Posts Tagged ‘Kurds’

Turkey: Erdogan Wanted an Empire but Must Settle for an Unloved Country

July 1, 2018

Turkey’s alliance with Iran, Qatar and Russia, and its incursion in northern Syria versus the Kurds are just some of the moves that ruined its ‘zero problems with neighbors’ policy


Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and officials at an opening ceremony for a mosque at a military school in Ankara, June 29, 2018.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and officials at an opening ceremony for a mosque at a military school in Ankara, June 29, 2018. Kayhan Ozer/Presidential Palace/Reuters

The Sheraton Hotel in the Qatari capital of Doha was lit up in the colors of the Turkish flag Sunday. Qatar’s ruler, Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, was one of the first to congratulate Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on his electoral victory and that of his party.

Erdogan and the emir are close friends. Turkey was the first country to offer assistance to Qatar a year ago when Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates imposed a brutal economic boycott on it. Turkey lambasted the boycott, rushed goods to Qatar and beefed up its military presence in the emirate to warn the other Gulf states not to attack it. Ankara also pressured Washington to mediate between Qatar and the Gulf states.

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The economic benefits of Turkey’s ties with Qatar aren’t substantial for a country whose gross domestic product is almost $900 billion. But its close relationship with Doha, an Iranian ally, is an important element of Erdogan’s effort to boost Turkey’s status as an influential power in the Middle East.

Turkey’s strategy of seeking to shape, or at least be party to shaping, a new Mideast order wasn’t born with Erdogan’s election as president. Its ties with Qatar are part of a network of relationships Ankara has been working on for almost eight years since the Syrian civil war began.

Before the war, Turkey’s “zero problems with neighbors” policy was supposed to turn it into a bridge between East and West, between Europe, America and the Middle East, and thereby into a country capable of leading moves in the region. But the war taught it the limitations of this strategy.

Erdogan’s severance of his personal ties with Syrian President Bashar Assad and his new policy of trying to oust the Assad regime due to its massacre of its own people symbolized the revolution in Erdogan’s approach. It also put Turkey in opposition to Iran.

Yet the expected rift between Turkey and Iran was avoided, mainly due to shared economic interests. Iran, at that time still under harsh international sanctions, needed an ally like Turkey, which skirted the sanctions by buying oil from Iran and paying it in gold via the UAE. Both countries also had a long-standing interest in blocking Kurdish aspirations for independence and agreed on the need to fight the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, the PKK.

.The emir of Qatar, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul, May 2018.

The emir of Qatar, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul, May 2018.AP

Nevertheless, Erdogan’s ties with Tehran created a dilemma for him. In 2015, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman formed a “Sunni coalition” against Iran and embarked on a war in Yemen, led by his son Mohammed. Salman then recruited Turkey into the coalition, giving it, for the first time, the status of a partner in the Arab Middle East, which had traditionally seen Turkey as alien at best and hostile at worst. The common denominator between the secular Turkish republic and the Wahhabi kingdom was loathing for Assad and a desire to oust him.

Saudi and Egyptian enmity

But Turkey never agreed to serve as a brake on Iran, it didn’t join the war in Yemen, and Salman soon realized that their partnership empowered Turkey without making any real contribution to advancing his own interests. The Saudi media began “reconsidering” the alliance with Turkey and describing Erdogan as an authoritarian ruler. Recently, a UAE ambassador even declared Turkey a threat to the region and said the Americans didn’t understand the gravity of this threat.

Arab hostility to Turkey was led by Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi. Shortly after taking over the presidency in July 2013, Sissi not only began persecuting the Muslim Brotherhood, but also imposed an economic boycott on Turkey, which refused to accept his rule as legitimate. Erdogan said Sissi had taken power in a military coup and demanded the restoration of the democratically elected Muslim Brotherhood government. Sissi canceled Egypt’s trade agreements with Turkey, urged Egyptians not to travel to Turkey or fly with Turkish airlines, and blew up Turkey’s hopes of using Egypt as a commercial bridge to Africa.

Not much was left of the “zero problems with neighbors” policy created and led by a political science professor, Ahmet Davutoglu, who served as Erdogan’s foreign minister and then, after Erdogan became president in 2014, as his prime minister. Turkey’s rift with Syria and Egypt, its chilly relations with the Gulf states and its hostile relations with Israel and the Palestinian Authority, which stemmed from its support for Hamas, all distanced Erdogan’s dream of becoming a pivotal country, if they didn’t utterly destroy it.

It’s simplistic to say Erdogan aspired to reestablish the Ottoman Empire and make himself sultan. Still, Turkey’s poor relationships with other countries in the region, its declining influence on regional conflicts, its alliance with Iran, Qatar and Russia – which at least for now are considered the nemeses of the Arab Middle East – and its takeover of land in northern Syria in its battle against the Kurds have all made Arab states increase their efforts to thwart Ankara. Thus no new Ottoman Empire will ever be born of Erdogan’s dream; his “sultanate” will end at Turkey’s borders.

But it’s not only Mideast leaders who loathe Erdogan. He has also been engaged in a bitter feud with the United States that has descended into mutual threats. In fact, “duel” would be a better word than “relationship” to describe the ties.

.Celebrants in Istanbul after the election victory of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party, June 24, 2018.

