News of the Week – 22nd March 2016

Source: Voice of America

Source: Voice of America

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

Academics Arrested

The detention of three academics, Esra Mungan, Kıvanç Ersoy, and Muzaffer Kaya caused widespread concern in Turkey and among the international community. The three were arrested in relation to their signatures on a joint petition calling for an end to military operations in Turkey’s southeast against the outlawed Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK); it had been signed by more than 1,000 of their colleagues. They are charged with “supporting terror,” a testament to Turkey’s notoriously broad anti-terrorism laws. Nils Muiznieks, the Council of Europe commissioner for human rights, has said that he is “following with great concern the recent developments relating to freedom of expression and academic freedom in Turkey.

Nevruz Celebrated Across Turkey

Annual Nevruz celebrations took place across Turkey, marking the first day of Spring. People’s Democratic Party (HDP) co-chair Selahattin Demirtas spoke at festivities in Diyarbakir saying “we are committed to the solution path proposed in Dolmabahce. War, conflict and death are not normal situations we need to get used to.” The “Dolmabahce Agreement” refers to a document signed on February 28th, 2015, between the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and HDP officials. It set a 10-item list of priorities to help resolve the Kurdish issue. Over the weekend at least 164 people were detained during unauthorized demonstrations to mark the holiday. Nevruz is celebrated across central Asia, but was banned this year and in previous years in many Turkish cities allegedly due to security concerns.

President Erdoğan Lacks Faith in EU Commitment

President Erdoğan has voiced suspicions over the EU’s commitment to lifting travel restrictions for Turkish citizens in the Schengen zone. The EU recently promised to expedite a visa-free travel agreement for Turkish citizens as part of renewed talks regarding Turkey’s EU accession. Accession talks have been stalled for years now, and the reignited discussion is largely seen as conciliation for Turkey’s cooperation in dealing with the Syrian refugee crisis. President Erdoğan expressed his frustrations over a recent list of 72 criteria that the EU wants Turkey to meet before visa-free travel is implemented. “The EU has never treated Turkey in a sincere way and they are not sincere now,” he said.

Istanbul Bombing

On Saturday, March, 19th a terrorist attack claimed the lives of five people in central Istanbul, wounding more than 30 others. Turkish authorities have identified the suicide bomber as one, Mehmet Oz, a Turkish national with links to Daesh. Two of the victims killed were dual American-Israeli citizens, one was Israeli, and the fourth was Iranian. Several of those wounded were also tourists, demonstrating the Daesh strategy of targeting Turkey’s already vulnerable tourism industry. This attack came just six days after a bombing by TAK, a militant Kurdish group, in downtown Ankara claimed the lives of 34 people.

Consul Generals March Against Terrorism

Consul generals from 19 countries, as well as several mayors, marched against terrorism today, on March 22nd. The march reportedly erupted somewhat spontaneously as many of the consul generals from consulates in Istanbul decided to take part. Belgian Consul General Henri Marc Jose Vantieghem was present, and thanked the Turkish people for their support in the wake of a terrorist attack in Belgium’s capital which saw 34 killed. The dignitaries marched along Istikal Avenue, the site of a March 19th terrorist attack.

Turkish Iranian Businessman Arrested in Florida

US state police in Florida has arrested Iranian-born Turkish businessman Reza Zarrab. According to the United States Department of Justice, the Turkish National was arrested for Conspiring to Evade U.S. Sanctions Against Iran, Money Laundering and Bank Fraud. In Turkey, Zarrab was one of the prime suspects in a corruption and bribery case involving the Turkish government that went public on Dec. 17, 2013. The businessman was again accused of money laundering and gold smuggling in Turkey that circumnavigated sanctions against Iran however the chargers were dropped after the prosecutors in charge of the case were accused by the then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of plotting against the government and were promptly removed from their posts.

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