Our latest weekly news digest, summarizing everything you might have missed last week in Turkey and the region.
Turkish Troops Leave Mosul Camp
Following an ongoing row with Baghdad, Turkey withdrew its troops from a northern Iraq camp earlier today. The number of troops removed is unconfirmed at this point, furthermore, it is not clear whether these troops have been moved back to Turkey or rather further north, into Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region which maintains its good relations with Ankara.
The Iraqi government had asked the UN Security Council to intervene on its behalf in their current spat with Turkey over troops in the town of Bashiqa, northern Iraq. The movement of around 150 Turkish troops into the town in the Kurdish region of Iraq last week prompted the central government in Baghdad to summon the Turkish ambassador in order to request their immediate withdrawal. In a letter to US Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, Iraqi Ambassador Ali Alhakim called the deployment of Turkish troops in the region a “flagrant violation of the UN Charter and a violation of Iraqi territorial integrity and sovereignty of the state of Iraq”. The Turkish government maintains that the troops were deployed as part of an ongoing training program for Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, in preparation for their retaking ISIS-held city of Mosul.
Continued Fallout from Turkish Downing of Russian Jet
Tension remains nearly three weeks after the Turkish downing of a Russian fighter near the Turkish-Syrian border. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan spoke with Al-Jazeera news regarding Russian accusations that he and his family have been funding terrorism through the illegal purchase of oil from the Islamic State. Erdoğan called the claims slanderous, and reiterated his willingness to resign if the Russian government can provide proof to substantiate their claims. A Russian warship fired several warning shots toward a Turkish fishing vessel in the Aegean Sea after having issued several warnings for the ship to change course to avoid collision. The ship reportedly failed to respond to radio and visual signals, but managed to move away after shots from some small arms aboard the Russian ship were discharged as a warning. Additionally, the Turkish armed forces has banned all of its army personnel from traveling to Russia for the time being.
Turkish Coastguard Ramps up Efforts to Stop Refugees Crossings
The Turkish Coast Guard intercepted a dinghy filled with more than 150 refugees attempting the perilous Aegean crossing into Greece. The refugees were detained off the coast of Cesme, a small tourist resort town in the Izmir province, close to the Greek island of Chios. This follows a renewed commitment on Turkey’s part to help stem the flow of refugees into Europe in exchange for renewed discussions of Turkish EU membership, and a generous 3 billion Euro aid package to help with the escalating Syrian refugee crisis in Turkey.
Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu Meets Imprisoned Journalist Can Dündar
Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, leader of the main opposition party- the CHP, met with imprisoned journalists Can Dündar and Erdem Gül on Sunday, December 13th. After speaking with the journalists, Kılıçdaroğlu discussed the issue more generally, saying that there are 32 journalists in prison in the country, all of whom need to be freed. He then went on to explain that “it actually doesn’t matter whether [Dündar and Gül] are in prison or not, because Turkey has been turned into an open-air prison anyway. Human rights are being violated.” Since President Erdoğan’s election, the number of journalists imprisoned has risen sharply, with many accusing the government of using the judiciary to censor the press.
Turkish Government’s War in the South-East Continues
The Turkish government’s war with the terrorist PKK group in the country’s east continued this past week with new rounds of curfews imposed in some of Turkey’s more restive regions. Around 1,300 teachers in Cizre, and 1,700 in Silopi, received text messages from the Ministry of Education informing them that they were to head to their hometowns for service training. The teachers allegedly filled local bus stations and airports, with some even resorting to hitch-hiking, as they attempted to leave the area before curfews were reinstated. The ongoing conflict in Turkey’s south-east has claimed the lives of a number of PKK militants, security forces personnel, and civilians. The curfews imposed on the region have drawn widespread criticism from international groups for depriving citizens of basic necessities including electricity, cellular service, and medical care.
Barzani and Erdoğan Meet to Discuss Regional Security
The president of Iraq’s Kurdish region, Massoud Barzani, spent two days in the Turkey’s capital Ankara, meeting with President Erdoğan. The two leaders discussed a variety of issues, including regional security and the recent scandal over Turkish troops stationed outside of Mosul. The two leaders stressed the need for regional cooperation in the battle against terrorism. Barzani is reported to have said “it is a positive thing that Turkish forces arrived to fight DAESH,” which puts him at odds with Iraq’s central government. He also supported Ankara’s narrative of events, which claims that the deployment of Turkish troops into northern Iraq was made in line with an agreement between Iraq and Turkey.
Investigation into Tahir Elçi’s Death Raises Questions
The pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) traded rhetorical blows with government officials over the ongoing investigation into the murder of prominent Kurdish civil rights leader, Tahir Elçi. Adana deputy and co-deputy chair of the HDP, Meral Danış Beştaş claims that “the judiciary has so far not taken any step to solve the killing of Elçi. Step by step, it is paving the path to impunity.” The HDP claims that video footage of the incident shows that Elçi was killed from the bullet of a police officer while taking cover after a rally in Diyarbakır. Amnesty International researcher Andrew Gardner said that the investigation “already smacks of a cover up.” The AKP government maintains that Elçi was killed by militants from the PKK, and claims that the accusations against its police forces are completely unfounded.