News of the Week – 1st March 2016

Source: Can Erok/ Reuters

Source: Can Erok/ Reuters

Our latest weekly news digest, summarizing everything you might have missed last week in Turkey and the region.

Can Dündar and Erdem Gül post-release Interview

Cumhuriyet editor-in-chief Can Dundar, and Ankara bureau chief Erdem Gül were released from pre-trial detention on February 25th. In its ruling, the Constitutional Court found that the detention of the two journalists violated their “freedom of expression, freedom of the press, and personal freedom.” Both men still face charges of espionage and aiding a terrorist organization, for which the prosecution is seeking aggravated life sentences. President Erdoğan spoke regarding the court’s decision, proclaiming, “I’m saying this very clearly: I don’t concur with the decision and I have no respect for it;” that he will not obey it; and that “the media cannot have limitless freedom.” Shortly after their release the two men were given an interview on IMC TV, a private news channel infamous for its persistent coverage of the ongoing conflict in Turkey’s restive south east. The interview however was cut short when a government prosecutor was granted an order instructing Turksat to cease transmission of IMC TV mid-broadcast. The government prosecutor is allegedly investigating whether the channel supported terrorism, however General Manager, Eyüp Burç maintained that the decision to cut the feed was purely political. Dündar and Gül have been in the international spotlight since their arrests in November last year, as the quintessential representation of the AKP government’s increasingly authoritarian treatment of journalists. Their release has been welcomed by journalists and activists around their world, although their future remains uncertain.

18 Terrorist Attacks Prevented Since January

Interior Minister Efkan Ala claimed in a recent on-air interview that Turkish security forces have prevented 18 terrorist attacks since January 1, 2016. Ala stated that on the day of the February 17 Ankara bombing, which killed 29 people, three cars laden with explosives were detected before they were able to attack, and that another car bomb was found and disarmed earlier this week. This revelation comes after the Turkish government came under attack for being unable to ensure the protection of its citizens. Ala explained that “we do not share information about most prevented terror attacks with the public.”

Russia Claims Turkey is Shelling PYD in Tel Abyad

As the battle for Tel Abyad continues in Northern Syria near the Turkish border, Russia has reportedly contacted the US to ask about Turkey’s role in shelling YPG forces there. The YPG took Tel Abyad from Daesh forces last year with the help of US-led air strikes, the town lies just north of Raqqa, Daesh’s self-proclaimed capital. As the battle for this strategic city continues between the Kurdish YPG and Daesh, Turkey has denied shelling either group. A YPG spokesman, Redur Xelil, claims that some Daesh forces attacked their positions from the Turkish border, which Turkey denies.

Minister says 355,000 People have left Southeast due to Clashes

Around 355,000 people have fled the Kurdish Southeast since anti-terrorist operations intensified in December of last year. Turkish forces have been battling the PKK since the two-year-long ceasefire was broken in June of 2015. The Turkish government has been criticized for its imposition of 24-hour curfews in some of the more restive regions effected. Cizre, for example, has been under curfew since December 14 of last year, with some residents reporting a lack of access to basic healthcare and necessary utilities. The Turkish Human Rights Foundation reported in January that 198 civilians had been killed in the clashes.

Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s “Mustang” takes home four Caesars

Franco-Turkish director Deniz Gamze Ergüven took home four Caesars at the Caesar film awards in Paris, for his latest film “Mustang.” The film follows the lives of five orphaned sisters living in the Black Sea Region as they struggle to cope with the strict rules of their family members preparing them for arranged marriages. Ergüven’s film won awards for best debut film, best original screenplay, best original music, and best editing. The film was also nominated for best foreign language film at the Oscars, but lost out to Hungarian director Laszlo Nemes’ “Son of Saul.” Ergüven is tremendously happy about the film’s success, saying, “It feels like a dream. We are so, so happy.”

Turkey to ‘Mend Ties’ with Egypt and Israel

Following tense diplomatic relations with both countries; Egypt since the Arab Spring and Israel since the events of the Mavi Marmara, Ankara has held a nine-hour-long cabinet meeting in order to refine and update their roadmap regarding these issues, as well as to discuss the Syrian conflict. Relations with Egypt are hung on Turkey’s stance towards the Muslim Brotherhood and Erdoğan has reportedly refused to meet with Egyptian President Sisi until the death penalty is lifted against deposed Muslim Brotherhood president Morsi. Rapprochement was discussed however and Erdoğan has reportedly agreed to ministerial talks. Participants were also briefed on the state of relations with Israel, which have improved some following Netanyahu’s apology over the Mavi Marmara crisis, during which 9 Turkish citizens and an American with Turkish heritage were killed by Israeli forces. Normalization efforts are close to being completed according to Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, however Turkey’s remaining pre-condition for normalization: the lifting of the blockade on Gaza, remains to be fulfilled.

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