Category: Anatolia Section


July 01, 2020

ISTANBUL (AP) — In its more than 1,400-year existence, the majestic domed structure of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul has served as the Byzantine Empire’s main cathedral, a mosque under the Ottoman Empire and a museum under modern Turkey, attracting millions of tourists each year.

The 6th-century building is now at the center of a heated debate between nationalist, conservative and religious groups who are pressing for it to be reconverted back into a mosque and those who believe the UNESCO World Heritage site should remain a museum, underscoring Istanbul’s status as a bridge between continents and cultures.

On Thursday, Turkey’s Council of State, the country’s highest administrative court, begins reviewing a request by a group devoted to reverting Hagia Sophia into a mosque. They are pressing to annul a 1934 decision by the Council of Ministers, led by secular Turkey’s founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, that turned the historic structure into a museum. A decision could come later Thursday or within two weeks, the state-run Anadolu Agency reported.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who leads an Islamic-oriented party, has previously spoken about possibly changing Hagia Sophia’s status to a mosque but has said his government would await the Council of State’s decision.

Analysts believe that Erdogan — a populist, polarizing leader who in nearly two decades in office has frequently blamed Turkey’s secular elites for the country’s problems — is using the Hagia Sophia debate to consolidate his conservative base and to distract attention from Turkey’s substantial economic woes.

“This is not just a debate about a building,” said Soner Cagaptay, Turkey analyst for the Washington Institute. “Ataturk established Hagia Sophia as a museum to underline his vision of secularizing Turkey. And nearly 100 years later, Erdogan is trying to do the opposite.”

”(Erdogan) feels the pressure of popular support dwindling and therefore he wants to use issues that he hopes will remobilize his right-wing base around nativist, populist, anti-elitist topics,” said Cagaptay, author of the book “Erdogan’s Empire.”

Built under Byzantine Emperor Justinian, Hagia Sophia was the main seat of the Eastern Orthodox church for centuries, where emperors were crowned amidst ornate marble and mosaic decorations. Four minarets were added to the terracotta-hued structure with cascading domes and the building was turned into an imperial mosque following the 1453 Ottoman conquest of Constantinople — the city that is now Istanbul.

The building opened its doors as a museum in 1935, a year after the Council of Ministers’ decision. Islamist groups, however, regard the symbolic structure as a legacy of Ottoman Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror and strongly object to its status as a museum. Large crowds have gathered outside Hagia Sophia on the May 31 anniversary of the city’s conquest to pray and demand that it be restored as a place of Muslim worship.

In the past few years, Turkey has been allowing readings from the Quran inside Hagia Sophia and Erdogan himself has recited prayers there. This year, he oversaw by video conference the recital of the “prayer of conquest” on the anniversary of the Ottoman conquest.

On Tuesday, Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, considered the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians, noted that Hagia Sophia had served as a place of worship for Christians for 900 years and for Muslims for 500 years.

“As a museum, Hagia Sophia can function as a place and symbol of encounter, dialogue and peaceful coexistence of peoples and cultures, mutual understand and solidarity between Christianity and Islam,” he said.

Bartholomew added: “the potential conversion of Hagia Sophia into a mosque will turn millions of Christians across the world against Islam.” Greece also strongly objects to attempts to change Hagia Sophia into a mosque, arguing that its designation as a historic monument must be maintained.

“I hope that President Erdogan does not proceed with something that will deeply hurt Turkey,” Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias said. “This monument has endured many things and it will always return, but Turkey’s image will take a severe blow.”

Turkish media reports say the government was considering the possibility of keeping Hagia Sophia open to tourists even if it were turned into a mosque. That status would be similar to Istanbul’s Blue Mosque, which sits right across from Hagia Sophia and functions both as a house of worship and a tourist spot.

Hurriyet and other media have reported that Hagia Sophia could be reconverted into a mosque by a public holiday on July 15, when the country marks the fourth anniversary of the foiling of an attempted coup.

Cagaptay, the analyst said, the Hagia Sophia issue would likely have a “temporary impact in keeping Erdogan’s base with him.” “(But) if he does not deliver economic growth, I can’t see him winning elections as he did in the past,” Cagaptay said.