Celebrants in Istanbul after the election victory of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party, June 24, 2018.Aris Messinis / AFP

Turkey’s list of grievances starts with the refusal of both the Obama and Trump administrations to extradite preacher Fethullah Gulen, whom Erdogan accuses of plotting the failed coup against him in July 2016. Next, Erdogan assailed the American legal system and the U.S. administration over a court ruling convicting the vice president of Turkey’s state bank of circumventing sanctions on Iran. And finally, Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the U.S. Embassy there drove Erdogan wild.

Russian missiles for Turkey

But the heart of Erdogan’s spat with Washington is the assistance America gave the Syrian Kurds in the war against the Islamic State. Erdogan sees this close relationship as a plot to abet Kurdish terror against Turkey.

He could make a similar accusation against Russia, which also sees the Kurds as essential allies in any diplomatic process to end the Syrian civil war. But having been burned by the economic boycott Russia imposed on Ankara after Turkey downed a Russian plane near the Turkish-Syrian border three years ago, Erdogan has been very careful not to antagonize Moscow. To reconcile with Russia, he had to withdraw his adamant opposition to Assad remaining in power and join the coalition Moscow formed with Tehran to launch a diplomatic process in Syria.

Washington, which didn’t get too upset over Erdogan’s suppression of intellectuals and political rivals or his massive violations of human rights, was furious when Turkey signed an agreement to buy Russia’s S-400 surface-to-air missile system. A battle is now being waged on Capitol Hill to prevent Turkey from buying the F-35 fighter jet in order to punish Ankara for the S-400 purchase, which Turkey’s American opponents say will undermine NATO’s defense coordination.

The one ray of light in Turkey’s relations with Washington in recent weeks was a deal over control of the Syrian city and province of Manbij, which had previously been controlled by the Kurds. Under this agreement, Turkish and American forces will conduct joint patrols of the city and the province once the Kurds, whose presence was the reason Turkey threatened to capture the city, have withdrawn.

The city and province of Afrin, however, are still under Turkish control, and Turkey even opened a branch of Harran University there, staffed by Turkish and Syrian faculty. The Kurds had to accept the American dictate, but they found a way to even the balance. With Russia’s support, they began direct negotiations with the Assad regime over their future in Syria. One likely result is that the Kurdish minority, acting in cooperation with the Syrian government, will deprive Turkey of its pretext for being in Syria.

Turkey’s intervention in Syria has also enraged Iran, which rejected Ankara’s request for cooperation in its war against the PKK in Iraq’s Qandil Mountains. “Military action against the territory of another state is illegal,” Iran said in a statement, hinting broadly that it also considers Turkey’s military presence in Syria unacceptable.

Thus Erdogan’s electoral victory won’t help him conduct a foreign policy that could extricate him safely from the thicket of regional interests that has entangled him. For now, Turkey’s international relevance rests on its role in the Syrian war and on the European Union’s dependence on an agreement with Ankara that largely blocked the flow of Syrian refugees to its member states.

Yet even Europe is sick of Turkey. “Turkey has been moving further away from the European Union,” EU foreign ministers said in a statement after a recent meeting in Brussels. “Turkey’s accession negotiations have therefore effectively come to a standstill,” and “no further work … is foreseen.”


Syria rebels in talks for peace deal as regime pushes ahead in south

June 30, 2018

The Syrian army seized more towns in its flash offensive in the southwest on Saturday, as rebels said they were continuing to negotiate peace terms through the government’s ally Russia.

State television broadcast from the town of Dael, northwest of Deraa city, after the army entered, and a war monitor reported that several towns further east had also accepted government rule.

Ibrahim Jabawi, a spokesman for the rebels’ joint operations room, said the insurgents had set up a delegation that met with Russian officials Friday and that another meeting was scheduled for Saturday.

© Mohamad Abazeed, AFP | Smoke rises above opposition held areas of the city of Daraa during air strikes by Syrian regime forces on June 29, 2018.

Russian negotiators have demanded rebels accept terms like those agreed for eastern Ghouta, where insurgents handed over their weapons and either left for opposition territory in the northwest along with their families or accepted the return of state rule, Jabawi said. The southwest rebels did not accept this, and were instead proposing the return of civilian state institutions in the opposition areas and the entry of Russian military police rather than Syrian government forces.

In the meantime, Syrian army air raids continued in an offensive that the United Nations says has driven 160,000 people from their homes, threatening a humanitarian catastrophe.

Russia, a strong ally of President Bashar Assad’s government, has backed army advances with air strikes since entering the war in 2015 and has played a role in mediating surrender deals.

Southwestern Syria is one of two remaining rebel strongholds, along with a region of the northwest that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has sworn to recapture. He also wants to take back control of territory in northeastern Syria held by US-backed Kurdish forces.

The army’s offensive follows the capitulation of rebel enclaves near Homs and Damascus, including eastern Ghouta, which was recaptured after a scorched-earth assault that killed over a thousand civilians and laid waste to several towns.

Warfare in the southwest could risk a further escalation because of its proximity to Israel. The Israelis have already targeted Iran-backed militia fighting on Assad’s side, which they have vowed to keep far from their country’s borders.

The government’s offensive so far has focused on Deraa province, which borders Jordan, but not Quneitra province abutting the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. The deal being discussed does not include Quneitra, the rebels said.

