Turkish political prisoners left out of plan to reduce jail population

01 April 2020

As the number of coronavirus cases grow in Turkey, lawmakers are seeking to limit the spread of the disease in the nation’s overcrowded prison system.

As of Wednesday, Turkish health officials reported a total of 15,679 Covid-19 cases and 277 virus-linked deaths in the country, where a virtual lockdown on domestic travel and commerce have disrupted daily life amid the global pandemic.

The Turkish Parliament is now discussing a judicial reform package that would release about a third of the nation’s prison population, but the measures have drawn criticism from rights groups for excluding political prisoners.

“Around 45,000 people will benefit from the temporary and permanent amendments” to the penal code, Cahit Ozkan, deputy parliamentary group leader for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), told reporters Tuesday. He added, “This figure will increase to 90,000 with those that will be put under house arrest.”

Read the full story on Al Monitor.

Ankara cracks down on efforts by medical groups, opposition to address pandemic

31 March 2020

As countries around the world try to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus, medical groups and opposition figures in Turkey are finding the limits of their operating space as Ankara works on a centralized national response.

Health professionals told Al-Monitor that conflicting interests between state and local actors may put additional strain on efforts to contain COVID-19 in Turkey, where 13,531 cases have been recorded and 214 patients have died as of Tuesday evening.

To date, the Turkish Health Ministry has been releasing coronavirus statistics via Twitter and, more recently, a coronavirus information website, but the figures lack transparency, according to Dr. Bulent Nazim Yilmaz, secretary general of the Turkish Medical Association (TTB), who has repeatedly called on Ankara to publish patients’ location data to help track the pandemic.

Frustrated by the lack of response, the TTB began releasing its own figures charting COVID-19’s regional impacts on Twitter Monday evening, publicizing credible, city-specific coronavirus data for the first time in Turkey. One of a string of tweets reported more than 2,000 patients were being monitored in Istanbul, while another stated the Aegean city of Izmir had about 700 coronavirus patients.

“Citizens need to know what’s happening in their neighborhoods to understand the gravity of the situation,” Yilmaz told Al-Monitor.

Read the full story on Al Monitor.

Sex offenders may walk as lawmakers mull releasing one in three Turkish prisoners

25 March 2020

As the coronavirus pandemic continues worldwide, Turkish authorities are drafting measures to reduce the nation’s prison population in an effort to stop the disease from spreading among inmates.

On Tuesday, lawmakers with Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party and the allied Nationalist Movement Party submitted a law proposal to opposition party members that would release about 100,000 of the nation’s 300,000 inmates, switching select convicts’ jail sentences to extended probation periods to relieve overcrowded penitentiaries.

The measure has drawn sharp criticism from women’s rights groups, who note the draft law would reduce punishments for sex offenders and convicts of gender-based violence, potentially endangering women, children and victims of domestic abuse across Turkey.

Gulsum Kav, a spokesperson for the Istanbul-based We Will Stop Femicide Platform (Cinayetleri Durduracağız Platformu), said reports of domestic violence have increased in recent weeks as women are stuck indoors with abusive family members amid the coronavirus pandemic, and that releasing offenders would only worsen Turkey’s circumstances.

“As we’re trying to take precautions to reduce violence against women in this pandemic, this draft law is doing the complete opposite and we find it absolutely unacceptable,” Kav told Al-Monitor.

Read the full story on Al Monitor.

Despite stimulus, Turkish economy faces grave coronavirus prognosis

19 March 2020

As health officials reported Turkey’s third death linked to the coronavirus Thursday, analysts said the government will need to pursue significant fiscal interventions to stave off long-term economic impacts resulting from the global pandemic.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced a $15.4 billion economic stimulus package Wednesday, introducing a mix of tax cuts, payment deferrals and increased pension payouts to help citizens and businesses weather the COVID-19 crisis.

Yet economic analysts fear the measures don’t go far enough, saying the gravity of the pandemic require further short-term actions from the Turkish state which, like other emerging markets, faces steep challenges in the months to come.

“The package seems prepared with the assumption that the shock will be limited, and that macroeconomic activity will recover after a short period,” Wolf Piccoli, co-president and political risk analyst at Teneo Intelligence, told Al-Monitor. “This is a rather questionable approach, given the profound uncertainty ahead.”

Read the full story on Al Monitor.

Erdogan focuses on Turkish economy in first major coronavirus speech

18 March 2020

In President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s first major address regarding the spread of the coronavirus, the Turkish leader unveiled a number of measures designed bolster the nation’s economy one week after the first domestic Covid-19 case was confirmed.

