Category Archives: Turkey

Ballot counting in the Turkish constitutional referendum

Nagehan Alçı writes

Since the criticisms raised by the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) over some ballots, the Supreme Election Board (YSK) has not yet given a good account of itself.

The CHP sought to stymie the proposed constitutional changes from the start and appealed to the Constitutional Court to cancel the legislative package as it was being approved by Parliament. So, taking advantage of the YSK’s half-baked statement on the night of the referendum, the CHP declared that it repudiated the referendum results, which was a black mark not only for the CHP, but also for Turkey’s election track record.

In fact, the YSK had decided to render unsealed ballots valid in all elections in the recent past. From a rigid legalistic point of view, the council can be criticized for not enforcing the law. Nevertheless, the practice was not one special to the April 16 referendum. The CHP and the HDP appealed to the YSK to accept unsealed ballots in various provinces after the June 7, 2015 parliamentary elections. Their applications were accepted.

In the April 16 referendum, there were 166,000 supervisors from the Justice and Development Party (AKP), 157,000 from the CHP, 133,000 from the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), 64,000 from the HDP and 56,000 members from the Felicity Party (SP), who served as polling clerks on a total of 156,000 ballot boxes across Turkey on April 16.

Parties distribute polling clerks based on the power of provincial organizations and their strongholds. These figures indicate that individuals from various parties served and security officers ensured security for each ballot box across Turkey.

How could it be possible to manipulate ballot boxes and generate votes out of thin air in those circumstances? Could this be achieved by closing the eyes of thousands of representatives from various parties? Moreover, the “Vote and Beyond” group, which is known for its opposition to the AKP, declared that they found a mere 0.01 percent difference between the announced referendum results depending on the reports of their own supervisors.

Contrary to what has been claimed, the discussion on the ballots will not affect the results any way, given that the number of “yes” votes was 1.4 million more than no votes. The “Vote and Beyond” group sees a difference of 100,000 votes.

 

 

The German incitement to hatred, the Turkish Referendum and Neoliberal neocolonialism

This centre spread in the BILD newspaper led the German, Austrian and Dutch media onslaught telling Turkish voters to vote NO in their referendum on constitutional change (in both German and Turkish). A YES vote would see a separation of legislative and executive powers in Turkish governance, both currently in the gift of the Prime Minister’s Office, and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan would thus consolidate his presidency. BILD, owned by the media giant Axel Springer, is the largest circulation newspaper anywhere outside East Asia.

The question has to be asked why this newspaper told Turkish voters that the founder of their new Republic, Mustafa Kemal “Atatürk” (pictured) would have voted NO in this referendum. Read full article here.

Another wall in the Middle East

The Turkish-Syrian border: another wall in the Middle East

Erdoğan’s visit to Moscow has clarified the status of Russo-Turkish relations. Russia does not want to open up a “front” with the US in Syria, by opposing the new Syria Kurdish US-sponsored government (PYD) . Therefore, despite the Turkish president’s pleas, the PYD office in Moscow will remain open, and cooperation between Russia and the Syrian Kurds continue. This cooperation came to light when evidence was uncovered that the YPG, the armed militia of the PYD, was using Russian satellite imagery to plan its military campaigns.

Turkish-Russian relations, on the other, have actually blossomed, and have reached the point that Erdoğan is even considering buying S-400 systems for Turkish air defence. The core of the two countries’ fast growing commercial relations centers on the building of the Turkstream pipeline through Turkey to Europe for Gazprom to avoid using Ukraine to transit its gas. However, when the Turkish army set about organising to assert its claim over the town of Manbij, where the YPG is ensconced, thus broadening its ‘safe’ region in Syria , Russia forestalled the move. It quickly brokered an agreement between the Syrian régime and the PYD to install régime forces in the path of Turkey forces, across the villages on Manbij’s western front.

It thus becomes clear that the region now dominated by Turkey and its rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA), from A’zaz to el-Bab and across to Jarablus, is considered by Russia to be a sufficient concession to Turkish demands to secure its borders with Syria. Russia, on the other hand, seems to be happy with Turkey’s relationship with the Ukrainian government in Kiev, recently consolidated by a visa-free travel agreement between the two Black Sea neighbours, despite Russia’s problems with Kiev.

