4 November 2014 News Round-up


As high politics was busy with the transit of Kurdish Peshmerga from Iraq to Syria via Turkey, risks to workers’ lives have engulfed Turkey’s agenda. Information on informal labour in the agricultural sector, on the number of work-related casualties in Turkey and the pressure on journalists all revealed a dim picture of Turkey. FED’s culmination of bond purchases internationally and high inflation domestically have been only a few amongst the many sources of economic concerns this week.

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Workers’ Deaths

18 workers in Ermenek of Karaman Province, in southern Turkey, have been trapped in a mine after water blast flooded the mine. After having been trapped for five days, 11 workers have been found dead and taken out of the mine. Seven more workers remain, and are expected to be 70 to 80 metre below ground level. Similar to the previous incident in the Soma Mine, it has become clear that many complaints have been made previous to the incident. The government has taken a different stance this time on the fatal incident: PM Ahmet Davutoglu and Ministers blamed the business operating the mine for not having complied with the laws.

Dozens of workers from the mining town of Soma marched to Ankara on October the 28th to claim their unpaid wages and demand that the government re-open the sites of Eynez and Atabaci, closed after the mine disaster of late May.

More workers died this week in three separate traffic accidents. Buses carrying workers crashed in three different cities in Turkey, culminating in a total of 15 deaths and 60 wounded, with four in critical condition.

The Worker Health and Occupational Security Assembly published a report indicating that worker casualties increased under the Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) rule in Turkey. From 2002 at least 14,555 workers died on the job.

ISIS, Kurds and Turkey

Turkish news outlets over the last week reported claims that the peace process has reached a deadlock. The government decided to freeze, for an indefinite period of time, any dialogue with the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and interrupt all contact between state officials and jailed leader of the Kurdistan Workers’s Party (PKK) Abdullah Ocalan, after consecutive attacks on members of the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK).

PM Ahmet Davutoglu, on the other hand, has reiterated the government’s commitment to bring the reconciliation process between Ankara and the Kurds to a successful conclusion. Davutoglu has stated that the reconciliation process is a national process with its unique characteristics, thereby distancing it from what is happening outside the country’s borders. The government has stated that it is ready to update the road map, and aims to implement measures such as increasing the budget of the Undersecretariat Public Order and Security in order to ensure public order.

A group of armed PKK members hijacked a 400-kilogram ammonium nitrate-loaded truck in the province of Sirnak. The truck belonged to a private coal mine in Sirnak’s Silopi town. Four commando teams had been sent to the area together with an helicopter and a manned surveillance jet.

Two senior members of the PKK, Abdullah Kaplan and Cuneyt Yeni, have been arrested due to claims that they were planning to assassinate members of Turkey’s judiciary and security forces. This took place before an unauthorised protest in Diyarbakir province, which had been called for by the HDP in support of Kobane.

President Erdogan said that Turkey spent over $4.5 billion to help Syrian refugees while the support from around the world amounts to $200 million, criticising the U.N. and Western countries. He stated that the Turkish government is currently establishing ten cities – temporary refugee camps – and that Turkey is taking cautious steps regarding the crisis in the region. He questioned why Kobane have taken the forefront while there are other cities in others provinces, like Hama and Homs, that may need help and support. Erdogan said that there are no longer any civilians in Kobane, only fighters, and all the residents have fled and crossed the Turkish border. He criticised the U.S. support to the Syrian Kurdish fighters through airdrops in Kobane because the arms and aid fell into the hands of ISIS and the PKK’s Syrian affiliate, the Democratic Union party (PYD).

[tabby title=”Other Domestic Developments”]

PM Davutoglu is scheduled to attend a ceremony with the Alevi community on 8 November in the Hacıbektas district of Nevşehir province, in what is a further attempt to improve relations between the government and the country’s Alevi minority. Turkey has had troubled relations with its Alevi community, resulting at times in catastrophes such as the the 1937-8 Dersim incident, in which government forces killed 13,806 people and displaced thousands more. In recent years, a rapprochement has been taking place: in November 2011, the then PM Erdogan officially apologised for the incident. This planned visit by the PM is symbolically significant, as the ceremony commemorates the Karbala massacre, an important episode in Alevi history.

23 police officers were detained as part of an investigation into the illegal wire-tapping of 123 people in the province of Mersin. This operation’s aim is to crack down the so called ‘parallel state’ of followers of the Gulen movement. The police officers are said to have wire-tapped 123 people in order to determine who were involved in organised crime groups, such as the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party/Front (DHKP/C), the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK) and a terrorist organisation called “Selefi Vehhabi”.

Istanbul local activists denounced the construction of a mosque near a protected area. The tension escalated as police confronted protesters with tear gas and paint-ball pellets loaded with gas. Protesters were camping next to the Validebag grove in Uskudar, Istanbul.

The Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality has entered a competition to be chosen as European Green Capital of 2017, despite of activists’ complaints regarding the massive deforestation that is taking place around the city. The competition will award the city with the best offers in terms of “pioneering innovative solutions to environmental challenges by setting high standards in sustainable urban development”. Istanbul is not the only Turkish city that will take part in the competition, Bursa will join it also. The decision of the Metropolitan Municipality comes in a time when environmental associations raised their voice up against the third bridge and third airport construction projects that will lead to the cutting down of millions of trees.

