Archive for August 16, 2014

July 08, 2014

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkish lawmakers debated legislation Tuesday to restart a stalled peace process with the Kurdish rebels — a development that could also help Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan win Kurdish votes as he seeks election as president next month.

Erdogan, who has dominated Turkish politics for more than a decade, declared last week that he’s running for president. Votes from Kurds — who make up an estimated 20 percent of Turkey’s 76 million people — would be key to achieving his ambition of becoming Turkey’s first directly elected head of state.

The Turkish government began talking with the imprisoned leader of the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, in 2012 with the aim of ending a three-decade long conflict that has claimed tens of thousands of lives. In 2013, Kurdish rebels declared a cease-fire and began withdrawing fighters from Turkey into bases in northern Iraq but the withdrawal came to a halt in September after the PKK accused Erdogan of not increasing Kurdish rights as promised.

If passed, the legislation would give the Turkish government the power to take the measures it deems necessary to advance the talks, including steps to grant amnesty to Kurdish militants who lay down arms. Officials involved in talks with the rebel group — still formally designated as a terrorist organization — would be immune from prosecution.

Abdullah Ocalan, the PKK’s jailed leader, has welcomed the proposed legislation as a “historic development,” according to Kurdish legislators who visited him on his prison island off Istanbul last week.

Erdogan, 60, who has been in power since 2003, is barred by internal party rules from running as premier again. He is hoping to move to the presidency — which would keep him at Turkey’s helm for at least five more years.

July 03, 2014

BAGHDAD (AP) — Islamic militants have released at least 30 Turkish truck drivers who they captured in Iraq last month, relatives and a private Turkish news agency said Thursday.

Militants from the al-Qaida-inspired group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant seized the truck drivers on June 9 in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul. Nihal Simsek, the wife of one driver and the mother of another, told The Associated Press on Thursday that she had spoken to her husband, Ramazan Simsek, who confirmed the truck drivers were freed.

She said the drivers were heading toward Arbil in Iraq’s northern Kurdish region and would cross into Turkey in the evening. A Turkish Foreign Ministry official said there were “positive developments” concerning the truck drivers but would not confirm the report by the Dogan news agency until it was certain all of the drivers were free and safe. The official spoke on condition of anonymity in line with government rules that bar civil servants from speaking to journalists without prior authoritization.

The exact number of kidnapped drivers was unclear. The Dogan report cited 32, while Turkish officials at the time said the kidnapping involved 31 truck drivers. The militants also seized 49 people from the Turkish consulate in Mosul three days later. There was no immediate word on any release for them.

The group known as ISIL or ISIS has recently overrun parts of Iraq and Syria. “ISIL has released our drivers, but our trucks are still in their hands,” the Dogan news agency quoted truck company owner, Mehmet Kizil, as saying. “But that doesn’t matter as long as they safely return to their families.”

Mehmet Guzel in Istanbul contributed.

July 01, 2014

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey’s ruling party on Tuesday nominated Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to run in Turkey’s first directly elected presidential race in August, announcing his candidacy to thousands of cheering supporters.

The move could keep Erdogan, who has dominated Turkish politics for more than a decade, at Turkey’s helm for at least five more years. Erdogan, 60, has been in power since 2003 but is barred by internal party rules from running as prime minister again. The leader, who has presided over Turkey’s economic ascent but has also provoked outrage for the increasingly authoritarian tack he has taken recently, has long been rumored to have presidential ambitions.

The Turkish presidency is a largely symbolic post, but Erdogan has said he favors a system that gives the president more powers. He failed to muster sufficient support to make constitutional changes for an all-powerful president but has suggested that, if elected, he would fully use latent presidential powers, including the right to call Cabinet meetings, so that he can rule Turkey with as much authority as he has enjoyed as premier.

In a speech immediately after his nomination, Erdogan said, if elected, he would continue to expand Turkey’s economy, work to expand democracy and advance Turkey’s bid to join the European Union. He also pledged to press ahead with peace efforts to end a 30-year conflict with the Kurdish rebels.

“I will be the president of all of the people, whether they vote for me or not,” Erdogan said. Erdogan’s candidacy was announced by Mehmet Ali Sahin, a deputy chairman of the ruling party, who said the Turkish leader was unanimously nominated by all of the party’s legislators in parliament.

The Turkish leader remains popular despite allegations of corruption that he says were orchestrated by followers of a moderate Islamic movement. President Abdullah Gul, whose term ends Aug. 28, said Sunday that he would not seek re-election.

Two of Turkey’s main opposition parties — the secular Republican People’s Party and the right-wing Nationalist Movement Party — are fielding Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, the soft-spoken former head of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, for the race.

