Archive for May 5, 2017


ISTANBUL – Turkey on Saturday started work on building what it says will be the world’s longest suspension bridge, spanning the Dardanelles strait that divides Europe and Asia.

The bridge is the latest in a succession of massively ambitious infrastructure projects championed by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the launch of the project comes a month ahead of a referendum on expanding his powers.

Authorities expect that work on the bridge will be completed in 2023, the year that Turkey celebrates the 100th anniversary of the foundation of the modern republic by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

Appropriately, the span of the bridge is to be 2,023 meters (6,637 feet).

This will make it the longest suspension bridge in the world, overtaking the Akashi Kaikyo Bridge in Japan which is just under 2,000 meters long, state media said.

The ground breaking ceremony was attended by Erdogan on the Asian side and Prime Minister Binali Yildirim on the European side of the site.

“The bridge will be the number one in the world. It will connect Europe and Asia,” said Erdogan.

The bridge is being built by a four way consortium of Turkish firms Limak and Yapi Merkezi and Daelim and SK of South Korea.

The ceremony was attended by South Korean Minister of Infrastructure and Transport Ho-in Kang.

The bridge will also be the first ever permanent structure to span the Dardanelles — known as the Hellespont in the ancient world — which occupy a near mythical place in world history.

Persian king Xerxes is said by the ancient Greek historian Herodotus to have build pontoon bridges across the Hellespont to transport his troops from Asia into Thrace in a campaign of 480 BC.

British romantic poet Lord Byron famously swam across the Hellespont in 1810, a feat repeated by ambitious modern-day swimmers in an annual race.

The area is hugely important to Turks as where Ottoman forces resisted an 1915 invasion by British, Australian and other Allied forces in World War I, known in the West as the Gallipoli campaign.

The resistance of the Ottoman forces is seen as their greatest hour in a war the declining empire lost, and is commemorated with increasing fervor in modern Turkey.

In recognition of this, the bridge will be known as the Canakkale 1915 bridge after the year and the Turkish province where it is located.

Over the last year, Erdogan has opened the first road tunnel underneath the Bosphorus and the third bridge across the Istanbul strait.

Source: Middle East Online.



ANKARA – President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday urged Turks resident in Europe to have five children, telling the millions strong diaspora community “you are Europe’s future.”

Turkey and Europe are locked in a bitter spat after Germany and the Netherlands blocked Turkish ministers from holding rallies to campaign for a ‘yes’ vote in next month’s referendum on expanding Erdogan’s powers.

Erdogan has repeatedly accused EU states of behaving like Nazi Germany over what he sees as discrimination against Turks, in comments that have caused outrage across the continent.

“From here I say to my citizens, I say to my brothers and sisters in Europe… Educate your children at better schools, make sure your family live in better areas, drive in the best cars, live in the best houses,” said Erdogan.

“Have five children, not three. You are Europe’s future.”

“This is the best answer to the rudeness shown to you, the enmity, the wrongs,” he added in a televised speech in the city of Eskisehir, south of Istanbul.

Some 2.5 million Turkish citizens resident in Europe are eligible to vote in elections in their homeland. But millions more people living in EU states have Turkish origins.

Erdogan, a father of four, has previously urged women in Turkey to have at least three children to help boost the population, in comments denounced by women’s rights activists.

Source: Middle East Online.



ANKARA – Turkey is planning to ban popular television dating shows as they do not fit in with Turkish traditions and customs, the deputy prime minister has said.

Numan Kurtulmus was referring to matchmaking reality television shows which are very popular in Turkey but receive thousands of complaints every year.

“There are some strange programs that would scrap the institution of family, take away its nobility and sanctity,” Kurtulmus said in comments to a provincial TV channel published by the Hurriyet daily on Thursday.

“We are working on this and we are coming to the end of it. God willing, in the near future, we will most likely remedy this with an emergency decree,” Kurtulmus added.

“God willing, we will meet these societal demands,” he said in the interview which took place on Wednesday.

His comments are set to raise concerns in a country whose political system rests on the secular foundations laid by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk at its creation in 1923.

Opponents of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government frequently voice fears that Turkey is sliding toward conservative Islam.

Kurtulmus described such programs as counter to Turkey’s “customs, traditions, beliefs, the Turkish family structure and the culture of Anatolian lands”.

He hit back at those who claimed they were ratings successes: “So what the ratings are very high and thus the advertising revenue is high? Let there not be that kind of advertising revenues.”

The deputy premier said he had been told there were 120,000 individual cases of complaints against such programmes.