Suzan Fraser reported from Ankara, Turkey. Elena Becatoros in Athens contributed.

June 14, 2020

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey is “moving away from the target,” the country’s health minister warned Sunday as the daily number of new coronavirus cases rose above 1,500 following the relaxation of restrictions.

Fahrettin Koca tweeted that 1,562 new cases were recorded over the previous 24 hours, the highest daily figure since June 3. Reporting 1,330 recoveries, he said: “Our number of recovered patients fell below the number of new cases. The need for intensive care and respiratory equipment is rising.”

Koca also reported 15 deaths due to coronavirus, taking the total since the first case on March 11 to 4,807. Turkey has recorded a total of 178,239 coronavirus cases. At the start of June, the government authorized cafes, restaurants, gyms, parks, beaches and museums to reopen and eased stay-at-home orders for the elderly and young.

A weekend curfew that was due to be implemented last week was canceled, ending the series of part-time lockdowns in place since April. Koca called for people to switch to a period of “controlled social life” from Monday to halt the rise in cases.

by Ed Adamczyk

Washington DC (UPI)

Jun 10, 2020

Turkey will purchase an additional Russian-made S-400 air defense system, the head of Turkey’s Defense Industries Administration said.

“We have a basic agreement on the supply of the second batch of the Russian S-400 system, and there are some technical issues regarding transport operations,” Ismail Demir said in a television interview earlier this week. “Ankara is also interested in proposals to purchase Patriot and Eurosam air defense systems.”

A Turkish official said the sale would go on despite production and delivery issues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Turkey received a loan from Russia to partially finance the $2.5 billion purchase of the S-400 system of ground-to-air armaments. An agreement was signed in December 2017 and the first “Triumf” missiles and missile launchers arrived in Turkey in July 2019.

The deal caused a crisis in U.S.-Turkish relations, with Washington demanding an end to the sale in exchange for the opportunity to purchase American Patriot systems.

The United States also threatened to delay or cancel the sale of F-35 fighter jets to Turkey and impose sanctions, but Ankara did not yield to U.S. pressure.

The S-400 missile includes a command and control center capable of coordinating several battalions of troops, a radar detection system and ultra-long-range missiles.

Russia has said that the missiles are designed to destroy aircraft, and cruise and ballistic missiles. It can also be used against ground installations, and can engage targets up to 250 miles away or at an altitude of up to 18 miles.

Source: Space War.

Link: https://www.spacewar.com/reports/Turkey_to_buy_additional_S-400_missile_defense_system_from_Russia_999.html.

June 11, 2020

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey’s parliament on Thursday approved a contentious government-proposed bill that will grant neighborhood watchmen powers that are almost on par with the country’s police force.

The bill passed overnight with backing from President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling party and its nationalist ally, despite opposition parties’ concerns that the legislation empowers an under-qualified force and will lead to human rights violations and a further erosion of freedoms.

It was approved after days of tense debate that culminated in violence Tuesday, with an opposition legislator saying he was punched by a lawmaker from the nationalist party. The watchmen, known as “bekci,” traditionally guarded neighborhoods and parks and were armed only with batons and whistles. The force was abolished and folded into the police in 2008, but Erdogan’s government revived it following a failed coup attempt in 2016.

The bill allows the more than 21,000 neighborhood guards — which now also include women — to use firearms, to stop vehicles, carry out ID checks and conduct body searches. The guards cannot arrest or interrogate suspects.

The government and its nationalist ally insist the neighborhood guards meet a need for an auxiliary force to assist police and that the new powers will facilitate police operations. They argue that neighborhoods have become safer since the force was revived.

The main opposition pro-secular Republican People’s Party, or CHP, and two other opposition parties, voted against the proposal,calling it an attempt by the government to form a loyal militia force. They have also voiced concerns that the force, which operates at night, would act as “morality police” in line with the government’s conservative and religious values.

The opposition argued that recruitment to the neighborhood guards is opaque, and has lead to suspicions that those enrolled are chosen among ruling party supporters. The opposition parties have also criticized the government for prioritizing the security force instead of focusing on unemployment or other negative impacts from the coronavirus outbreak.

