Turkish News Weekly Briefing, 2nd June – 7th June 2016


02/06/2016 – Guardian

Turkey recalls ambassador after German MP’s Armenian genocide vote

Turkey has recalled its ambassador from Berlin after German MPs approved a motion describing the massacre of Armenians by Ottoman forces a century ago as genocide – a decision that the Turkish president said would “seriously affect” relations between the two countries.

The five-page paper, co-written by parliamentarians from the Christian Democrats, Social Democrats and Green party, calls for a “commemoration of the genocide of Armenian and other Christian minorities in the years 1915 and 1916”. It passed with support from all the parties in parliament. In a show of hands, there was one abstention and one vote against.

The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, had voted in favour of the resolution during a test vote at a party meeting on Tuesday, but was absent from the actual vote on Thursday, as were the deputy chancellor, Sigmar Gabriel, and the minister for foreign affairs, Frank-Walter Steinmeier. Gregor Gysi of the Left party described Merkel’s absence as “not very brave”.

02/06/2016 – Aljazeera

US alliance with Syrian PYD alienates Turkey

The most recent spat between the United States and Turkey over American support for the Democratic Union Party (PYD) in Syria is yet another example of increasing tensions between two NATO allies over their respective Syria policies. The images showing US soldiers wearing the People’s Protection Units (YPG) insignia – the military wing of the PYD – drew sharp criticism in Turkey to which the US State Department and the responded with conflicting views in an attempt to calm Turkey’s reaction.

A dangerous gamble

This most recent episode is an indication of an increasingly dangerous trend whereby the US’ exclusive focus on fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) is leading to tactical alliances with sub-state actors on the ground that threaten larger strategic relationships with traditional US allies.

The US government has already acknowledged at the highest levels that the PYD in Syria is aligned with the PKK, which has been waging a war against the Turkish government for more than three decades. This was a remarkable admission given that until very recently, the administration and the US State Department had maintained that the PYD was a separate organisation from the PKK – an armed group that is recognised by both the US and Turkey as a terrorist organisation.

This could be interpreted as a dilemma forced upon the administration by the realities on the ground, but it points to the fact that the US strategy to destroy ISIL is missing some significant elements – such as getting full support and coordination of a critical ally such as Turkey.

Misrepresentation of Turkey

The Turkish government understood PYD’s political agenda and openly opposed the US help to the group. While opposed to the calls to arm the group directly, Turkey nevertheless facilitated the passage of military help  from the Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga and Free Syrian Army (FSA) forces through the Turkish territory to come to the aid of Kobane.

Despite this, Turkey was being presented in the Western media as “not doing enough” to save Kobane from ISIL. Some Kurdish leaders even claimed that Turkey was helping ISIL – an accusation that continues to be repeated without hard evidence. All this was happening while Turkey admitted around 200,000 mostly Kurdish refugees from Kobane in a matter of days and treated hundreds of wounded fighters. Yet Turkey was often presented in the media as demonstrating an anti-Kurdish attitude and letting Kobane fall to ISIL.

Hindered constructive dialogue

As the Turkish leadership has been unable to convince the Obama administration on pulling its support for the PYD, Turkey is pursuing a two-fold strategy: It is employing a military campaign against the PKK inside Turkey, and through drawing a red line along the Euphrates River, it aims to prevent the PYD from connecting its cantons inside Syria.

As the US uses the PYD against ISIL, the NATO allies are at odds over the PYD and risk working at cross purposes. The Obama administration laments the ineffectiveness and fragmentation of Arab forces as well as the absence of effective partners on the ground.

There is obviously some truth in this, but the strategy to defeat ISIL cannot be at the same time alienating crucial regional allies such as Turkey. The US should also be mindful of the political ambitions of its local partners, especially given that ISIL will not disappear only through a military campaign. Turkey certainly understands it cannot prevent the US from supporting whomever it wants to, but this is hindering a constructive dialogue between the allies and it is a recipe for further alienation.

For the anti-ISIL strategy to succeed, having a sustained and serious strategic dialogue with Turkey would go a long way. Failure to have this kind of strategic conversation would not only damage the US-Turkey relations, but it would also further complicate the fight against ISIS.

04/06/2016 – dailystar.com

Erdogan says Armenian genocide charges ‘blackmail’ of Turkey

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said charges the Ottoman Empire committed genocide against Armenians in World War I were being used as “blackmail” against Turkey, adding Ankara would never accept that a genocide took place.

“The issue here is not the Armenians… The Armenian issue is used all over the world as a convenient blackmail against Turkey,” he said in a televised speech after the German parliament recognised the World War I killings as genocide.

“Our attitude on the Armenian issue is clear from the beginning. We will never accept the accusations of genocide.”

05/06/2016 @ rudaw.net

Ankara adopts ‘preventative strike’ policy against PKK

A summer of fierce fighting is forecast as the Turkish government has adopted a “preventative strike” policy in its conflict with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). The policy was adopted at the first cabinet meeting of the new Turkish government, which was chaired by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, according to Hurriyet Daily

News columnist Abdulkadir Selvi.  “Instead of a defensive approach to PKK attacks, a ‘preventative strike’ strategy will be adopted wherever the state is operational. These can be called ‘terror-preventing operations,’ resembling the US’s global strategy after 9/11 and actually first developed by Israel,” said Selvi.

