than al-Qaeda at Tal Abyad. That is why we had to seal off the Akcakale border crossing.
Three hundred trucks a day used to pass through that crossing. Now the owners of the Akcakale-based truck fleets have formed a pressure group and they want us to reopen the crossing. They say they have commercial obligations and they have to deliver. According to them, al-Qaeda has transferred control of the crossing to civilians. Turkey is now assessing the situation but if you ask me, to allow trucks to cross from there would only benefit al-Qaeda because although ISIS may have withdrawn, it is al-Qaeda that actually controls the crossing.”
The official continued, “There was a long clash at Carablus about a week ago. In the end, the Tawhid Brigade gave up and ran away. About 1,500-2,000 civilians living in tents near the border also crossed into Turkey. These were people who had escaped from clashes at Hama and Homs. Most of them are Turkmen. Turkey was keeping them in camps on the Syrian side instead of letting them cross into Turkey. But when the border was closed, humanitarian assistance was disrupted and Turkey had to accept these refugees.”
He concluded, “There were bomb attacks in the town of Azez across from our Oncupinar. At Bab al-Hawa across from Cilvegozu, control is in the hands of the Islamic Front.”
One can sense a martial command in the region, especially to the east, where the Kurds are. The Nusaybin, Senyurt and Ceylanpinar crossings that provide access to Qamishli, Derbesiye and Serekaniye are controlled by the Kurds and already are closed. According to the official who spoke to Al-Monitor, vehicles going to Qamishli are processed at the Habur border crossing. At Senyurt, humanitarian assistance trucks are occasionally allowed through. That Turkey erected a wall at Nusaybin to prevent illegal crossings was interpreted as enmity toward Kurds and a challenge to Kurdish efforts to set up an autonomous region in Rojava.
The official said it is impossible to prevent illegal crossings on a border of 910 kilometers (565 miles), but the least Turkey could do would be to devise policies that would discourage the villagers on the Turkish side from joining the smuggling enterprises common there.
Alarm over terror
Another reason for Turkey’s increased vigilance on the border is the intelligence gathered on al-Qaeda’s intentions to stage attacks in Turkish cities. The latest report reaching the security units concerned ISIS plans to launch suicide attacks in Ankara, Istanbul and Hatay.
Intelligence reports said ISIS was specifically targeting the big hotels where the FSA and the Syrian National Coalition hold their meetings, hence the urgent warning sent to police and the gendarmerie. Turkey’s support of the Islamic Front, which is now fighting ISIS, and the recent detentions of al-Qaeda militants in some cities have increased fears that Turkey itself may be targeted.
Contributor, Turkey Pulse
Fehim Taştekin is a columnist and chief editor of foreign news at the Turkish newspaper Radikal, based in Istanbul. He is the host of a fortnightly program called “Dogu Divanı” on IMC TV. He is an analyst specializing in Turkish foreign policy and Caucasus, Middle East and EU affairs. He was founding editor of Agency Caucasus.
Original Al-Monitor Translations
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