Turkish News Weekly Briefing 5th-12th September 2016

By Andrew Leech

Monday September 12th marked the beginning of Kurban Bayrami (Eid al-Adha) and a 10 day truce in Syria. The truce, brokered by the United States and Russia and announced Saturday was welcomed by Turkey who used the opportunity to send aid to Aleppo and other towns in northern Syria. Nevertheless, in a statement on Friday, President Erdogan expressed a commitment to Turkey’s involvement in Syria, describing Operation Euphrates Shield as only the “first step” and claiming it was Turkey’s “duty” to defeat ISIS.

Inside Turkey, the purge of state employees with alleged connections to terror organisations continues, having been extended to those purported to have links with the illegal Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK). Two dozen elected mayors were accused of supporting the organisation and removed from office on Sunday in a move described by the pro-Kurdish opposition party HDP as an “administrative coup”. 15,000 teachers have also been suspended for association with the organisation and the state has been accused of deliberately cutting internet access to Kurdish towns in the south-east. Even HDP’s co-leader Demirtas has been called to testify on charges of “being a member of an armed terrorist organisation”.

Among the most prominent figures caught up in the purges last week were the writer Ahmet Altan and his brother Mehmet, an academic. Ahmet had previously faced prosecution in the 90s for eliciting support for the PKK and drew attention a few years ago for attempting to force an apology from Erdogan, then prime-minister, for the Roboski massacre. Both brothers are wanted in questioning after allegedly giving “subliminal messages suggesting a military coup” on television before the actual event.

Meanwhile, tensions between Turkey and the EU appeared to be easing last week. Turkish officials had previously expressed concern that Europe had been inappropriately distant and unsympathetic following the July 15th coup attempt. However, speaking at a press conference in Ankara, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini called on the PKK to cease all attacks on Turkey, expressing a hope that a political process could begin if fighting ended and also affirmed the EU’s commitment to working with Turkey to establish a visa-free travel agreement.

Mogherini was not the only person to travel to Ankara to repair bridges last week. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg arrived in the capital on Thursday to assure Turkish officials that his organisation was committed to supporting the Turkish people and democracy. In talks with Erdogan, Stoltenberg repeated NATO’s condemnation of the coup and discussed strategies for the fight against Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria and efforts to prevent human trafficking in the Aegean region.

Photo credit: www.diken.com.tr