Erdogan

Is Turkey ruled by a tyrant? We may soon have an answer

This is a cross-post from the Telegraph.

Woe betide any Turk who dares insult His Excellency President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan

File photo: Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses a labor union meeting in Ankara, Turkey

Turkey’s leader inhabits the world’s largest residential palace with 1,000 rooms and a floor area four times the size of Versailles. He delights in issuing instructions to his people, notably by telling Turkish women to ensure they produce at least three babies each. He calls Benjamin Netanyahu a “murderer” and Bashar al-Assad a “merciless killer”.

But woe betide any Turk who dares insult His Excellency President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. And by the way, in theory at least, he also wants to join the European Union.

Mr Erdogan is now trying to subdue every possible challenge to his rule. Troublesome journalists go straight to jail where they are joined by ordinary Turks found guilty of “insulting” their leader, in breach of the notorious Article 299 of the Penal Code.

After 14 years of dominance in Turkey, Mr Erdoğan has become one of the most quixotic and accomplished politicians of all. The question which divides his country is whether he is also dangerous.

Here in his home city of Istanbul, which he served as mayor in the Nineties, there are plenty of devout supporters of the president. Devout is the right word, for Mr Erdoğan embraces the religious faithful, the poor and the lower middle class. One Istanbul commentator – no friend of the president – acknowledges the personal charisma of a ruthless but intensely emotional man, who wept in public during his mother’s funeral.

Yet Mr Erdoğan’s behaviour rings more and more alarm bells. After his Justice and Development (AK) party won power in 2002, he broke the army’s grip on politics – and Turkey’s secular modernisers cheered him on.

But Mr Erdoğan is now trying to subdue every possible challenge to his rule.Troublesome journalists go straight to jail where they are joined by ordinary Turks found guilty of “insulting” their leader, in breach of the notorious Article 299 of the Penal Code.

These days, Mr Erdoğan denounces Vladimir Putin at every opportunity. But he has borrowed from the Russian’s political playbook by jumping from the prime ministership to the presidency in order to prolong his dominance.

Now Mr Erdoğan wants to complete this manoeuvre by rewriting the constitution to create an imperial presidency, tailor-made for his own ambitions. As for how long he aims to rule, he talks of being “ready for 2023” – the centenary of the republic’s birth.

So Turkey has an instinctively authoritarian leader who treats the constitution as a personal plaything and plans for decades of dominance. How can this not be dangerous?

Workers of the Zaman newspaper hold placards that read, 'free media can not be silenced' and 'Zaman wont be silenced' during a demonstration in 2014

Workers of the Zaman newspaper hold placards that read, ‘free media can not be silenced’ and ‘Zaman wont be silenced’ during a demonstration in 2014 

¶Terrorists strike in Istanbul from time to time – witness the suicide bombing outside Hagia Sophia in January – but visitors to this heaving metropolis find it easy to forget that one corner of Turkey is already engulfed in conflict. The old war between the Turkish state and Kurdish guerrillas has flared back to life with terrible consequences. A 28-year-old Kurdish journalist, Vildan Atmaca, told me what happened when she tried to reach the scene of a gun battle in the eastern province of Van.

“We tried to go there, but the security forces blocked us,” she said. “So we went to the hospital to speak to people who had been wounded. But the police chased us away from the hospital. Half an hour later, the police came to our office to arrest a reporter for writing ‘false news’. Then I was detained for ‘resisting arrest’.”

For the next six weeks, Ms Atmaca was behind bars in Van. She was not physically assaulted, but she had to endure constant verbal abuse from her guards – often of a sexual nature. Then she was freed on bail, pending trial for allegedly “spreading terrorist propaganda”. Speaking over the phone from a town in the epicentre of the conflict, Ms Atmaca told me: “There is no law, no justice and no democracy in Turkey.”

Family members of army officer Enes Demir mourn as they attend a funeral ceremony for Enes Demir and Dogukan Tazegul, both killed while fighting Kurdish rebels in Sur

Family members of army officer Enes Demir mourn as they attend a funeral ceremony for Enes Demir and Dogukan Tazegul, both killed while fighting Kurdish rebels in Sur

¶Along the natural avenue carved between Europe and Asia by the mighty Bosphorus, a Russian frigate steamed towards the Black Sea. Istanbul straddles one of the great junctions of the world, controlling a vital artery for Russian shipping, both civilian and military.

