Our latest weekly news digest, summarizing everything you might have missed last week in Turkey and the region.
Data Leak and Implications of Intended Voter Fraud
Details of almost 50 million Turkish citizens have been leaked online according to reports, including those of President Erdoğan, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and former President Abdullah Gül. The data contain the names, ID numbers and even the addresses of millions of citizens. The data was made public with two notes to Turkey and US political figures; “Who would have imagined that backwards ideologies, cronyism and rising religious extremism in Turkey would lead to a crumbling and vulnerable technical infrastructure?” Citizens were then told to “Do something about Erdoğan! He is destroying your country beyond recognition.” The leak appears to have originated from a register compiled by the Supreme Election Board (YSK), although they deny responsibility. Minister Mehmet Hadimi Yakupoğlu, the opposition CHP party’s representative on the board, has suggested that the leak may be a kind of digital false-flag operation by the ruling AKP to justify less transparent voter identification laws.
President Erdogan pledged his support to Azerbaijan as fighting broke out between Armenia and Azerbaijan in the contested Karabakh region on April 2. The two countries have been fighting over the mountainous region since the early 1990s, but haven’t seen any large scale military engagements since the 1994 Russian-brokered truce. Tensions came to a head last week as fighting claimed at least 90 lives, sources claimed that the conflict was reignited due to Azerbaijani shelling of Armenian villages in the region. On April 8, Russian President Dimitri Medvedev flew to Baku to meet with the Azerbaijani president and try to ease tensions.
Erdogan Goes to Washington
President Erdogan visited Washington from March 30 – April 1 in order to attend the Nuclear Security Summit; while there he met with several high-level officials in the US capital. The Turkish President also met with US President Barack Obama, which caused subsequent controversy when Obama criticized the Turkish premier’s lack of respect for freedom of the press in Turkey. Erdogan’s address at the Brookings Institute in Washington was likewise a pyrrhic PR move. The Turkish presidents’ bodyguards made US headlines when they physically confronted protesters and journalists outside of the prestigious think tank. The incident elicited a heated response from National Press Club President Thomas Burr, who said, “We have increasingly seen disrespect for basic human rights and press freedom in Turkey. Erdogan doesn’t get to export such abuse.”
German Comedian Could Face Jail Time for Insulting Erdogan
German Comedian Jan Boehmermann could face up to three years in prison for reading a poem on German television which insulted President Erdoğan. This is the second time in the last month that German comedy has come under fire for insulting the Turkish government, but the threat of jail time makes this particular case more controversial. The German government initially defended “Erdowie, Erdowo, Erdogan,” a satirical music video released earlier in the month that caused Ankara to summon the German ambassador. This may be due to the content of the poem as slander rather than satire. German law allows for the prosecution of individuals who insult foreign heads of state if the foreign government and the German government have supported this move.
First Syrian’s Arrive from EU to Turkey
The first Syrian refugees arrived from Europe this week as the newly formed agreement between the EU and Turkey showed its first signs of implementation. According to the agreement, the EU will send newly arrived Syrian refugees to Turkey, and then admit an equal number of refugees back into EU territory in a more controlled manner. Additionally, Turkey has been building schools to teach Turkish to its growing Syrian population, putting the more than 3b euros in EU aid to good use. Meanwhile, Turkish government officials have vehemently denied accusations that they have been sending refugees back to Syria, calling the claims completely baseless.