A boat carrying illegal immigrants has capsized in Istanbul’s Bosphorus Strait, leading to death of at least 24 immigrants. Reports have shown that most of the deceased, who were mainly of Afghan and Turkmen origin, were children. Rescue efforts, in which local fishermen have also been taking part, are currently underway. It is believed that the boat was travelling to Romania, and that the immigrants had paid hijackers to transfer them to Europe. In a statement given on the accident, Governor of Istanbul has confirmed that seven of the immigrants have been rescued.

The Republican People’s Party (CHP) released a report, titled “Journalists Whose Pens are Broken”, to point out the reality of media freedom under the Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) rule. In 12 years of government 1863 journalists have been fired, CHP Deputy Chair Veli Agbaba said. He also stated that the AKP has become Turkey’s “biggest media boss”. Agbaba said that the report will be translated and sent to all international organisations.

[tabby title=”Foreign Policy”]

The Turkish government is allowing a controlled transit of people and arms from Iraq to Syria through its land. The first transit of Kurdish Peshmarge forces, the Kurdish Regional Government’s militia in Iraq, was met with high level of support and cheering from the Kurdish population within Turkey. Upcoming plans include Peshmerga forces to fly from the capital of northern Iraq, Erbil, to the southeastern province of Sanliurfa, and then to cross over into Kobani to fight ISIS militants. The Press Office of the Ministry of Peshmarge of the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government also stated that arms and equipment were sent to Kobane via Turkey.

Turkey’s Minister of Interior Affairs has visited Qatar, meeting with Qatari Sheikh Emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani. The talks are expected to have focused on developments in Syria including the advance of ISIS as well as their countries’ approach to the new government Egypt. Qatar and Turkey share a similar policy towards the Free Syrian Council as well as Abdel Fattah El Sissi’s government after it ousted the Muslim Brotherhood from power.

Ankara has demanded an explanation from the Danish government as to why Denmark released 10 men charged with financing the PKK, an organisation classified as ‘terrorist’ by both Turkey and the EU. This comes amid growing tensions between the two countries, as Turkey released a man suspected of attempting to murder a Danish critic of Islam.

[tabby title=”Economy”]

Last week certain international developments had significant impacts for Turkey, especially for its currency and interest rate. The US Federal Reserve’s (FED) quantitative easing programme officially culminated, signifying an end to an abundance of funds in the international market that emerging economies – to which Turkey belongs – could attract. Also, FED’s announcement of the halt to its bond purchasing program was accompanied by the bank’s observations of positive economic developments in the USA.

This has confirmed expectations in international markets that FED’s interest rate increase is more and more likely to occur in 2015 and not at a very late date. A higher rate in the USA, combined with the country’s stability and economic strength is likely to attract foreign capital to the USA, away from riskier developing economies, including Turkey.

The first reaction to this development came from Brazil, which increased its interest rate from 11% to 11.25%, with hopes of getting ahead of the competition to attract funds in the international market. Russia also increased its interest rate from 8% to 9.5%. These are important developments as Turkey domestically debates its interest rate which is currently at 8.25%. Interest rates are not the only, but amongst the most important factors drawing foreign funds to a country, and it seems will be increasingly used by developing countries in the near future to compete for foreign inflows.

Meanwhile the next week’s domestic economic agenda will be dominated by the budgetary allocations for different ministries for the fiscal year of 2015 and how to deal with the high inflation statistics for the month of October.

It has already been announced that minimum wages will increase by 3% in January and July of 2015, and retirement pensions will rise by 3,45% in January and 3,63% in July of next year.

Inflation statistics came out higher than expected, with Consumer Price Index increasing annually at 8.89% and Producer Price Index increasing annually at 10,10% in October.

  • On a monthly basis, clothing and shoe prices showed the most increase, whereas on an annual basis restaurants and hotels sector depicted the highest increase in prices.
  • On a monthly basis energy products, electricity and gas sectors had the highest increase in prices. Annually, consumer goods prices had the highest rate of increase.

The head of the Turkish Agricultural Association stated that the difference between the producer price and selling price of fruits and vegetables have been widening. He gave the example that spinach which is sold for 0,44 TRY by the producer to the wholesale market is sold to consumers at a price of 2,54 TRY.

Consumer Confidence Index decreased 4.9% from the previous month to 70.3, its lowest level since February of this year.

Turkish Agricultural Association released information about the labour force active in the agricultural sector. According to the association;

  • Approximately 300 thousand temporary agricultural workers exist in Turkey
  • 83,3% of the workers in the agriculture sector are informal workers
  • More than 95% of the female agricultural workers are informal
  • 30-35% of agricultural workers are under 20 years old, and half of these are under the age of 15

Updates on the urban transformation program that has been initiated two years ago by the government were released;

  • 6,5 million buildings will be demolished that have a risk of natural disaster in the next 20 years
  • 174,629 buildings have been diagnosed with risk of vulnerability to natural disasters, upon the request of the residents
  • The number of buildings determined to be under risk in Istanbul was twice the number of total buildings in the rest of the cities

A new source of tension has risen between Turkey and Greek Cyprus over Turkey’s gas exploration efforts around the island of Cyprus. Greek authorities have announced that they are ready to use their leverage against Turkey in Turkey’s accession talks with the EU. Saudi Arabia and Egypt have also joined Greece in demanding Turkey to end its exploration efforts.

The free trade agreement signed between Turkey and Egypt during Morsi rule will not be extended. Relations between the two countries have been strained after overthrow of Morsi last year. President Erdogan condemned several times the coup describing the military government as illegitimate.