10 June 2014 News Roundup

Photo credit: Radikal, www.radikal.com.tr

Tensions rose in Turkey as activism by pro-Kurdish factions as well as government’s security forces intensified. Environmental concerns also increased with the initiation of the construction of Istanbul’s third airport, as well as the protests in Amasya against the construction of a petrol station. Women’s and workers’ rights are on the agenda with the new draft bill. In foreign policy, Iranian President Rouhani’s visit marks a symbolic first in 18 years. Meanwhile, economic developments highlight expectations for inflation to decrease this month. 

The Kurdish Issue, the success of the Peace Process, the position of the jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, and fears of rising violence have been dominating Turkey’s media this week.

Three ministers with various NGOs and members of the public gathered in Diyarbakir to discuss possible steps to stop violence between sides including the recent abduction of soldiers and children and to restart the peace process in a workshop called the ‘Peace Process’.

  • Deputy PM Besir Atalay said that the government is ready to propose a legally binding new road map to solve the issue.
  • Interior Minister Efkan Ala stated that it is the government who now has the key to negotiations without ‘foreign mediators’.

Nobody from the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) or the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) participated in the workshop although both parties are known to be active in the resolution process for the Kurdish issue. The BDP holds the mayorship of Diyarbakir and the members of the HDP occasionally visit the imprisoned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) leader, Abdullah Ocalan.

In response to the workshop, KCK (urban wing of the PKK) Executive Council Co-chair Cemil Bayık stated that the government’s recent attempts are only to buy time before the elections. He said the construction of military posts and dams and roads for military use in the area continue, which he commented that it is only contradictory as peace cannot be built with more military maneuvers. Bayik called Kurdish people to “step up the struggle”.

Meanwhile, there has been a recent rift between the government and the other actors of the peace process. The government has accused the PKK abducting young boys and girls from their families for guerilla training in the mountains. Some argued that the young boys and girls voluntarily leave home to join the militants in the mountains as they justify that the PKK is the only power to act against the injustices by the Turkish state.

For the past few weeks, numerous families from eastern Turkey have been protesting in front of the Diyarbakir Metropolitan Municipality offices. The families claim that their children aged under 18 years old, have been forced and/or persuaded to join the PKK and join the armed struggle of the Kurdish movement. They are demanding the Kurdish local authorities to contact and negotiate with the PKK to bring their children back. The mothers have been sitting in front of the municipality building for days, but will halt their protest for one day, in order to commemorate the deaths of two civilians in Lice. Afterwards, the families said they will begin a hunger strike for two days. The families’ demands for their children to be released are accompanied by their broader call for an end to violence in the region. The issue has increased tensions between the governing AKP and the HDP, the largest party representing the Kurdish vote in parliament.

The deaths of two men, Ramazan Baran and Baki Akdemir, in Lice, a province of Diyarbakır, have sparked protests throughout the country. Two men had died during the protests in Lice, against construction of police stations in the area. An exchange of fire between Turkish security forces and armed Kurdish forces had resulted in their deaths last week. These deaths and the continuing protests have resonated throughout Turkey’s political and media scene.

  • Protests (and intervention from security forces) continued at the funeral of the two victims.
  • Protests have occurred in the University of Kocaeli, where a group of people broke the windows of the university. The police have detained 17 individuals.
  • Protests were also seen in Istanbul, Ankara, Mardin, Tokat and several other cities.
  • The armed rebels have also blockaded roads in Diyarbakır as well as kidnapping two workers.

All political factors have responded to the events;

  • PM Erdogan blamed the Kurdish factions for sabotaging the peace process.
  • Members of the main opposition party CHP have criticised the governing party for not being able to lead the peace process successfully and tactfully.
  • Meanwhile, the HDP’s Selahattin Demirtaş has announced that they will hold their weekly group meeting in Lice this week. They also organised a rapid trip to Imrali, to speak with the jailed leader of the PKK Abdullah Ocalan.
  • The PKK announced that Abdullah Ocalan is not the only address to negotiate the peace process and to stop deaths in Lice, Diyarbakir.

The government has allowed officials of the HDP to visit Ocalan in Imrali where he is serving life sentence. However, the PKK urged that if Ocalan is expected to deliver peace by the government and the people, Ocalan should be released. Otherwise, they argued that mere visits to Imrali will not bring peace to the region.

