Archive for August 22, 2014

17 August 2014 Sunday

Memorial ceremonies were held in the early hours of Sunday in the northwestern Turkish provinces of Yalova and Kocaeli in commemoration of the victims of the country’s devastating 1999 earthquake.

On Aug. 17, 1999, a magnitude-7.4 tremor hit northwestern Turkey, leaving 18,000 people dead. The epicenter was about 7 miles (11 kilometers) south of the city of Izmit, and 7 1/2 miles (12 kilometers) east of the town of Golcuk.

Less than 60 miles (100 kilometers) away, Turkey’s biggest city, Istanbul, was also badly affected by the quake.

People gathered Sunday at the earthquake monument Yalova, which was built over the wreckage of the buildings demolished by the quake. After leaving flowers at the monument, which bears the names of the victims, people visited the photo exhibit inside the monument.

Local authorities and members of the Turkish Parliament participated in the memorial ceremony.

The victims of Marmara Earthquake were also commemorated in Golcuk, Kocaeli province at 03:02 a.m. local time (0002GMT), the time the earthquake struck 15 years ago.

Golcuk sub-governor Adem Yazici told people at the ceremony that, despite the passing of 15 years, the pain was still fresh.

The Turkish Navy Command also commemorated its 420 members who died in the quake.

Source: World Bulletin.



ISTANBUL – Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has strongly backed the naming of Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu as the new premier and party leader to replace president-elect Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a pro-government daily said on Saturday.

The executive committee of the AKP is due to meet on Thursday to formally agree the successor to Erdogan, who by law must give up both his current posts as premier and party leader when he becomes president on August 28.

But the Yeni Safak daily, which has close contacts with the AKP, said Erdogan had already put the issue to an informal vote at a closed-door meeting with top party members this week.

After giving a speech, Erdogan asked the party members to put the name of who they would like to see as party leader and prime minister in an envelope.

The results showed that there was overwhelming support for Davutoglu — foreign minister since 2009 — to take over the posts of premier and party leader.

Davutoglu is a loyal Erdogan ally who has developed a more assertive Turkish foreign policy in recent years that has been criticized by opponents as being over ambitious and even neo-Ottoman.

Other names who received limited support included former transport minister Binali Yildirim and Health Minister Mehmet Muezzinoglu, Yeni Safak added.

The paper said some senior lawmakers had been unwilling to support Davutoglu as they themselves were barred from running owing to an AKP internal rule that proscribes more than three terms in office.

But “Davutoglu has met some of these lawmakers who eventually extended their support to him and now it is almost certain that he will be the new prime minister,” it added.

The government is on the brink of a major reshuffle as Erdogan prepares to step down as prime minister and move to the presidency following his victory in August 10 presidential elections.

Source: Middle East Online.


15 August 2014 Friday

Turkish president-elect Tayyip Erdogan expects to announce his new prime minister as early as next Thursday following a meeting of his ruling AK Party’s senior leadership, he told reporters late on Thursday.

Speaking at a reception to mark the 13th anniversary of the founding of the AK Party, Erdogan said the party’s central executive board would meet on Aug. 21, when the name of the new AKP chairman and future prime minister would be announced.

The candidate would then need to be voted on by party members at a convention on Aug. 27, but Erdogan’s choice is unlikely to be challenged.

Erdogan, who is due to be inaugurated on Aug. 28 after winning the country’s first direct presidential election.

Erdogan, who steps down as prime minister and AK Party leader when he is sworn in as president, needs the continued support of an AKP with a strong majority to push through the constitutional change needed to introduce the presidential system he has long coveted for Turkey.

Source: World Bulletin.


13 August 2014 Wednesday

Turkey is going to build a refugee camp in northern Iraq for around 16,000 people from the crisis-stricken country’s Yazidi ethnic minority who fled from Sinjar amid ongoing attacks by ISIL militants, Turkey’s emergency management authority has said.

The camp is going to be built in the city of Zakho located only a few kilometers from the Iraqi-Turkish border, AFAD said, adding that 30 to 40 thousand Yazidis fled to Syria, whereas around 100,000 more sought refuge in Zakho, Duhok.

