News of the Week, January 4th, 2016
*Source: Yahoo News ©
News of the Week, January 4th, 2016
A bite size round-up of last week’s events;
Can Dündar and Erdem Gül Vigil Continues
The “Wait for Hope” vigil outside of Silivri prison in Istanbul, aiming to draw attention to the imprisonment of Cumhuriyet daily editors Can Dündar and Erdem Gül continues. Dündar and Gül were arrested last month on charges of treason and espionage for the publication of an article in May, 2015. The article purported to demonstrate that several trucks stopped by Turkish authorities in January 2014 were illegally transporting arms to fighters in Syria. Since their arrest, protesters, including several celebrities, have remained outside the prison where they are being held. This week saw the arrival of musical groups; Kurtulan Ekspres and the late Barış Manço’s band.
Turkish Politician Arrested for Tweets Insulting to President
Former Turkish MP, Feyzi Isbasaran, was sentenced to nearly three years in prison for insulting the president through his Twitter account after both the Twitter account and electronic devices associated with the objectionable tweets were shown to have been in the control of Isbasaran when the tweets were issued. This use of the judiciary to punish critics of the government has become commonplace under Erdoğan’s leadership. Nearly 100 people have been charged with the crime of insulting the president during the last ten months; including a 16 year-old boy, a former Miss. Turkey winner, and a doctor who posted a meme comparing Erdogan to the Lord of the Rings character Gollum.
President Urges Parliament to Prosecute HDP Co-chairs
In a shocking display of political impartiality, President Erdogan has called upon parliament to revoke the political immunity of the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party co-chairs Selahattin Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ, so that they can be prosecuted for committing a constitutional crime. In an interview aboard his presidential plane, Erdogan said “The statements of the two co-leaders are definitely a constitutional crime, I believe a process that starts with the lifting of their immunity would positively affect the atmosphere in our country regarding the fight against terrorism.” This comes after the co-chairs called for regional autonomy in the restive Kurdish south-east, which Erdogan claims to be a violation of constitutional law. Some view President Erdoğan’s remarks as hypocritical since his call for the parliament to revoke the diplomatic immunity of the MPs violates the constitution’s requirement that the president remains impartial.
Fighting in Kurdish South-East Continues
The Turkish armed forces and the PKK continue their battle in the south-east. Several districts remain under a strict curfew as the Turkish army attempts to remove barricades and fill ditches that the PKK have erected and dug throughout the area. Civilians in the areas under curfew have complained of the disruption of essential services such as water, electricity, and access to medical care. Meanwhile, police and military personnel throughout the south-east continue to come under fire from PKK militants in a display of violence reminiscent of the 1990s. So far the conflict between the PKK and the Turkish state has claimed the lives of more than 40,000 men, women, and children.
AKP Indicates Chance for Israeli-Turkish Rapprochement
Ankara appears to be on the road to mending relations with Israel. Speaking to reporters on his return from a visit to Saudi Arabia, President Erdogan said that “Israel is in need of a country like Turkey in the region. We have to admit that we also need Israel.” Diplomatic relations between the two countries were cut off in 2011 when Turkey recalled its ambassador from Tel Aviv. Tension between the NATO allies came to a head after Israeli commandos stormed the Mavi Marmara, a Turkish aid vessel, attempting to break the blockade of the Gaza strip, killing 9 Turkish citizens and an American of Turkish decent.
Turkish Websites under Attack from Hacktivist Group Anonymous
The hacktivist group Anonymous has claimed responsibility for a series of cyber-attacks against the Turkish government and banking websites. The group claims to have targeted Turkey in response to Ankara’s support of ISIS through illegal oil purchases. The Turkish government vehemently denies claims that it purchases oil from the terrorist group. A spokesman for the president’s office has vowed to investigate the origin of the cyber-attacks, which he claims were repelled without much effort.
Erdogan Continues Push for Presidential System
The AKP agreed on Wednesday to continue to push forward constitutional reform, inherent in which is Erdoğan’s now infamous power bid to transform the currently largely ceremonial office of presidency into that of a chief executive. Opposition from all the main parties and the public during the lead up to the last election meant this effort was briefly tabled, however it was revived after the AKP re-won their majority in November. Although there is widespread agreement that Turkey requires constitutional reform, with the current constitution reigning from the 1980s coup, however many believe the development of an executive presidency in Erdoğan’s hands is representative of creeping authoritarianism in the country. The AKP have met already with CHP leader, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, who has agreed to the revival of a cross-party constitutional committee; stating that “Turkey must rescue itself from the coup constitution,” however he also asserted that the CHP will stand their ground regarding the presidential system. Prime Minister Davutoğlu is set to meet with MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli today in order to discuss similar issues, as well as the crisis in Syria, Russian-Turkish relations and the conflict in the south-east.
Turkey Continues to Grapple with Syrian Refugee Crisis
The Turkish coast guard rescued 57 Syrian refugees from a rocky atoll in the Aegean Sea on Sunday. The group was attempting to follow hundreds of thousands of others who have made the illegal crossing from Turkey to the European Union’s Greek Islands. We also saw the first casualty of 2016, when a 2-year old boy drowned off the coast of Agathonisi. Last year saw more than a million Syrian refugees enter Europe in an attempt to escape the Syrian civil war, most of whom traveled through Turkey. The dangerous smuggling routes across the Aegean have claimed more than 3,800 lives. Unfortunately these trends show no sign of slowing in 2016.
Turkey Joins Saudi-led Anti-Terrorism Coalition
Turkey has officially joined the Saudi-led Muslim anti-terror organization. The official aim of the coalition is to coordinate a fight against “terrorist organizations,” however some have claimed that the military alliance is seeped in sectarianism. Tensions between Sunni and Shiite Muslims have been growing as Iran and Saudi Arabia play out a series of proxy wars in Yemen and Syria. Neither Iraq nor Iran, which both have Shiite governments in power, have joined the coalition, leading some to see the organization as a kind of Sunni block. President Erdoğan attempted to stifle these criticisms when asked about the sectarian nature of the group. He said “The alliance is primarily aimed at fighting terrorism, it does not have a sectarian nature.”
Independent Turkey, “News of the Week, January 4th, 2016”, Independent Turkey, 4 January 2016, London: Centre for Policy and Research on Turkey (Research Turkey). Original link: http://researchturkey.org/?p=10344