“People have lost their jobs and their salaries … What good is the watchmen to them?” asked pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party legislator Filiz Kerestecioglu. “An under-educated mass that will perhaps act as a morality police is being unleashed on society.”

June 05, 2020

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday canceled a decision to impose a new, two-day weekend curfew in 15 of the country’s provinces that took many by surprise. Erdogan said on Twitter that he was reversing the decision on grounds that it “would have diverse social and economic consequences.”

He did not elaborate but the surprise decision to renew a weekend stay-at-home order, announced earlier on Friday, had caused confusion, with many people scrambling to cancel train or air tickets or other weekend travel plans.

Erdogan said: “I did not find it in my heart to allow our citizens who started to re-organize their daily lives after a 2.5-month break, to suffer.” He did, however, urge people to wear masks, abide by social distancing practices and maintain high levels of hygiene.

The Interior Ministry had announced the stay-at-home order in 15 provinces including Istanbul and Ankara even as the country lifted a raft of restrictions earlier in the week. Domestic air travel resumed, restaurants began welcoming sit-in customers and beaches, swimming pools, parks, gyms and museums reopened amid a slowdown in the virus’ spread.

Alpay Azap, a member of Turkey’s scientific advisory body, said the new weekend curfew was announced because of an uptick in coronavirus cases in the southeastern cities of Gaziantep and Diyarbakir as well as some places on the Black Sea coast. He also said that the caseload in Ankara has not decreased.

Fearing possible negative effects on the already troubled economy, the country has been imposing short weekend and holiday curfews, instead of total lockdowns. It has also banned people above the age of 65 and minors from leaving home apart from certain days of the week. Those restrictions remain in place.

Turkey plans to resume international flights with 40 countries in June, starting on June 10 with flights to and from Bahrain, Bulgaria, Qatar, Greece and the self-declared state in the north of Cyprus that is only recognized by Turkey.

The country has reported more than 167,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and 4,630 deaths.

May 24, 2020

ISTANBUL (AP) — Turkey’s health minister on Sunday announced 32 new deaths from COVID-19, bringing the death to in the country to 4,340. Fahrettin Koca also tweeted there were 1,141 new infections confirmed in the past 24 hours. The total number of infections has reached 156,827.

Turkey ranks ninth in a global tally by Johns Hopkins University but experts believe the number of infections could be much higher than reported.More than 118,000 people have recovered, according to the health ministry statistics.

The Muslim holiday marking the end of the fasting month of Ramadan, traditionally a time of gathering, was marked by a nationwide lockdown, the first of its kind in Turkey to combat the coronavirus. Previous weekend and holiday lockdowns affected a maximum of 31 out of 81 provinces.

Senior citizens above 65 were allowed out for a few hours for a third Sunday. People under 20 and above 65 have been under full lockdown, but days and times outside have been allotted according to age groups as part of easing efforts.

May 17, 2020

ISTANBUL (AP) — Turkey’s senior citizens were allowed to leave their homes for a second time as the country continues to ease some coronavirus restrictions. People above 65 —the age group most at risk of developing serious COVID-19 symptoms— can be outside for six hours Sunday, but their lockdown on other days continues. The health minister urged them to wear masks and practice social distancing.

Turkey has instituted partial lockdowns with people above 65 and under 20, who are ordered to stay at home. The measure towards senior citizens came into force on March 21 and were relaxed for the first time last week.

Children and teenagers were also allowed out this week on different days for several hours. The latest statistics by the health ministry put confirmed infections at 148,067 and the death toll at 4,096.

May 16, 2020

ISTANBUL (AP) — Turkey’s health ministry says 41 more people have died from COVID-19 in the past 24 hours, bringing the death toll to 4,096. The death rate is the lowest registered since the end of March.

Minister Fahrettin Koca also tweeted Saturday that 1,610 new infections were confirmed, which makes the total number of cases 148,067 in the nation of 82 million people. More than 108,000 people have recovered, according to the statistics.

Fifteen provinces, including Istanbul, are on a four-day lockdown. The country has instituted partial lockdowns to combat the novel coronavirus. People under 20 and above 65 have been stuck at home for weeks though they are now allowed to leave for a few hours on allotted days.

