11 March 2014 News Roundup


PM Erdogan’s wiretappings, reforms into the judiciary, continuation of Gezi protests formed the background of this week’s media coverage. International Women’s Day protests received high level attention, highlighting the dire need for the development of women’s rights in Turkey. National upsurge against a pro-Kurdish party has been disruptive as the date for local election nears. The fragility of Turkey’s economy has again been highlighted with new data and announcements: energy dependency, budget and current account deficits have been underlined.

International Women’s Day demonstrations highlighted the situation of women in Turkey.

Feminist Night Walk was organised on March 8th in Istanbul, with the participation of numerous feminist and women’s organisations as well as organisations of LGBT and mixed groups.  Police attacked the protestors with tear gas. The protestors that wanted to reach Taksim Square were trapped in streets heading to the square by the police.

Women in Kayseri demanded their local authorities to improve the conditions of women in the city. 18 women’s organisations in the city made a joint announcement entitled “The Demands and Expectations of the Women of Kayseri from the Local Authorities”. Their demands included:

  • Free childcare centres
  • Better street lighting in many areas of the city
  • Expanded coverage of public transport
  • More safe havens for women and family planning centres
  • Allocation of stalls for women in local markets, facilitation of women in the work place

Around 5000 women protested in Ankara, with their primary slogan as “we are not obeying”. They raised their voice against the authority and domination of men, the state and capital. Organised under the Ankara Women’s Platform protested rapes, violence against women, the focus on sexual labour rather than poverty, government’s demand for three children from every family. The women criticised PM Erdogan, calling him an enemy of women.

This week Cumartesi Anneler/Insanlari (Mothers of Saturday) demanded more information regarding many women under arrest, whose whereabouts and fate are unknown. The mothers also commemorated Rosa Luxemburg whose death under detention was attempted to be covered up. The Mothers of Saturday meet in Galatasaray Square every Saturday to remember many detainees whose situation, whereabouts and health are unknown.

Echoes of the numerous transcripts of the wiretappings into PM Erdogan’s conversations have continued to stir up political disputes and reactions across the country.

President Gul ordered State Audit Board (DDK) to investigate the recent wiretappings, corruption allegations and allegations of discrimination in recruitment as well as other concerning public issues of lately.

PM Erdogan admitted the authenticity of certain recordings, while attacking his critiques and the Gulen movement.

Amid numerous leaked phone recordings of PM Erdogan speaking to either his son Bilal Erdogan, business people and other cabinet ministers, PM Erdogan admitted that he had spoken to former Minister of Justice regarding a court case and commented that it was natural to interfere in a case when there were clear signs of ‘dirty wrongdoings’. Erdogan commented that the issue is how his phone and his ministers’ phone could be tapped and he accused parallel state for wiretapping.

PM Erdogan attempting to silence his political enemies stated in a TV programme that social media sites such as Facebook or YouTube might be banned after 30 March Local Elections. He also announced that the government is considering mass arrests of Gulenists in state departments following elections. Moreover, in a rally in the eastern city of Turkey, Agri, PM claimed that the December 17 corruption probe was executed in order to hinder the government’s reconciliation process with the Kurdish population.

President Gul, however, commented that it is not possible to ban social media as only courts can make a decision of closing internet sites. The new internet law already allows TIB directorate to block pages of any internet site, nevertheless, fully blocking social media sites would be a further step. Additionally, independence of judiciary that Gul refers to remains alarmingly concerning.

An official investigation in Communications Directorate (TIB) revealed that conversations of 509,516 people have been listened to in Turkey in 2012 and 2013. The government officials claim that the ‘parallel state’ of Gulenists is responsible for wiretappings.

The ministers implicated in the December 17 corruption probe are yet to be tried.

Legal proceedings for former Interior Minister, former Chief Negotiator and EU Minister, former Economy Minister and former Environment and Urban Planning who were all implicated in December 2013 graft probe were sent back to the parliament following a review by Istanbul Public Prosecutors’ Office. The proceedings had been returned from Ministry of Justice due to incorrect procedure.

Further developments occurred regarding the judiciary in Turkey.

President Gul signed the law on abolishing Specially Authorised Courts (OYMs). See here for a reminder of the reforms.

The recently signed in judiciary reform of maximum 5 years detention will allow many Ergenekon suspects to be releasedA high-profile convict of Ergenekon case, former chief of staff retired Gen. Ilker Basbug, was released. Constitutional Court ruled his release on the grounds that his right to receive a detailed court ruling was violated. He had been sentenced to life on charges of attempting to topple the government. Also, journalist Tuncay Ozkan, alleged gang leader Sedat Peker and retired Col. Levent Goktas, lawyer Kemal Kerincsiz were released.

