Our latest weekly news digest, summarizing everything you might have missed last week in Turkey and the region.
Leaked Norwegian Report Sheds Light on Turkey’s Oil Purchases from Islamic State
A recently leaked report alleges to demonstrate proof that Turkish businessmen have been benefiting from illegal oil purchased from the Islamic State. The report, compiled by Rystad Energy- an independent oil and gas consulting firm, was put together at the behest of the Norwegian Foreign Ministry, and seems to substantiate some of what Russian president Vladimir Putin has been saying over the past several weeks. Tensions over the downing of a Russian jet near the Syrian border earlier this month soured Russia’s relationship with Turkey, leading to accusations from Moscow that Turkey supported the Islamic State and profited from their illegal oil sales. This newly released report seemingly validates some of those claims, which Turkey has consistently denied and Washington has ignored, however stops short of confirming everything Putin has asserted. The report explains that the majority of ISIS oil is being smuggled into Turkey in container trucks, or sold to Iraqi-Kurds and then repackaged to be sold on Turkish markets. This crude oil is sold for a fraction of the price that it would fetch on the international market. The report does not, however, prove any direct links between President Erdogan’s family and the oil-smuggling business, thus does not confirm Putin’s accusation.
Opposition MP Charged with Treason
Ankara’s Chief Prosecutor’s Office has launched an investigation against Istanbul Representative Eren Erdem, accusing him of treason for an interview he gave on Monday, December 14th. In the interview, the Republican People’s Party (CHP) representative alleged that Turkish businessmen had procured chemical agents from Europe, which had then been sold to the Islamic State and used to create sarin gas. According to Erdem, a Syrian national was arrested in 2013 for buying chemicals for Islamist groups, but a week later all persons arrested in the plot were released without comment. Following the airing of his interview on Turkish television, Erdem received death threats, had his home address listed online, and was accused of treason on various public platforms. In response some in the Turkish online community have rallied around him with the hashtag #ErenErdemYalnızDeğildir, or #ErenErdemYouAreNotAlone.
Continuing Conflict in Kurdish South East
Pro-government media sources within Turkey claim that the government is ramping up its efforts combat Kurdish militants and growing unrest in the southeast by deploying a staggering 10,000 troops. This year was the first time in recent memory that the government has deployed military personnel into urban areas; allegedly to deal with trenches and blockades being built up in major Kurdish-majority cities. Clashes between the PKK and Turkish forces have become an everyday occurrence in recent months after the delicate peace process between the two groups was shattered last June. So far the heavy-handed tactics employed by the Turkish state include rolling 24-hour curfews that have affected some 1.3 million people, midnight raids on civilian homes, and the restriction of utility services as well as medical care. This massive deployment of Turkey’s conscript army is sure to fan the flames of this costly micro-civil-war.
Turkey Criticized for Lack of Freedom of the Press
Turkey was criticized in a recent report by the New York based Committee to Protect Journalists. While China, Egypt, and Iran are the top offenders for this year, Turkey still managed an honorable mention for its lack of journalistic freedoms. The number of journalists imprisoned rose to 14 this year, doubling the number in 2014. Additionally, the Turkish government has seized control of a number of opposition newspapers and replaced their leadership with pro-government supporters, arrested three members of a Vice News team for reporting on the Kurdish issue- including Mohammed Ismael Rasool who is yet to be released, and imprisoned Can Dündar and Erdem Gül amongst much international outcry. Overall, not a terribly good year to be a journalist in Turkey.
Turkey Removes Troops from Northern Iraq
The Turkish foreign ministry has acknowledged a ‘miscommunication’ with the Iraqi central government regarding its deployment of troops into Iraqi Kurdistan. Turkey has promised to continue removing troops from the country after US president Barack Obama urged President Erdoğan to de-escalate the situation in a recent phone call. Trouble began several weeks ago when Iraq’s central government formally objected to the deployment of around 150 Turkish troops, as well as tanks and armored vehicles into a military base near ISIS-held Mosul. The Iraqi central government called the movement of Turkish troops into Iraqi territory an ‘incursion,’ and made various diplomatic efforts to secure their departure—including calling on the UN Security Council to condemn Turkey’s actions. For their part, the Turkish government was reluctant to remove the troops, which it claims were in the region to train Peshmerga forces to fight ISIS in accordance with standing agreements with Baghdad. Ankara claims that the tension between the two countries is only a misunderstanding and has promised to continue working in cooperation with Iraq to defeat ISIS.
Refugee’s Continue to Flee to Europe
The month of December saw 10,000 fewer refugees try their hand at crossing the Aegean Sea from Turkey to the Greek Islands of the European Union. Despite this dramatic decline however more than 45,000 people still managed to make the crossing. This news comes after the landmark European-Turkish ‘refugee deal’ that saw the European Union give Turkey more than $3 billion in aid for improving the living conditions of the more than 2 million refugees currently living in Turkey. Brussels promised to reinvigorate EU accession talks for Turkey in exchange for their cooperation in dealing with the migrant crisis. So far more than 715,000 refugees have fled to Greece this year, the majority traveling through Turkey, a figure that is 16 times higher than in 2014. As the humanitarian crisis in Syria and in Iraq continues it is unclear when these numbers might normalize; so far, the deterioration of political stability in Syria and Iraq is amounting to Europe’s worst refugee crisis since World War II.