“There are currently around 6,500 Yazidis seeking shelter near the border,” AFAD said.

The agency is also planning to send four trucks of humanitarian aid to the region in order to meet the essential requirements of the displaced minority group.

The Kurdish regional government in northern Iraq has decided to grant $15 million in emergency aid to the Yazidis, the government announced on its official website Wednesday.

The money earned from oil sales is going to be spent to meet the immediate requirements of the displaced Yazidis from Sinjar, the Kurdish government said, adding that the Dohuk Governorate has been commissioned to distribute aid in the region.

Amid fierce clashes with the Iraqi army and the Kurdish peshmerga forces, IS militants have tightened their grip on northern Iraq, seizing towns with minority populations, as well as Iraq’s largest dam near Mosul.

The militants captured Sinjar and Rabia in the Nineveh province last week, forcing thousands of Turkmen, Arabs, Christians and Yazidis to flee.

So far, about 2,000 Yazidi refugees from Iraq crossed the Habur border post to seek refuge in southeast Turkey. The refugees have been placed in tents and post-earthquake houses in the region.

The Turkish Red Crescent provided 20 thousand blankets and sleeping pads, and sent a truckload of biscuits and drinking water to Silopi district in the southeastern Turkish province of Sirnak. The aid is being distributed to the refugees under the supervision of AFAD, the agency said Wednesday.

The humanitarian organization also sent two trucks of food and cleaning supplies to help out the displaced Turkmens in the town of Tuz Khurmatu in the northern Iraqi province of Salahaddin.

Source: World Bulletin.


15 August 2014 Friday

The leader of Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has agreed to hold a party congress at which his future is likely to be top of the agenda.

Following their candidate’s poorer than expected performance in last Sunday’s presidential election, several lawmakers in the party, known by the Turkish acronym CHP, held a press conference to suggest the removal of Kemal Kilicdaroglu as chairman.

Speaking on Thursday, he said: “I told those who held a press conference ‘If you want to hold party congress, bring the signatures, I will convene the party congress immediately.’

“But obviously they have difficulty in collecting the signatures. Rest assured that I will hold the party congress.”

Speaking after a visit to injured Palestinians in Ankara, the Turkish capital, he added: “I will decide the congress date after consulting my colleagues.”

“Deputy party group chairman Muharrem Ince claimed Friday that he would be a candidate for the next chairman of the party. I’m extremely pleased to hear that,” Kilicdaroglu told reporters.

On Tuesday, Ankara CHP lawmaker Emine Ulker Tarhan called on Kilicdaroglu to resign and convene an extraordinary party congress.

She claimed the party leadership had been warned about the danger of selecting a joint candidate, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, who represented both the center-left CHP and the right-wing Nationalist Movement Party.

According to provisional results, Ihsanoglu received 38.44 percent of the vote. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan won the race by garnering nearly 52 percent of the vote.

Source: World Bulletin.


Tulin Daloglu

August 11, 2014

“If people had bothered to vote, the result of this election would have been very different,” MHP leader Devlet Bahceli said Aug. 10 in an angry tone. CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu echoed the same thing. “If it had not been for vacationers, those boycotting the election and others who did not go to the ballot box for their own reasons, [Erdogan] would not have won that 51% and this election would have gone to the second round,” he said.

Many on social media also feverishly reacted with an insulting and demeaning narrative, arguiing that those who did not vote preferred their summer vacation on the beach to preventing Erdogan from becoming the next president, and that they no longer had the right to speak about the country’s present and the future. However, Adil Gur, head of the Istanbul-based A&G public survey firm, which has built a strong reputation for accurately forecasting election results, disputed this theory. “When you study the results of the polling data, it is outright clear that had turnout been higher, Erdogan would have won the election by a bigger percentage,” Gur told Al-Monitor. “In places such as the Aegean, where the opposition is stronger, for example, 81% of the people voted, which is higher than the national average. Also, there is no difference between the voter turnout of the people in Kadikoy [opposition leaning] or Umraniye [government leaning] in Istanbul.

This indicates that the public opinion polls that showed an easy victory for Erdogan prior to the election actually caused the AKP constituency to become complacent — not the other way around.”

