Our latest weekly news digest, summarizing everything you might have missed last week in Turkey and the region.
Migrant Crisis: Thousands of Syrian Turkmens Flee
Deputy Prime Minister Yalçın Akdoğan stated in a recent speech that more than 2.5 million Syrian refugees had registered using the biometric registration system and were currently living in Turkey. According to his figures, more than 67,000 Syrian children have been born in Turkey since the conflict began in 2011. This week has seen a large spike in migrants from Syrian Turkmen communities in particular, as 1,600 Turkmens and Arabs fled to Turkey’s southern borders, escaping Russian aerial bombardment and the advancement of Assad’s troops. Syrian Turkmen have received ongoing support from the Turkish government during the conflict, and have come under intensified fire from Assad’s forces in recent months.
Also this week, Turkish authorities arrested more than 650 illegal immigrants in the western provinces Balıkesir and Aydın; the arrests were part of an ongoing program to crack down on illegal human smuggling operations across the Aegean Sea. The illegal migrants were primarily from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Algeria.
Russian Jet Violates Turkish Airspace
A Russian aircraft violated Turkish airspace on January 29th, straining the already tense relationship between the two countries. Both Turkish and NATO satellite systems confirmed that a Russian SU-34 bomber entered into Turkish airspace after repeated warnings from Turkish authorities. Turkish air force bases were put onto high alert during the incident. Relations between the two countries still haven’t settled since the Nov. 24th downing of a Russian jet over Turkish airspace; an event with disastrous effects on Turco-Russian political and economic relations. The US issued a statement asking Russia to respect Turkey’s territorial integrity. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan threatened that “Moscow will face consequences,” if it continues to escalate tensions. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu has called for calm and normalization, however placed blame on the Russian side; “We not only see Russia as a neighbor. We also see them as an important partner. We want to normalize our but one-sided steps are not enough for this to happen”.
Syrian Peace Talks
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu has encouraged the Syrian Opposition to leave the conference at any time if it feels its demands are not met. “We back demands for a truce and for sending humanitarian aid to besieged towns in Syria as requested by the opposition,” he said at a news conference in the Saudi capital, Riyadh. The High Negotiations Committee (HNC), an umbrella organization which represents the main body of Syrian opposition, had initially made a list of conditions to be met in exchange for their attendance alongside the Assad regime. The conference started in Geneva on Friday without the HNC, but after receiving assurances from the US and UN they decided to attend.
War in the South East Continues
The Turkish military reported that two police officers and one soldier were killed in anti-terrorism operations over the weekend. The statement claims that 22 PKK militants were killed in Cizre, Sirnak, and Sur- Diyarbakir over the weekend bringing the respective totals up to 500 and 149 in the provinces since December. These two of the districts have been under continuous military curfew for more than a month. These curfews have garnered international attention for their negative effect on the local civilian populations. This week the leading AKP, and the pro-Kurdish HDP have exchanged fire over reports that over 20 people have been locked in a basement for more than a week in Cizre. Six people have reportedly died in the basement, and access to basic necessities is extremely limited, yet fighting between the PKK and the Turkish army rages on in the streets above. Since the conflict reignited in July of last year, government forces report that more than 240 members of the Turkish security forces have been killed, around 3,000 PKK militants, and over 160 civilians; however these numbers vary wildly depending on who provides the data, and how ‘PKK militant’ is defined. Davutoğlu has recently pledged to rebuild Diyarbakır’s historical Sur district “just like Toledo”, a UNESCO world heritage site damaged during the Spanish civil war.
DAESH Attacks Turkish Troops
In what ultimately amounted to little more than a scare; Turkish troops came under fire while removing mines along the Turkish-Syrian border on Thursday. The shots were fired from a modified pick-up truck by members of the terrorist group DAESH (ISIS, IS, ISIL, Islamic State). The incident occurred in the afternoon with the terrorist militants firing from the town of Jarabulus; in response Turkish tanks and artillery fired at the terrorists. No Turkish soldiers were reported injured in the clash, five DAESH militants are reported to have been killed.