Meanwhile, Turkey is building a massive wall along its southeastern border to separate it from the new Syrian Kurdish cantons. Turkey is nevertheless allied with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) led by Mahmoud Barzani and the Rojava Peshmerga forces, which are the armed wing of the Syrian Kurdish National Council (ENKS). The ENKS is the umbrella group for Kurdish political parties in north Syria, excepting for the PKK terrorist organization’s Syrian political wing, the Democratic Union Party (PYD). Despite the visit of  an ENKS delegation to Washington, which aimed at highlighting the PYD administration’s oppression of other Kurdish political groups in northern Syria, the Pentagon seems to be firmly wedded to the PYD for its Northern Syrian strategy.

Pentagon actions in Syria and Iraq turning the US into a bit-player in the face of Russian strategy

Local populations displaced from Manbij

The Pentagon has led the way in forming Middle East policy, normally the province of the White House and the US State department. In Iraq, where it still controls a huge base in Baghdad’s Green Zone (known as the US Embassy) it is fighting alongside the Iraqi army to retake Mosul. But whatever it does, because it has not set out its strategy on the basis say of protecting the persecuted Sunni minority of the country, but rather simply as “fighting ISIS”, all its decisions play into the hands of the Iranians, who control the situation.

The situation is even worse in Syria, where Generals Townsend and Votel have built an alliance with the Kurdish YPG, purportedly again to “fight ISIS”, but really simply to re-establish a military presence in Syria, which had been lost. Joseph Votel was very vocal about the Turkish government’s purge of pro-US officers and Votel’s personal contacts in the Turkish military (TSK) involved in the July 15 attempted coup. The dogged resistance to Erdogan’s independent foreign policy in the US military-industrial complex has earned the Turkish President the enmity of the West’s liberal establishment. More particularly, the Pentagon’s support of the YPG is aimed at hurting Turkey, supposedly a NATO ally, albeit it one that is no longer on a tight leash.

As Liz Sly has reported the YPG or the People’s Protection Units, are the military wing of a political movement called the Democratic Union Party (PYD) that has been governing northeastern Syria for the past 4 1/2 years, and which seeks to apply Abdullah Ocalan’s Marxist vision to the areas with a majority Kurdish population vacated by the Syrian government during the war.  Its rule is one of force and does not have the democratic mandate of the Kurds living in the areas it controls, let alone that of the non-Kurds (Arabs, Turcomans). It depends for its survival on US support.

The YPG is ultimately a reverse expansion into Syria of Öcalan’s Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which was launched in Diyarbakir in 1978 to demand independence from Turkey for the Turkish Kurds. It soon set up a safe haven in Syria with the backing of Hafez al-Assad, who wanted to put pressure on Turkey over water supplies at the time of the building of the Euphrates dams. But Öcalan was able to play both ends against the middle and ever since July 1979, and despite the eagle eyes of the Syrian regime watching his movements, Öcalan was able to export his Marxist-Leninist “vanguard” party idea to Syria, laying the foundation stone for the PYD as a purely political movement to start with, with US support.

While the traditional “white Turk” Kemalist governments in Turkey pursued a policy of heavy repression in Southern-eastern Turkey in response to the PKK’s activities there, Erdogan called for the “Kurdish opening” in 2005, despite the opposition to this by the Turkish military establishment. He tried to broaden the Turkish democratic space into a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, and multi-religious political project. But the PKK’s insistence on a continuing war tipped the delicate political balance within Turkey against Erdogan, who was then forced to relent to the demand of Turkish nationalist elements to suppress Kurdish ambitions. Since then like-for-like aggressive action has had to be adopted by the Turkish authorities in response to the PKK’s terror tactics and its murder of civilians as well as military personnel in Turkey.

