The most important news stories you might have missed from last week’s Turkey
Turkey Suspends Military Training Camp Outside Mosul
Turkey is cancelling plans to continue helping train Iraqi Kurdish soldiers for their upcoming assault on ISIS held Mosul. The Iraqi central government called the Turkish ambassador to formally protest the incursion of 150 men and 25 military vehicles on Dec. 4th. Baghdad claims that it was not notified of Turkey’s troop movements, and that the action constitutes a threat to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country. Ankara denies any wrong doing and has explained that the incoming troops were a routine changing of the guard. Nevertheless, the Turkish military has said that it will withdraw from Iraq and cancel further training programs for the time being.
Fallout from Russian Jet Crisis Continues
Fallout from Turkey’s downing of a Russian military aircraft on Nov. 24th continued this week, and all the expected actors were involved. Russia halted construction on the Turkish Stream project, a 10 billion dollar pipeline that was designed to bypass the Ukraine and bring Russian natural gas across the Black Sea, through Turkey, and into Eastern Europe. Russian energy giant Gazprom has around 2 billion dollars of specially designed piping lying in wait. Since the Nov. 24th incident, Russia has deployed its S-400 missile defense system (capable of shooting down planes and missiles up to 400km away) into the Eastern Mediterranean, creating what effectively amounts to a no-fly zone over the Syrian-Turkish border region. In response NATO supported Turkey’s right to defend itself by sending four warships to patrol the Black Sea.
Russia Claims Erdogan Buying Oil from Islamic State
Russian President Vladimir Putin claims that high-ranking members of the Turkish government are buying oil from ISIS. On Wednesday Dec. 2nd, Russian deputy defense minister, Anatoly Antonov, held a press conference in which he showed reporters satellite images and other documents allegedly providing proof that President Erdogan, his family, and other high-ranking government staff have been profiting from oil purchased from ISIS. Russia’s regional ally, Iran, also stated that it is in possession of photographs and video evidence corroborating the claim. Antonov was quoted as saying, “In the West, no one has asked questions about the fact that the Turkish president’s son heads one of the biggest energy companies, or that his son has been appointed energy minister. What a marvelous family business!” President Erdogan had promised to resign if any proof linked him to oil purchases from ISIS, however he claims Moscow fabricated their current claims. Erdogan then went on to claim that he has proof that Putin has been buying oil from ISIS, although he has yet to hold a press conference of his own.
Erdogan Claims Turkish People Used to Suffering
President Erdogan stunned reporters this week when asked about the possibility of Russia shutting off natural gas shipments to Turkey. In response to the question, Erdogan said that Turks “are accustomed to suffering.” Opposition party leaders were quick to pick up on this unbelievably poor phrasing, with Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli tweeting that, “The people of this country have suffered enough.” Russia accounts for around 60 per cent of Turkey’s yearly natural gas imports, and the loss of access to this gas would be devastating to the Turkish public. Fortunately, President Putin has insinuated that he does not intend to cut off the gas shipments, at least for now.
Gollum’s Morality to Determine Man’s Fate
Dr. Bilgin Çiftçi faces two years in prison if convicted of the crime of insulting the president. Dr. Çiftçi is on trial for posting a meme in which President Erdogan is compared to J.R.R. Tolkien’s fictional Lord of the Ring’s character Gollum. President Erdogan is known to be particularly sensitive when it comes to personal insults and since he took the presidency in August of 2014 more than 236 people have been investigated for the crime of ‘insulting the head of state.’ Çiftçi’s fate will be decided by attempting to answer a question many of us have no doubt pondered in our free time: is the character Gollum good, or evil? Çiftçi’s lawyer is arguing that comparing President Erdogan to Gollum is not an insult, because Gollum is actually a hero in the Lord of the Ring’s universe. As the judge was unfamiliar with the films, the case will be settled by a panel of experts including a cinema specialist, a behavioral scientist, and a psychologist; although, director Peter Jackson has also weighed in on the matter.
US Pressures Turkey to Close Syrian Border
The United States has asked Turkey to close and begin policing nearly 98 km of its border with neighboring Syria. Although the US has publicly stated that they do not believe Russian claims that President Erdogan and his family are profiting from illegal oil trade with ISIS, the request for Ankara to do more to secure its borders comes at an interesting time. The measure in question would require nearly 30,000 troops, and the construction of fencing as well as watchtowers. Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has claimed that a complete closure would be impossible while so many Syrian refugees continued to pour into Turkey, but has promised to do more to police the coming and going along this tumultuous stretch of land.
Turkish Journalists Take Case to the Constitutional Court
Can Dündar, editor-in-chief of Cümhuriyet, and Erdem Gül, bureau chief, have made personal applications to Constitutional Court in Turkey to demand their release. The two were arrested on Nov. 26th for their report in June of this year, which allegedly showed Turkish National Intelligence Agency (MIT) employees transporting arms disguised as medical aid into Syria. Meanwhile, a group of supporters, including several prominent journalists, have staged a sit-in outside of Silvri Prison where the two men are being held. President Erdogan personally brought the charges against the two men, and is reportedly seeking a life sentence for Dündar.
Germany and UK Expand Roles in anti-ISIS Coalition
The UK parliament voted to authorize military strikes against ISIS within Syrian territory on Dec. 2nd. The UK had previously limited its airstrikes to targets within Iraq, as only they had formally requested outside intervention. The German parliament likewise voted to take a greater share in eliminating the Islamic State; their parliament voted to approve a measure that will send 1,200 military personnel to support the other coalition partners. The primary goal of the German forces will be to support the other coalition countries via logistical and technical support, The German parliament voted at the same time to limit their information sharing with the Turkish state and to exclude any strategic data gathered by reconnaissance flights over the Kurdish occupied areas of Syria and the surrounding areas.