23 September 2014 News Round-up

Photo credit: www.express.co.uk

Controversies regarding the education system have been the main focus of Turkey’s agenda last week. On the foreign front, how the Turkish government will shape its involvement in Syria and Iraq have become even more important after 49 Turkish hostages in Islamic State’s (IS) hands were freed. Meanwhile, as unemployment statistics were released, the Central Bank’s expectation survey saw a deterioration in business expectations of main economic indicators.

[tabby title=”Domestic Politics”]

ECHR ruling on compulsory religious education

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that Turkey should abolish compulsory religious education at state schools. Christian and Jewish students are already exempted from religious education if they wish so, however, Alevi and Atheist pupils have to attend these classes. The verdict stated that Sunni understanding of Islam still dominates the curriculum of religion classes although further information on about Alevi beliefs and practice have recently entered the curriculum.

A number of Alevi associations and foundations marched against the placement of 40,000 Alevi and non-Muslim students in Imam-Hatip schools (state schools to train imams). Primary education graduate students sit an exam for secondary education and they are automatically placed in schools according to their exam results. However, Imam-Hatip schools which provide intensive religious education do not tend to be Alevi and non-Muslim pupils’ choice of school, according to representatives of Alevi communities.

In addition to increasing sensitivity regarding alternatives of freedom from religion or freedom of religion and teaching of Sunni Islam to non-Sunni citizens, the head of Turkey’s Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet) Mehmet Görmez was asked to attend President Erdogan’s weekly meetings with top officials on Thursdays. Both President Erdogan and PM Davutoglu confirmed that the Diyanet, which centrally supervises 85,000 mosques and employs imams, should come higher on the state protocol list.

Deputy PM Bulent Arınc has announced that the wearing of the headscarf would be allowed in schools under the umbrella of the Ministry of Education. Female students attending secondary school and high school will now be allowed to wear their headscarves.

Protests in the Southeast due to teaching in Kurdish

Schools opened last week with placement issues as mentioned above and protests occurred in the southeast of Turkey, in cities of Diyarbakir, Hakkari and Sirnak. A school which intended to provide education solely in Kurdish had been closed with padlocks by the Ministry of Education. However, the padlocks were removed by Kurdish members of the Patriotic Revolutionary Youth Movement (YDG-H). Additionally, the same group attacked some other public schools with Molotov cocktails. PM Davutoglu stated that the government appointed Kurdish teachers for the first time in Turkey’s history in an attempt to ease the situation. Mayor of Diyarbakir, Gulten Kisanak, asserted the government should allow local civilian initiated schools if it fails to provide public education in mother tongue.

Soma disaster

A recent expert report regarding the mining accident that killed 301 miners in Soma, Turkey revealed that the necessary safety measures were not taken to prevent the disaster.

Climate change and nuclear weapons march

Hundreds marched with the Global Action Group (KEG) against climate change and nuclear weapons along İstiklal Avenue in İstanbul ahead of the 2014 United Nations Climate Summit. Activists followed them, chanting “Change the system, not the climate!” “We are marching for justice against climate change.”

[tabby title=”Foreign Relations”]

Turkish hostages have been freed

Turkey was not on the original list of countries in the US-led coalition that would cooperate against Islamic State’s (IS) advancement in Iraq and Syria. The main reasons that Turkey offered for its distance to the coalition was the fact that IS held 49 Turkish hostages in Iraq. However, these hostages were freed last week. There are different accounts of how and on what condition hostages were freed;

  • According to President Erdogan the hostages were freed by a successful operation conducted by the Turkish Intelligence services
  • According to the initial statement of PM Davutoglu, the hostages were freed via intensified communication with the hostages
  • IS however claims that they released the hostages on the condition that Turkey will not join the international coalition to combat IS, which they called ‘the Crusaders’. The announcement was published on IS’s takvahaber news site.

However, Turkey’s leading governors met at the National Security Meeting last week, discussing the border security of Turkey. The government had mentioned the possibility of creating a buffer zone in Syria. The details of Turkey’s action plan regarding its involvement in Syria and Iraq are likely to become clear this coming week.

Meanwhile, President Erdogan harshly criticised the claims that Islamic State (IS) has a base in Ankara in an article by the Wall Street Journal (WSJ). He questioned the use of his photo in the article and asserted that Turkey is not and will not support such terrorism as suggested by the WSJ.

Thousands of refugees have entered Turkey

More than 130,000 Kurds from Syria fled to Turkey due to IS attacksThree ministers, Interior Minister Efkan Ala, Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmuş and Food, Agriculture and Animal Husbandry Minister Mehdi Eker, who visited Sanliurfa following thousands of Kurdish refugees entered the border of Turkey were booed and attacked with stones by an angry crowd of locals. Locals have been critical of the government’s policies regarding the situation on the borders as they have suffered from thousands of refugees arriving without adequate planning by the authorities.

According to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there are 1,6 million Syrian refugees in Turkish territory following over 100 thousand refugees’ entry to Turkey over the weekend.

[tabby title=”Economy”]

Budget data, unemployment and survey of expectations from the Central Bank of the Republic of Turkey (CBRT) shaped the course of domestic markets last week along with the comments from Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, Head of the Under-secretariat of Treasury Ali Babacan and Finance Minister Mehmet Simsek.

Simsek noted the downward pressures on the growth and added that the growth expectations should be revised under 5%. On the other hand, he drew attention to improvements in the current account deficit and noted that the ratio to current account deficit to GDP can be less than 5.7% of the Medium-term targets.  Simsek also mentioned the unfair treatment from international credit rating agencies like his colleagues in the cabinet. He said that a sincere analysis wold reveal that risks on Turkey’s sovereign will be very low. Davutoglu and Babacan also suggested that Turkey does not get the credit rating it deserves as opposed to perceptions in the international markets. Both of them urged the agencies to be more fair and objective in their analysis. On the other hand, international credit rating agencies emphasised the political instabilities and dependency on external financing. Fitch will announce its rate decision on 3rd October, S&P on 21st November, and Moody will announce on 5th December 2014.

Budgetary realizations

Budgetary realisations were announced last week. Accordingly, the budget was in TRY 5.3 billion deficit in July but in TRY 5.9 billion credit in August. Despite the improvements in the budget in August, the budget reads as a deficit TRY 2.7 billion in the first eight months.

Unemployment data

Another important data released was on unemployment. Unemployment in Turkey is now at 9.1%. However, we have to note that Turkish Statistical Institute (TURKSTAT) changed the calculation in order to synchronise with its European counterparts. Old calculation would estimate a higher unemployment rate.  Finally, survey expectations from the CBRT revealed that USD:TRY at the end of the year is expected to be 2.2383; inflation is expected to be 8.89%. GDP growth is expected to be 3.2% and current account deficit is expected to be USD 48.382 billion.