News of the Week – 11th January 2016

Source: Sertaç Kayar – Reuters

Source: Sertaç Kayar – Reuters

Refugees Continue to Struggle

Turkey continues to act as the main transit hub for refugees fleeing Syria and Iraq in their attempts to reach Europe. Despite increased efforts by the Turkish Coast guard, and the 3 billion euro aid package from the European Union, refugees continue to pour into Greece across the Aegean Sea. This week refugees were killed in both the sea crossings, and in a traffic accident along the Turkish coast. For their part, Turkish authorities were able to close down a factory manufacturing faulty life vests for desperate refugees, and open a few more schools at the refugee camps near the Syrian border. While the number of refugees crossing the border has gone down, analysts claim that this has more to do with bad weather than any political effect.

War in the South-East Continues

Conflicting reports indicate that the Turkish government will end its operations against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) by the start of February, and will not stop until the terrorists are eliminated. Turkey is expected to make a defense at the European Court of Human Rights over curfews in the South East of the country, where security forces have been battling the youth brigades of the PKK. The court will question the efficacy of these 24hr curfews, and will ask to see proof that the citizens trapped in these disputed areas have access to utilities, food, and adequate medical care. Members of the Kurdish-friendly People’s Democratic Party (HDP) applied to the court, but government officials are sure that they are in the right. So far hundreds of PKK members, security force members, and civilians have been killed since the government began is operations.

Police Raid HDP Office in Istanbul

In a raid on one of HDP’s Istanbul offices government forces have taken six people, including local officials into custody. The raid came after President Erdoğan’s repeated calls for removing diplomatic immunity for HDP MPs, and charging them for their associations with the terrorist group, the PKK. Government officials claim to have been acting on a tip that the murder weapon used in a June 2015 terrorist attack was inside the HDP building’s headquarters. It is unclear if they succeeded in finding the weapon, although they certainly sent a strong message to the opposition party.

Turkish Troops Fend of ISIS in Bashiqa?

The Iraqi government has rejected claims by President Erdoğan that Turkish troops at the Bashiqa military base in northern Iraq came under attack by ISIS militants. President Erdoğan claims that 18 members of the terrorist group were neutralized when trying to sneak into the base on January 7th, but that no Turkish troops were harmed. Erdoğan claims that “this only proves just how appropriate was the step taken regarding the camp,” referring to Turkey’s controversial deployment of some 150 soldiers, as well as tanks, and armored vehicles into Iraqi territory. The Iraqi government, which has repeatedly asked for the Turkish troops in Bashiqa to be removed, denied that any skirmish had taken place.

Turkey Reorienting its Regional Alliances

Turkey has confirmed that it will invite Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, president of Egypt, to the summit for the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, which will be held in Istanbul in April. Relations between Egypt and Turkey have been tense since Erdoğan refused to accept the military coup that put el-Sisi in power in 2013. If el-Sisi decides to attend the conference himself it will be the first time that major leaders from the two countries have met since the ousting of President Morsi. This comes just a week after Turkey joined the Saudi-led Islamic coalition against terror, which many see as a Sunni front meant to confront Shiite Iran’s regional power. Upon returning from a trip to Saudi Arabia last week, President Erdoğan made a gesture toward Israel, claiming that the two countries needed each other. All of these diplomatic shifts with regional neighbors seems to hint that perhaps Turkey is beginning to feel isolated.

Constitutional Amendment

The Parliamentary Speaker, Ismail Kahraman, has sent out letters to CHP, MHP, AKP, and HDP party leaders to invite them to a constitutional commission. The ruling AKP party hopes to gain the 14 votes that it needs to put the new constitution to referendum. President Erdoğan is widely held to be the main architect behind plans to transform Turkey into a country with a much stronger executive branch, wherein his, at the this point, largely ceremonial role, would hold much more power. Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has already met with the leaders of CHP and MHP to discuss the issue, but cancelled a meeting with the HDP leadership over disagreements regarding the military operations in the south-east. Our latest weekly news digest, summarizing everything you might have missed last week in Turkey and the region.

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