“No virus is stronger than Turkey,” Erdogan told an audience in Ankara following a meeting with high-level officials to coordinate a national response to the global pandemic.

Introducing an economic stimulus package worth 100 billion liras ($15.4 billion), Erdogan said national insurance payments in 11 sectors would be suspended for six months, while credit payments for impacted companies would be frozen for three months. Other measures lowered the VAT on domestic air travel from 18% to 1%, suspended a hotel accommodation tax until November and increased minimum pension payments.

The Turkish leader also advised citizens to practice social distancing and stay at home if possible, without announcing additional measures to restrict movement. Prior to the speech, Erdogan had said the pandemic could become an opportunity for Turkish manufacturers as global companies seek to shift production away from China.

“If we can manage this one- or two-week process well in our country and curb the spread of the disease, we will have a good picture before us,” Erdogan said.

Read the full story on Al Monitor.

Details sparse as first coronavirus case reported in Turkey

11 March 2020

Turkish health officials announced the first recorded case of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Turkey during a late night press briefing Tuesday. Speaking in Ankara, Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said a male patient tested positive for the virus after traveling to Europe and that people with whom he came in contact had been placed in quarantine.

“The coronavirus is not stronger than the measures we will take,” Koca said in effort to reassure the public. “A quarantined patient cannot threaten society.”

Citing patient privacy policies, Koca did not share the patient’s whereabouts or further details about the case. Up until the announcement, Turkey had remained free of confirmed cases as the disease spread in neighboring states.

According to the World Health Organization, five other countries reported their first cases of COVID-19 in the last 36 hours, including Brunei, Mongolia, Cyprus, Guernsey and Panama. At the time of reporting, WHO estimates at least 4,012 deaths have been linked to the disease worldwide, with 113,702 confirmed cases reported since the first diagnosis in December.

Speaking to Justice and Development Party deputies on Wednesday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the Turkish patient remained “in good health” and advised vulnerable citizens to avoid crowded places.

Erdogan said new preventative measures would be taken including the use of thermal cameras in public spaces as train service was canceled Wednesday between Istanbul and the Bulgarian capital of Sofia. Though the WHO praised the proactive steps as “vigilant, cautious,” Turkish medical experts have called for increased public testing and greater transparency.

Read the full story on Al Monitor.

Thousands stranded at Greek border as Ankara pressures EU over Idlib escalation

02 March 2020

Barbed wire and chain-link fence separate Greek security forces in riot gear from a growing number of refugees and migrants arriving at Turkey’s Pazarkule border gate after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his nation’s border guards would not stop individuals from entering Greece.

Since Friday’s announcement at least 13,000 people have reached the land crossing, according to United Nations estimates, under the impression they could cross the border. Most have so far been stopped by Greek police, which requested the rapid deployment of the European Union’s border agency, Frontex, to help manage a sudden surge in attempts to enter the country.

Ali, a 24-year-old Syrian living in Turkey, was among the thousands of people at the border gate Saturday. Speaking while tending a campfire to keep his wife and six-month-old son warm, Ali said he was shocked to find the border closed when they arrived Friday evening.

“We were told the border was open,” Ali told Al-Monitor, sharing only his first name. “What are we supposed to do now? We did not bring anything. No food, no money, no place to sleep.”

The developments come as Erdogan seeks to pressure European Union officials over what he says is a lack of support for Ankara’s military operation against the Syrian government to stem an offensive in Idlib that has displaced about one million civilians since December.

On Monday, the Turkish leader doubled down on prior statements regarding border security, saying Ankara needs more support in managing the humanitarian crisis in northwest Syria and that Turkey has been carrying the “burden alone for nine years,” referring to the length of the Syrian war.

“Turkey will not close its border gates for refugees to cross into Europe anymore; it is a done deal,” Erdogan said Monday, warning millions of refugees might soon head out for Greece.

Read the full story on Al Monitor.


Dismissed civil servants continue fight to restore rights in Turkey

25 February 2020

Ali Riza Gungen has been fighting to get his job back since he was dismissed in November 2016. Once a professor of economics at 19 Mayis University in Samsun, he was among more than 800 academics prosecuted for signing a peace petition opposing military operations in the nation’s southeast that year.

Gungen and many other signatories were acquitted of terror-related charges in September, but he has been unable to recover his former position. Like most civil servants dismissed after the 2016 coup attempt, he was also restricted from traveling abroad. He has been pursuing legal avenues to get his passport reinstated.

“I applied for the reinstatement [of my job],” Gungen told Al-Monitor. “It’s been almost three and a half years. I went to the inquiry commission on state of emergency measures. I applied to the European Court of Human Rights. I applied everywhere and I am still trying, but I could not stay in Turkey under such conditions.”