Selvi also reported that the National Security Council and the cabinet discussed intensifying rural operations against the PKK, noting that commando units who have completed operations in urban centres “will be deployed to rural areas.”

Turkish security forces declared a military curfew on rural areas around Lice in Diyarbakir province on Saturday under the belief that “there are high profile militants in the area,” detailed a statement from the provincial governor’s office.

“This summer will certainly be hot in terms of fighting,” Selvi predicted. The strategy of preemptive attacks has been criticized as decreasing stability as it incentivizes states to be the first to start military action that might have otherwise been avoided. Critics say it is a pretext for aggression, and promotes violence with disregard to international law and civil liberties without addressing the root causes of the conflict.

06/06/2016 – BBC

Turkey bus crash: Six children among 14 people killed

At least 26 others are reported to have been injured in the accident, which occurred in the city of Osmaniye as the bus was returning from a school trip. The state-run Anadolu Agency said the bus collided with a car, lost control and veered into an irrigation canal. Rescue teams have been searching the canal for missing passengers.

Earlier, passers-by and residents jumped into the water to try and rescue people trapped inside the bus, Hurriyet newspaper reported. Turkish media said the children were from a school in Hatay province which borders Syria, and were on their way back from a trip to a museum and a national park

07/06/2016 – Fadi Hakura – CNN

Turkey’s downward spiral into instability: How did it get here?

Turkey, once a paragon of relative tranquility in a volatile Middle East, is engulfed by insecurity – as today’s car bomb attack against a police bus in Istanbul cruelly illustrates.

Suspicions will likely fall on the separatist militant Kurdish group the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which carried out similar incidents in Ankara last January and March. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will probably approve the lifting of immunity against the 50 pro-Kurdish members of parliament to facilitate criminal prosecutions against them and potentially dislodge them from their seats. He will also use this tragedy to impress on Turkish voters that Kurdish and Islamist militancy can only be thwarted by transforming Turkey from a parliamentary system into a powerful executive presidency.

Erdogan has pursued a hardline foreign policy that has diminished Turkey's influence in the Middle East and North Africa. His hostility with Russia, and mistrust with Iran and Israel, has thwarted Erdogan’s maneuverability in Syria and contributed to the nearly 3 million migrants on Turkish territory – and violent spillovers from the Middle East.

Erdogan’s crucial relations with the U.S. are testy and have become increasingly transactional and less strategic. These relations have been complicated by the U.S. refusal to cease cooperation with the PKK-affiliated Peoples' Protections Units (YPG) against the ISIS.

Turkey does not enjoy a warm reception with Europe either, despite negotiations over the Syrian migration crisis. Erdogan has been threatening to tear up the EU migration deal if he does secure more concessions on visa-free travel to the Schengen Area — a collection of 26 European countries including France, Germany, and Spain.

Under the “one in, one out” deal, Syrians who cross into Greece illegally will be sent back to Turkey. For every Syrian sent back to Turkey, a vetted Syrian refugee will go from Turkey to Europe to be resettled. In return, the EU has pledged to give Turkey billions in funding to help it provide for migrants within its borders, and grant various political concessions. But Erdogan risks misreading the desperation of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and overplaying his hands by upping demands to an untenable level. He should not be surprised if one day Europe exhibits near-total reticence and lack of cooperation towards him whenever he requires its assistance on a particular issue.

Consequently, Turkey is hardly on a positive domestic and foreign policy trajectory. There’s an increasing prospect that the country’s political, economic and external challenges will over time put additional pressure on an already stagnant Turkish economy and drag the country into a downward spiral of instability. Unless Erdogan implements radical policy reversals, the likelihood of which looks exceedingly remote, Turkey will become more entrenched in the turbulence of the Middle East.

07/06/2016 – Al Monitor

Will Turkey’s military might be overshadowed by political failures?

Turkey’s annual Efes military exercises featured many firsts this year and seemed particularly relevant to the country’s current concerns. Though the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) is dealing with developments in Syria, border security issues, and combating the Islamic State (IS) and the PKK, it nevertheless proceeded with the event May 30-31. The live-fire exercise was designed to test the combined operations of TSK’s land, naval, air and special forces. This year, for the first time, units from the United States, Germany, Britain, Saudi Arabia, Azerbaijan, Qatar, Pakistan and Poland participated in the exercise.

Another major issue that attracted attention this year was the radical change in exercise scenario observed by representatives of 79 countries. In previous years, the exercise was conducted with unlinked, small-scale scenarios such as amphibious landings, securing beachheads, close air support, long-distance artillery, and rocket and air-fire support. But this year the scenario was completely rewritten, and for the first time tested a hybrid operation that included combating terror, cyberwarfare and psychological warfare.

According to the scenario, an imaginary country called Torik had occupied the island of another imaginary country, Arnlad. The latter asked for United Nations assistance.