Mr Putin and Mr Erdoğan have exchanged harsh words and economic counter-measures since Turkey destroyed a Russian jet last November. But the warships that Mr Putin sends to join his Syria campaign must pass under Mr Erdoğan’s metaphorical nose in Istanbul.

So far, he has done nothing to obstruct them: that would be too inflammatory even for him. Given that Mr Erdoğan intends to wield power into the indefinite future, however, who knows what he might have in store?

 

Erdoğan’s Turkey: a disintegrating ally and imaginary friend

This is a cross-post from the Guardian.

As prime minister tries to make deal on refugees, confrontational president continues to pit it against its longtime allies.

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan speaks to the media

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan wants visa-free travel for Turks and accelerated EU accession talks in return for his cooperation on migrants.

The kneejerk response of Turkey’s leaders to the country’s latest terrorist atrocity – Sunday’s suicide bombing in Ankara that killed 37 people and injured more than 100 – suggests that Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey’s strongman president, and his neo-Islamist party are fresh out of ideas about how to halt what looks increasingly like a slide into chaos.

The bigger problem, for Turkey’s US and European allies, is how to shore up a strategically important Muslim democracy, Nato member and EU applicant that had long been considered a vital outpost of stability in a volatile region. Once-dependable Turkey seems in danger of implosion. Under Erdoğan, Turkey is the west’s disintegrating ally and Europe’s imaginary friend.

This dilemma will come sharply to a head later this week when Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor, tries finally to seal an EU deal with Turkey on Syrian migrants. Erdoğan is demanding visa-free travel for Turks, accelerated accession talks and for Brussels to ignore human rights abuses in return for his cooperation. Several EU countries, notably France and Cyprus, are adamantly opposed.

Erdoğan set Sunday’s bombing, the second in Ankara in two months, in his preferred narrative context: as part of a life-or-death national struggle against shadowy forces bent on victimising and destroying Turkey. This is the only tune on his playlist. He uses its fearful message to win elections, rally nationalists and delegitimise opponents.

“Our state will never give up using its right of self-defence in the face of all kinds of terror threats. All of our security forces, with its soldiers, police and village guards, have been conducting a determined struggle against terror organisations at the cost of their lives,” Erdoğan said, ignoring the fact that Sunday’s victims were civilians.

Officials pinned the blame, predictably, on Erdoğan’s bête noire, the Kurdistan Workers party (PKK), although a more likely culprit is an extremist splinter group, the Kurdistan Freedom Hawks, which perpetrated the 17 February Ankara attack.When the capital was bombed last year, the Kurds were again initially blamed. It later transpired that Islamic State was responsible.

Following his usual script, Erdoğan authorised retaliatory airstrikes on Monday on PKK targets in northern Iraq, another example of how the Turkish leader lashes out under pressure. It is a dangerous reflex. Last year, Erdoğan ordered the shooting down of a Russian warplane that briefly entered Turkish airspace from Syria. Bilateral relations have been dreadful ever since.

Security forces also intensified operations in ethnic Kurdish areas of southern and south-eastern Turkey that have killed hundreds of people and displaced tens of thousands since last year. Curfews and martial law, backed up by tanks, were imposed on Monday on Yüksekova and Şırnak, near the Iraq border, and Nusaybin, close to Syria.

Turkey’s internal Kurdish problem is only one of the challenges that Erdoğan’s confrontational approach appears to exacerbate. Turkey is at war, on and off, with Syrian Kurdish militias fighting Isis in northern Syria. Ankara fears they may try to create a separate political entity linked to the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq and even Turkey itself.

Signs of societal disintegration may also be seen in Erdoğan’s manipulation of the judiciary, repeated threats to prosecute pro-Kurdish MPs and politicians, curbs on media freedom and independent journalism, unchecked corruption, and his attempt to enact a new constitution giving him Vladimir Putin-style presidential powers. He is obsessed with a supposed “parallel state” conspiracy against himallegedly led by an exiled former ally, Fethullah Gülen, and has ordered mass arrests.

At the weekend, the main opposition Republican People’s party leader, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, said Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development party (AKP) would stop at nothing to stay in power. “Turkey is step by step sliding towards an authoritarian regime … The AKP is currently in a position that it may do everything not to leave power, including [committing] political murder,” he said.

Erdoğan’s for-me-or-against-me stance increasingly pits Turkey against longtime allies. The migrant deal, which the UN and aid agencies say is probably illegal, is just the latest flashpoint. Last autumn, when visiting Brussels, he angrily threatened to flood Europe with refugees unless the EU bowed to his cash demands. He often mocks and berates the EU, once calling it an elitist, Islamophobic Christian club. He flatly rejects European criticism of increasingly worrying media controls and human rights abuses.