The entire southwest is part of a “de-escalation zone” agreed last year by Russia, the United States and Jordan. Despite Washington’s threats that it would respond to breaches of that arrangement, it has shown no sign of doing so, and the opposition’s top negotiator on Thursday accused it of having struck a “malicious deal” to stay silent.

Civilian casualties

On Saturday, state television said the town of al-Ghariya al-Sharqiya had accepted a “reconciliation” agreement with the government, and the national flag had been raised there.

It broadcast live from the town of Dael, where a crowd was shown chanting slogans in support of Assad and the army.

State TV said on Friday that four nearby towns had agreed to surrender their arms and accept state rule. The army had gained control over the towns of al-Harak, Ibta and Rakham, it said, and a rebel said opposition lines in one area had collapsed.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Russian military police had entered several other towns and villages in deals to end their rebellion against Assad.

It reported that warplanes carried out 32 air strikes overnight as the offensive continued, hitting nine towns in Deraa province. So far, about 100 civilians have been killed in air raids and shelling since June 19, it said.

Clashes escalated around Deraa city, which lies close to the border with Jordan, and where army advances could cut the insurgent territory in the southwest in two, it said.


Families flee as regime, Russia pummel Syria’s south

June 25, 2018

Syria’s government ramped up its bombardment of the southern city of Daraa on Monday, forcing dozens of families to flee an expected assault on the cradle of a seven-year uprising.

After a string of wins elsewhere in the country, President Bashar al-Assad has set his sights on recapturing the country’s strategic south, which borders Jordan and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

His forces have been battering rebel-held towns in Daraa province for nearly a week, leaving at least 28 civilians dead, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

© AFP | Smoke rises above an opposition-held area of Daraa following an airstrike by Syrian regime forces on June 25, 2018

They then turned to the provincial capital of the same name, launching air strikes and barrel bombs on opposition-held districts in the early hours of Monday.

More than 55 surface-to-surface missiles slammed into those neighbourhoods after midnight, followed by four barrel bombs, the Britain-based Observatory said.

“It is the first time they drop barrel bombs on Daraa city in more than a year,” said monitor chief Rami Abdel Rahman.

The city was struck again around noon, this time with air strikes by Syria’s ally Russia, which has helped Assad’s troops recapture swathes of territory since 2015.

The attacks prompted dozens of terrified families to stream out of Daraa city.

Forces loyal to President Bashar Assad began ramping up their air strikes and artillery fire on the zone. (AP)

Many set out in the dead of night to seek shelter in olive groves on the city limits, AFP’s correspondent there said.

Leaving on foot or by motorbike, they took refuge in small shacks or tents among the trees.

“We don’t know what happened. We were sleeping with the children when all of a sudden, we heard heavy shelling,” said Ahmad al-Musalima, 31.

“The kids started shaking in fear,” he said.

He and his family fled overnight, joining an estimated 20,000 people displaced by the past week’s escalating violence, according to the Observatory.

A Syrian soldier films the damage.

A Syrian soldier films the damage. ( AP )

– Divide and conquer –

“We left the house and didn’t know where to go. We headed towards the plain with the kids crying and heavy shelling overhead,” Musalima told AFP.

Syrian rebels hold the western half of Daraa city and most of the surrounding province, as well most of the adjacent governorate of Quneitra to the west.

That territory roughly forms a horseshoe, whose bottom curve borders Jordan and includes a military base held by rebels since 2014.

Syrian troops meanwhile hold Daraa city’s eastern half and nearly all the adjacent province of Sweida.

Frontlines had been relatively quiet for nearly a year under a “de-escalation” deal agreed in July 2017 by Russia, the US, and Jordan.

Eastern Ghouta's devastated Jobar neighborhood, pictured February 27, 2018.

But now, the regime and its Russian allies are pursuing a divide-and-conquer strategy against rebels.

On Monday, Russian bombing raids hit the military base near the border with Jordan, said the Observatory.

Ousting rebels from it would divide the opposition horseshoe into a western and eastern section.

Russian strikes and 20 regime barrel bombs on Monday also hit the key town of Basr al-Harir in Daraa’s eastern countryside, rocked by clashes for nearly a week.

Aleppo's Great  Umayyad Mosque, pictured on July 22, 2017.

“Capturing the town would allow troops to divide rebel territory to smaller pockets,” Abdel Rahman said.

The heavy strikes on Daraa’s eastern countryside forced rescue workers to stop operations in the town of Al-Laja.

“The civil defence teams have not been able to reach targeted areas because of the intense bombing,” the local civil defence centre said in an online statement.

– US holds back –

The United Nations has warned that the renewed hostilities could put 750,000 lives at risk and urged all sides to respect last year’s de-escalation agreement.

“Any humanitarian crisis in south Syria must be averted first by sparing civilians the pains of fighting, and second, be responded to swiftly from inside and outside Syria,” said Ali al-Zaatari, UN humanitarian coordinator in Syria.

Jordan said on Sunday it could not absorb a new wave of refugees across its border.

In an effort to avoid a bloody onslaught, Russia is leading negotiations with Syria, Jordan, Israel, and the US in a bid to reach a settlement.

The uptick in violence could be tied to those talks, said Sam Heller of the International Crisis Group.

“It seems the air strikes have two aims: exerting pressure in order to get negotiations, either international or local, and paving the way for a wider attack in case the negotiations don’t make progress,” he told AFP.