At the request of the UN, all eight participating countries formed task forces. Friendly forces that fought off the occupying country also had to combat a terror organisation. The exercise aimed at planning, coordinating and executing combined operations; training personnel; and testing and developing command-control procedures, electronic warfare tactics and air-space control. The exercise also briefed participants on each other’s procedures and tactics, and the joint use of weapons, and aimed to elevate the training levels of participating forces and their headquarters personnel.

This year, the scenario also included a separatist terror organization active on the occupied island, and observers noted how the situation illustrated TSK’s real-life practice of giving priority to combating an ethnically motivated terror organisation, such as the PKK, before taking on a religiously motivated one like IS.

When securing peace and combating terror were added to the agenda, for the first time civilian personnel from government ministries and other public bodies were incorporated into the exercise. It seems somewhat belated, but by including civilians, the TSK showed it is finally becoming aware of the need for civilian-military integration in future operations.

The exercises also employed several firsts in the use of military technology. For example, Atak helicopters participated in live-fire action. The helicopters just entered TSK service and are now being used in clashes with Kurdish armed groups in the southeast. Vestel Defense Industry Corp's Karayel assault drones, and Bayraktar

TB2 tactical drones were used for the first time. The Turkish media has covered in detail the briefing of President  Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Chief of General Staff Gen. Hulusi Akar by the owner of the Bayraktar company, which has made substantial progress in producing armed drones. Bayraktar’s owner, Selcuk Bayraktar, is Erdogan’s son-in- law.

Akar, referring to the United States in his speech ending the exercise, said, “The TSK has always preferred to solve problems through dialogue. But nobody should expect the TSK to disregard and not react to violations of peace and security of our country and the region. The TSK is supporting alliances set up to preserve peace and stability in our region and in the world. But it should not be forgotten that the promises made and agreements reached when setting up such alliances are mutually binding obligations.”

Erdogan followed the exercises closely, which prompted exceptional interest in them by pro-Justice and Development Party media. For instance, the daily Aksam, under the headline “Independence exercise,” wrote, “This exercise was a message to Turkey’s allies who have not supported Turkey adequately in combating terror. Turkey once again showed that it can take care of its own needs. The chief of general staff — who summed up the exercise — emphasized Turkey’s strength while hinting at his disappointment with its allies, led by the United States.”

In a nutshell, the Efes military exercise was a display of the TSK’s efforts toward an institutional turning point, to adapt to future operational environments and hybrid threats. Naturally, observers noted the relevance of the exercise scenario to the operational environment in northern Syria, and that the exercise was transformed into a multinational effort. Observers had a chance to see how the TSK is working tirelessly to improve its combat effectiveness with new tactics and operational methods.

Of course, it is not enough for the TSK to become an effective war machine if civilian decision-makers fail to make appropriate political choices or lack the skill to comprehend global security developments and future operational environments. Misjudgments at political-strategic levels in today’s complex operational environments are not easy to overcome, no matter how successful soldiers can be.

07/06/2016 – telegraph.co.uk

Turkey sank an Airbus jet in the Aegean Sea to attract tourism

An Airbus airliner has been sunk off the Aegean coast by Turkish officials in a bid to attract more diving tourism as the country deals with declining overseas visitors.

The Airbus A300 was put under water from the south-western resort town Kuşadası, 50 miles south of Izmir, a popular tourism destination in western Turkey, on Saturday. The jet, worth 270,000 Turkish lira (£64,000), had been broken up in Istanbul in April before being sent to the town in Aydin province. The plane will attract underwater flora and fauna. It is believed to be the largest plane – 177 feet long and a 144-foot wingspan- ever used as an artificial reef and was bought by the Aydin municipality from a private aviation company.

The mayor of Aydin said she hoped the project would develop underwater tourism in the area. “With this project, the aim is to increase the underwater biodiversity off [the coast of] Kusadası and to further develop underwater tourism in the area. We expect some 250,000 domestic and foreign tourists per year to come here for diving.”

With the project, Kuşadası will hopefully close this summer with the fewest losses and make the people of [the town] and the people in this business smile. In short, [it] will be a milestone for Kuşadası tourism," Özlem Çerçioğlu, Aydın metropolitan mayor, said, according to Daily Sabah, a Turkish English-language newspaper.

Turkey has previous sunk off planes, though they have been smaller. Since 2009, three have been sunk in Antalya, southern Turkey, in its Kas and Kemer districts, it was reported.

08/06/2016 – Wall Street journal

Turkey Blames Kurdish Insurgents for Fatal Bombings in Past Two Days

Turkish officials on Wednesday blamed Kurdish insurgents for back-to- back car bombings over two days that killed at least 14 people in Istanbul and the country’s southeast, and vowed to press ahead with an “uncompromising” war on terrorism.

Following Tuesday’s strike on security forces in central Istanbul, the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, attacked police headquarters in the Midyat district of Mardin on the Syrian border Wednesday, a Turkish official in Ankara said.

At least one policeman and two civilians were killed in the Mardin blast, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said in televised remarks from Istanbul, where he was visiting about three dozen people wounded in the Tuesday attack. Around another 30 people were wounded in the Mardin bombing, which took place about 26 hours after a similar assault in Istanbul killed five policeman and six civilians.

Edited by Edward Rowe,

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