Last year, Turkey’s audiovisual authority RTUK said it received comments from 10,691 citizens about such programmes, most of which were complaints.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan previously caused controversy when he likened abortion to murder in 2012 when he was prime minister.

Critics also claim education reforms, including the increase in religious schools, show the country’s secular foundations are being undermined.

The Turkish religious affairs agency Diyanet criticized matchmaking shows last month saying they “exploited family values and desecrated the family institution by stepping on it with (their) feet”.

The Turkish authorities insist there is full freedom of religious belief in the country’s diverse society.

Source: Middle East Online.


March 13, 2017

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey announced a series of political sanctions against the Netherlands on Monday over its refusal to allow two Turkish ministers to campaign there, including halting high-level political discussions between the two countries and closing Turkish air space to Dutch diplomats.

Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus, briefing journalists after the weekly council of ministers meeting, said the sanctions would apply until the Netherlands takes steps “to redress” the actions that Ankara sees as a grave insult.

“There is a crisis and a very deep one. We didn’t create this crisis or bring it to this stage,” Kurtulmus said. “Those who did have to take steps to redress the situation.” Other sanctions bar the Dutch ambassador entry back into Turkey and advise parliament to withdraw from a Dutch-Turkish friendship group

The announcement came hours after Turkey’s foreign ministry formally protested the treatment of a Turkish minister who was prevented from entering a consulate in the Netherlands and escorted out of the country after trying to attend a political rally.

The ministry also objected to what it called a “disproportionate” use of force against demonstrators at a protest afterward. Separately, Turkey’s foreign minister was denied permission to land to address the same rally in Rotterdam.

The argument is over the Netherlands’ refusal to allow Turkish officials to campaign there to drum up support among Turks who are eligible to vote in an April 16 referendum that would greatly expand the powers of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

About 400,000 people with ties to Turkey live in the Netherlands, though it’s not clear how many are eligible to vote. Erdogan said the two cabinet ministers — Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and Family Affairs Minister Fatma Betul Sayan Kaya, would ask the European human rights court to weigh in on their treatment. He added that he didn’t think the court would rule in Turkey’s favor.

Earlier, German Chancellor Angela Merkel backed the Netherlands in its diplomatic fight with Turkey, as NATO’s chief called for alliance members to respect each other and the European Union urged Turkey to calm down.

Turkey had a similar dispute with Germany last week, but the fight with the Netherlands comes as that country prepares for its own election Wednesday pitting Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s right-wing PVV Party against far-right, anti-Islam populist Geert Wilders’ party.

Merkel, speaking at a news conference in Munich on Monday, pledged her “full support and solidarity” to the Dutch, saying the Nazi gibes were “completely unacceptable.” Erdogan responded angrily to Merkel’s support for the Netherlands. “Shame on you!” he exclaimed during an interview with A Haber television on Monday.

He renewed accusations that Germany supported “terrorists” battling Turkey and that it backed the ‘no’ campaign in the Turkish referendum, arguing that Berlin did not want to see a strong Turkey emerge.

“Some of the European Union countries — let’s not put all of them in the same sack — unfortunately cannot stomach Turkey’s rise,” Erdogan said. “Sadly, Germany tops the list. Germany supports terror in a cruel way.”

He went on to advise Turks living in Europe not to vote for parties that he described as “enemies of Turkey.” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg urged all members of the alliance “to show mutual respect, to be calm and have a measured approach.”

The European Union also called on Turkey to “refrain from excessive statements and actions that risk further exacerbating the situation.” EU spokesman Margaritis Schinas added that it was essential to avoid further escalation and find ways to calm the situation.

In the television interview, Erdogan repeated slurs against the Netherlands, saying: “their Vienna Convention is their fascism. Their Nazism. We can say neo-Nazism.” He was referring to a 1961 international treaty on diplomatic relations.

Turkey is a candidate to join the European Union, although the membership negotiations have made little progress over the past decade. The country has become a vital partner in a deal with the EU to curb the passage of migrants and refugees from Turkey into Europe.

Omer Celik, Turkey’s minister in charge of European Union affairs, said Monday that his country should consider reviewing the migration deal to relax controls on people reaching Europe by walking into Greece or Bulgaria.

“In my opinion the issue of the land passages should be reviewed,” the state-run Anadolu Agency quoted him as saying. The Dutch, meanwhile, issued a travel advisory to their citizens to “be alert and avoid gatherings and busy places throughout Turkey.”