Although it had a key role in the original de-escalation deal, Washington has yet to put its political or military weight behind a solution for the south, he said.

“The Americans haven’t gotten seriously involved in the talks over the south, and they’re not expected to intervene militarily,” Heller said.



Assad pledges to regain control of northern Syria by force if needed

June 24, 2018

The Syrian army will regain control of the country’s north by force if rebels there refuse to surrender, President Bashar al-Assad said in an interview with Russian television channel NTV on Sunday.

Assad, who said in the same interview he would not accept Western funds to rebuild his country, was speaking after Damascus said it rejected the presence of Turkish and U.S. forces around the northern town of Manbij, a day after soldiers of the two countries began patrolling the area.

Image result for syria, urban, destruction, photos

“We have chosen two paths: the first and most important one is reconciliation… The second path is to attack terrorists if they don’t surrender and refuse to make peace,” Assad said in the interview.

“We will fight with them (rebels) and return control by force. It is certainly not the best option for us, but it’s the only way to get control of the country,” said Assad, responding to a question about the northern part of Syria where rebel groups backed by Turkey hold some territory.

Assad has previously promised to also squeeze rebels from the country’s south, and a war monitor and rebel officials said on Friday that the Syrian army had dropped barrel bombs on opposition areas of the country’s southwest for the first time in a year. Damascus denies using barrel bombs.

Assad said in the same interview on Sunday that Syria would not accept any Western money to help rebuild the country, which is shattered after seven years of war.

Image result for syria, urban, destruction, photos

“We have enough strength to rebuild the country. If we don’t have money – we will borrow from our friends, from Syrians living abroad,” Assad said.

(This version of the story was refiled to add missing attribution in paragraph 5)

Reporting by Maria Kiselyova; Editing by Andrew Osborn


Turkey has ’11 temporary military bases’ in northern Iraq, PM Yıldırım says

June 21, 2018

Turkey has 11 temporary military bases in northern Iraq, Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım said Thursday.

Speaking in a live interview to A Haber broadcaster, Yıldırım also said 400 square-kilometers of the region has been cleared of terrorists.

“We are shelling Mount Qandil through air operations at times. This time PKK terrorists are crossing into Iran when they are on the back foot,” the prime minister said.

Image may contain: 1 person, suit

Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım

He added Turkey has no problem with Iran over its Qandil operation. “We cleared the area in northwestern Syria’s Afrin during Operation Olive Branch. We will do the same thing in Mt. Qandil area,” the prime minister said.

On Jan. 20, Turkey launched Operation Olive Branch to remove YPG/PKK and Daesh terrorists from Afrin region. On March 18 – Day 58 of the operation – Turkish troops, and Free Syrian Army members liberated the town of Afrin.

Turkey has been conducting counter-terrorism operations in the area to clear it of PKK terrorists.

The PKK is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the U.S. and the EU.

The group’s three-decade-long terror campaign against Turkey has left more than 40,000 people dead, including numerous women and children.

Turkey elections: Can Erdogan really lose?

June 18, 2018

Recep Tayyip Erdogan has won every election in Turkey for the past 16 years. The current economic crisis means he is now in danger of losing his parliamentary majority — and re-election as president is far from certain.

People hold an election poster showing Turkey's president

If the latest opinion polls are to be believed, between45 and 55 percent of the Turkish electorate will cast their vote for the incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdoganin parliamentary and presidential elections on 24 June. In reality, though, that figure could be far lower.

Hakan Bayrakci owns the opinion research institute SONAR. He says the people in power in Turkey have created a climate of fear, and as a result almost ten percent of voters won’t be open about their preferred candidate. According to Bayrakci, these voters give false statements in surveys, meaning that it’s highly likely the election result will deviate from the opinion polls.

Read more: Deutsche Welle and Taz shed light on Turkey elections

Since Turkey adopted constitutional reforms in a referendum in April 2017, the electorate has had two votes. One is for the new president, while the other decides which parties will have seats in parliament. Erdogan has not lost an election in 16 years, but the forthcoming elections are likely to be the most difficult of his political career. His Islamic-conservative Justice and Development Party (AKP), which has shaped Turkish politics ever since his first victory in 2002, is also preparing for its toughest election yet.

Turkey’s problems are getting worse

Özer Sencar, who owns the opinion research institute Metropoll, has been following Erdogan’s career for 25 years. He says Erdogan has never run such a bad election campaign. Erdogan no longer determines the agenda or presents any vision for the future; when he appears in public he seems weak and lacks passion, Sencar told DW: “He’s never made so many mistakes in his speeches.” Sencar doubts Erdogan will hold on to power.

Erdogan has ruled Turkey for 16 years and has long been regarded as the strongest force in Turkish politics. His greatest success was the revival of the economy. Over the past decade and a half, average annual income has risen from the equivalent of $3,500 (€3,020) to $10,000 and there has been a construction boom all over the country.

Read more: Cavusoglu: Europe shows ‘double standards’ over democracy

Today, though, the Turkish economy is not in good shape. Since the attempted coup in July 2016 and the state of emergency that followed, the Turkish lira has lost more than 30 percent of its value. There is almost no investment any more. The international markets’ confidence in the Turkish economy is dwindling. Erdogan, who publicly rejected interest rates based on religious conviction, had to turn a blind eye when the Turkish central bank raised key rates in recent weeks. Turkey now has the fourth-highest interest rates in the world, after Argentina, Venezuela and Iran.

