Our latest weekly news digest, summarizing everything you might have missed last week in Turkey and the region.
Tens of Thousands more Syrians flee towards Turkey
According to Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, up to 70,000 Syrian refugees fled Aleppo, Syria’s largest pre-war city, as Russian bombers began attacking opposition forces in the region last week. The current inflow of migrants driven into Turkey by these attacks represents the largest single movement of refugees into the country since DAESH attacked Kobane in 2014. “Either they’re going to die in the bombardment there… Or we will take all these people by opening up our borders. This is what we’re doing now,” Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmuş told CNN Türk early February 7. Turkey already hosts more than 3 million combined Syrian and Iraqi refugees, amounting to around 4 percent of the country’s total population.
Currently over 35,000 refugees are amassed on Turkey’s border, which remains closed despite warnings from aid groups. In contrast to his previous statements, Kurtulmuş told CNN Türk television that “Turkey has reached the limit of its capacity to absorb the refugees.” Camps are being set up over the border by various Turkish aid organizations, providing food and emergency shelter to the refugees, many of whom are women and children.
Serbian Snipers of the PKK
The Serbian Foreign Ministry summoned Turkey’s ambassador to Serbia this week after two pro-government newspapers released stories claiming that Serbian snipers working as mercenaries for the PKK had been either captured, or killed, by Turkish military forces. Neither the Serbian media or the Turkish government have confirmed the incident. Yeni Şafak and Vatan, the two papers in question, did not quote directly from government sources regarding the incident. Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said only that foreign snipers working for the PKK had been killed, but did not mention Serbia specifically. Turkish Interior Minister Efkan Ala called the stories baseless speculation, explaining: “We do not disclose information about their nationalities.” Some view the reports as little more than inflammatory rhetoric meant to discredit the PKK. “Sometimes the foreign fighters are Armenians, sometimes as in this care they happen to be Serbians or uncircumcised non-Muslims,” Ali Akel a journalist-commentator from Turkey said. “It is done for spreading fabricated information. It is a sort of psychological war.”
US Ultimatum: Turkey or the PYD
President Erdoğan had some harsh words regarding a senior U.S. official’s visit to Kurdish controlled northern Syria. “Look, [U.S. Vice President Joe] Biden arrived with an assistant…Just during the meetings in Geneva, he travels to Kobane. He receives a plaque from a so-called general in Kobane. How will we trust? Am I your partner or are the terrorists in Kobane?” Erdoğan questioned. The Turkish government and the USA have recently butted heads over the classification of the Syrian Kurdish group: the PYD. Turkey holds that the group is little more than a front for PKK interests in Syria, while the USA considers them a vital ally in its fight against DAESH. Erdoğan made it very clear that he would pursue Turkish interests regarding the situation in Syria, saying, “We don’t want to make the same mistake that was made in Iraq in Syria.”
Tourism Industry Damaged by Gülen
Culture and Tourism Minister Mahir Ünal blames Turkey’s recent tourism sector slump on the ‘parallel state.’ Ünal claims that Fethullah Gülen’s faith-based movement has been using its international contacts to shame Turkey and depict it as an unsafe place for foreign tourism; he also blames the group’s domestic connections for negative reporting regarding the state of the tourism sector. In his discussion of the state of the tourism industr, Ünal did not comment on the Russian crisis, or global perceptions of terror attacks in Turkey.
Istanbul Court Accepts Indictment of Journalists
An Istanbul court accepted the indictment prepared against Erdem Gül and Can Dündar. The first hearing for their case will be held on March 25th. The journalists demand for pre-trial release was rejected by the court. Dündar and Gül face charges of “gathering secret state documents for the purpose of political and military espionage,” “attempting to topple the government of the Republic of Turkey or attempting to stop either partially or totally the government fulfilling its duties” and “deliberate support for a terrorist organization without being a member.” They were arrested on terrorism charges on November 26th, 2015 because of a story they published purporting to show the National Intelligence Agency (MIT) transporting illegal arms into Syria.
Protests against PKK Airstrikes follow Erdoğan Abroad
Ecuador’s Foreign Ministry has conveyed its unease over the use of force by President Erdoğan’s presidential guard during a demonstration in Ecuador’s capital Quito. The incident took place when a group of protestors were attacked by the President’s guards. The protestors were there to draw attention to Turkey’s ongoing military operations in the south-east and increasing civilian deaths. A Turkish official commented anonymously saying that, “We are of course respectful of freedom of expression and assembly, but those demonstrators should not have been able to approach Mr. President so closely.” This unfortunate event comes shortly curfews were finally lifted in one Turkish province, Silopi, following more than a month and half of violence. The pro-government newspaper, Yeni Şafak, reports that life continues as normal in the province now that it has finally been cleansed of terrorists.
Davutoğlu: Childbirth is a National Service
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu made headlines this week when he made the controversial claim that giving birth should be considered a national service. The AKP has come under frequent attack for what many see as a regressive view of women’s role in modern society, although the criticism is usually leveled at President Erdoğan. Davutoglu has also stated that working hours for women will be improved so that “Our women will no longer be torn between being a doctor or a mother.”
In relation to this, Hacettepe University and the Ministry of Family and Social Policy have recently released a report revealing that 38 percent of women in Turkey are exposed to some form of domestic violence. The report supplies precise demographic information regarding the victims of domestic violence, and contains information that may be helpful in decreasing the number. Women who marry early are at a higher risk for violence, and economic abuse (not being allowed to work) seems to be prevalent in society as well.