Archive for October 13, 2014

by Daniel J. Graeber

Ankara, Turkey (UPI)

Oct 6, 2014

A project started nearly 40 years ago could help ensure energy security in Turkey through renewable reserves, a director said Monday.

Sadrettin Karahocagil, director of the Southeastern Anatolia Project, said renewable energy could stave off a future energy crisis in Turkey.

“There will be times when we can’t find energy,” he said. “[This project] is a solution, a preparation for those times.”

The project, known by its Turkish acronym GAP, started life in 1977 as an agricultural project, but has since morphed into an energy and water project meant to stimulate the economies of Turkey’s southeastern provinces.

Turkey is working to expand the use of renewable energy through projects backed by the U.N. Development Program. UNDP provides technical support for the $4.3 million GAP program.

Energy demand is on the rise in a Turkish economy that was shielded from much of the damage of the global economic recession. The International Energy Agency expects Turkish energy demand will double during the next decade.

Source: Wind Daily.


04 October 2014 Saturday

Turkey will offer 2,000 buffaloes in food aid to the poor in Cameroon through a number of Turkish non-governmental organizations, Turkish ambassador Omar Faruk Dogan said Saturday.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Dogan said the aid will be distributed during the Muslim Eid al-Adha feast, which started on Saturday.

“Turkey is keen on offering food assistance to the needy on the Eid occasion,” the Turkish diplomat said.

Dogan said his country strives to offer help to the distressed peoples to alleviate their suffering and accentuate solidarity with them.

He said the 2,000 buffaloes would be sent to refugee camps, prisons, disability centers and mosques that house refugees.

The ambassador noted that the Turkish food aid comes at a time when Cameroonian authorities are offering aid to the needy in the northernmost part of the country.

Source: World Bulletin.


October 02, 2014

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey’s parliament was debating a motion Thursday to give the government new powers to launch military incursions into Syria and Iraq and to allow foreign forces to use its territory for possible operations against the Islamic State group.

As lawmakers debate in Ankara, the militants pressed their offensive against a beleaguered Kurdish town along the Syria-Turkey border. The assault, which has forced about 160,000 people to flee across the frontier in recent days, left Kurdish militiamen scrambling Thursday to repel Islamic State extremists pushing into the outskirts of Kobani, also known as Ayn Arab.

Turkey, a NATO member with a large and modern military, has yet to define what role it intends to play in the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State group. The motion before lawmakers sets the legal groundwork for any Turkish military involvement or the use of Turkish bases by foreign troops.

Parliament had previously approved operations into Iraq and Syria to attack Kurdish separatists or to thwart threats from the Syrian regime. Thursday’s motion would expand those powers to address threats from the Islamic State militants who control a large cross-border swath of Iraq and Syria, in some parts right up to the Turkish border.

Asked what measures Turkey would take after the motion is approved, Defense Minister Ismet Yilmaz said: “don’t expect any immediate steps.” “The motion prepares the legal ground for possible interventions, but it is too early to say what those interventions will be,” said Dogu Ergil, a professor of political science and columnist for Today’s Zaman newspaper.

Ergil said the motion could allow Iraqi Kurdish fighters, for example to use Turkey’s territory to safely cross into Syria, to help Syrian Kurdish forces there, or the deployment of coalition forces’ drones.

The government enjoys a majority in parliament and the bill was expected to pass despite opposition from two parties. The motion comes as the Islamic State group moved closer into the northern Syrian town of Kobani, right across the border from Turkey, despite renewed U.S.-led airstrikes in the area overnight, according to senior fighter and activist. The United States has been bombing the Islamic State group across Syria since last week and in neighboring Iraq since early August.

Ismet Sheikh Hasan, a senior fighter, said the Kurdish forces were preparing for urban clashes in Kobani in a desperate attempt to repel the militants. The fight for Kobani has raged since mid-September, sending over 160,000 Syrian Kurds streaming across the Turkish border in one of the worst refugee crisis since the war began over three and a half years ago.