“For the first time in 16 years Erdogan is not successful. He can no longer run the economy. The problems in education and health care are also increasing,” Sencar said. Turkish people are starting to feel the effects of the economic crisis, he added, which explains the lack of enthusiasm at Erdogan’s election campaign events.

Gülfem Saydan Sanver also observes that Erdogan is finding it increasingly difficult to communicate his message to the people. Sanver won the Pollie Award of the American Association of Political Consultants with her doctorate on “The AKP’s electoral success.” She argues Erdogan’s one-man shows within the party are now a disadvantage. “He stands there alone, at meetings and giving speeches, and he can’t get his message across,” said Sanver.

The main beneficiary, Sanver says, is Muharrem Ince. The presidential candidate of the social-democrat Republican People’s Party (CHP) has recently increased his opinion poll rating to over 30 percent, and the main opposition is now even more motivated to win the election. “Erdogan is still trying to play to the fears of right-wing conservative voters,” Sanver told DW. This, she says, is why he has been talking about military operations against the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK) in northern Iraqin recent election speeches, in an attempt to stir up fear among the electorate. If voters are afraid, they fear a change of leader and are more likely to vote for the current president.

Read more: Demirtas: Europe is letting Turkey’s opposition down

End of the strong presidential system?

Recent polls suggest Erdogan could still win the presidential election in the second round. The so-called “republican alliance” of the AKP and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) could, however, forfeit its parliamentary majority to the opposition, which would mean Erdogan would no longer have a power base in parliament. The strong presidential system, which opposition politicians view as a form of dictatorship, would not materialize for him.

“If the AKP were to lose its parliamentary majority, Erdogan will face hard times ahead,” said Sanver. Following the imposition of the state of emergency, Erdogan was able to pass laws and govern by decree. Sanver’s assessment: “If the AKP no longer has a majority in parliament Erdogan will lose some of his current power, even if he’s re-elected. He won’t be an effective president, and he’ll have to recognize the authority of the parliament.”

Turkey elections 2018: everything you need to know

June 18, 2018

Erdoğan is running for president, of course, but who else is in the running for control?

What is happening in Turkey?

The country will hold presidential and parliamentary elections on 24 June. If no candidate wins an outright majority in the first round of the presidential elections, a second round will be held on 8 July between the top two candidates in the race.

Why are the elections being held now?

The elections were supposed to be in November 2019. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, however, called for early elections back in April. He said that Turkey needed to “overcome uncertainty” at a troubled time in the region, amid its ongoing military operations in Syria and Iraq.

Critics, however, say the race was brought forward because Turkey’s currency and economy are suffering and the president wanted to preempt the downward trend. He may also be hoping to capitalise on nationalist sentiment after military victory in Syria, where rebels backed by Turkey defeated Kurdish militias near the border in a region called Afrin.

Why are these elections important?

This is arguably the most important election in Turkey’s modern history. The new president will assume an office imbued with sweeping executive powers that voters narrowly approved in a constitutional referendum last year. These include the power to issue decrees with the force of law, appoint the cabinet and vice-presidents as well as senior judges. If he wins, Erdoğan will continue to shape Turkey and its society for years to come.

Who is running for president?

Erdoğan, of course. He remains the most popular political leader in Turkey. But he faces several important opponents who have done unexpectedly well so far in the campaign, and, as a result, a second-round contest is now the most likely outcome.

There is Muharrem İnce, a charismatic physics teacher who is the candidate of the main opposition group, the Republican People’s party (CHP), and Meral Akşener, nicknamed the ‘she-wolf’. She is the leader of the new nationalist Iyi (Good) party and is popular with both youth and working-class Turks.

Temel Karamollaoğlu, the leader of the Islamist Felicity party, is also running, and has emerged as a key critic of Erdoğan even though their parties share ideological roots. Selahattin Demirtaş, a charismatic politician once dubbed the ‘Kurdish Obama’ and who leads the leftist and Kurdish issue-oriented People’s Democratic party (HDP), is running for the presidency from his prison cell in the city of Edirne. He awaits trial on terrorism charges.

What’s happening in parliament?

There are two main coalitions running for parliament.

The first includes the ruling Justice and Development party (AKP) of Erdoğan, which are in a coalition with the nationalists.

On the opposite side is an alliance that includes the secularists of the CHP, the breakaway nationalists of the Iyi party, and the Islamists of the Felicity party. They make strange bedfellows in a political system where secularists and Islamists have traditionally been bitter enemies, but such is the importance of these elections that former rivals have banded together to oust the president and his entourage. The HDP is running by itself.

The Turkish constitution requires that parties obtain at least 10% of the national vote to enter parliament, a law that favours larger parties. A new bill recently allowed the formation of election alliances like those described above, which will allow smaller parties like Felicity to win some seats in the legislature if their alliance as a whole crosses the 10% threshold.

If the opposition alliance performs as expected, and the HDP gets over 10% of the popular vote, the ruling AKP could lose its majority in parliament.

So who will win?

Erdoğan was hoping to catch his opponents by surprise when he called for a vote, but attendance at ruling party rallies has been lacklustre, and the Turkish leader does not appear to be at the top of his game. The economy has also caused headaches, with the Turkish lira falling in value against the dollar, concerns mounting over the long-term health of the economy, and fears over the Central Bank’s independence.