A party championing Kurdish and other minority rights nominated Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtas as its candidate on Monday. It is the first time that Turks will vote directly for their president. Parliament chose presidents in the past. The two-round elections are set for Aug. 10 and 24.

July 01, 2014

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — After more than a decade in power, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan dominates Turkish politics like a one-man-show.

He has defanged the once supreme military, reshaped the judiciary and cowed the press. Now, at the peak of his power, he has announced he is running for president — a role he intends to shape into the most powerful job in Turkey.

“For the past 10 years he has had the last say in every issue,” says Sukru Kucuksahin, columnist for Hurriyet newspaper. “Whatever he says goes.” Erdogan’s announcement Tuesday comes some six weeks before the first round of the presidential election. But as he closes in on becoming Turkey’s first directly-elected president, Erdogan’s own maneuvering leaves him ironically in a position where he may not control the agenda.

Erdogan engineered a constitutional change for a direct vote as the first of a two-step move to bolster his status as Turkey’s pre-eminent leader. But the second step — his aspiration to increase the powers of the presidency — stalled as he failed to build a coalition big enough to enact the change.

Now Erdogan has signaled that he intends to combine the mandate of presidential victory with the force of his own personality to rule Turkey, even with constitutionally limited powers. Erdogan has asserted that the hitherto largely symbolic post has dormant powers that he intends to use, including the right to convene and chair Cabinet meetings. That would put him in the room when the prime minister’s most important decisions are made.

He also seems set to handpick a friendly prime minister with the hope that he can still largely control parliament from afar. Perhaps the only political figure with competing stature in Turkey, current President Abdullah Gul, has said that he does not intend to seek the premiership because he does not want to be a caretaker prime minister beholden to Erdogan.

If Erdogan is elected, his Justice and Development Party — AKP — will appoint an interim prime minister to serve until next year’s parliamentary elections. Erdogan hopes that the party will win an overwhelming victory in that election, one that is big enough to enact changes to bolster the presidency. The conundrum is that a strong prime minister would help secure such an election victory, but might also exert independent leadership.

Given that uncertainty, Erdogan cannot count on changing the constitution. And Turkish history has at last two troubled examples of prime ministers who sought to maintain control of parliament after they moved to the Cankaya Palace — presidential residence in Ankara. Suleyman Demirel and Turgut Ozal, also attempted to engineer friendly prime ministerial appointments, only to see their parties collapse under new prime ministers.

Erdogan appears to have more control of his party than either Demirel or Ozal ever had. But in transitioning to the presidency, he will lose some of the overt levers he has enjoyed as prime minister. Crucially, he will no longer control the Interior and Justice Ministries that recently helped him survive a corruption scandal. Erdogan has claimed that the allegations were part of a coup attempt by a fifth column in the justice system, controlled by Fethullah Gulen, a moderate Islamist preacher living in the U.S. who was once a close ally of the prime minister.

Numan Kurtulmus, a senior deputy to Erdogan in AKP, who is often mentioned as a possible prime minister, said in an interview that the image of Erdogan as a rising autocrat is misplaced. He says it stems mostly from the fecklessness of the opposition, which did not even name a presidential opponent to Erdogan until June 16. The party is more than Erdogan, he says, and his personal power stems from repeated election wins.

“If we talk about creating a one-man democracy. This is just not true,” he says. “But the people who oppose the government have no one to turn to in the parliament.” He notes that Erdogan’s rule has given new voice to millions of Turks, especially outside urban centers, who were marginalized under the rule of earlier secularist governments. Reforms championed by Erdogan have bolstered minority rights and reined in the extreme human rights abuses of the military. The benefits of a surging economy have been shared widely. “Wherever you look you will find marvelous achievements,” he says. “Erdogan has personally created very strong leadership, and he has convinced the majority of people to back a democratic project.”

Others say there are only a few checks left in the Turkish political system to limit Erdogan’s whims. The country’s top Constitutional Court has recently rolled back actions by Erdogan’s government, including its blockage of Twitter and it could also weigh in on any attempt to expand the powers of the presidency. The last check may be whether he pulls off his gambit to reshape the Turkish political system and rule supremely as president.

“He wants to be next Turkish president in control of the executive and legislative branches of the government with a long shadow on the judiciary and every other major political power in the country,” says Ersin Kalaycioglu, professor of Political Sciences at Sabanci University in Istanbul.

16 August 2014 Saturday

The Syrian opposition has announced plans to resettle refugees in areas not blighted by conflict.

The Syrian National Coalition, an umbrella group of parties opposed to the regime of Bashar al-Assad, said on Friday that Syrians who had sought refuge in neighboring countries would return to rebel-controlled regions of Syria.