“We are preparing outsides for street battles,” Hasan said. “They still haven’t entered Kobani, but we are preparing ourselves.” Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an activist group tracking the Syrian conflict, reported that the Islamic State group fighters were, in some cases, just “hundreds of meters (yards)” from Kobani on its eastern and southeast side. The militants were about a mile away on the southern side of town.

In a statement, the Observatory said it had “real fears” that the militants would storm Kobani and “butcher civilians remaining in the city.” Last week, a U.S.-led coalition seeking to destroy the extremist Islamic State group began bombing the militants’ locations around Kobani, also known as Ayn Arab in Arabic. But the airstrikes haven’t halted the militants’ advance, said Hasan.

That included explosions heard overnight around the Kobani area, believed to be caused by U.S. strikes, said Hasan. There was no immediate confirmation from Washington on the latest airstrikes. The strikes were also reported the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an activist group tracking the Syrian conflict.

Turkey had been reluctant to join its NATO allies in a coalition against the Islamic State militants, citing worries about the safety of Turkish hostages held by the group. It reversed its decision after the hostages’ release earlier this month.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has called for the creation of a buffer zone inside Syria as well as a no-fly zone to secure Turkey’s borders and stem the flow of refugees. He has also called for military training and equipment for the Syrian opposition fighting the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

“In the struggle against terrorism, we are open and ready for every kind of cooperation. However, Turkey is not a country that will allow itself to be used for temporary solutions,” Erdogan said Wednesday.

“An effective struggle against ISIL or other terror organizations will be our priority,” Erdogan said. “The immediate removal of the administration in Damascus, Syria’s territorial unity and the installation of an administration which embraces all will continue to be our priority. ”

The motion cites also cites a potential threat to a revered mausoleum inside Syria that is considered Turkish territory. The tiny plot of land that is a memorial to Suleyman Shah, grandfather of the founder of the Ottoman Empire, is guarded by Turkish troops.

__ Diaa Hadid reported from Beirut.

September 30, 2014

SILOPI, Turkey (AP) — Turkish truck driver Ozgur Simsek was sleeping off a 1,000-kilometer (620-mile) fuel run to the Qayara power station in Iraq, he said, when he heard banging on his vehicle’s door.

“IS took over last night,” the power plant’s foreman shouted, referring to the Islamic State group. “Empty your trucks and run!” Simsek rushed to unload his tanker’s fuel, he said, but it was too late. A battered pickup bearing the black-and-white logo of the Islamic State group rolled across the tarmac. Qayara’s security guards, who only moments before had been joking around with the truckers, turned on the men, donning black masks and brandishing weapons — taking all 32 Turkish men hostage.

For many foreigners, being caught by the group’s fanatical fighters has meant months of uncertainty, torture and, in some cases, a gruesome death. For Simsek and his colleagues, captivity would last just over three weeks. Their trucks were confiscated, but no one was harmed and no ransom was paid, according to a narrative of the June 10 attack and its aftermath pieced together by The Associated Press from interviews with drivers and a company executive.

The episode paints a picture of a militant group unusually careful not to anger Turkey’s government, and may offer insights into the mysterious release of 49 hostages from Turkey’s consulate in Mosul, Iraq, just over a week ago.

“The Islamic State treated these hostages in the way they did because they don’t want to provoke Ankara,” said George Readings, of London-based risk consultancy Stirling Assynt. “If Turkey decided to crack down on the Islamic State’s support, recruitment, fundraising and oil-selling networks that run through Turkey, that would have a major impact on Islamic State’s ability to take and hold territory in Syria and Iraq.”

Turkey has been a reluctant member of the coalition fighting the Islamic State group. Until the latest hostage release, Turkish leaders had said they would not consider joining the coalition. In recent days, under intense pressure from NATO allies, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said he is mulling unspecified military cooperation.

Turkish officials reject the suggestion that they’ve tiptoed around the terror group, and appear to have recently made strides in intercepting foreign fighters and cracking down on oil smuggling. When asked whether Turkey is ambivalent toward the Islamic State militants, an adviser to the Turkish prime minister told AP: “Absolutely no.”

“We as a country have been the subject of terrorist activities for the past 30 years,” Cemalettin Hasimi said. “We know what it means.” Whatever the Turkish position, the Islamic State group’s actions seem to reflect a certain pragmatism regarding Turkey.

