18 March 2014 News Roundup

Funerals of Berkin Elvan, Burakcan Karamanoglu and a police officer, election rallies in several cities and releases of Ergenekon suspects occupied this week’s news. The deepening political polarisation that Turkey is suffering has continued to damage the country’s social and economic dynamics.

Gezi victim Berkin Elvan who was in a coma for 269 days died last week.

Berkin was struck in the head by a gas canister during a police attack on protesters in June 16th 2013.  Two million people marched in 53 cities, two people died, 53 civilians and 19 policemen were injured and 417 were detained during two day long Berkin Elvan protests. One young man, Burakcan Karamanoglu, in a clash between two groups was killed by a gunshot in Istanbul. A police officer died of heart attack in Tunceli. Tunceli state hospital said that his death was due to intensive use of teargas used by the police, however, Tunceli police chief denied the hospital’s claim. General Directorate of Security (EGM) launched an investigation into excessive and lethal use of teargas.

Human Rights Watch urged the government to identify police officers responsible for Berkin Elvan’s death. HRW harshly criticised the government for the ongoing police brutality and impunity in Turkey.

Repercussions of power struggle between the AK party government and the Hizmet Movement led by the US based Islamic scholar Fettullah Gulen continued to haunt Turkey’s judiciary and education.

Preseident Gul approved the law on closing ‘dershanes’ (private preparatory schools) which are mostly funded by the Gulen movement. Deputy Undersecretaries in the Ministry of Education, all general directors, all directors of national education in the 81 cities are to be removed as well as all school directors that have been working for 4 or more years.

Several Erkenekon suspects including retired General Veli Kucuk and neo-nationalist Worker’s Party leader Dogu Perincek were released. Release of the suspects by the Istanbul 21th High Criminal Court caused a rift between Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) and a former specially authorised court, the Istanbul 13th Heavy Penal Court which handled the Ergenekon case. The court claimed that the parliament does not have the authority to abolish specially authorised courts. Justice Minister accused the court for not having issued written ‘reasonings’, which is the legal cause for rulings, in the Ergenekon case.

On the other hand, request for release of 91 suspects of Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK) case were rejected by Diyarbakir court. The court argued that some suspects might become militants and join Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) in the mountains. The recent changes to anti-terrorism laws of reducing maximum detention period to five years do not appear to apply to KCK suspects who have been under arrest for several years.

The parliament will convene on 19 March to discuss summaries of proceedings regarding four former ministers who were implicated in corruption probe of December 2003.

Istanbul Prosecutor’s Office approved the first 17 December graft probe indictment charging 21 suspects who were detained in the investigation to Fatih Municipality. Suspects including Fatih Mayor are charged with bribery and destroying and hiding official documents. The prosecutor who re-prepared the indictment was appointed to take over the corruption investigation on 18 December.

The EU progress report voiced concerns.

The European Union’s 2013 progress report on Turkey criticised the government’s handling the corruption allegations, hastily adopted judiciary reforms undermining separation of powers, restrictions on freedom of assembly, freedom of expression and media censorship. Following to that, 18 MEPs concerned about restrictions on freedom of speech and censorship on media in Turkey submitted a request for an EU mission to observe 30 March local elections. PM Erdogan had reportedly said that any observers would be welcome.

Ankara responded that the report is not constructive and deeply disappointing as the report did not refer to any of the positive reforms in judiciary and fundamental rights and freedoms. EU Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu pointed out that the fifth judiciary reform of lately were not addressed at all.

Crimea voted to be part of Russia and the local parliament declared its independence. Turkish Foreign Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, declared that Turkey would not recognise the Crimea referendum calling it “illegitimate”. The EU and the USA did not wait much to pass the proposed sanctions as measures against the territorial integrity of Ukraine.  However, the effectiveness of the sanctions are debatable as the EU banned the travelling rights and freeze the assets of 13 Russians and 8 Crimeans while the USA sanctioned only 7 Russian government officials. However, none of them have close ties with the president of Russia, Vladimir Putin.

On a different note…

  • 16th March marks the 26th anniversary of Halabja Massacre which was a chemical attack killing 5,000 and injuring 7,000 Kurds. Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) and NGOs organised several demonstrations in Diyarbakir to commemorate.
  • The construction of the 3rd Airport in Istanbul will resume, a regional court ruled. The construction had been suspended for specialists to examine environmental issues.
  • UNICEF reported that an estimated number of nearly 900,000 Syrians took refuge in Turkey.
  • Two women who were pointed out for making inappropriate hand gestures to PM Erdogan in an election rally in Izmir were unlawfully detained by PM’s bodyguards for a brief period.
  • English PEN and PEN International launched a joint report on restrictions on freedom of expression in Turkey since the Gezi Park Protests in Turkey. The report urged the government act on the violations of fundamental rights and freedoms and highlighted the issue of self-censorship and lack of confidence in the mainstream media due to direct and indirect intervention from the government and state bodies on reporting news. See full report here.

Assessing the data released by Banking Regulation and Supervision Agency (BDDK), the Minister of Economy, Nihat Zeybekci, declared that 30th March Local Elections is a turning point in the economy.

The data shows the net profit of banking sector decreased by 43.9 % to $ 1.42 billion in January. This is due to unexpected volatilities in the currency, according to Zeybekci and yet he is expecting stability in the currency and interest rates after the elections.

Fitch Ratings announced that Turkish Banks are resistant to moderate financial distresses.

In their report on Turkish banking sector, Fitch ratings stated that due to the ability of Turkish banks to absorb losses, they are resistant to moderate shocks regarding their asset qualities and performances.

1 million estates were sold last year and 10 % of the sales were made to non-residents.

According to the head of The Association of Real Estate and Real Estate Investors (GYODER), Aziz Torun, the sales to non-residents amounted to $ 3 billion, which also means exports. He said that the increase in the interest rates might decrease the demand, however, the main problem for the sector is the political instability in the sector. According to Torun, foreign investors are hesitant to invest in Turkey before the elections; they want to see the general political picture after the elections. And yet he does not give up hope on the future of the sector and believes that further marketing after the elections would boost the sales again.

Turkey Statistical Institute released the statistics on unemployment for December 2013. The number of unemployed people increased by 19 thousands compared to a year ago to 2.809 million.

It corresponds to a decrease by 0.1 % to 10 %. On the other hand, it should be noted that the employment is increasing as opposed to developed countries. 21.8 % of the total employment is accounted for by the agricultural sector, which corresponds to 2.1 % decrease in total unemployment.

The Ministry of Finance approved the release of 1 billion 247 million Turkish Lira subsidy to be paid to farmers and agricultural producers.

“Machinery and Equipment” sector increased its exports in the first two months of the year by 9.7 % to $949 million 848 thousands compared to the same term last year. The sector’s exports amount 3.9 % of the total exports.  Germany ranked as the first, Russia the second, Iran the third, Iraq the fifth and the USA as the sixth exporting partner of the sector.

The budget of the central government had a surplus of $ 1.688 billion in February. The total surplus increased to $ 3.6 billion in January-February. The surplus was achieved by a decrease in expenditures by 3.5 % and an increase in revenues by 5.9 % on a year-on-year basis.

CEFTUS Insights Editors