Still, Erdoğan is the most popular Turkish politician, and is likely to win the presidential race. Polls are notoriously unreliable in Turkey, but for now it looks like he will easily win the first round, but without an outright majority. A second-round race against Ince or Aksener still favours the president, but is increasingly looking too close to call. It will depend on whether the opposition can draw away conservative and nationalist voters, as well as Kurdish voters angry about Erdogan’s alliance with the nationalists.

Also, there is a very real possibility that Erdoğan will win the presidency but lose parliament to the opposition, which has promised to roll back the constitutional amendments passed last year.

But, under those same amendments, the president can dissolve parliament, and the legislature can call new presidential elections in response. According to some ruling party officials, that’s exactly what Erdoğan might do, which would give his party a chance at a do-over, but plunge Turkey into uncertainty.

Erdogan, Macron discuss Manbij roadmap agreed with US, regional issues

June 17, 2018

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron held a phone call Saturday in which the two leaders discussed the roadmap for northern Syrian town of Manbij, recently agreed with the U.S., in addition to a number of regional and bilateral issues, sources from the Turkish presidency said.

Erdoğan pointed out that the agreement with the U.S. over Manbij could lead to a larger cooperation between Ankara and Washington in Syria.

 FILE photo

The two leaders also discussed the recent developments in Syria, the fight against terrorism and the flight of migrants.

Erdoğan and Macron highlighted the importance of cooperation between Turkey and France in regional issues, and agreed to resume their close contact in the aftermath of the presidential and parliamentary elections on June 24.

Last Monday, a Manbij roadmap was announced after a meeting in Washington between Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

The deal focuses on the withdrawal of the PKK-affiliated the People’s Protection Units (YPG) from the northern Syrian city and stability in the region.

The process will involve a 10-day preparation period that started Tuesday June 5, before YPG militants start withdrawing. They will withdraw in 20 days, after which Turkish forces will be deployed to pacify the region and train local forces to establish security. The YPG will be withdrawing to the east of the Euphrates River.

Ankara has been long criticizing the U.S. on the grounds that Daesh cannot be defeated by supporting another terrorist group such as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which is predominantly led by the YPG.

Ankara stresses that U.S. arms support to these terrorist groups will create further instability in the region and calls for withdrawal of the groups from Syria in order to pave way for returning Syrians to their country.

U.S. military support for the YPG terrorist group in Manbij has strained ties between Ankara and Washington and has led to fears of military clashes between the two NATO allies since there are roughly 2,000 U.S. troops in the city. On Jan. 20, Turkey initiated Operation Olive Branch in northern Syria to clear Daesh and PKK-linked terrorist groups, including the YPG and SDF, from the region. After liberating Syria’s Afrin on March 18 alongside the Free Syrian Army (FSA), Turkish forces pressed on toward the goal of eliminating all terrorists west of the Euphrates. The U.S., however, along with France, has intensified its military presence in Manbij, providing increased support for YPG-stocked SDF forces in northern Syria.

Turkey to fight terror with allies or alone: Erdogan — But is this just last minute re-election talk?

June 16, 2018

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Ankara is determined to pursue its cross-border military operations from its southern borders to northern Iraq, stating that the operation in the Kandil region is ongoing.

“We are bombing Kandil right now. We are telling those who call themselves a friend that if you are a friend, you deal with it. If you will not, we will,” Erdoğan said in a speech he delivered following Friday prayers in Istanbul’s Sultangazi Mosque on June 15.

“We will have further good news for you in following days,” he added.

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The Turkish president’s comments came after the Turkish military announced on June 15 that 26 outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militants were killed or surrendered in operations since June 12.

Erdoğan on June 11 said an operation against the PKK has begun in Kandil on the Iraq-Iran border as well as the Iraqi-controlled Sinjar region, which is a Yezidi Kurdish region.

“We have destroyed 14 important targets using 20 of our [warplanes]. They have hit [their targets] and they have returned. We are not done. This will continue,” the president said during an election rally in the central province of Niğde.

“Kandil will not be a threat or a source of terror for our people anymore. We will drain the terror swamp in Kandil as we have done in Afrin, Jarablus, Azaz, al-Bab,” he said, referring to the northern Syrian regions where the Turkish military had pursued military operations with Free Syrian Army (FSA) forces.

Turkey was concerned about the presence of Syrian Kurdish forces in its northern border region, especially the United States-backed Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its military wing, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Ankara deems an offshoot of the outlawed PKK and an imminent threat to its territorial integrity.

Erdoğan has also vowed to extend military operations in Syria if need be, a stance that has caused friction with the NATO-ally United States, which has backed the YPG in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

“We have demolished the terror corridor in northern Syria. Now, we are bombing Kandil,” Erdoğan said on June 15.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said last week Baghdad was ready to cooperate with Ankara to prevent attacks from Iraq into Turkey. He also called on Turkey to “respect Iraqi sovereignty” and accused Turkish politicians of raising tensions for domestic purposes ahead of the June 24 elections.

Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu also announced on June 13 that Turkey is in contact with Iran about conducting an operation against the PKK in Kandil.

“We are in contact with Iran,” Çavuşoğlu told private broadcaster Habertürk.