Erdoğan has also fallen foul of the Obama administration over how best to fight Isis and his cross-border shelling of Syrian Kurdish militias, who Washington regards as useful allies against the jihadis and the Damascus regime. In a recent interview, Barack Obama described Erdoğan as a failure and an authoritarian. When Turkey shot down the Russian warplane, the US was almost as alarmed as Moscow, especially when Erdoğan called for Nato backup.

In Ahmet Davutoğlu, Turkey’s prime minister, the west has a thoughtful interlocutor who will try his best to cut a deal on migrants and refugees with the EU this week. But Davutoğlu, a former academic who owes his political career to Erdoğan’s patronage, does not call the shots. Turkey’s irascible, unbiddable president does – and in his hands lies Turkey’s future as a dependable partner.

 

Erdogan uses ISIS to suppress Kurds, West stays silent – Turkish MP

This is a cross-post from RT Question more.

Buildings which were damaged during the security operations and clashes between Turkish security forces and Kurdish militants, are pictured in Sur district of Diyarbakir, Turkey February 11, 2016 © Sertac Kayar

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been using ISIS to advance his Middle East policy and suppress the Kurds, and Ankara’s elite maintains vibrant economic ties with the terror group and harbors its militants, a Turkish MP has told Russian media.

“Erdogan uses ISIS [Islamic State/IS, also known as ISIS/ISIL] against the Kurds. He can’t send the Turkish Army directly to Syrian Kurdistan, but he can use ISIS as an instrument against the Kurds. He has a greater Ottoman Empire in his mind, that’s his dream, while ISIS is one of the instruments [to achieve it],” Selma Irmak, a Turkish MP from the Peace and Democracy Party told RIA Novosti on Monday.

There are many signs that the Turkish leadership is aiding Islamic State and benefiting from it, Irmak argued.

“Wounded militants are given medical treatment in Turkey. For ISIS, Turkey is a very important supply channel. They are allowed to pass through the Turkish border, being given IDs [and other documents],”she added.

“ISIS has training camps in Turkey,” Irmak stressed, citing other examples of Turkey providing IS with certain capabilities, including the fact that all militants go back and forth into Syria through Turkish territory.

Both the Turkish elite and the terrorist group enjoy economic ties as well, Irmak argued.

“ISIS’ oil is sold via Turkey. All of ISIS’ external [trade] operations are being carried out via Turkey and involve not only oil.” Part of the terrorist group’s criminal business trafficking hostages as well as female slaves of Yazidi and Assyrian minorities, while “the government is, of course, well aware of it,” she added.

“ISIS never attacked Turkish positions and claimed no responsibility for terror attacks in Turkey’s cities. There were three large terror attacks [in 2015] in Diyarbakir, Suruc and Ankara. Each attack caused harm to the Kurds and opposition activists supporting them,” the MP noted.

Turkey only intervened when the Kurds retook territory from the IS-held Kurdish city of Tell Abyad in northern Syria.

“Turkish warplanes formally bombarded the ISIS-held territory and conducted two airstrikes to show it fights the Islamic State. And in the meantime, Turkey made 65 airstrikes on Qandil [the PKK stronghold in mountainous northern Iraq].”

According to Irmak, Ankara feels free to take on the Kurds because the West is unwilling to harm its interests in the region and beyond.

“Unfortunately, the international community is indifferent towards these events. Turkey has taken Europe prisoner by using Middle Eastern refugees as an instrument of blackmail. The US keeps silent too, having common interests with Turkey. For instance, the US wants to keep using the Incirlik airbase […] and the Turkish Army is emboldened by such impunity.”

It’s time to turn our backs on Erdogan’s Turkey

This is a cross-post from ‘The Globe and Mail’.

This will be remembered as the month when Turkey’s elected regime crossed the moral red line into acts of genuine totalitarianism. It is a moment to back away from our close alliance with that regime.

Canada and its allies are relying on Turkey. Our military campaign in northern Iraq and Syria, to which Ottawa is contributing more than 800 trainers and special forces, would not function without the active co-operation, including access to military bases and border openings, provided by Turkey, a long-time fellow NATO member. And Turkey, which has received and is housing close to three million Syrian refugees, is seen as being vital in preventing the refugee flood into Europe from becoming less manageable – so vital that the European Union this week struck a deal in which the Turks, in exchange for reducing the refugee flow, will be given visa-free travel in Europe, billions in financing and a more direct pathway toward eventual EU membership.

