News of the Week, January 25th, 2016
*Source: EPA ©
News of the Week, January 25th, 2016
A bite size round-up of last week’s events;
Vice President Biden Visits Turkey
US Vice President Joe Biden made headlines in Turkey this week where he met with the heads of various parties, as well as the top government officials. The major topics discussed included the fight against terrorism, the Syrian Civil War, and Iraqi regional politics. Biden also pledged to take an active role in supporting Turkey throughout the upcoming negotiations concerning the fate of Cyprus. Prime Minister Davutoğlu and Vice President Biden renewed their pledge to work together in the fight against ISIS, ISIL, but differed on the status of some other non-state actors in the region. Biden condemned the PKK, and supported Ankara’s fight against the group; but drew the line at equating the PKK with their Syrian branch, the People’s Protection Units (YPG). The Turkish government designates the YPG as a terrorist group, and claims that their links to the PKK make them an unpalatable regional ally; the US on the other hand supports the group that has been often called ‘the most effective ground force’ against ISIS. Biden and President Erdoğan also differed on the issue of freedom of speech in Turkey, with Biden criticizing the government’s detention of academics opposed to the military operations in the south east; Erdoğan said that conducting terror propaganda cannot be evaluated within the limits of freedom of opinion.
Explosion at Diyarbakır Middle School – 5 students injured
5 students were injured Friday morning, January 22 when a handmade bomb exploded at Çelebi Eser Middle School in the South-eastern province of Diyarbakır. The bomb was allegedly thrown from behind the schoolyard wall at 08.24 while the students were congregating outside to receive their report cards before the start of the holiday. The wounded students were taken taken to the Selahaddin Eyyübi Public Hospital where they were treated for injuries resulting from the shattered glass and the sound impact of the explosion. According to Al Jazeera Türk, the children are in a stable condition. The identities of the perpetrators of the attack are still under investigation by the Diyabakır Republican Attorney General. However, immediately following the attack the majority of mainstream media outlets reported that the bomb had been thrown by PKK terrorists. The PKK has denied any involvement in what they termed “an act of psychological warfare” by Turkish intelligence.
Turkey Welcomes the lifting of Iran Sanctions
Speaking at a press conference at Ataturk Airport on Sunday, Prime Minister Davutoğlu expressed his support for the decision to lift sanctions on Iran. Turkey has long supported this much-awaited move, arguing that it marks an important development for the region. Davutoğlu said, “All countries including Iran and Turkey should take a new perspective to end destruction, violence and pressure in the Middle East.”
HDP Congress Continues
The second meeting of the People’s Democratic Party’s (HDP) congress attracted attention this week. Their slogan, “equal citizenship and common nation,” comes against the back-drop of the ruling party’s ongoing war in the south-east of the country, however was upstaged by some of the regalia hanging from the walls of the conference center. The Turkish flag hung near a large picture of Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned leader of the outlawed Kurdish Worker’s Party (PKK). Party co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş’s speech dealt primarily with the upcoming constitutional congress; he pledged to make sure that the HDP takes an active role in creating a constitution which supports the freedom of the press, multiculturalism, and to restart the peace process in the south-east.
Geneva Talks on Syrian Crisis
Turkey has threatened to pull out from talks between the major actors in the Syrian Civil War if the Syrian Kurdish group; the YPG, are invited to attend. Turkey is without major international support in its designation of the YPG as a terrorist group, although its links with the outlawed PKK are very clear. Despite the YPG’s effectiveness in fighting ISIS, Prime Minister Davutoğlu maintains that one terrorist group’s struggle against another “does not grant them legitimacy.” The YPG has a somewhat ambiguous relationship in the conflict, having dealt frequently with the Assad regime, as well as US anti-ISIS forces; Turkey, however, has been adamant in its refusal to acknowledge them as a legitimate actor. The UN special envoy Staffan de Mistura is in charge of finalizing the list of invitees to the conference; in response to the controversy he has said, “I would expect all sides to recognize my mandated responsibility to finalize a list of invitees to the process, to include all those I deem appropriate.”
Can Dündar Criticizes EU Aid Package
Jailed journalist, Can Dündar, the editor-in-chief of Cumhuriyet, criticized the European Union’s 3 billion Euro deal with Turkey. The EU agreed to the aid package, as well as a restart in Turkey’s EU accession talks, in exchange for Tukey’s cooperation in stemming the flow of refugees into Europe from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Dündar, who was arrested late last year for his part in the publication of an article detailing Ankara’s shipment of arms to Syrian rebels, claims that the EU is forsaking its values in exchange for political expediency. In a stinging invective of EU policy, Dündar said, “Now, if the EU, in order to stop the influx of refugees […] agrees to turn a blind eye while Erdoğan spurns democracy, human rights, freedom of press and rule of law, it means that the EU is discarding its founding principles in order to protect its short-term interests.”
Turkish Troops in Iraq
The Iraqi Prime Minister, Haider Al-Abadi, reiterated his desire for Turkey to withdraw its troops from his country. Turkey maintains that the troops in question were sent into Iraq as part of a mission to train local Iraqi-Kurdish forces in preparation for an assault on ISIS-held Mosul. In a recent meeting with US Vice President Joe Biden, Prime Minister Davutoğlu reiterated his respect for Iraqi territorial sovereignty, but did not comment on the withdrawal of Turkish troops. The Iraqi premier went so far as to say that Turkey claims “they’re eager to fight DAESH. But I’m telling them frankly, I’m not seeing evidence of that. I hope to see more evidence of that.” He maintains that Turkey is more concerned with fighting the PKK than ISIS, and that Turkey is “looking to go back to the Ottoman Empire thing.”
Kuwait and Turkey Sign Aid Deal for Syrian Refugees
On Tuesday, Kuwaiti and Turkish officials signed an aid deal of $20 million in order to assist Syrian refugees in Turkey. This money is reserved for the education of, and health care for, Turkey’s burgeoning refugee population; currently at around 2.5 million. Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s chief advisor Murtaza Yetiş attended the signing ceremony and asserted that this was an important step for Syrian refugees, adding that; “We believe this is the first stage of larger cooperation between countries aiding [refugees]. The crisis and the war in Syria is still ongoing, and we find it highly meaningful that Kuwait supports [displaced Syrians].”
Independent Turkey, “News of the Week, January 25th, 2016”, Independent Turkey, 25 January 2016, London: Centre for Policy and Research on Turkey (Research Turkey). Original link: http://researchturkey.org/?p=10542