25 November 2014 News Round-up


The new domestic security bill, the rhetorical disputes between the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the Republican People’s Party (CHP) regarding the ‘Alevi Opening’ dominated the domestic agenda. President’s visit to Africa and meeting with US Vice President highlighted Turkey’s need to diversify trade partners and continued disagreement with USA in Syria policy. High unemployment and inflation levels have prompted the Central Bank of Republic of Turkey (CBRT) to keep interest rates the same, while credit rating agency Standard&Poor’s (S&P) kept its negative outlook for Turkey.

[tabby title=”Domestic Politics”]

As part of the operation against the ‘parallel state’ and attempts to further securitise the state, a controversial security bill has come to the parliament.

• The bill will grant the police search and detain authority without a court order, gendarmerie and coast guard command will be transformed to acquire similar powers to the police.
• Turkish National Intelligence Organisation (MIT) will be able collect any personal information without any court order.
• Additionally, thanks to this bill, changing one’s name and surname will not require a court order, migrants/foreigners/refugees will be given an ID number with no requirement of right to residency, which will speed up procedures such as opening a bank account and registering for schools.
• And last but not least, elderly, disabled or ill people will not anymore to be required to go to courthouses to give testimony.

The government’s intervention in judiciary as part of its fierce battle against the ‘parallel structure’ of the Gulen movement followers continues to receive criticism from judicial bodies. The head of the Supreme Court of Appeals, Ali Akan, were critical of a draft bill which would authorise the government to renew the Supreme Court of Appeals’ Primary Presidency Board, found new departments, appoint judges and prosecutors without the knowledge of the court, and to abolish the opening ceremony of judicial year.

President Erdogan is planning to establish a team which will monitor the work of the Cabinet, something that he promised in the run-up to the August presidential elections. The team is expected to comprise of:

  • Special directorate which will report to the president on particular subjects
  • Advisors who report and evaluate the work of the ministries, who then report to the directorates
  • Deputy secretary-generals to share this information with Erdogan
  • These advisors will also meet together to come up with new ideas (similar to a think tank)
  • Interior Security Follow-Up Directorate to follow the Kurdish peace progress and the struggle against the Gulenist ‘parallel state’
  • Investments Directorate to monitor investments

The Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality (IBB) announced that a public referendum would be held on the renewed plans for the construction of buildings in Gezi Park in Istanbul’s Taksim Square. Plans to develop the park were a catalyst for enormous anti-government protests in 2013, which ultimately resulted in the development plans being cancelled. However, following Monday’s publication of the city’s five year planning strategy, in which renewed plans for a hotel and a shopping centre on the site appear, IBB announced that the matter would be subject to a local referendum. Complaints that the opinions and wishes of locals were not considered in urban development plans were a central theme of the 2013 protests.

PM Davutoglu had told the CHP to come up with evidence to back up its claims that the National Intelligence Agency (MIT) is trying to create intra-party divisions. He said that if Kilicdaroglu, the CHP’s leader, fails to do so then he is committing treason and attempting to weaken state institutions. Kilicdaroglu cited documents published by newspapers in autumn 2013 that prove his case, and claims there is a faction within MIT working for the ruling party. Erdogan has himself contributed to the debate, calling on Kilicdaroglu to stop casting suspicion over the state’s institutions.

PM Davutoglu has stated that the government would follow up any case of discrimination against the Alevis, and has stated that the only criteria for official appointments henceforth would be qualifications. He has further stated that religious discrimination would not have a place within his ‘New Turkey’. As part of this ‘Alevi opening’ policy followed by the government, Tunceli University will be renamed Munzur University, and a military barracks in that province will be transformed into a Dersim Museum.

Peoples’ Democratic Party’s (HDP) Selahattin Dermitas has entered the debate surrounding the Dersim Massacre of 1937-8 and stated that the Alevis deserve nothing less than a state apology. He further added that the AKP had no interest in upholding Alevi interests, that instead they saw them as a ‘perverted sect’ and were keen on bringing them to their knees. Dermitas further claimed that Alevism should in itself be promoted, criticised the government for politicising the massacre, but nevertheless pledged HDP support should the government take the right steps.

At the Women and Justice Summit hosted by the Women and Democracy Association in Istanbul, President Erdogan reiterated his claim that women and men cannot be put in equal positions for they are, by nature, not equal. He stated that, rather than talking about equality, one should talk about equivalence, and that men and women should be the same from the point of view of justice.

Erdogan has reiterated his opposition to the interference of third parties in the government’s negotiations with Kurdish factions, citing the failure of the 2009-2011 Oslo talks, which came to an end after a Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) attack in Diyarbakir killed 13 soldiers. He argues that the PKK is exploiting the Kurdish citizens of Turkey, and that a solution must be found by the citizens of Turkey themselves.

Amnesty International has issued a report, “Struggling to Survive”, in which it states that Turkey’s response to the refugee crisis created by the Syrian Civil War is beginning to show its limitations. While it praises Turkey’s general approach thus far, the fact that it has kept an open border approach to the refugees meant that only 220,000 of 1.6 million are living in refugee camps. The rest are left to fend for themselves, with many already living in, or are close to, destitution. The report did criticise Turkey’s approach to those who try to enter the country illegally, noting that 17 refugees have been killed by border forces, and many more wounded and tortured, as a result.

Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag has stated that at least 16 ISIS militants are held in Turkish prisons. Turkish authorities has drawn up a “no-entry” list of 6,000 names to prevent foreign fighters from joining ISIS through Turkish territory. Turkey has also deported over 500 people.