For one thing, it’s not clear whether the Turkish truckers were meant to have been captured. Vehbi Demir, one of the few truckers who spoke Arabic, said the atmosphere at a safe house where the Islamic State militants took some of them that morning was one of confusion and panic. He said he overheard a conversation between the kidnappers’ leader, an Iraqi going by the name of Abu Abdullah, and his superiors. Demir said Abu Abdullah’s voice went flat after informing them that he had kidnapped a bunch of Turks.

“It seems they weren’t happy about it,” Demir said. For a while, two groups of truckers were kept separately — some at the safe house, the others at the power plant — but four days after the kidnapping the truckers and their vehicles were driven, under guard, to a U.S.-built airfield between Mosul and Qayara.

There, they were parked in a semi-enclosed engineering bay surrounded by four-meter-high concrete walls. The place was hot, dusty and crawling with scorpions, but despite the uncomfortable conditions the Turks said they were treated well.

The guard was relaxed. Drivers kept the keys to their trucks and could occasionally retreat to their air-conditioned cabs to watch satellite television and even use the batteries to recharge smartphones, which a few had kept hidden from their captors.

Food deliveries were irregular but included bread, cucumbers, watermelon and meat, which the truckers cooked with camping cylinders and bits of wood. Sometimes their Islamic State guards brought so much to eat that the truckers had to watch their leftover chicken and tomatoes wilt in the 50-degree-Celsius (120 F) heat.

Although the militants forbade the truckers to play “sinful” music from their cabs, the captives were largely left to their own devices. They were even allowed to smoke — an unusual concession for the Islamic State group, which has outlawed smoking and publicly flogs violators.

Video shot from inside their makeshift prison shows a group of truckers watching television together on a carpets and mattresses laid out on the floor. They all smile for the camera. Turkish driver Serdar Bayrak described his ordeal to the AP in his top-floor apartment in Cizre, an arid and unsettled transit town in Turkey across from the Syrian border. After a terrifying capture in which friendly guards “turned into monsters in five minutes,” he said, it took less than a week for him to feel like “we were guests there.”

The truckers believed that their Islamic State captors “would take care of Turkey’s citizens in the best way possible and would not harm them in any way,” he said. “They wanted their relationship to last with Turkey.”

It isn’t clear why the Islamic State group kept its Turkish captives for so long or why it released them when it did. Half-hearted ransom negotiations had gone nowhere, according to Mehmet Kizil, the CEO of Kizil Lojistik, which owned many of the captured tankers.

Kizil said Abu Abdullah initially phoned demanding a $5 million ransom — which Kizil agreed to — and then a $10 million ransom — which Kizil also said he would pay — before refusing to take his calls. The truckers described the negotiations as a farce, saying Abu Abdullah rarely even bothered to keep his phone on.

“It was a tactic to gain time,” Bayrak said. The truckers were released on July 4 after a night at an Islamic State base near the airport. Bayrak described the experience as frightening, saying he witnessed children as young as 8 or 9 holding weapons and encountered four suicide bombers with explosive vests getting ready to leave to target Iraqi forces.

That morning, a man the truckers knew as Sheikh Musa bid the 32 captives farewell, apologizing for having kept them hostage and insisting that no ransom had been paid. Video covertly shot by one of the truckers shows his worn but happy-looking comrades being carried in pickup trucks under a giant Islamic State flag later that day. The men were eventually dropped at the side of the road and had to walk the rest of the way in the desert to Makhmour, near the Kurdish capital of Irbil. From there, a Turkish plane flew them home.

The truckers’ low-key homecoming was in contrast to the rapturous welcome afforded to the 49 Turkish consulate workers. In both cases, however, the reason behind the release seems linked to maintaining the status quo with Turkey.

“Turks are our brothers,” Simsek recalled one militant telling him just before he was released. Readings said the release of both sets of hostages “reflects the fact that it’s not in Islamic State’s interests right now to enter into confrontation with Turkey.”