IPSOS, another public survey firm, released a detailed report about those who did not vote in this election that backs Gur’s argument. A chart based on its data shows a calculation presuming that the 7.7 million people who chose not to vote in the March 30 local election declined to vote again this time around, and apportioning the likely choices of the rest of those who chose not to vote in the presidential election. The chart indicates that Erdogan would have received an additional 2.4 million votes, or 52.7% of this theoretical vote, to Ihsanoglu’s 2 million (1.1 million from CHP voters and 900,000 from MHP ones) and Demirtas’ 150,000.

Gur and other analysts repeatedly argued prior to the election that the opposition would have had a better chance of forcing a second round of voting if each party had come up with its own candidate.

Ahmet Necdet Sezer, Turkey’s former president, was among those who did not vote. Melih Asik, a columnist at Milliyet daily, reported Aug. 11 that Sezer felt uncomfortable with CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu’s statement that “all will go willy-nilly” to vote for Ihsanoglu. Sezer asserted that the constitution acknowledges people’s right to choose to abstain from voting.

Sealing victory at the ballot box for the ninth consecutive time since he came to power over a decade ago, Erdogan received 20,877,185 of the votes in the presidential election, which required an absolute majority to declare victory in the first round. In the March 30 local elections, which followed the 2013 Gezi Park protests and the graft probe that surfaced in December 2013, the AKP garnered 20,520,509 votes, compared with the support of 21,466,446 people in the 2011 general election.

On Aug. 11, Erdogan chaired for the last time the party’s central executive board as prime minister. Party spokesman Huseyin Celik told the media that the AKP would go to its general congress Aug. 27 to determine its next party chairman and prime minister. “We will reach a consensus over that name before heading to the congress,” Celik said. On Aug. 28, Erdogan will officially take over the presidency from Abdullah Gul. Many analysts in the Ankara beltway speculated that Erdogan disqualified Gul from running for the prime minister’s post by having the general congress take place a day before he is released from his duties, since he cannot run for party leadership while president, according to constitutional procedures. Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu’s name is appearing as the most likely candidate.

While the opposition rails against Davutoglu, saying his foreign policy is nothing but a complete failure for the country and the region, Erdogan seems to differ with that perception; still, this is not to say that Davutoglu has the prime ministry guaranteed.

What is clear is that Selahattin Demirtas, the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) candidate, nearly doubled his party’s vote.

Breaking a taboo by winning the support of the people on the western side of the country, Demirtas received the support of 9.8% of voters, compared with the Kurdish camp’s 6% success in the March 30 local election. This could easily help open up possibilities for the CHP in finding an alternative way to address the country’s Kurdish issue and follow a different strategy in the next general election — scheduled for 2015 — if not at an earlier date. Still, as long as the opposition does not persuade the people with a winning strategy at the ballot box, the AKP looks set to remain in power to 2023 and beyond…

Source: al-Monitor.


Cengiz Çandar

August 11, 2014

Aug. 10, 2014, will probably be recorded in the annals of Turkish history as a turning point. It is the date when Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the longest-serving prime minister of Turkey’s 91-year old republic, became the first president ever elected by popular vote.

Erdogan won with roughly 51.7% of the vote, a narrower margin than many had predicted. KONDA, breaking the rules, had announced 72 hours before the election that Erdogan was expected to win with 57%, a very clear margin. Other contenders were enraged that Turkey’s most prestigious polling company had been used by Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) to discourage those voters spending their vacations in the coastal areas of Turkey from coming back to cast their votes.

Such speculation was not totally groundless given the election results. Erdogan won with nearly 52% in the first round against his main contender, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu. The joint candidate of two opposition parties, the center-left Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the ultranationalist Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), Ihsanoglu was expected to amass 38.5% of the vote, a fairly safe margin. Nonetheless, if the figures are more closely scrutinized, they indicate that Erdogan won more or less the same votes that his party had won only a few months ago in the March 30 local elections, while the sum total of the votes of the two opposition parties dropped drastically.