“The PKK is a threat to them as well. Kandil is very close to the Iranian border. We will improve cooperation with Iran,” he said.


In Turkey, the opposition finally unites in bid to end Erdogan’s dominance

Muharrem Ince, a former high school physics teacher who is a Turkish presidential candidate, hurled taunts at his main opponent, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, with the reckless abandon of a competitor who smelled blood.

He paced with a microphone on top of his campaign bus on a recent afternoon, surrounded by enchanted supporters as he mocked Erdogan’s economic policies, accused the president of ginning up security threats for votes and chided him for spending lavish sums on palaces, calling it a “sin.”

“The state is collapsing. The state!” Ince said.

“President Ince!” the crowd roared, mimicking his cadence. “President Ince!”

These are heady days for Turkey’s opposition parties, which are charging toward elections for president and parliament in just over a week with a rare sense of unity and a hunch that Erdogan, who has dominated Turkish politics for a decade and a half, may be more vulnerable than he has been in years.

Their sense of optimism has been fueled by what they say are gaffes by the president, including comments he made that sent the Turkish currency tumbling and revived questions about his stewardship of the economy — a pillar of the president’s appeal.

Muharrem Ince, Presidential candidate of Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), delivers a speech from the roof of a bus during a campaign meeting in Istanbul on June 10, 2018, ahead of the Turkish presidential and parliamentary elections which will be held on June 24, 2018. (Yasin Akgul/AFP/Getty Images)

Opposition leaders have also cited encouraging poll numbers that they say reflect voter fatigue with the president after a tumultuous few years in Turkey marked by growing tensions with some of the country’s NATO allies and intensifying social polarization at home. The results suggest a possible opposition victory — if not in the presidential race, then in the parliament, where they hope to roll back the majority held by Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party, or AKP.

Then there is Ince — pronounced Een-jay — the candidate from the Republican People’s Party, or CHP, who has gained popularity as a surprisingly nimble candidate, snatching some of Erdogan’s populist thunder by presenting himself as a Turkish everyman with working-class roots able to bridge the country’s deep divides.

“His family is religious. He’s more secular,” said Kaan Ercan, a 23-year-old recent university architecture graduate who was one of many young people attending an Ince rally last week. “It’s different, the way he talks. His approach is aimed at all of society.”

The president’s loyalists say that the optimism of his opponents is misplaced and that voters continue to have faith in Erdogan’s ability to deliver economic growth, and trust the president’s assertions that the currency was being manipulated by foreigners. “We are on the streets,” said Harun Armagan, the 33-year-old vice chair of human rights for the AKP. “We are very hopeful about the results.”

The presidential candidate of Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), Muharrem Ince (L) and his wife Ulku Ince, wave to supporters during a campaign meeting in Diyarbakir on June 11, 2018, ahead of the Turkish presidential and parliamentary elections which will be held on June 24, 2018. (Ilyas Akengin/AFP/Getty Images)

For both sides, the stakes in the election are high. Erdogan, who has served both as prime minister and as president, will assume even greater authority should he win reelection because of constitutional amendments that were narrowly approved by voters during a bitterly contested referendum last year.

Erdogan’s supporters say the changes, which created an “executive presidency” diluting the power of the judiciary and the parliament, will give the president more latitude to impose his will on an unruly system and leave him better equipped to govern.

The opposition views the new system as a nightmare scenario that has weakened checks on the president’s power as he has become more authoritarian after a coup attempt in July 2016, arresting thousands of enemies and opponents and silencing critics of his government’s rule.

The odds in the coming election are not in the opposition’s favor. Erdogan remains a savvy campaigner and an instinctive populist whose appeals to nationalists and religious conservatives have won him a large and loyal base of supporters.

He also brazenly deploys the levers of state to his advantage, his critics say — shuttering independent media outlets that would provide balanced coverage of the election campaign and jailing opposition political figures. These include Selahattin Demirtas, a candidate from a pro-Kurdish party who is running for president from prison.

“There is no level playing field in the pre-election period,” Human Rights Watch wrote in a recent briefing on the election.

Despite those obstacles, the opposition saw a glimmer of hope in the president’s thin margin of victory in the referendum, which suggested that some disaffected Erdogan supporters had stayed home. The opposition’s attempts to energize its base started in the months after the referendum, when the CHP led a “justice” march over hundreds of miles intended to highlight the government’s arrests of opposition figures, journalists and dissidents.

As thousands of people joined the march,government officials, unnerved by the spectacle, likened the participants to terrorists.

In April, when Erdogan called for early elections, he framed them as necessary to make Turkey’s government “stronger and more effective” at a time when the country’s military was fighting against Kurdish groups across its borders in Syria and Iraq. But he was also preoccupied with the economy and anxious to stage the elections before it took a turn for the worse, analysts said.

The economic news did worsen after the president voiced his unorthodox view that high interest rates cause inflation and suggested that he would take greater control of monetary policy after the elections, sending the Turkish lira plummeting to record lows.

The currency has slightly ­recovered, but the economy’s problems run far deeper, said Atilla Yesilada, an analyst with ­Istanbul-based Global Source Partners. “Years of irresponsible policies have overheated the Turkish economy. High inflation rates and current account deficits are going to prove sticky,” he said. “I think we are at the end of our rope.”