[tabby title=”Foreign Policy”]

The foreign policy agenda was mainly dominated by Erdogan’s visits to numerous African countries and the high level exchange between President Erdogan and US Vice President Biden on the countries’ policies towards Syria.

After a meeting in Istanbul between President Erdogan and US Vice President Biden, Turkey and the US still disagree on the strategy to follow in Syria, with Turkey insisting on its demands: in order for it to join the anti-ISIS international coalition, a no-fly zone must be established in northern Syria and a clear policy to remove Assad from power must be pursued. That being said, Turkey and the US have agreed to step up cooperation in other areas, such as the prevention of foreign fighters from using Turkish territory to enter the area, and the support they will give to Baghdad’s plan to form a new Sunni force in the north of the country. Turkey has agreed to help train this force, as well as the Kurdish Peshmerga. Ankara has stated that it understands the US’s hesitancy over Syria, citing the ongoing nuclear negotiations with Iran as the main cause, and the fear of antagonising pro-Iranian groups within Syria. Ankara has, nonetheless, stated that it will stand firm by its position.

Foreign Minister Cavusoglu has warned that should the Syrian government make more advances around Aleppo, Turkey could see an influx of 2-3 million refugees. He stated that the coalition’s attack on ISIS is leaving behind vacuums which are being filled by the Assad regime, which is just as bad as ISIS.

A source from within the Turkish military has stated that while Assad’s forces are tightening their grip on Aleppo, they have left a 5km escape route in the northwest of the city, the site of the main road that leads from Aleppo to the Turkish border city of Kilis. This has increased concerns of an increase in the influx of refugees into Turkey should Aleppo fall. Meanwhile, the Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Tanju Bilgic has said that while Turkey’s demand for the creation of a no-fly zone above the 36th parallel is not a pre-condition for the agreement it already has with the USA regarding the training of 2000 Syrian rebels, it must definitely form a part of the greater picture.

President Erdogan has also visited Algeria and Equatorial Guniea last week. The aim of the trip was to increase the economic and businesses links between Turkey and the two countries. Highlight from his speech in the Turkey-Africa Partnership Summit in Malabo in Equatorial Guinea was his warnings against African leaders of ‘parallel structures’ that come into the country disguised as education or charity members but that engage in spying activities. The President was alluding to the wide presence of Gulen Movement in African countries.

Atlantic Council of Energy and Economy met in Istanbul on 22nd November 2014. Prime Minister Davutoglu, Ministry of Energy Taner Yıldız and Minister of Energy of Northern Cyprus reiterated in the summit that Turkey and the Turkish Republic of Cyprus have equal rights to look for gas in waters around Cyprus.

Erdogan has once again stated that he does not recognise the legitimacy of Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who came to power in July 2013 after toppling the government led by the Muslim Brotherhood’s Muhammad Morsi. Erdogan cites this, as well as the death of three thousand Muslim Brotherhood supporters during the August 2013 Rabaa al-Adawiya and Nahda Square sit-ins, as reasons for not recognising him, and criticises democratic nations for their silence at the toppling of a democratically-elected leader. Both countries have downgraded their diplomatic relations due to Erdogan’s stance.

[tabby title=”Economy”]

French economist Thomas Piketty, the author of the “Capital in the 21st Century”, was invited for a talk in Galatasaray University, Istanbul. Piketty argued for more transparency on income and wealth distribution data. According to Piketty, income and wealth could be distributed more equally when strong political will is expressed to do so, and institutions of education, tax and labour market will be decisive in the war on income inequality. One may call it a mere coincidence but Piketty’s talk sounded like an answer to last weeks released data.

Turkish Statistical Institute announced the unemployment data. Unemployment rate increased 1.1% in August annually to reach 10.1%. Youth unemployment increased to 19.2% and non-agricultural unemployment increased to 12.4%. Further, the Ministry of Finance announced that general government budget showed a deficit of TRY 3 billion in October. Budget expenses increased 10.6% while revenue increase was limited to 8.6% for the first ten months of the year. By the end of the October, budget deficit became TRY 24.4 billion, which corresponds to 61.2% of government’s target.

The CBRT did not change its policy rate in last week’s monetary policy committee meeting. In the brief published online;
• It was argued that loan growth is moderate due to tight monetary policy and macroeconomic prudent stance
• The bank emphasised the increasing contribution of domestic demand on the economic growth, the sustained high inflation due to high food prices
• Nevertheless, the bank expects some improvement in inflation during 2015 due to lower oil prices
The decision not to change the interest rates supported the local bonds and the currency; and the USDTRY appreciated to 2.2215.

Another important announcement that the markets were expecting was S&P’s rate decision. The credit rating agency confirmed Turkey’s rate as ‘BB+’ and the outlook as negative. The main reason for the decision was the downward risks arising from dependence on external financing. S&P expects the current account gap to remain at 5.3% of GDP until 2017. In another research note on banking sectors of seven countries, assets quality and capital ratios of Turkish banking sector was found considerably better than other emerging markets and yet the agency warned Turkish banks for their net liabilities falling due in the next 12 months and its potential risks in an event of global financial volatilities.

Meanwhile, in a visit to Algeria, Erdogan announced a new natural gas deal between the two countries, increasing the amount of natural gas exported from Algeria to Turkey from 4 billion to 4.4 billion cubic metres yearly until 2024. Algeria is currently the fourth largest exporter of natural gas to Turkey, following Russia, Iran and Azerbaijan.


Photo credit: www.yeniakit.com.tr