Turkey, however, has become a problem. A really big problem. A week ago Friday, Turkish soldiers and police surrounded the offices of Zaman, the country’s largest and by some measures best newspaper, fired tear gas, broke down the doors and seized control of the paper and its media empire with authorization from courts appointed by president Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his party. By Sunday morning, the paper, known for its independent-minded columnists, was publishing the most anodyne form of government propaganda.

This is bad enough in itself, but it is part of an unprecedented campaign to shut down or seize control of all forms of political, bureaucratic and media opposition – officially in the name of shutting down the Islamist and Kurdish movements. Mr. Erdogan claims they are security threats, but in practice, these crackdowns give him absolute executive power by eliminating all institutions of democratic and popular dissent.

That campaign went into high gear hours late last year after Mr. Erdogan’s AKP (Justice and Development Party) won a majority in the Nov. 1 national election. The editors of the important moderate news magazine Nokta were imprisoned for “fomenting armed rebellion” – that is, for criticizing Mr. Erdogan’s authoritarian approach. The most outspoken columnists in the newspaper Milliyet were fired or silenced. TV stations have been shut down.

More than 1,800 people have been arrested in the past year on charges of “insulting the president” – a law whose very existence is contradictory to democracy. Those imprisoned under it include the editor of the newspaper Birgun, who was found guilty of insulting Mr. Erdogan in an acrostic puzzle. And hundreds of government officials have been arrested or sacked on accusations that they are associated with the Islamist Gulen movement, which had brought Mr. Erdogan to power a decade and a half ago, but which he now opposes as a threat to his power.

Mr. Erdogan won November’s election on a fear campaign aimed at Turkey’s Kurds, who make up about a fifth of the country’s population. The Kurdish-Turkish violence that drove those fears is entirely the creation of Mr. Erdogan, who abandoned his long and successful unity-building efforts in 2013 after Kurdish-led moderate political parties became popular with non-Kurdish Turks seeking a modern and European-minded alternative. They therefore became threats to his goal of gaining an absolute majority he could use to rewrite the Turkish constitution and make himself president for life.

Mr. Erdogan is now bombing his own citizens aggressively: The Kurdish-majority city of Diyarbakir has become a deadly place of bomb craters, house-to-house searches and seizures and late-night disappearances. Little of it has anything to do with actual threats to the Turkish state. As the British writer Christopher de Bellaigue recently observed of the Nov. 1 election: “Erdogan pulled off the classic politician’s trick of successfully selling the panacea for an ailment largely of his own making.”

Kurds in Syria and Iraq are our most important allies in Syria’s civil war, and are key to finding a peaceful settlement to that conflict. By turning them into enemies strictly because they threatened his own grandiose political ambitions, Mr. Erdogan has destroyed the unified and open Turkey he earlier helped to create. And he has done so using the tools not just of authoritarianism but now, by silencing the media, of totalitarianism. It is time to stop treating Turkey as an ally, but as a country that has stepped beyond the pale.

Erdogan to declare a Caliphate in 2023

Erdo Caliph

Those who have been following the pronouncements of Erdogan in recent years will be well aware of his frequent references to the Ottoman Empire.  It comes as no surprise then that Erdogan’s ultimate aim is to turn modern Turkey into a ‘Caliphate’ by 2023 – exactly 100 years after Mustafa Kemal Ataturk dismantled the Ottoman Empire.

This goal is driving Erdogan’s aim to convert Turkey’s political system into a presidential one.  If he succeeds in doing this then, when all power has been rested in his hands, he will easily be able to do away with Turkey’s secular constitution and change the system.  However, before he can do that he has a number of obstacles to overcome:  1) the ‘deep state‘ which is staunchly secular and will strongly resist any attempts to change Turkey’s system 2) Turkish nationalists who fervently support Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s vision of a secular Turkey 3) Islamic organisations who consider Erdogan and his AK Party to be corrupt (despite the lip service Erdogan’s pays to religion) and 4) liberal citizens who support democracy and oppose Erdogan’s dictatorial style and policies.

Erdogan has already been demanding allegiance from public figures and suppressing those who have refused his overtures.   These acts have been justified by his followers under the pretext that he is a defacto ‘Caliph’ and therefore allegiance to him is mandatory.   Those who have refused have had their professional lives ruined and their livelihoods taken away by Erdogan and his mafia style employees.