The US military’s blithe dismissal of the tight links between the PKK and the YPG is aimed at putting pressure on Turkey over its independent foreign policy. Effectively the Pentagon is supporting terror within a NATO ally’s borders. The Turkish government continues dialogue with the US on this subject and threatens but does not deny use of military bases in Turkey to the Pentagon. Nevertheless the strategy has pushed Turkey increasingly into the arms of Russia and this has led directly to victory for Russian policy in Syria, in particular, to the survival of Bashar al-Assad.

What is worse is that now the Pentagon has painted itself into a corner in Syria in virtue of its contradictory policy. Response to the deluge of Syrian refugees from the Syria wars, Turkey launched “Operation Euphrates Shield” without US knowledge, although it had obtained a reluctant agreement to the idea from Obama in principle, in order to carve out a safe region in which Syrians opposed to the Assad government in Damascus could stay. As much as anything, its timing was a response to the PYD/YPG’s attempt to carve out its own state in northern Syria along the Turkish border. In the process, the YPG had been pursuing a policy of ethnic cleansing, to establish its rule.

On US advice, the YPG integrated a small proportion of the displaced Arab male youth into its so-called “Syrian Democratic Forces” (SDF), after their careful Marxist-Leninist political indoctrination, in order to deflect criticism of the inbred nature of the organisation and its ruthless tactics. However, the deceit became all too apparent as these Arab elements became marginalised. An important town ethnically cleansed by the YPG is Manbij, which became a target in the campaign of the TSK and the Syrian opposition groups formed into the “Free Syrian Army” (FSA), which the TSK operationally supports, to clear a northern Syrian safe region.

Seeing the TSK/FSA success in clearing ISIS out of al-Bab, and then turning towards Manbij to clear that town for Arab re-settlement, the PYD/YPG contacted the Russians who brokered the handing over of the villages surrounding Manbij to the west to the Assad government, ostensibly to act as a buffer zone. The Turkish government said in response that it welcomed the hand-over of the Manbij outskirts to the Assad government, in exchange for keeping Manbij itself. However, as it became clear that the PYD/YPG was now seeking Russian protection, not wanting to compromise its position in that zone, US forces arrived to reinforce the PYD/YPG.

Joseph Votel and the Pentagon staff behind him state that their alliance with the YPG has a purpose to employ what it considers the best fighting force in the area against ISIS in Raqqa. However, engaging against the extremely difficult and entrenched positions of ISIS in Raqqa will mean that Manbij will have to be emptied of its defensive forces, both in respect of the YPG and the US, in order to make any credible attempt against this vast and sprawling ISIS fortress in Raqqa, recently reinforced by surviving ISIS brigades from al-Bab. The Turkish position, and that therefore of the FSA forces it backs, is seen therefore as a hindrance to the Raqqa operation.

This now cannot take place without full Russian cooperation in respect of an agreement to hold the TSK/FSA in its current positions to allow the Raqqa operation to proceed. While Russia gains everything from this political chess game, the US thus paints itself into a corner, not only tactically, but strategically, as its armed forces sacrifice the country’s relationship with Turkey, which is not only supposedly a NATO ally, but has the second largest army within the alliance, and is the most geographically strategic NATO country.

Russia, meanwhile, is benefiting from Turkey’s turn to the east, but calculates that Turkey has no choice but to pursue good relations with Russia as a result of its economic and commercial strategy, and as a result also of the fact that Russia is the Syrian policeman. Putin continues to develop good relations with the Syrian Kurds, in order to avoid losing its hegemonic role over Syria. This means that Turkey will have to stand back from further expansion of its safe region.

But thus allowing the Syrian Kurds political independence from the US, Russia continues to protect its dominant position, which it denies to the US simply in virtue of avoiding polarisation on the ground between Syrian factions backed by rival superpowers. The US is thus boxed into being a bit-player on the Syrian scene, just as it is in Iraq.