Coalition spokesman Khalid Hodja told reporters in Istanbul: “We have an important project called ‘Returning to Syria’. It aims to resettle the Syrian people who have fled to neighboring countries in secure regions inside Syria.”

Hodja said the plan, for which he did not give a timetable, would require the support of neighboring countries and the international community.

He also called for a no-fly zone inside Syria.

There are approximately 4 million Syrian refugees living outside Syria in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq, according to the coalition. More than 1 million have crossed into Turkey since April 2011.

Source: World Bulletin.


Daoud Kuttab

August 14, 2014

The decision by the Palestinian delegation in Cairo to extend the cease-fire another five days and the statements by its head, Azzam al-Ahmad, that most issues for a permanent agreement have been resolved point to a breakthrough of sorts.

Gazans appear to be on the verge of seeing the gradual lifting of a cruel and inhumane siege that has been going on for seven years, leaving the question as to what made the Israelis change their position.

Palestinian unity, best articulated by what looks now like a smart decision by President Mahmoud Abbas to create a unified delegation headed by a PLO official, of all factions including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, has made a major contribution. And while this unity has made a contribution, there was clear strength in the Palestinian negotiating team that was never seen during the nine-month political negotiations between chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat and Israeli Minister of Justice Tzipi Livni.

The difference between the two sets of negotiations was certainly not the individuals or the parties involved, but the very fact that Palestinian negotiators were able to walk away from the talks if the Israelis didn’t take them seriously. Even though the Cairo talks were indirect, it was obvious from anyone following them that they were much more productive than the US Secretary of State John Kerry-sponsored meetings.

A Jordanian columnist of Palestinian origin, Orayb Rantawi, points out the need for any negotiations to be backed up by a position of strength. “The first and most important lesson is that resistance of all kinds including armed resistance is not a useless act.” After giving the Palestinian unity his second lesson, Rantawi insists that negotiations without the backing of elements of strength are a “failed option.”

Palestinian leaders in Ramallah, whom the Jordanian author criticizes as “lazy,” have refused to give up security cooperation and preferred to talk about “peaceful popular resistance,” but have done little to make this option an effective option that is taken seriously by the Israelis.

Supporters of Palestine around the world as well as in Palestine and nearby Arab countries have taken up the need to boycott Israel economically as a translation of the need to send a message to the Israelis that the illegal and unacceptable occupation will cost Israel financially and politically.

In the West Bank, the boycott of Israeli-produced products that have a Palestinian alternative has been resurrected as a result of the war on Gaza. The largest supermarket in Ramallah has publicly stated that they have cleared all their shelves of any Israeli products. Other stores are putting stickers on Israeli products to make sure that customers are aware of the origin of these products.

In Jordan, a group of women have launched a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) group, Al-Monitor has learned. Other BDS branches that have been established based on a call by Palestinian organizations in 2005 seem to be gaining power and credibility.

Regardless of the method of resistance that Palestinians pursue, it’s now obvious that negotiations for the sake of negotiations, as Rantawi has argued, are a waste of time. Any new negotiation must be part of a national Palestinian strategy that can produce the desired results.

Such a strategy will not be easy to come by and should not be cooked quickly. Using the newly discovered unity, Palestinians of all walks of life — both current members of political and guerrilla factions as well as independents — need to take time out and agree on a strategy that is doable and one that can produce the desired results. Such a discussion might lead to actions that will require sacrifices and therefore the need for a national buy-in is absolutely necessary.

It’s unfair that Palestinians in Gaza continue to pay this extraordinary price while fellow Palestinians including the leadership enjoy life in air-conditioned offices and a relaxed lifestyle. Such a strategy might require the suspension or even the end of the current Palestinian-Israeli security cooperation. It might also point to the need to dissolve the current Palestinian government and give the keys of running the occupation to the Israelis. It makes little sense that the Palestinian leadership is assigned to do all the Israeli security’s dirty work in the occupied territories, while the Israelis keep the land without having to pay the cost of its occupation.

Any such well-thought strategy that gains a national buy-in shouldn’t be made as a mere tactic. The Israelis will quickly see through any such tactic and ignore it. It must be a serious effort and the leaders must be willing to go all the way in carrying it. Of course, this might require a change of the current leadership.

If we have learned anything from the most recent war on Gaza, it is that Palestinians can extract serious concessions from the Israelis if they are united, determined and willing to pay the heavy price that freedom requires. Independence and freedom will not be given to Palestinians on a silver plate. It has to be earned on the ground.

Source: al-Monitor.