Sensing an opening, Turkey’s often divided opposition parties have started to come together. Four parties, including the CHP, the nationalist Good Party and the Islamist Felicity Party, formed a coalition to compete in the parliamentary elections, broadening their ideological appeal. The pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party, or HDP, did not join the coalition. But Ince, the CHP candidate, visited Demirtas in prison and has recently reached out to Turkey’s Kurds, a critical voting bloc, during his campaign rallies.

The coalition is “a big deal” and a possible counterweight to Erdogan’s own alliance with another nationalist party, said Omer Taspinar, a Turkey expert at the Brookings Institution. “If the opposition can maintain some sense of unity, they will improve their chances.” The opposition also stands to benefit from the “worsening economy, and the emergence of a charismatic, center left-wing leader,” he said, referring to Ince.

 There were also signs of fatigue among AKP voters, to the apparent frustration of Erdogan, “who blamed them for not being active enough,” he said.

But the opposition has not presented a broader plan for Turkey and its future that would rival Erdogan’s grand vision for transforming the country into an economic powerhouse by 2023, a vision punctuated by plans for megaprojects and sprinkled with nationalist rhetoric.

“The opposition’s main message is, enough is enough. You have been in power too long, you represent the past. Maybe that would work if he was 80 years old,” Taspinar said. “Erdogan is still a force to reckon with, despite his vulnerabilities. He has done well for the middle class.”

Armagan, the AKP official, said that as he had campaigned for the party’s candidates in recent weeks, voters he encountered “see a lack of vision,” from the opposition.   “Maybe Muharrem Ince made a lot of noise and took some attention,” he said, but added: “You should tell people how you will take this country further.”

By Kareem Fahim

Turkey Election Campaign Heats Up: Daily Sabah Says CHP’s İnce, if elected, will work with war criminal Assad

June 12, 2018

Daily Sabah

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Muharrem İnce, the CHP’s presidential candidate, gives a speech at a rally as part of his election campaign.

Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader of the main opposition CHP, signaled for closer relations with the countries in the region, including the Assad regime, if their candidate Muharrem İnce becomes president. He also blamed Washington and Moscow for the upheaval in the Middle East

Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu said that their presidential candidate Muharrem İnce will visit Middle Eastern countries, including Syria’s Bashar Assad regime, to bring peace to the region if he wins the elections on June 24. Speaking at a meeting of the Union of Chambers of Merchants and Craftsmen in eastern Malatya province, Kılıçdaroğlu said that they are determinant to establish a “Middle East Peace and Cooperation Organization” with Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Iran, adding that this is only way to stop bloodshed in the region.

After civil war erupted in Syria in 2011, the Assad regime has not been considered a legal representative of the Syrian people by many countries including the U.S., U.K, EU and several regional powers. They have frequently reiterated that Assad has no place in Syria’s future and called for a transition period that leads to a democratic election to form a new government in the war-torn country. Assad is blamed for the death of hundreds of thousands of Syrians since the beginning of the civil war.

The CHP previously expressed necessity of talks with Assad several times. In February, in his address at the CHP’s parliamentary group meeting, Kılıçdaroğlu called on the government to establish contact with the Assad regime to resolve the conflict in Syria.

Also, while announcing the 230-page election declaration in May, Kılıçdaroğlu said, “After stability is ensured in Syria and non-state actors are disarmed, we will support a political solution where the Syrian people will be able to make decisions on their own.”

While the CHP calls for establishing contact and talks with Assad, the government has been against it, saying that Assad needs to be removed and replaced by a democratically elected government.

In response to Kılıçdaroğlu’s call over the issue, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said in February that Turkey will not contact or sit at the table with Assad.

“What will we talk about with a murderer who has killed one million of his citizens,” the president said.

During his speech in Malatya, Kılıçdaroğlu also blamed the U.S. and Russia for inciting violence in the Middle East by providing weapons to warring sides.

“They [the U.S. and Russia] say ‘let’s kill each other.’ Why we would let them?” Kılıçdaroğlu said.

In February, Kılıçdaroğlu called the government to get rid of “the yoke of the U.S. and Russia,” saying that the two powers were the main source of weapons in Syria and urged the government to pursue dialogue with its neighbors instead of imperial powers.

The CHP’s presidential candidate also embraced an anti-U.S. rhetoric in his election campaign. In May, İnce vowed to shut down the U.S.’ Incirlik Air Base by Christmas unless the U.S. extradites the leader of the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ), Fetullah Gülen, who is accused by Ankara of perpetrating the July 15, 2016 coup attempt.

“If you [the United States] don’t hand him back, we will shut down Incirlik and send back U.S. soldiers on Dec. 24 and they can celebrate Christmas with their families,” İnce said.

The Syrian civil war erupted in 2011 when the Assad regime harshly responded to protesters who had poured into the streets to demand more rights and freedom. The protests initially emerged following the Arab Spring demonstrations that resulted in strongmen in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya stepping down.

The cruelty against protesters triggered a rebellion in significant parts of the country, turning into a brutal civil war before long. So far an estimated 500,000 people have been killed in the war. Around six million people have been displaced internally and another five million were driven abroad as refugees.

With the backing of Russia and Iran, the Assad regime recently recovered swathes of territories and now controls the majority of Syria. Yet, regime forces still have tracts of land that remain outside of their authority at the borders with Iraq, Jordan and Turkey, three of its five neighboring countries.