On March 30, 89% of the voters cast their ballots while on Aug. 10, that number stood at only around 74%. Out of the nearly 53 million registered voters, 13 million declined to vote. Comparing Erdogan’s 20,520,000 with the ruling AKP’s turnout on March 30, one can conclude that there has been no increase in support for Erdogan, but he and his party have preserved their strength. (Some observers remind us that in the general elections of 2011, the ruling AKP led by Erdogan had won 21.5 million votes. Though such analogies may sound reasonable, should not diminish the value and significance of Erdogan’s victory in the presidential elections, taking into consideration the changed local, regional and international circumstances since then.)

The unquestionable losers of the presidential elections are the two opposition parties, rather than the main rival of Erdogan, Ihsanoglu. The opposition parties’ joint candidate, former secretary-general of the Islamic Cooperation Organization Ihsanoglu’s votes remained at approximately 15,143,000, roughly 5 million below the sum total of the votes cast for the CHP and the MHP on March 30. Ihsanoglu was an unknown quantity and his performance during the campaign, diametrically opposed in style to that of Erdogan, was considered by many respectable and successful. Therefore, his losing is attributed mainly to the two parties that nominated him as their joint candidate rather than to him personally.

Such a deficit and the dramatic decrease in voters from 89% on March 30 and 74% on Aug. 10 explain why the contest went in favor of Erdogan in the first round without a need for the second round, scheduled for Aug. 24.

The third contender, Selahattin Demirtas, a Kurd by origin and the candidate of the pro-Kurdish party and some Marxist and leftist circles, won 9.8% of the vote, nearly 4 million ballots. This was a remarkable, nearly 50% increase in his party’s performance since the previous elections. Supporters of Demirtas are content with the result and it is presumed that the bargaining power of pro-Kurdish political circles has been augmented for the coming political period of Turkey in the wake of the presidential elections. Demirtas’ effective campaign also enhanced the “anti-secessionist” Kurdish position, a political stance advocating for the Kurds to remain within Turkey’s body politic.

The main outcome of this election is that Erdogan won an astounding victory, became the 12th president of the Republic of Turkey and sealed his place in history as its most powerful and transformative leader since Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey.

His victory with 52%, though lower than expectations, nonetheless can well be interpreted as the first time the majority of Turks have backed Erdogan and extended a clear mandate for his pledge to build a “new Turkey.”

He repeated that phrase, “new Turkey,” several times in his victory speech from the balcony of his party’s headquarters in Ankara at midnight, Aug. 10, before deliriously cheering supporters.

“New Turkey” mostly meant a break with the Kemalist past of modern Turkey, an ambitious new country reviving the alleged glory of the Ottoman past in the minds of Erdogan and his close associates of the pre-Kemalist republic.

Erdogan has already been the longest-serving prime minister of Turkish republican history. Now with at least another five-year mandate at the post of presidency, his will outnumber the years that Ataturk was in power from 1923 until his death in 1938.

Now, his electoral victory must spell the inauguration of the “Second Republic,” and Ataturk’s republic is changing to become the “new Turkey.”

Source: al-Monitor.


August 11, 2014

ISTANBUL (AP) — Turkey’s governing party said Monday it will select a new prime minister at the end of August to replace Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who won the country’s first direct presidential election in a historic vote.

The Justice and Development Party, or AKP, will hold its party congress on Aug. 27 to select the new prime minister, who will also be the new party head. Turkey’s constitution stipulates the president has to cut ties to any political party after being elected.

No specific name for the premiership was discussed during Monday’s meeting, AKP spokesman Huseyin Celik said. Erdogan won Sunday’s election with 51.79 percent, according to election board figures released Monday. Challenger Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu got 38.44 percent and Selahattin Demirtas, a young Kurdish politician, got 9.76 percent. Turnout was 74.13 percent — a relatively low figure for Turkey, where voting is mandatory.

A three-term prime minister who has dominated Turkish politics for more than a decade, Erdogan has been a divisive figure. He was hammered by anti-government protests over a redevelopment project in Istanbul’s Gezi Park last year, as well as over a mining disaster that killed 301 people in May.

He was also implicated in a corruption scandal, along with his son, earlier this year, but rejected the accusations as an attempted coup. The judicial officials involved have been reassigned to other posts or fired, and dozens of police have been arrested.