Other easing measures have gone into effect, including the opening of malls, barbershops and hair dressers. The number of provinces under lockdown on weekends and national holidays has dropped from 31 to 15.

Also Saturday, Turkey’s Tourism Minister Mehmet Nuri Ersoy told private broadcaster NTV he hoped for domestic tourism to begin after May 28 if COVID-19 statistics continue on a downward trend.

May 13, 2020

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Parks filled with the sound of children on Wednesday as Turkey allowed kids ages 14 and under to leave homes for the first time in 40 days. The country’s youngest population were allowed to venture out for four hours between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. as Turkey eased some restrictions in place to fight the coronavirus outbreak. Youngsters between the ages of 15 and 20 will be able to leave homes for a few hours on Friday, while senior citizens were briefly allowed out for the first time in seven weeks on May 10.

In the capital Ankara’s main park, Kugulu Park (or Swan Park), young children wearing masks took turns going down slides and on swings. An adjacent street teemed with people and police called on the public to abide by social distancing practices.

“The weather is beautiful. This was a great opportunity because we were so bored at home,” said Zeyda Ozdemir, who brought her 8-year-old daughter, Zeynep, to the park. She added, however, that she felt “a little uneasy” because the park was more crowded than she had hoped it would be.

In the city’s Birlik Mahallesi neighborhood, two children were seen riding their scooters up and down a street while a voice from a loudspeaker on the top of the minaret of a nearby mosque called on the public not to be “fooled by the arrival of spring and good weather.”

“The danger of infection is not over yet,” the announcement said. The government set forth a “normalization plan” as the number of confirmed coronavirus cases have dropped, but warned of tougher measures if infections go up again. Malls, hairdressers, barber shops and hair salons were allowed to open Monday.

Meanwhile, a lawyer told The Associated Press that he has filed a lawsuit against China on behalf of a private company that is seeking compensation from the country for financial losses suffered because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Lawyer Melih Akkurt said the company was forced to suspend operations during lockdowns. It is the first commercial lawsuit in Turkey against China, where the coronavirus pandemic began, Akkurt said. The lawyer wouldn’t name the company, saying it wanted to remain anonymous. Other companies were preparing to file similar lawsuits, he said.

The lawsuit holds China responsible for economic losses, accusing it of among other things, failing to provide timely and accurate data to the World Health Organization, of concealing information on the virus’ infectiousness, of silencing doctors and not preventing its spread.

“My client believes there was intent rather than negligence by China,” Akkurt said. China rejects accusations of a cover-up or of not responding to the outbreak in a timely manner. Turkey has recorded more than 140,000 cases of the virus and nearly 4,000 deaths attributed to COVID-19, according to a tally by John Hopkins University. The true number is likely much higher because many people haven’t been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected without displaying symptoms.

April 28, 2020

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey has dispatched a planeload of personal protective equipment to support the United States as it grapples with the coronavirus outbreak. A Turkish military cargo carrying the medical equipment took off from an air base near the capital Ankara on Tuesday, the state-run Anadolu Agency reported. It was scheduled to land at Andrews Air Force Base near Washington later in the day.

A top official said Turkey is donating 500,000 surgical masks, 4,000 overalls, 2,000 liters (528 gallons) of disinfectant, 1,500 goggles, 400 N-95 masks and 500 face shields. Turkey has sent similar medical equipment aid to a total of 55 countries — including Britain, Italy and Spain — in an apparent attempt to improve its global standing by positioning itself as a provider of humanitarian aid in times of crisis.

“We pledge to help our friends and allies in need to the best of our ability and stand in solidarity with nations around the world at this difficult time,” said Fahrettin Altun, the presidential communications director.

The U.S. ambassador to Turkey, David Satterfield, issued a statement thanking Ankara for the donation. “During times of crisis, like the worldwide effort to combat COVID-19, close coordination among like-minded allies and partners is key to developing a swift and effective response. None of us can do this alone.”

He said: “On behalf of the U.S. Government, I want to thank our NATO Ally Turkey for today’s generous donation of medical supplies and other essential equipment.” Satterfield said the equipment would be “received and managed” by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.