Erdogan’s vanity project, his 1150 room palace, was built to show the world that he is a worthy successor to the Ottoman Sultans.  The rural Turks and those nostalgic for Ottoman ear societies have been hoodwinked into supporting Erdogan’s social engineering project.

Erdogan’s personal ambitions are destroying the country; the economy is faltering, his foreign policy is in ruins and there is no safety for the common citizen anymore.  Instead of fantasising about personal power and having continuous dreams of grandeur, Erdogan should do the decent thing and resign from his position to stop the country from heading towards bankruptcy and being destroyed any further.  But like all dictators, past and present, he will most likely not give up on his personal ambitions, even at the expense of destroying his own country and people.  Erdogan’s dream is turning into a nightmare for Turkey.

The Union of European Turkish Democrats (UETD): Erdogan’s European Lobby Group

UETD 1

The Union of European Turkish Democrats (UETD) was founded in Germany in 2004.   It is essentially a lobby group for the Turkish Government and for the governing AKP party.  It operates not only in Germany, but also in France, Belgium, Austria, Netherlands and the UK where it works to promote the political aims of  Erdogan’s government and convince Turks living in these countries to support them.

Following Erdogan’s undemocratic, autocratic and erratic behaviour in recent years the activities of UETD are now of significant interest.   It must be a particularly challenging job for the UETD and its supporters to convince Turks living in Europe to support Erdogan’s behaviours and aims.  This includes the jailing of journalists, curbs on press freedoms, the sacking of judges and the silencing of political opponents.  For example,  in recent days the Zaman (Turkey’s most widely circulated newspaper) was taken over by Erdogan’s government and its editor in chief was sacked.  The new trustee of Zaman appointed by AKP is no other than Metin Ilhan – the former General Secretary of UETD!

UETD’s current British directors are: Mehmet Macit, Yusuf Kilnic and Muttalip Unluer.  News reaches us that the British branch has been propagating its messages in rather unusual ways and in a manner which potentially goes against British values.

We will be investigating and blogging about these activities in the coming weeks.  Watch this space!

Can a Turkey sliding into despotism and censorship still join the EU? The answer must be no

This is a cross-post from the Guardian.

Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

It is waging war on an ethnic minority, its riot police just stormed the offices of a major newspaper, its secret service faces allegations of arming Isis, itsmilitary shot down a Russian bomber – and yet Turkey wants to join the European Union. The country’s swift descent into despotism poses yet another existential problem for the west.

The sight of Europe’s leaders kowtowing to Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, in the hope he would switch off the flood of refugees to Greece, was sickening. After the Turkish courts authorised police to seize the Zaman newspaper, tear-gassing its employees and sacking the editors, the new bosses immediately placed Erdoğan’s smiling picture on the front page. He has a lot to smile about.

Erdoğan’s mass support in Turkey is real. To the conservative heartlands, where Islam was suppressed for decades by one secular military regime after another, he initially seemed to have achieved an ideal stasis. The liberal, networked, progressive part of Turkey would leave the reactionary, religious, patriarchal part in peace, and vice versa. The Kurds would renounce guerilla warfare in favour of parliamentary opposition. Erdoğan would lead the country towards EU accession, at a pace slow enough to allow the obvious failings in democracy to be ignored.

But it has all gone wrong, and for the same fundamental reason that Assad’s regime in Syria collapsed: the unwillingness of educated youth to be ruled by simpletons running a “benign” police state.

The revolts that swept Turkey’s cities in June 2013 were triggered by the inability of Erdoğan and his old-man’s form of Islam to tolerate the basic microfreedoms that the younger generation want: the right to drink alcohol on campus, the right to uncensored social media, the right to protest peacefully about the same things European kids protest about – in the case of Gezi Park, the bulldozing of green space for a shopping mall.

Since then, Erdoğan has overcome all obstacles. The protest was suppressed by the simple method of firing US-made tear gas canisters into the crowd and laying waste to the urban areas of the Kurdish minority, who had joined the struggle.

Then Erdoğan got himself made president. And having narrowly lost his parliamentary majority in June 2015, he regained it late last year after a campaign that left the offices of the pro-Kurdish HDP party burned out in several cities.

Simultaneously, the Turkish military provoked an end to a three-year ceasefire with the Kurdish PKK, unleashing the army into the Kurdish towns of southern Turkey on a scale that has left some the mirror image of burned-out Syrian towns just across the border.