Simsek said that while he is pleased that the consular workers were released, he remains angry at the theft of the trucks, which had left him and others saddled with tens of thousands of dollars of debt.

“We know that their loss will be compensated,” Simsek said of the consular staff. “The only ones who will end up losing out are us.”

Contributors to this report included Mucahit Ceylan and Mohammed Rasool in Sanliurfa, Turkey; Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey; and Martin Benedyk in London.

September 24, 2014

ISTANBUL (AP) — Asiya Ummi Abdullah doesn’t share the view that the Islamic State group rules over a terrorist dystopia and she isn’t scared by the American bombs falling on Raqqa, its power center in Syria.

As far as she’s concerned, it’s the ideal place to raise a family. In interviews with The Associated Press, the 24-year-old Muslim convert explained her decision to move with her toddler to the territory controlled by the militant group, saying it offers them protection from the sex, drugs and alcohol that she sees as rampant in largely secular Turkey.

“The children of that country see all this and become either murderers or delinquents or homosexuals or thieves,” Umi Abdullah wrote in one of several Facebook messages. Living under Shariah, the Islamic legal code, means that her 3-year-old boy’s spiritual life is secure, she said.

“He will know God and live under His rules,” she said. Ummi Abdullah’s experience illustrates the pull of the Islamic State group, the self-styled caliphate straddling Iraq and Syria. It also shows how, even in modern Turkey entire families are dropping everything to find salvation.

Ummi Abdullah, originally from Kyrgyzstan, reached the Islamic State group only last month, and her disappearance became front-page news in Turkey after her ex-husband, a 44-year-old car salesman named Sahin Aktan, went to the press.

Legions of others in Turkey have carted away family to the Islamic State group under less public scrutiny and in greater numbers. Earlier this month, more than 50 families slipped across the border to live under Islamic State, according to opposition legislator Atilla Kart.

Kart’s figure appears high, but his account is backed by a villager from Cumra, in central Turkey, who told AP that his son and his daughter-in-law are among the group. The villager spoke on condition of anonymity, saying he fears reprisals.

The movement of foreign fighters to the Islamic State group has been covered extensively since the group tore across Iraq in June. The arrival of entire families, many but not all of them Turkish, has received less attention.

“It’s about fundamentalism,” said Ahmet Kasim Han, a professor of international relations at Istanbul’s Kadir Has University. “It kind of becomes a false heaven.” Like many others, Ummi Abdullah’s journey to radical Islam was born out of loneliness. Born Svetlana Hasanova, she converted to Islam after marrying Aktan six years ago. The pair met in Turkey when Hasanova, still a teenager, came to Istanbul with her mother to buy textiles.

Aktan said the relationship worked at first. “Before we were married we were swimming in the sea, in the pool, and in the evening we would sit down and eat fish and drink wine,” he said. Aktan said his wife became increasingly devout after the birth of their son, covering her hair and praying frequently. In her messages to the AP, Ummi Abdullah accused her husband of treating her “like a slave.”

“I was constantly belittled by him and his family,” she said. “I was nobody in their eyes.” Ummi Abdullah found the companionship she yearned for online, chatting with jihadists and filling her Facebook page with religious exhortations. In June, she and Aktan divorced. The next month, she took their child to a Turkish town near the Syrian border, before leaving for the Islamic State group.

Aktan says he hasn’t seen his son since. The Islamic State group appears eager to advertise itself as a family-friendly place. One promotional video shows a montage of Muslim fighters from around the world holding their children in Raqqa against the backdrop of an amusement park.

A man, identified in the footage as an American named Abu Abdurahman al-Trinidadi, holds an infant who has a toy machine gun strapped to his back. “Look at all the little children,” al-Trinidadi says. “They’re having fun.”

Suzan Fraser contributed from Ankara, Turkey.

October 11, 2014

SURUC, Turkey (AP) — Syrian activists and Kurdish officials say fierce fighting is underway in a Syrian border town where Kurdish militiamen are struggling to repel advances by the Islamic State group.

The battle for Kobani is raging despite airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition targeting the militants. A Kurdish official, Ismet Sheikh Hasan, says Saturday’s clashes are focused in the southern and eastern parts of the town. He says the situation is dire.

