Turkish News Weekly Briefing 8th-14th August 2016

By Andrew Leech

This week in Turkey began with a phenomenal rally on Sunday 8th unprecedented in Turkish history, which much more than a million people attended to express support for their elected government almost a month after a failed coup attempt against it. For the first time in years Turkey’s president, ruling party and two opposition parties were united over a single issue – the importance of maintaining Turkish democracy.[1] This rally, president Erdoğan’s attempts to reach out to his political rivals, signifies that after weeks of extensive purges in which 18,000 have been detained, 42 warrants for journalists have been issued and 15,000 education workers have been fired, a normalisation process may have begun.

Erdoğan and the ruling AKP’s attempts at conciliation have, however, not extended to pro-­Kurdish party HDP whose leaders were not invited to Sunday’s rally and instead held their own rival pro-­democracy rally in Batman in Turkey’s south­east.[2] Erdoğan has explained this exclusion, saying he could not justify giving HDP a platform at Yenikapı as it would be an insult to the veterans and martyrs who had fought the PKK.[3] Whether Erdoğan’s refusal to see a distinction between HDP and the PKK is justified or not, isolating HDP in this way indicates it is unlikely that the peace process will be resumed and as such its conflict with the PKK looks likely to continue.

In fact, last week saw a crack down against HDP members. Party offices in Istanbul were raided on Thursday and the following day the party’s MP for Batman, Ayşe Acar was called to court for allegedly conspiring with terrorists.[4] This came after the PKK launched attacks in Kızıltepe, Mardin and Diyarbakır on Wednesday in which left eight dead and 37 wounded. Elsewhere, in the province of Şırnak, an AKP party youth leader Naci Adıyaman was found dead after he and his brother were kidnapped by PKK fighters.[5]

Turkey has also been experiencing tumultuous foreign relations since the coup attempt, not least with its former ally, the United States whose continued refusal to extradite the cleric Fethullah Gülen has prompted increased anti­American sentiment in Turkey.[6] Turkish officials claim Gülen, who has been living in exile in Pennsylvania since 1999, masterminded last month’s failed coup attempt and the issue has become a major diplomatic dispute, so much so that, with the hopes of easing tensions, the White House has announced an official trip by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden to Turkey on August 24th.

Turkey has also experienced diplomatic tensions with Europe as Erdoğan has warned that the refugee deal struck between Turkey and the EU will collapse if talks towards waiving visa restrictions continues to stall. At the forefront of these tensions is Austria. Last week foreign minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu characterised Vienna as the “capital of radical racism” following Austrian chancellor Christian Kern’s call to close the EU accession talks with Turkey. The situation continued to deteriorate last week when Turkey summoned Austria’s charge d’affairs in Ankara over a message on an electronic news ticker at an Austrian airport which read, “Turkey allows sex with children under the age of 15”.[8] The sign had been under scrutiny as it had previously read that that travelling to Turkey was equivalent to supporting Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.[9]

Last week was not all bad news with regards to Turkish foreign relations though. On Tuesday, Erdoğan travelled to Moscow to meet his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin. There are several indicators that this is part of serious efforts to repairing Russian­-Turkish relations – the event was not limited to a simple one­ on ­one meeting, nor was Erdoğan asked to repeat his apology for Turkey’s downing of a Russian jet in November of last year. Instead, Putin talked extensively about the importance of restoring Russian­-Turkish trade suggesting strong economic motivations for repairing relations.[10]

Meanwhile Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif’s August 12th marked the first visit by a foreign official to Turkey since the coup. Turkey had enjoyed strong relations with Iran until the two nations found themselves supporting opposing sides in Syria. The Iranian ministers visit to Turkey signifies renewed co-­operation between the two nations against terror and in support of regional peace.[11]

In sum, it appears Turkey is finally returning to normalcy after the coup attempt. Erdoğan and AKP have consolidated their position in Turkey, winning the support of those usually opposed to them by reaching out to rival parties CHP and MHP. However, not including HDP in these efforts will be seen as a signal to some that they are shut out from the democratic process, an obstacle which the government will inevitably have to overcome. In terms of foreign policy, Turkey is undergoing a major transformation as the nation re-­orients itself away from former allies the US and EU, which are viewed as having provided insufficient support in the wake of the coup and towards nations like Russia and Iran.

photo credit: www.abc.net.au