But all this is nothing compared to the strength of the hand Erdoğan has yet to play. With failed or failing states now in Afghanistan, Yemen, Iraq and Syria, the more Turkish democracy fails, the more the west has to support him. And the more the European Commission, in particular, hangs on to the conceit that Turkey will one day join the EU, the more it strengthens forces in Europe who want to leave the union altogether.

Transcripts leaked to a Greek website last month appeared to show Erdoğan overtly threatening Europe with an uncontrolled flood of refugees unless he is given money and rapid accession to the EU. Although they were given credence by some news agencies, the transcripts have the ring of black propaganda of the kind Erdoğan’s newest enemy, the Russian secret service, is adept at producing. Real or fabricated, the tragedy is that they cannot be far from the truth: Europe is already turning a blind eye to the erosion of democracy, to collusion with people traffickers, and to military action against civilians.

What happens next must be done calmly and proportionately.

The citizens of the EU have a right, first of all, to demand honesty from their own governments, and the commission itself. The EC’s “progress report” in November was an exercise in hypocrisy: while noting the slide to despotism, censorship and brutality, the report praised Turkey for its economic progress. Imagine what the same rapporteurs might have made of an accession request by Mussolini’s Italy.

The critical question is not, as the racists of eastern Europe ask, “Can 75 million Muslims join Europe?” It is: can a state so fundamentally in breach of the Copenhagen criteria for EU membership remain in any kind of accession process? The answer must clearly be no – and once Erdoğan is told so, the EU has a duty to offer a programme of support to the secular democratic forces that need to come to power in order for accession talks to be resumed. The commission – which had no problem telling Greeks which way to vote in July 2015 – would surely have no problem supporting democratic parties against repressive ones in Turkey.

That would leave Erdoğan in strategic trouble. But it would not immediately solve the situation in the Aegean. It would require Europe to double-down on its strategic commitment to Greece, with border forces, debt relief, aid and solidarity.

To those in Europe wishing to demonstrate to a wavering Britain why we need the EU, there could not be a better opportunity. It’s a chance for a clear condemnation of the breaches of human rights; for clear action in support of Greece, a member of the union, against implicit threats by a non-member; and for centralized action to deal with any flood of refugees Erdoğan wishes to unleash.

The prospect will be viewed with dismay by the centrist political class that helped create this mess. It brings them face to face with a choice they do not want to make: democratic values over market logic; moral decisiveness over the illusion that everything will be all right.

Was Berat Albayrak picked as sacrificial offering in the oil trade with the ISIL?

Beyrat

As Italian prosecutor Manuela Cavallo’s launching an investigation into money laundering claims about Bilal Erdogan, who recently moved to the Italian city of Bologna with his family, made it into news reports, another initiative, the Russian Federation kicked off at the United Nations, has raised the possibility of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s son-in-law Berat Albayrak’s being tried at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague on charges of aiding and abetting the terrorist organization Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).  In a letter it sent to the UN Secretary General and the UN Security Council Member States on January 29, 2016, the Russian Federation provided detailed information regarding the illegal oil trade between the ISIL and the individuals, organizations and firms close to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).  Titled “ISIL’s illegal oil trade”, the letter contains serious accusations about Turkey.  It argues that majority of the ISIL-controlled hydrocarbon is transferred via Turkey and oil products are carried into the Turkish soil mainly through border crossings Karkamış, Akçakale, Cilvegözü and Öncüpınar.  The letter reads:

“Everyday 100-150 oil tankers pass through these checkpoints.  Moreover, crude oil is carried through rural paths that are not controlled by Turkish security forces.  A total of 4,500 vehicles are used to this end.”

The letter also claims that several Turkish firms such as Seri Otomotiv, owned by Mustafa Seri in Konya, and Sam Otomotiv, owned by Habib Haydaroğlu in Antakya, play a role in providing the ISIL with vehicles.  It is maintained that the majority of the crude oil smuggled out of the ISIL-controlled areas is transported to the Turkish Petroleum Refineries Corporation’s (TÜPRAŞ) refinery in Batman while a small portion of it is processed at small facilities in Turkey and distributed by the filling stations of the firms like “Opet Nizig, Alpet, Kadoil, Oneoil, Teco Alacalı and Mavigöl Gaz.”  Underlining that those who sell illegal oil products in Gaziantep, Sanliurfa, Kahramanmaras, Kilis and Hatay have secured protection from local authorities, the letter suggests that a significant portion of oil is shipped from the Turkish ports on the Mediterranean coasts, particularly from Ceyhan.  The letter says:

“The tankers of ‘BMZ Grup Denizcilik ve İnşaat A.Ş.’ are used in the transportation. The firm was established in 2013; its registered capital is around $1 million and its head office is located at ‘Gürgen Sokak No. 3, Üsküdar’. The firm’s fleet consists of five tankers: Mecid Aslanov, Begim Aslanova, Poet Qabil, Armada Fair and Armada Breeze.” In the letter, it is alleged that the firm Powertrans, affiliated with Çalık Holding, where President Erdogan’s son-in-law Berat Albayrak was the General Manager, played a role in the oil trade with the ISIL. In addition, it is noted that Turkish Petroleum International Company made a deal with Kurdish business from northern Iraq with guarantees from the Turkish government and oil production and processing projects are currently being undertaken in cooperation with the companies in the Kurdish Autonomous Region. “We have reasons to believe that this arrangement is an outlet for the ISIL to sell its energy sources. In cooperation with BOTAŞ, the TPAO and Genel Enerji are increasing their capacities for the crude oil that will come from Iraq and Syrian Arab Republic. In this context, the Yumurtalık oil station has been expanded to have a storage capacity of 1.7 million tons” it said. Pointing out that the crude oil so legalized in Turkey is sent to various parts of the world, making it difficult to keep track of it, the letter lists the other firms that are involved in the oil trade drilled from the ISIL-controlled areas as follows: “Palmali Shipping and Agency JSC (Turkey), General Energy (United Kingdom and Turkey) and Saudi Aramco (Saudi Arabia).”

The letter maintains that the ISIL uses the revenues from this oil trade to acquire weapons, military equipment, explosives, and ammunition among others while the donations from various individuals and Islamic organizations in some Gulf countries and Turkey constitute another source of income for the ISIL and the ISIL’s military council can secure more than $30 million every month in this way. It states that terrorists use Turkish territories effectively also for distribution of illegal weapons and explosives and they are abided by some associations and foundations in Turkey.  The letter puts forward that the number of oil-carrying vehicles from Turkey to Syrian Arab Republic rose by nine-fold between 2012 and 2015 and 400 vehicles worth of around $7.2 million have been procured in four years and the amount of supply for the first nine months of 2015 is expected to be $3.2 million.  In the letter, it is also argued that weapons and explosives are sent to the ISIL through uncontrolled parts of Syrian Arab Republic’s common borders with Turkey and Iraq and that Syria’s border crossings Bab al-Hawa (10 kilometers southeast of Reyhanli), Bab el-Selam (6 kilometres northeast of Azez) and Cerablus (105 kilometres northeast of Aleppo) are used for arms and explosives shipments from Turkey.  It is true that everyone is innocent until proven guilty, but the fact that Berat Albayrak is the only person from AKP government whose name is highly affiliated with the most violent terror organization (ISIL) has been recently appointed as Minister of Energy and Natural Resources, raising questions that he has been deliberately sacrificed for this purpose-filled position.

An extensive recent report published by WSJ into ISIL’s financial activities in Turkey ( …) reinforces these allegations.

Erdogan is on the brink of ultimate power, but Turkey is falling apart

This is a cross-post from the Independent.

The biggest losers are the Turkish people, as critics and political opponents of the President’s regime are labelled ‘traitors’ and ‘terrorists’

president-erdogan-turkey.jpg

Until 2002, when the AKP (Justice and Development Party) came to power, Turkey was doing pretty well in following Kemal Atatürk’s dictum: “peace at home, peace abroad”. Admittedly, there were three military coups between 1960 and 1980 to keep Turkey on track, together with ‘a soft coup’ in 1997. But the country was still a respected member of NATO with prospects – however distant – of EU membership.

With the advent of the AKP under the leadership of a former mayor of Istanbul, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, things started to unravel. The AKP presented itself as a Western, reformist, neo-liberal and secular party, and, as late as 2012, 16 EU foreign ministers drooled that Turkey was “an inspirational example of a secular and democratic country”. But as the deputy chair of the opposition CHP (Republican People’s Party), Faruk Logoglu, pointed out, their perception of the state of affairs in Turkey was “sadly out of focus”, and ignored the fact that the AKP government pursued an authoritarian policy of gradual Islamisation, leading to the erosion of Turkish democracy and secularism.