Earlier in the day, Turkey summoned the Dutch Embassy’s charge d’affaires, Daan Feddo Huisinga, to the Foreign Ministry, where a senior official handed him two formal protest notes. It’s the third time the Dutch diplomat has been summoned since tensions broke out between the two countries.

The first note protested how the family minister was treated. The second note protested the treatment of Turkish citizens who gathered outside the Turkish Consulate in Rotterdam from Saturday night into Sunday morning, saying “disproportionate force” was used against “people using their right to peaceful gatherings.”

The deputy prime minister said the political sanctions would remain in place until the Dutch government meets conditions that were set out in the diplomatic protest notes, including apologizing and punishing authorities who mistreated Turks

“Until the Netherlands takes steps to compensate for what it did, high-level relations, planned meetings, meetings between ministers or higher level meetings, high-level official talks will be suspended or delayed,” Kurtulmus said.

Associated Press Writers Mike Corder in Rotterdam, Netherlands, and Raf Casert in Brussels contributed to this report.

March 11, 2017

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — On a mission to rehabilitate its image, Turkey is instead inching closer to being an outcast among Western nations that seem to understand their NATO ally less and less each day.

Eight months after a failed coup shattered its delicate status quo, Turkey is mounting a concerted but thus far futile campaign to convince the outside world that the horrors of that day justify both its post-coup crackdown and a referendum on strengthening presidential powers. So too has Turkey been unable to convince the U.S. that the shadowy, exiled cleric it blames for the coup attempt is culpable and must be extradited.

Squeezed between Europe and the Middle East, Turkey has sought to project an image of a modern democracy that serves as a bulwark against the extremism menacing so many of its Mideast neighbors. Yet a series of self-defeating steps are telling reminders of how wide a gulf still separates Turkey from the Western world.

“I’m not saying that we’re perfect. We’re not. I’m not saying that mistakes aren’t being made,” said Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Simsek. But he said the outside world must “at least try to understand the traumatic experience that Turkey has been going through.”

This week, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan seemed to stoke tensions further when he accused Germany of “Nazi practices” after Turkish leaders had been prevented from rallying expats in several Germany cities in support of the referendum. Many in Europe worry that Erdogan is capitalizing on post-coup fears to push through a more authoritarian system with few checks on his power.

For the West, there are real risks if Turkey feels estranged and mistreated. The country is pivotal to resolving the unrelenting civil war in neighboring Syria, where Turkey and the U.S. are at a logjam over Turkey’s distrust of the Syrian Kurdish fighters the U.S. is relying on to fight the Islamic State group. And though Turkey’s bid to join the European Union has lost momentum, Turkey holds major leverage by way of its deal with the EU to stem the flow of refugees into Europe, which Turkey has threatened to scuttle.

Turkey’s inability to make its case to the West effectively was displayed this week in the capital, Ankara, whose mayor invited a group of American journalists to interview Erdogan and other top officials, including Turkey’s foreign minister, intelligence chief and military commander.

After flying to Turkey, the journalists discovered there were no interviews arranged with those officials. Instead, they spoke with other officials, including the mayor, Melih Gokcek, a member of Erdogan’s party. He screened graphic videos aiming to reinforce how traumatic the coup attempt had been. Then he offered unfounded conspiracy theories that the U.S. created the Islamic State group and that the U.S. and Israel colluded to artificially trigger an earthquake in Turkey so they could capture energy from the fault line.

Underlying Turkey’s strategy to explain itself to the West is an apparent belief that its case is most convincing when couched in bedrock Western principles, regardless of whether the appeals to those principles seem credible.

Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag, who also met with the visiting group, claimed no journalists in Turkey are in prison for doing journalism, even though scores have been arrested. Since the failed coup, at least 100 news outlets have been forcibly closed in a clampdown Human Rights Watch says has “all but silenced independent media.” Yet Bozdag insisted any journalists in prison were there for drugs, trespassing or for “propagandizing for terrorist organizations.”

Turkish leaders have expressed exasperation that they are lambasted for the steps they took after the coup while France gets a “pass” for the state of emergency imposed after the 2015 Paris attacks. But France — unlike Turkey — didn’t arrest 41,000 people and purge 100,000 from its civil service.

Likewise, Turkey has sought to appeal to Americans’ own experiences with terrorism by repeatedly comparing 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden to Fethullah Gulen, the Muslim cleric Turkey says plotted the coup. Gulen, living in exile in Pennsylvania, denies involvement.