His critics accuse him of an increasingly autocratic style of governance and for allegedly trying to impose his religious and conservative mores on a nation built on secularism. But his supporters revere him as a champion of the people who has steered Turkey to years of economic prosperity.

“Given the anti-government protests last summer in response to Erdogan’s perceived authoritarian tendencies, political tension is likely to remain high as Erdogan seeks to extend the power of the presidency,” said the Fitch international ratings agency.

Erdogan, 60, has vowed to transform the presidency from a largely ceremonial post into a powerful position. Although a bid before the election to achieve this through a constitutional amendment failed, he has said he will activate the post’s dormant powers — a legacy of a 1980 coup — including the ability to call parliament and summon Cabinet meetings.

“Erdogan got what he wanted,” Murat Yetkin, Editor-in-Chief of the Hurriyet Daily News, wrote in an editorial Monday. “He wanted to consolidate all the executive power in his hands and now he has the chance and capacity for that.”

Whoever replaces Erdogan as premier would hold the position until next year, when a general election is due. There is no official contender, although several names have emerged in the media, including outgoing President Abdullah Gul and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.

Gul, who co-founded the AKP with Erdogan, said on Monday he would “return to my party” after the end of his term, which expires on Aug. 28. But he refused to be drawn on whether that meant he would consider the premiership.

Although formerly very close, Gul and Erdogan have drifted apart in recent years, with Gul sometimes questioning the government’s actions. There has been speculation that the newly elected president would want to appoint a pliant prime minister so he could retain the true power himself — a role Gul would be unlikely to perform.

In his victory speech Sunday night, Erdogan struck a conciliatory tone toward critics who fear he is bent on a power grab as he embarks on another five years at the country’s helm. “I will not be the president of only those who voted for me. I will be the president of 77 million,” he vowed.

Not everyone was convinced. “For me, he is not my president. I’m the people but he is not my president. First of all, the elections period wasn’t fair,” said Sener Gunduz, a surveyor in Istanbul. International election monitors who visited a limited number of polling stations said Sunday’s vote was “generally organized in a professional and efficient manner.” But they said unbalanced campaign coverage strongly favored Erdogan.

“The prime minister’s use of his official position, along with biased media coverage, gave him a distinct advantage over the other candidates,” the OSCE said.

Fraser reported from Ankara.

21 Aug 2014

Funerals have been held for three Hamas commanders killed in the latest round of Israeli air raids in the Gaza Strip that left a total of 29 Palestinians dead.

The al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’ military wing, said Mohamed Abo Shamaleh, Raed al-Attar and Mohamed Barhoum were killed in an attack in Rafah on Thursday, little more than a day after an attempt on the life of its leader Mohammed Deif.

Thousands of people joined their funeral processions as they snaked through the streets of Rafah, strewn with rubble from previous Israeli attacks.

Separately, another 26 people were killed in Israeli strikes in Gaza on Thursday, raising the overall death toll to 2,077 in 45 days of conflict.

Israel meanwhile said it was rotating 10,000 troops – meaning fresh soldiers were being prepared for possible future operations – a day after the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said Israel’s offensive may be an extended operation.

Hamas condemned the assassinations, with Sami Abu Zuhri, a spokesman, calling them a “big Israeli crime” for which it would pay.

Al Jazeera’s Jacky Rowland, reporting from West Jerusalem, said Israel had turned to its historical tactic of targeting senior figures.

“This could be seen as an acknowledgement that military tactics have not been delivering on several levels,” she said, including damage to its international reputation.

Al Jazeera’s Jane Ferguson, reporting from Gaza, said the Hamas commanders killed on Thursday had been implicated in the kidnapping of its soldier Gilad Shalit, who was freed in 2011 under a prisoner swap deal with Hamas.

Ferguson said that Hamas and other Palestinian factions were still open to talks, an “indicator of how both sides … are aware that while they say they’re prepared to fight, they also know that they need a political solution at some stage”.

Hamas is seeking an end to a seven-year Israeli-Egyptian blockade that has battered Gaza’s economy, while Israel wants guarantees that Hamas will disarm.

Source: al-Jazeera.