Turkey’s foreign minister and now Prime Minister, Professor Ahmet Davutoglu, replaced Atatürk’s dictum with “zero problems with neighbours” and a grandiose vision of Turkey’s role in the world. It was also Davutoglu who inspired Erdogan with neo-Ottoman fantasies.

Consequently, Turkey is now at loggerheads with all its neighbours, in particular Syria, and has even managed to alienate Russia after the shooting down of the Su-24 in November. At home, in his pursuit of untrammeled power, Erdogan has provoked a civil war which threatens to dismantle the Turkey Atatürk and his fellow nationalists created.

In 2005, Erdogan was hailed as the first Turkish leader to acknowledge there was a Kurdish question, and in 2013, after secret talks with the PKK, their imprisoned leader Abdullah Öcalan called for a ceasefire. In February last year the AKP government and the Kurdish HDP (Peoples’ Democratic Party) agreed on a 10-point plan to end the conflict, but after the HDP gained 13 percent of the vote in June’s election and threatened to block his plans for an executive presidency, Erdogan disowned the agreement.

Prior to the election, there were more than 130 attacks on the HDP’s offices, vehicles and supporters, culminating in two bombs at a rally in Diyarbakir, the capital of the Kurdish southeast. A similar attack in the Kurdish border town of Suruc on 20 July, killing 33 activists, reignited the conflict with the PKK, as the government was suspected of having a hand in the attack.

The twin bombs at the HDP’s rally in Ankara on 10 October, which killed 102 people, reinforced these suspicions, as there were links to the two previous attacks, but President Erdogan claimed this was a collective act, involving ISIS, the PKK, the Syrian intelligence agency, Mukhabarat, and the Syrian counterpart to the PKK, the PYD (Democratic Union Party).

However, the PKK’s youth wing, the Patriotic Revolutionary Youth Movement (YDG-H), declared autonomy in a number of towns in the southeast and dug ditches and built barricades to repel government forces. Many civilian casualties have been caused by what Human Rights Watch has termed “the abusive and disproportionate use of force”, where the populations of towns under siege have been left without food, water, electricity and medical help and 200,000 people have been forced to leave their homes.

Almost 2,000 court cases opened in 18-months for ‘insulting’ Turkish President Erdogan

This is a cross-post from RT.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan © Murat Cetinmuhurdar / Presidential Palace

Around 2,000 legal cases have been opened in Turkey for insulting Recep Tayyip Erdogan, since he became president 18 months ago. Mocking the president carries a maximum of four years in jail with schoolchildren and journalists amongst those arrested.

The revelations were made by Turkish Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag, who said the ministry had allowed 1,845 cases on charges of insulting Erdogan to proceed, Reuters reports.

“I am unable to read the shameful insults made against our president. I start to blush,” said Bozdag, who is a member of Erdogan’s ruling Islamist-rooted AK Party.

Those convicted of insulting the Turkish leader could receive a maximum prison sentence of four years. However, before Erdogan became president in August, 2014, the law was rarely invoked. Those critical of the president say he is using the legislation to crack down on dissent.

People of all ages have fallen foul of the law. In February, a 13-year-old boy was briefly detained on charges of “insulting” the president on Facebook. The teen’s social media page had been under surveillance for months by police.

His family’s house was raided by anti-terror teams on February 25, following a tip-off from “a secret witness,” who claimed the boy had insulted Erdogan in a comment he allegedly posted below a video on Facebook.

n October, two boys aged 12 and 13 were arrested and are facing up to four years in prison for ripping up posters of the Turkish leader.

Former Turkish football star Hakan Sukur is also facing jail time for insulting the Turkish president on Twitter. Although Turkey’s record goal scorer said he had not intended to target the president, prosecutors argued his tweets were “clearly related” to the Turkish leader, the Dogan news agency reported in February.

It would also seem that criticizing Erdogan in the privacy of one’s own home is also illegal. Last month, a 40-year-old man filed a legal complaint against his own wife for insulting the Turkish president.

“I kept on warning her, saying why are you doing this? Our president is a good person and did good things for Turkey,” the man known as Ali D. said.

The wife reportedly provoked legal action against herself by telling her husband to “record and lodge a complaint” if he dislikes her behavior so much.

Ali recorded his wife’s “insults” and enclosed them as evidence in the case, when he lodged a complaint with prosecutors in the city of Izmir.

“Even if it is my father who swears against or insults the president, I would not forgive and I would complain,” the man told the Yeni Safak publication.