A demonstrator took down a Turkish flag in an Air Force base in Diyarbakir. PM Erdogan and President Gul harshly condemned the flag incident. Ocalan in his message urged the Kurdish people to stay resilient and calm against provocations in the peace process.

TUBITAK determined the recordings of PM Erdogan and Egemen Bagis were fabricated.

The Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey (TUBITAK) has announced that the recordings of PM Erdogan and previous EU minister Egemen Bagış were fabricated and had been assembled from different speeches of the politicians to create the released versions of the conversations. However, the verdict has been quite controversial in Turkey. Many experts have demanded TUBITAK release a detailed report of its verdict, since the recordings were deemed authentic before. The reshuffling and transferring of the members of TUBITAK by the governing party a few weeks ago are adding certain question marks to TUBITAK’s announcement. Former Vice-President of TUBITAK, Dr Hasan Palaz, who was dismissed from his position in February 2014, stated in an interview that the report is not prepared up to the usual standards of TUBITAK, hence it fails to become a reliable document to prove that the recordings were fabricated. Palaz added that fabricating reports without scientific reliability at the request of political parties could lead to further violations to truth and justice in the country.

Issues regarding the rights and safety of women are vying for attention in Turkey’s media.

The bill covering amendments to violence and sexual abuse against children and women as well as other issues such as social security and subcontracted workers receives criticism from women associations. Some 243 associations made a joint call on the new law claiming that the new law might actually result in shorter sentences for crimes against women and children as well as several other outcomes. More on this link.

According to the statistics of Bianet, a total of 23 women have been killed by men in May 2014. In 56,5% of the cases, the murderers were the husbands of the women. The number of women killed in the first five months of 2014 has now reached 112. In the first five months of 2014;

32 women and female children have been raped,

263 women injured and

44 women and female children have been sexually harassed.

Meanwhile, the Istanbul Women’s Rights Commission of the Human Rights Association has announced that 83 women have been killed in the last three months. They demanded a revision of the new bill regarding sexual crimes against women and children.

Ministry of Interior confirmed that Ugur Kurt was killed by the police on 22 May 2014.

Kurt was attending a funeral at a Cemevi in Okmeydani, a district in Istanbul. He was a bystander to a memorial for 15 year old Berkin Elvan who was killed during Gezi protests in 2013 and for the Soma miners.

Turkey continues to remember the victims of the incident at Soma mine.

The parliamentary commission formed to investigate the incident at the Soma mine has now begun working. The MPs have prayed at the site where the Soma workers were buried. They will be briefed by the district governorship and will then visit the families of the victims.

Family members of a victim of the incident at the Soma mine have sued the General Directorate of Turkish Coal Enterprises. The victim’s 23 year old wife and her children are demanding a compensation payment of TRY 393 thousand, of which 390 thousand is compensation for pain and suffering rather than financial distress.

The construction of the 3rd Airport in Istanbul has begun with a ceremony where PM Erdogan with several ministers participated.

PM Erdogan stated that the airport will be the biggest airport in the world and that this project has an historic importance thanks to the magnitude of the construction. He added that the Gezi Protests last summer and the recent attacks to the government have been to hamper this construction. It is, however, claimed that the construction will destroy millions of trees as well as natural habitat of dozens of lakes and the like. The site of the construction is where one of Istanbul’s rare forests is located, the northern part of the European site. According to a report by the Ministry of Environment and Urban Planning, 657,950 trees will be cut and 1,855,391 trees will have to be transferred to elsewhere. Protests against the construction of the 3rd Airport took place elsewhere in Istanbul. The airport is projected to be completed by 2018 and it will be able to carry 150 million passengers a year.