It is clear that the Pentagon has pursued war willy-nilly against any and all more nuanced White House foreign policy, not just now under Trump, but also under Obama. As the Pentagon increasingly goes AWOL, and the liberal establishment and its mainstream media promotes the aimless self-interested aggression-for-its-own-sake of the US military-industrial complex, US policy in Ukraine, Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria will continue its disjointed, self-contradictory path, dooming the US empire to further abject failure after failure, in a replay of the fall of Rome, drawn out in slow motion over decades as a result of the sheer capacity of the US Congress to fund mind-boggling, but obviously purposeless military budgets.

German stupidity and ‘das Türkisch Problem’

In the latest bout of Germanic Erdoğanophobia, as European liberalism reaches new dizzying civilizational heights, several German towns prevented appearances last week by Turkish ministers seeking to address their diaspora on the subject of the Turkish referendum on constitutional change.

They lamely cited security and safety concerns, a cop out which was blown out of the water when speakers opposed to Erdogan were given the nod to speak publicly. The cancellations have infuriated the Turkish foreign minister, who accused Berlin of working against the “Yes” campaign in the referendum, and summoned the German ambassador to complain.

Beside himself with elation at the stupidity of the Germans, which the angry outbursts during the speeches on his tour of towns in Turkey fail to mask, Erdoğan continues effectively to mine the gift of divisiveness which, over the past 23 years, has made him one of the most successful elected politicians of all time. As Barçın Yinanç writes: ‘[Erdoğan] might well be rejoicing over the fact that the Germans have given him a useful opportunity to bash them, which always increases his approval rate.’

The Arabisation of Istanbul’s Fatih district

Usually the first destination for new migrants coming to Istanbul is the Fatih district. The relatively low-cost district has been called home by people from many countries, with each new wave of migrants almost always transforming its fabric until the next group comes along.

A new security architecture for the northern Middle-East

Iran, Russia, and Turkey meet to shape a new peace arrangement in Syria, following the increasing absence of the Western powers from the Middle-East, as a result of their disastrous policies since the Iraq War. This has signalled, as I explained in July this year,  the trend towards the consolidation of an entirely new security architecture directed by the three major powers in the region. The Iranian sensibilities which have slowed down the evacuation of Aleppo, have been accommodated by Russia and Turkey not only from an immediate need to complete the evacuation, but also from an overall understanding that there are, despite everything, overall common interests.

The interconnected interests of the three powers effectively means that Western influences will be squeezed out of the region, despite the fact that the US is using the fight against DAESH/ISIL  to try to stay in the game. The Iranian backing of Shia militias, if they are contained and do not attempt to move into Tel A’far or into the countryside around Idlib, is increasingly seen by Turkey and Russia as a valid strategy by Iran to counter the unfortunate proclivity of Sunni jihadis to accept Western aid, which is given to them either directly or through Saudi Arabia despite the fact that they are demonised in the Western media.

The new security architecture is strengthened, not weakened, by the different approaches and occasionally sharp disagreements of the three powers over their local interests, simply because of the overall danger posed by the covert interference of Western powers. The most important example of this is Turkey’s acceptance of the Russian insistence on the permanence of the Assad régime (and Assad personally when it comes to the Iranians), which has come about because of the fact that Western intelligence agencies continue to back deep state operators in the country in order to sow terror even after their attempt to overthrow of the Turkish government failed.

Future US policy towards the region is complicated by the fact that Trump seeks an alliance with Russia while inconsistently demonising Iran and that Trump’s pro-Russian stance itself may fail to become effective as a result of the objections of the US deep state. As the Turkish government consolidates its gains after foiling the July 15 coup attempt, it is clear that rather than achieve the objective of turning Turkey into a client state that could be used to undermine and encircle Russia, the actions of the Western intelligence agencies have of late driven the two powers together. It doesn’t take much imagination to understand what the strategy of the Western intelligence-media conglomerate is, and it is precisely this Cold War mentality which increasingly cements the cooperation of the three rival powers in the northern Middle-East.

Qatar, a close ally of Turkey, has effectively underwritten the new political settlement in Syria, in view of its massive investment through Qatar Investment Authority and Glencore (in which it is majority investor) into Rosneft. It is this move in particular which encouraged Putin to stick his neck out to seek a peaceful resolution to the Syrian crisis at the planned summit in Astana, Kazakhstan. The rapprochement between Qatar and Russia will put pressure on Syrian rebels to change their attitude and accept a political settlement which includes Assad.