The same reform paves the way for releases of many other suspects. Five suspects of torture and murder of three Christians in Malatya (Zirve case) were released as they had been in jail for over five years. Similarly, the key suspect of Armenian journalist Hrant Dink’s assassination, Erhan Tuncel who has been jailed pending trial over 5 years, was released.

Three journalists who were arrested in a court case involving the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK) were released pending trial. None of the defendants attended trial in protest.

Gezi news this week

A new Gezi protests indictment charging Taksim Solidarity members with leading a criminal organisation has been prepared by prosecutors.

A protest took place during an AKP rally where Erdogan was giving an election speech in Eskisehir. Protestors were dispersed by the police. Many were detained. One of the Gezi protestors, Ali ismail Korkmaz, was killed in Eskisehir in June 2013.

Police attacked a group waiting outside the courtroom where the trial of Berkin Elvan was unfolding. Berkin Elvan has been in a coma for the past 268 days due to an injury to the back of his head during a police attack on protestors in June 16th 2013. Despite the demands of Elvan’s family, the suspected policemen are not tried for torture and attempted murder but rather for breaching the limit of the use of force. The police used to tear gas to disperse the crowd who were waiting outside the courtroom to express solidarity with Elvan’s family and destroyed their tents and detained 10 people. The testimonies of seven more policemen have been received, however, none of them remembers who shot the tear gas canon that injured Berkin Elvan.

Marmara University targeted Gezi supporters. Dean of Faculty of Communications, Marmara University sacked two research assistants who joined the two day countrywide strike action that was organised by KESK (Confederation of Public Workers’ Union) during Gezi Park protests. 8 research assistants were fined to promotional suspension penalty for 24 months.

Efforts for EU accession may raise faint hopes for an improvement of human’s rights in Turkey.

A human rights action plan was issued by the Ministry of Justice in response to the EU’s offer to work on Chapter 23 with a view to open the chapter. The plan envisages betterment with regards to freedom of assembly, arbitrary detentions, rights of defendants and transparent internal investigations.

Large scale ultra-nationalist attacks occurred in many cities, targeting the pro-Kurdish party HDP.

5000 people attacked a People’s Democratic Party (HDP) building after a party rally in Aksaray. Attackers damaged the party building and vehicles. Police used tear gas to stop attackers enter the building. HDP officials already exposed to some previous attacks in different cities (about 20 times during this election period) complained that the government is not taking measures to prevent such attacks.  A similar attack took place in Fethiye, Mugla where a crowd marched to a HDP building and demanded authorities to take down the party’s signboard and hang a Turkish flag. The crowd severely damaged many Kurdish businesses in the night in Fethiye. HDP’s Tekirdag office was also attacked on Monday. HDP was formed with former members of Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) and some left-wing parties in October 2013.

On a different note…

  • A demonstrator who held up a sign stating ‘Beware of the thief!’ in an AKP rally, where PM Erdogan was giving a speech, was severally beaten and threatened allegedly by Erdogan’s bodyguards. The man had initially wanted to speak with PM himself to ask for a job, but after unsuccessful attempts, he help up the sign and was beaten instead.
  • Students and locals of Diyarbakir have been protesting cutting of trees in Hewsel Gardens in Dicle University Campus.
  • The Tobacco and Alcohol Market Regulatory Authority (TAPDK) announced that alcohol adverts used on blogs or other social media sites will be fined up to 200,000 TL. The regulation excludes individual internet users, but any picture of alcohol by alcohol companies and blog owners will be fined for promoting alcohol use.
  • Former Economy Minister, Zafer Caglayan who had to resign over corruption allegations, was harshly criticised for his words in a speech. He had stated that he would have understood the recent attacks on the AKP government if ‘coup-plotters’ were” Jews, Zoroastrians and atheists.” Caglayan made an apology only to the Jewish community of Turkey.

A note on the effects of the Ukraine crisis on Turkey…

We would not exaggerate much if we say that we were at the brinks of World War 3 between Russia and the USA over Ukraine dispute last week. The issue is still unresolved but it is at much more ease. Let alone possible economic effects of a war between these two powers on emerging markets, and especially Turkey as one of the most fragile country (see below), Turkey has also great stake in Ukraine for natural gas deliverance. The natural gas Turkey is receiving is being delivered over the pipeline in Ukraine. In the past we have seen many times disputes over gas prices between Russia and Ukraine can risk the energy supply for Turkey and Europe. The Minister of Energy and Natural Resources, Taner Yildiz, assured however that there will not be any disruptions in the deliverance of natural gas over Ukraine.