In early February, Gungen was issued a valid passport and days later joined his wife in Vancouver, Canada, where she has relocated for work after facing similar difficulties in her academic career in Turkey.

Gungen is among a growing number of civil servants who have seen their right to travel abroad restored in recent weeks. On Feb. 21, Turkey’s General Directorate of Civil Registration and Citizenship lifted travel restrictions on more than 11,000 people, gradually reinstating passports to citizens acquitted or not convicted of charges stemming from a state of emergency imposed after the failed coup.

Yet not all of the 150,000 Turkish citizens dismissed in post-coup purges seek to leave their country. Many want to stay and continue their struggle to regain basic rights, such as the ability to work legally and have access to state pensions, health insurance and banking services.

Read the full story on Al Monitor.

Turkish judges postpone verdict in Amnesty International case

19 February 2020

A verdict was widely expected today for the Amnesty International Buyukada case, but judges decided to continue the trial on April 3, 2020, after the court was unable to hear all the final defense statements to conclude proceedings.

In a trial that opened Oct. 25, 2017, 11 defendants, including Amnesty International’s former Turkey chair Taner Kilic, face terrorism-related charges stemming from their work as human rights defenders. Today’s proceedings come one day after Turkish philanthropist Osman Kavala was acquitted and then re-arrested on charges of attempting to overthrow the government.

Both cases highlight the increased pressure faced by civil society members following a failed 2016 coup that sparked an ongoing state crackdown on critical voices and narrowed avenues for free speech in Turkey.

“These proceedings are designed to silence individuals and quash the small independent civil society that still exists in Turkey,” Milena Buyum, Turkey campaigner for Amnesty International, told Al-Monitor. “It is contributing to a climate of fear. It’s maintaining it and, of course, to a certain extent … it’s paralyzing.”

Read the full story on Al Monitor.

Erdogan vies for leverage in Syria’s Idlib as Turkish troops reinforce positions

12 February 2020

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan doubled down on threats to retaliate against Russian-backed Syrian forces in Idlib, where an ongoing government offensive has escalated tensions between Ankara and Damascus.

Recent clashes between forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Turkish troops stationed at observation posts in Idlib left 14 Turkish soldiers and personnel dead, drawing a strong rebuke from lawmakers in Ankara.

“If any harm comes to our troops at the observation posts or anywhere else, we will hit the regime forces anywhere, without limiting ourselves to Idlib and to the boundaries of the Sochi Memorandum,” Erdogan said Wednesday during a Justice and Development Party (AKP) meeting in the Turkish capital.

He added that Syrian regime forces must pull back beyond Turkish observation posts by the end of month, returning to boundaries set by the Sochi agreement in an effort to stem violence that has sent hundreds of thousands of civilians fleeing for safety along the Turkish border.

“To achieve that, we will do whatever is necessary on the ground and in the air without any hesitation and without allowing any stalling,” Erdogan said.

Read the full story on Al Monitor.

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    Ani Ruins

    Lost count of how many check points I passed on a road trip to the Ani Ruins, but I’d recommend a visit for anyone trying to understand Turkey and its region.

    Ani, Turkey - © Diego Cupolo 2018

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    2018 Anthony Lewis Prize for Exceptional Rule of Law Journalism

    I want to thank The World Justice Project for recognizing my reporting from #Turkey with an honorable mention in The 2018 Anthony Lewis Prize for Exceptional Rule of Law Journalism. Also, congrats to my colleagues, whose unwavering integrity leads us through challenging times.


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    The Case of an American Pastor Caught in a Geopolitical Fight

    Andrew Brunson will likely visit the White House today after being released from two years in Turkish custody. This is rare step forward for US-#Turkey relations, but many serious problems remain. My latest for The Atlantic with input from Ozgur Ozgur Unluhisarcikli and Nate Schenkkan:


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    Edward Hopper tribute from Diyarbakir

    Diyarbakir, Turkey - © Diego Cupolo 2018

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    Sur Street Scene

    Sur, Diyarbakir, Turkey - © Diego Cupolo 2018

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    Mars of the Middle East

    Nice to see National Geographic publish my photo from the Wadi Rum in Jordan. It’s one the most surreal landscapes in the Middle East and well worth a visit.


    Wadi Rum, Jordan - © Diego Cupolo 2017

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    President Erdogan’s Republic of Fear

    “For the few journalists that remain, it has not been easy…to direct critical questions to the government about their actions,” Cumhuriyet’s Cigdem Toker told me for my latest take on the ‘New #Turkey.’