In fact, Russia had tried and failed to form alliances within Syrian rebels groups in the past to bolster its interests on the ground. Within the past twelve months it had resumed pursuing diplomatic efforts in this regard.

Trump likely to alter US policy on Turkey

Anadolu reports: Turkey should be a top priority in U.S. foreign policy, a top adviser to President-elect Donald Trump said Wednesday in an article that slammed Barack Obama for failing to understand Ankara’s geopolitical position.

“We must begin with understanding that Turkey is vital to U.S. interests,” retired Gen. Michael Flynn wrote for the Hill newspaper. He also called Turkey “a source of stability in the region”.

Flynn was a key national security adviser to Trump during his presidential campaign and is expected by many to be appointed to a Cabinet position, possibly as defense secretary.

The veteran general wrote that it was “an unwise policy” for the Obama administration to keep Ankara at arm’s length,

“We need to adjust our foreign policy to recognize Turkey as a priority. We need to see the world from Turkey’s perspective,” he wrote.

Noting the extradition request by Turkey of Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) leader, Fetullah Gülen, as one of the key points of contention between Washington and Ankara, Flynn suggested the U.S. handover Gülen.

Ankara has asked Washington to extradite Gulen for his role in infiltrating state instutitons in Turkey and carrying out a failed bloody coup July 15.

“What would we have done if right after 9/11 we heard the news that Osama bin Laden lives in a nice villa at a Turkish resort while running 160 charter schools funded by the Turkish taxpayers?” Flynn asked.

The former chair of the Defense Intelligence Agency suggested that although Gülen presents himself as a moderate Islamic scholar, he is a radical who “has publicly boasted about his ‘soldiers’ waiting for his orders to do whatever he directs them to do.”

Flynn compared Gülen to Ayatollah Khomeini — the leader of the Iranian revolution-urging the U.S. government not to repeat its mistake by supporting Gülen as it did Khomeini.

“Washington’s silence on this explosive topic speaks volumes when we hear the incredulous claim that the democratically elected president of Turkey staged a military coup, bombed his own parliament and undermined the confidence in Turkey’s strong economy, just so that he could purge his political opponents,” he added.

Flynn also cited allegation of corruption against the Gülen network in the U.S., saying the terror leader has brought more people than Google into the country to teach English but they are not fluent in the language.

Meanwhile, the Vice President-elect Mike Pence told Turkish daily Hürriyet on Wednesday that Turkey is the most important U.S. ally in the region and added that the new U.S. administration will restore relations back to its glory and further strengthen ties.
FETÖ leader Fetullah Gülen has lived in self-imposed exile on a 400-acre property in the foothills of the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania since 1999. In the July 15 coup attempt that he masterminded, a military junta tried to stage a coup to topple the democratically elected president and government in Turkey and impose martial law. The attempt was prevented by troops loyal to the government, along with police units and millions of Turkish citizens in favor of democracy. In total, 246 people, mostly civilians, were killed by pro-coup soldiers while over 2,000 were injured.

Turkish authorities issued an official request for Gülen’s extradition on Sept. 13, under a 1979 treaty between Turkey and the U.S. Bozdağ held a meeting with his U.S. counterpart Attorney General Loretta Lynch in late October, regarding the provisional arrest of the U.S.-based fugitive

Half of Syrian refugee children in Turkey in education system

syrian-schoolchildren

Ali Rıza Altunel from the Turkish Education Ministry announced today that a 300-million-euro fund would be used for a new educational project, as part of the Turkey-EU deal on migrants.

Altunel noted that there are currently 833,000 Syrian children in Turkey of school age.  But unfortunately, only 475,000 of them are receiving education. However, with this financial support Turkey aims to raise the number of children of Syrian refugees being schooled by 20,000 immediately.

The dark side of this good news is that many refugee children are working to support their families, or worse. Clearly, good is not enough.