12 August 2014 Tuesday

Islamic Studies students applying to study at Tashkent University in Uzbekistan have described their university entry exam as a ‘scandal’ after they found questions probing their opinions regarding the Central Asian state’s secular laws.

One applicant wrote a letter to the Ozodlik radio station complaining that the questions asked were based upon anti-Islamic policies, leaving students in a dilemma.

According to the letter, the university asked questions regarding the students’ opinion on the headscarf and whether they felt it was necessary in today’s day and age. The student complained that had one answered ‘no’, they answer would go against their religion, but if they said ‘yes’, they would fall at odds with the state, which bans headscarves in public buildings.

Another question asked students what ‘Islamic groups’ they were aware of, which applicants considered to be a trick question to find out their political opinions.

A representative from the university admitted to the radio station that these questions were asked and that they had been selected by the university’s professors.

Although Islam is by far the dominant religion in Uzbekistan, with Muslims constituting 90-96% of the population, political expressions of Islam as well as open displays of Islamic symbols are largely suppressed in the country.

Source: World Bulletin.


15 August 2014 Friday

Police in Crimea have reportedly started targeting Muslim women with headscarfs with identification checks ahead of Russian president Vladimir Putin’s to the Black Sea peninsula on Thursday.

Muslim women in the capital Simferopol (Akmescit) and Bakhchysarai accused Russian police of pulling women with headscarfs over for passport checks and treating them as if they were ‘enemies’ on their Facebook profiles.

Eider Ismailov, the assistant mufti of Crimea, said that the Islamic Religious Affairs authority in Crimea had not received any official complaints, but said the measures may have been taken for security reasons.

“This shows that Russian police do not trust headscarfed women and see them as a separate group the the general public. This is nothing but an insult against our beliefs as Muslims,” Ismailov said.

Meanwhile, madrasas (religious schools) in Crimea are being searched for banned reading materials, another assistant mufti, Esadullah Bairov, told the Qirim News Agency.

Three madrasas were searched during August 13, ahead of a law that will come into force in 2015 that bans a number of popular Islamic books.

“The book are removed as a warning, as the law is not in force in Crimea yet. Still no extremist literature was found in Crimean madrasas that were searched,” Bairov said.

Some Islamic books that have been banned include the work of popular 20th century Turkish scholar Said Nursi and the famous ‘Fortress of the Muslim’ book of supplications of the Prophet Muhammad, which was collected by ancient Muslim scholar Saeed bin Ali bin Wahf Al-Qahtani. A certain biography of the Prophet Muhammad is also banned.

Around 300,000 Muslims in Crimea, mainly native Crimean Tatars, are having to adjust to new laws enforced by Russia after their homeland was annexed from Ukraine following a referendum in March.


Since the annexation in March, around 3,000 Crimean Tatars have left the peninsula for mainland Ukraine.

The U.N. has also pointed to the erosion of human rights in Crimea, which remains under the occupation of pro-Russian militias who particularly threaten the Crimean Tatars.

Crimean Tatars have complained that they have been targeted for speaking their Turkic language in public and have had their homes marked by pro-Russian militiamen.

The Crimean Tatar Mejlis (Parliament) was also threatened with closure after they organized protests for former Mejlis head Mustafa Jemilev, who has been barred from entering the peninsula for five years along with current leader Refat Chubarov.

Earlier this month, Qirim News Agency general coordinator Ismet Yuksel was also given the same five-year ban.

The Crimean Tatars have largely opposed the annexation of Crimea by Russia, fearing a repeat of the events of 1944 when they were completely expelled as part of former Soviet dictator Josef Stalin’s policy.

They gradually started returning in the early 1990s after the fall of the Soviet Union, but still live as a minority in their homeland as they were displaced by ethnic Russian settlers who migrated there later on.

Since the annexation, Russia has been granting Russian citizenship to the people of Crimea in replacement of their Ukrainian nationality. Crimean Tatars, who have campaigned to reject Russian citizenship, reserve the right to remain as Ukrainian citizens, but will by default become foreigners in their homeland.

Source: World Bulletin.


15 August 2014 Friday

In celebration of the 50th anniversary since the first Turkish migrant workers arrived in Belgium, a huge Turkish carpet made of flowers has been placed in the middle of a popular touristic square.

The carpet measuring 75 meters by 25 meters was put together by up to 100 people in the capital Brussels, which hosts around 220,000 Turks.

Welcoming the carpet as an important step in promoting Turkish art and culture, Brussels mayor Yvan Mayeur announced the display at Grand Place Square, which will last until August 17, as a gesture of good will to the country’s Turkish population.

Source: World Bulletin.