Although Turkey says it has provided roughly a half million pieces of evidence to support its extradition request, the U.S. remains unconvinced. What little evidence Turkey has made public has been mostly anecdotes about arrested military members confessing loyalty to Gulen’s movement.

Aykan Erdemir, a former member of Turkey’s parliament, said there are frequent and ineffective efforts taking place in Western cities and in Turkey to burnish Turkey’s image, often comprising poorly planned presentations alleging Gulen’s guilt. But Erdermir said the West isn’t the only intended audience.

Because Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party once had close ties to Gulen’s group, the party’s leaders are vulnerable to being implicated if the post-coup crackdown moves higher up the power structure, Erdemir said.

“A lot of people are trying to prove to Erdogan they are holier than thou, that they are fighting the anti-Gulen crusade at least as enthusiastically,” said Erdemir, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies. “One of the best defenses is doing such stunts. It really is a paranoid moment in Turkish political history.”

01 March 2017 Wednesday

The international community is beginning to realize Ankara’s crucial role in paving the way for a permanent solution in war-torn Syria thanks to the ongoing Turkey-led operations, head of Syrian Turkmen Assembly in Turkey said Wednesday.

The Turkey-led Operation Euphrates Shield began late August 2016 to improve security, support coalition forces and eliminate the terror threat along the Turkish border using Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters backed by Turkish artillery and jets.

“Wherever Turkey goes to clear terrorists from an area and provide security, it succeeds,” Emin Bozoglan, who is currently in Geneva to attend the Syria peace talks, told Anadolu Agency over the phone.

He said Turkey’s power in the international arena was now more apparent due to the successful Operation Euphrates Shield, adding this could also be observed at the talks in Geneva.

“The PYD [PKK terrorist group’s affiliate in Syria] is not at the table because Turkey doesn’t want it and this is the right approach,” he said.

According to Bozoglan, the recent liberation of Jarabulus city as well as the strategic Al-Bab town in Syria is a positive development not only for Turkey’s national security but also for the Syrian opposition who want a terrorist-free Syria.

He added the Syrian opposition always supports the territorial integrity of Syria and blamed the international community for backing terrorist groups.

“The U.S. government is supporting PYD and it threatens peace in Syria. If they [the U.S.] leave Syria to the Syrian people, peace can be achieved,” Bozoglan said.

The PYD is a Syrian offshoot of the PKK, which is recognized as a terrorist group by Turkey, the EU and U.S. While Turkey considers PYD/YPG as Syrian affiliates of the PKK, neither the EU nor the U.S. regard the groups as its offshoots.

Turkey-backed forces have killed more than 3,000 ISIL terrorists — as well as some PKK/PYD elements — in northern Syria under Operation Euphrates Shield, according to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The Turkish government has long said it would not participate in any formation in the region where the PKK/PYD is included.

Ankara has repeatedly said one terror group should not be used against another and urged the U.S.-led coalition to stop using the YPG to eliminate ISIL terrorists in the region.

After having completed successful operations in Jarabulus, Al-Rai, Dabiq and Al-Bab, the FSA forces could next lead the Raqqah — ISIL’s self-proclaimed capital — operation, according to Turkish authorities.

Source: World Bulletin.



ANKARA – Turkey will lift a historic ban on female officers wearing the Islamic headscarf in the officially secular country’s armed forces, state media said Wednesday.

The military was the final Turkish institution where women were prohibited from wearing the headscarf, after reforms by the Islamic-rooted government under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that has allowed its wearing in education, politics and the police.

The move, ordered by the defense ministry, applies to female officers working in the general staff and command headquarters and branches, the state-run Anadolu news agency said.

Women may wear the headscarf underneath their cap or beret so long as it is the same color as their uniform and does not cover their faces.

The reform will come into force once it is published in the official gazette. It will also apply to female cadets, but it was not immediately clear if it applies to women on combat missions.

The ruling Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP), co-founded by Erdogan, has long pressed for the removal of restrictions on women wearing the headscarf.

Speaking to Turkish reporters at his offices in Ankara, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said he believed the removal of the ban was “very positive”, pro-government daily Yeni Safak said.

The military has traditionally been seen as the strongest bastion of secular Turkey and had been traditionally hostile to any perceived Islamisation of state institutions.

But its political power has ebbed after the government increased control over the armed forces since the failed military coup in July, blamed on followers of US-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen.

– Army last holdout –

Turkey lifted a ban on the wearing of the Muslim headscarf, known as the hijab, on university campuses in 2010.