On a different note…

  • International observers are coming for the presidential election after reports of irregularities in the local elections in March 2014.
  • Iranian President Hasan Rouhani visited Ankara for the first time in 18 years and met with President Gul and PM Erdogan. The visit was to improve bilateral relations between the two countries.
  • Protests with a Gezi-like spirit took place in north-eastern city, Amasya. A group of people protested against a construction of a petrol station as 137 trees in a park would have been cut. The hashtag #DirenAmasya was trending on social media. The protestors have won against the authorities in Amasya. The construction of the petrol station has halted.
  • A new development in the Hrant Dink case has opened the way for public officials to be investigated and tried for the responsibility in the death of the Armenian journalist.
  • Turkey’s first Kurdish brand is now on sale. The olive oil called “Xilxali” is being produced by a retired man in the city of Mardin. Production of Xilxali not only aims to introduce the concept of Kurdish brands in Turkey’s economy, but also to revive the production and possibly export of olive oil from the region.
  • Chapul TV is celebrating the first year anniversary of its establishment. The station was founded as a reaction to the inactive and unresponsive, self-censoring mainstream media during the Gezi Protests of last year. The TV station reached 1,5 million people and viewers of 7 satellite TV stations in the first ten days of its broadcasts. The station has not received and stable funding nor income from advertisements, and is rather being kept alive by volunteers. Its foundational aims include the spread of knowledge that is being ignored by the monopolistic creators and communicators of information, challenge the hierarchical structure of information creating contexts (such as the media) and to isolate themselves as much as possible from the commercial interests of mainstream media.
  • World renowned Massive Attack gave a concert in Istanbul, where the group gave messages of solidarity with the Gezi Protestors as well as the victims of the incident at Soma.

Rather than the domestic markets, headlines this week were mainly occupied by the European Central Bank’s (ECB) rates decision, while the markets were concentrated on external factors.

The ECB’s announcement signified a determined approach to reviving the euro-economy, and is likely to influence all markets in the region, including indirectly Turkey.  President Draghi claimed that the package eases the monetary policy stance of the bank and enhances the ease at which the effects of its monetary policy will be observed in the real economy. He is confident “the package will boost inflation to 2.0%”. The announcement included the following changes;

  • The prolonged deflation in the European Market as well as markets in general has been putting pressure on the ECB to change its interest rate policy. It cut rates across the board; the repo rate from 0.25% to 0.15%, the deposit rate from 0% to -0.10% and the marginal facility rate from 0.75% to 0.40%;
  • The ECB also suspended sterilising its Securities Market Programme (SMP). The programme was launched in 2010, as the bank’s version of quantitative easing. The ECB used to sterilize its SMP, countering any changes on money supply, thus leaving the overall market liquidity unchanged. The suspension of this sterilisation will mean that any purchases made by the ECB may lead to an increase in the money supply in the economy. This is another means of the bank to stimulate Europe’s economy.
  • The ECB unveiled a package of targeted Long Term Refinancing Operations (LTROs). This move is aiming to expand banks’ lending to non-financial private sector, again as part of its efforts to stimulate the euro area’s economic activity. The ECB also extended fixed-rate, full allotment regular open market operations to end-2016.
  • It also announced intentions to start an Asset Backed Security (ABS) programme and preparatory work related to outright purchases of ABS. This market can facilitate new credit flows to the economy, opening the way for further investments. The ECB has not yet committed to using them but is “considering purchasing simple, real and transparent ABS”. Given the ECB’s reluctance to finance the housing market through TLTROs, this suggests that a large portion of Residential Mortgage Backed Securities (RMBS) would not be targeted. And yet President Draghi leaves the door open when he says that the ECB is ready to take actions if deemed necessary upon the concerns on low inflation and strong Euro.

Meanwhile, in Turkey, inflation rates, GDP growth rates and Moody’s downgrading of Turkish banks filled up the headlines.

Inflation increased lower than market expectations by 0.40% while producer prices decreased 0.52% in May. With this increase inflation became 9.66%, the highest in the past 25 months.

During his presentation to the cabinet, the Governor of the Central Bank of the Republic of Turkey, Erdem Basci, stated that;

  • GDP growth will be closer to 4%
  • The peak point of the inflation will be observed in May
  • Inflation is expected to decrease towards targeted levels from June onwards
  • Credit growth rate is getting close to 15%
  • Current account deficit is improving.

Moody’s downgraded 11 Turkish banks as a result of its assessment since March 2014. The decision was justified with;

  • Slow down in growth,
  • Increasing financing costs,
  • And the ambiguities rooted in Turkey’s economic and political developments would impair banks’ business conditions, risking the strength and profitability of banks.

Moody’s kept the sovereign rate at Baa3, but downgraded the outlook in April. In contrast, Fitch Ratings confirmed the outlook of Turkish banks as positive. Janine Dow explained that;

  • Sources of financing for Turkish Banks are diverse and for longer-terms compared to similar countries.
  • Further, the capital structures of banks will improve in the coming months.

CEFTUS Insights Editors