The director of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdurrahman, says the town’s Kurdish fighters are putting up a fierce fight but are outgunned by the militants Since the militants launched their onslaught on Kobani in mid-September, at least 500 people have been killed and more than 200,000 have been forced to flee across the border into Turkey.

Florence Massena

September 11, 2014

Of the nearly 1.2 million Syrian refugees currently sheltered in Lebanon, 52.3% are women, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Coming alone or with their families, they are often subject to violence, but some have been able to find help from the many nongovernmental organizations in the country. One of them, Basmeh wa Zeitooneh, helps Syrians find stability and dignity in sewing and embroidery.

“Women are strong,” proclaims Rihab, a Palestinian Syrian who fled Yarmouk a year and a half ago with her family. “My husband doesn’t work. He only eats and sleeps all day.” Like the 60 other women assisted by Basmeh wa Zeitooneh, she became the breadwinner out of necessity. “Now, Syrian women bring money home. It’s harder for men.” UNHCR provides only $30 a month for each registered refugee in Lebanon, forcing families to scramble to find other sources of income.

Fifty-five women share the studio and equipment in shifts of three hours daily to give everyone a chance to work. Mariam, from Homs, considers herself lucky: Her husband was able to find a “precarious job as a daily worker in construction,” which is enough to pay the one-bedroom apartment’s $250 rent, the most affordable to be found in Beirut. For her part, she has embroidered for 10 months, earning as much as $150 per month, enough for her to take care of the rest, “although three hours a day are not enough.”

The initiative is the creation of Basmeh wa Zeitooneh in the Shatila Palestinian camp in Beirut’s suburb. The Syrian organization was founded in March 2013 and has since spread to Bourj el Barajneh and the Bekaa Valley. “At first, we went door to door in the camp to see what the families needed, and we provided them with what they asked for,” recalls Reem Al-Haswani, an architect from Yabroud. George Talamas and Fadi Hallisso, the other two co-founders, soon developed long term programs: a medical clinic for women and children; a cultural center; lessons for children and adults in reading, writing and computer skills and an embroidery workshop. “We found a trainer and managed over time to bring women to work. We pay them monthly for each piece produced, and then try to sell them.”

It’s a way for them to earn some money, but also to talk safely and privately about their daily issues. “Women are the first victims of the conflict,” says Haswani. “Here, we provide a space for expression, where they can complain of abuses in the family, for example, but also [find] support.”

Women seem to have suffered more than their share of pain since the beginning of the war in Syria. Researches from Yale University found that Syrian women in north Lebanon face serious health issues, including domestic violence and pregnancy complications due to stress. Sexual violence emerged as a deadly epidemic early on in the Syrian conflict.

Jean-Basptiste Pesquet, a French doctoral student in the Middle East French Institute, has conducted interviews in the Syrian refugee camps for over a year. He told Al-Monitor, “Women are the containers of violence for the other family members that suffered arrests and bombings. Often, the husband can neither work nor fight, and thus loses his status. He doesn’t have the capacity to ensure financial independence for his family anymore, and has no function in the household. Therefore, violence can illegitimately compensate a social function’s loss through physical domination.”

It’s hard to picture the NGO’s embroiderers as victims. They show an impressive strength and ability to overcome their difficult situations. Pesquet added, “We must be careful not to [think of] women as passive victims of their circumstances, because they are also actors and can choose to harness situations for other purposes, as well as commit violence themselves.”

We will never know what the women in Basmeh wa Zeitooneh go through daily, or if they use violence at home, too. But one thing is sure: This work within the organization is indeed a foot in the door to a new life for the refugees.

“When I finish a piece and take the money, I really feel that I achieved something. It gives meaning to my life. I do something other than cooking and cleaning the house,” said Mariam. She had worked on her family’s farm before leaving Syria, but for no wages. The Syrian women living in Shatila often come from very conservative circles, Rihab explained with a glint in her eye. “We were only working a little bit, sometimes never. Our husbands didn’t want us to leave the house and see people. Now we are the ones bringing home the money!”

Source: al-Monitor.