Turkey’s energy dependency is highlighted in new figures.

Unlicensed Electricity Generation Association (LI-DER) brought forward the dependency on energy imports of Turkey in the second sectoral meetings. The head of the association, Yalcin Kiroglu, emphasised that Turkey needed to invest $118 billion on infrastructure in order to reduce the energy deficit equivalent of $ 60 billion and $11 billion of this investment has to be on renewable resources.

Kiroglu pointed out the interesting fact that Turkey is second in the world in water heating by solar power as opposed to electricity generation.  The reason for this, according to Kiroglu, is that the use of solar power in water heating does not require any licence or permission whereas it is required for electricity generation. Kiroglu asked for relaxation in the bureaucracy in order to boost electricity generation by renewable resources in private houses.

Turkey’s economy is criticised for its fragility and unsustainable mode of growth.

Standard and Poor (S&P) announced Turkey, Ghana and Ukraine are the most fragile developing countries to political risks. The credit rating agency does not expect, however, a rate change due to current market conditions and warn these countries to take measures against political risks upon FED’s continuing tapering. S&P also reviewed the ratings of 6 Turkish banks and downgraded their outlook due to increasing risks in  fund raising.

In an article in Forbes, Turkey’s economy is also criticised of relying on credit bubbles. It is analysed that low interest rates and high new borrowing inflated the consumption and construction on the economy, creating a bubble to burst out so much worse than 1997 Asia Crisis. Turkish economy is criticised as repeating the unsustainable mode of growth that led to the recent crisis. This is indeed proven by the recent unemployment figures. Over ten years Turkish economy could not generate employment on a sustainable basis and kept the unemployment rate at 9.7 % in 2013.

Consumer prices increased higher than expected.

  • Consumer prices increased 0.43 % in February, slightly higher than the expectations of an increase by 0.41%. This increase corresponded to an increase of 7.89 % annually.
  • However, domestic producer prices surpassed the expectations and increased 1.38 % monthly and 12.40% annually in February.
  • Taken as 12 months average, inflation became 7.60 % in consumer prices and 6.11 % in producer prices.

Turkey’s manufacturing Purchasing Managers Index (PMI), prepared by Markit to HSBC, increased from 52.7 to 53.4.

A score higher than 50 in PMI indicates a growing manufacturing sector. The increase was accounted for by increasing orders, exports and production in February despite the adverse effects of increasing input costs due to currency depreciation, and of inflation on output prices.  Industrial production also surpassed the expectations of 4.5 % rise and increased 7.3 % in January.

The seventh Turkey Sectoral Economy Council was hosted by The Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges of Turkey.

Representatives from 60 different sectors studied their problems and presented them with their expected solutions to the members of the government. The government was represented by the Minister of Treasury (Ali Babacan), the Minister of Development (Cevdet Yilmaz) and the Minister of Economy ( Nihat Zeybekci). In the opening speech, Ali Babacan declared the most fundamental problem of Turkish economy as balance of payments deficit and put a strong emphasis on transparency and war on corruption. For details of the problems and solutions of those sixty sectors (in Turkish) see here.

For an unofficial English summary please email [email protected]

One of the main locomotive sectors in Turkey, Automotive, recorded a 12.3 % growth in its export amounting to $21.456 billion in the last twelve months. And yet the sector saw a dramatic slowdown in February. The sector’s domestic market has shrunken 27.5 % to only 35,021 sales due to increasing luxurious consumption tax (OTV), depreciation in the currency and policies against the vehicle loans.

Gold has been for so long one of the main items that constituted huge trade deficit. Its effects were so huge that the Central Bank of the Republic of Turkey had to announce two figures of balance of payments: with and without gold trade in order to emphasise the result of its policies. The import of gold decreased 79 % to 1.27 tonnes in February, signifying a fall of 93 % in gold trade compared to last year February.

Women’s participation in labour force lowest amongst EU countries.

Turkey Statistics Institute (TURKSTAT) announced its women study 2013 days before the International Women’s Day. According to the statistics, Turkey ranked the last among the EU members and candidates in women participation to labour force. While labour participation among men is 95.4 % in the age group 35-39, the highest labour participation among women was observed for the age group 25-29 with a rate of only 38.3 %.