It allowed female students to wear the headscarf in state institutions from 2013 and in high school in 2014.

Female MPs meanwhile began to wear headscarves in parliament from October 2013 when four female AKP lawmakers wore the hijab in a session, in contrast to the scenes in 1999 when a headscarf-wearing MP from the now defunct Virtue Party was heckled out of the chamber.

And in the latest key reform before the army’s move, Turkey in August allowed policewomen to wear the headscarf as part of their uniform.

At the time of the controversy over lifting the ban in the police forces, pro-government media pointed out that several Western states had already granted female officers permission to wear the garment.

The military was until now seen as the last holdout on the issue, although civilians employed by the armed forces have been able to wear the hijab since 2016.

There had been signs that the landmark reform was in the offing when press reports said that a woman, Merve Gurbuz, was undergoing training that could make her Turkey’s first hijab-wearing fighter pilot.

In a sight of the sensitivity of the issue, Turkish media seized heavily on recent reports that US actress Lindsay Lohan — who has met Erdogan and shown interest in Islam — was asked to take off her headscarf at London’s Heathrow Airport.

Erdogan’s critics have long accused the president of eating away at the secular pillars of modern Turkey as set up by its founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk when he established the Turkish republic in 1923.

The government rejects the suggestions, saying it allows freedom of worship for all Turkish citizens whatever their beliefs.

Source: Middle East Online.


13 February 2017 Monday

A string of “compassion stores” have been opened by the Turkish Red Crescent to provide clothing to refugees in Syria’s Idlib, the charity said Monday.

Three shops in the northwestern city will also provide toiletries, according to a statement. The supplies have been provided by Turkish donors and will be paid for on Red Crescent debit cards handed out to registered refugees.

Turkish Red Crescent President Kerem Kinik said aid distribution had focused on Christian refugees in Idlib. “They are in more difficult conditions,” he said. “We have invited the small group of Christians left in Idlib to the Red Crescent compassion store and provided them with clothing.”

The charity also distributed gas stoves to refugees around the village of Atme in Idlib.

Source: World Bulletin.


February 11, 2017

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey’s electoral board on Saturday confirmed April 16 as the date of a national referendum on expanding the president’s powers, but the main opposition leader predicts he will face an “unfair” campaign process.

The head of the High Electoral Board, Sadi Guven, announced the referendum date a day after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan signed off on the constitutional changes aimed at creating a presidency with executive powers, which were passed by parliament last month. Guven said 55 million people in Turkey and close to 3 million Turks living abroad are eligible to cast votes.

But with Turkey’s opposition media largely silenced, opponents of the constitutional changes complain that they cannot get their views across. “The referendum process will not take place under fair conditions. We know that the (pro-government media) will continue to act as though the opposition does not exist,” said Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the Republican People’s Party.

Speaking to a small group of journalists, Kilicdaroglu said he still remains hopeful that a “no” vote will prevail. “We know that it won’t be a just referendum, but despite everything, I have trust in the people’s conscience, foresight and common sense,” Kilicdaroglu said.

The changes, long sought by Erdogan, would grant the president the power to appoint government ministers and senior officials, dissolve parliament, declare states of emergency, issue decrees and appoint half of the members in the country’s highest judicial body.

The proposal would also increase the number of parliamentarians from 550 to 600 and lower the age of eligibility for parliamentary office from 25 to 18. Critics say it would concentrate even more power in the hands of a leader they accuse of authoritarian behavior.

The government says a strong presidency will make the country stronger and improve its abilities to fight terror threats.

09 February 2017 Thursday

British singer-songwriter Yusuf Islam, formerly known as Cat Stevens, praised Turkey’s role in looking after refugees in a recent visit to Ankara.

“We really came to show our support for the incredible work of looking after refugees,” he said.

Islam met President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the Presidential Palace for more than an hour on Wednesday, when he thanked him for Turkey’s support in building a new mosque in Cambridge, eastern England.

He said it was important to have a “beautiful mosque… in the center of the intellectual heart of Britain”. Cambridge is famed alongside Oxford for its ancient university colleges.

The Abu Bakr Jamia Mosque is being built to house up to 1,000 worshipers. Turkey’s Religious Affairs Directorate, or Diyanet, is contributing to the construction.

The musician also expressed his support for the “will of the people” that prevailed during last July’s coup attempt.

Erdogan posted a photograph of the meeting on his Twitter account. He said: “My dear brother Yusuf, thank you for your visit and sincere conversation. Welcome to Turkey.”

Source: World Bulletin.