    Full story: https://www.newstatesman.com/culture/observations/2018/07/president-erdogan-s-republic-fear

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    For Kurds in Southeast Turkey, the urban conflict continues: The fighting has ended, but fears that a culture will be erased remain

    24,000 people are still displaced two years after military operations ended in the Sur district of Diyarbakir. Homeowners were offered an average of 40,000 liras for property lost to the fighting. Now developers are building 400,000-lira houses on expropriated lands.

    This photo is part of my latest report from southeast Turkey:

    Sur, Diyarbakir, Turkey - © Diego Cupolo 2018

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    Turks Have Voted Away Their Democracy

    “First they ignored him. Then they laughed at him. Then they jailed him. Then he became perhaps Turkey’s most powerful leader in 80 years.” My take on ‘the oppressed’ and who’s claiming that status in a changing Turkey.


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    The Fate of Turkey’s Democracy Lies With the Kurds

    Over the last week, I reported from villages in southeast #Turkey, where paved roads are rare, security checkpoints are abundant and 1,090 ballot boxes are being relocated. This is what I saw ahead of the nation’s pivotal elections.


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    Turkey’s high-speed rail system highlighted in Monocle Magazine

    Just spotted the new transportation issue of Monocle Magazine. Inside, I wrote about Turkey’s fast developing high-speed rail network and plans to link Izmir to Sivas in 2019. The service already runs from Istanbul to Konya via Ankara, which will soon be the nation’s high-speed rail hub.

    Get the magazine here: https://monocle.com/shop/magazine/other/issue-114/

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    Three choices: Recep, Tayyip or Erdogan?

    Ankara, Turkey - © Diego Cupolo 2018

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    Erdogan’s ‘pious generation’ goal drives Islam into education

    Over the years, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has made clear his intentions to raise a “pious generation” that espouses Islamic values alongside Turkish nationalism. I took this photo of a father and daughter reading a Quran through a religious bookstore window in Fatih, Istanbul, to accompany a report on religious education by Fariba Nawa and Ozge Sebzeci in the Financial Times’ special insert on Turkey this week.

    Full story: https://www.ft.com/content/83328a4e-4317-11e8-97ce-ea0c2bf34a0b?sharetype=blocked

    Istanbul, Turkey - © Diego Cupolo 2018

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    Financial Times Special Report: Turkey

    Pick up today’s FT special report on Turkey for an overview of big themes facing the nation ahead of its 24 June elections. Includes articles by Laura Pitel, Fariba Nawa and others - with my photos throughout.

    Link: https://www.ft.com/reports/turkey

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    Hamsi: The much sought-after Black Sea anchovy

    Samsun, Turkey - © Diego Cupolo 2018

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    Election season is upon us

    Ankara, Turkey - © Diego Cupolo 2018

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    Ankara Morning

    Ankara, Turkey - © Diego Cupolo 2018

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    Turkey’s Female Opposition Candidate

    In Monocle Magazine’s latest Spring Weekly, I profile IYI Party leader Meral Aksener, who says #Turkey’s president “can’t handle losing to woman.”

    Order a copy here: https://monocle.com/shop/magazine/other/monocle-the-spring-weekly-issue-two/

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    Mardin Bazaar

    Mardin, Turkey - © Diego Cupolo 2018

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    Saat Kulesi

    Izmir, Turkey - © Diego Cupolo 2018

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    Turkey‘s Dangerous Game of ‘Hostage Diplomacy’: How an American pastor became a political pawn for Erdogan

    Andrew Brunson, an American pastor, has been imprisoned in Turkey for the last 18 months. He has lost 50 pounds in jail and has passed long periods locked up by himself. This is my deep dive into his story, worsening US-Turkey relations, and talks of retaliatory sanctions on capitol hill.

    Full story: https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2018/05/turkey-andrew-brunson-erdogan-coup-gulen-kurds/559748/

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    Mosque in Sur

    Diyarbakir, Turkey - © Diego Cupolo 2018

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    As Ilisu Dam nears completion, Hasankeyf residents facing eviction

    Construction of the Ilisu dam is nearing completion. A new reservoir will soon begin to form in southeast Turkey that will submerge the ancient settlement of Hasankeyf, where some long-time residents and merchants will not get state relocation assistance.

    Full story: http://www.dw.com/en/facing-eviction-merchants-decry-turkey-dam-project/a-43318344

    Hasankeyf, Turkey - © Diego Cupolo 2018

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    Refugee education in Turkey

    A breakdown of the good, the bad, and the innovative when it comes to refugee education in Turkey, a country hosting more than one million Syrian children - many of whom are likely to stay long-term.

    Full Story: https://www.irinnews.org/feature/2018/04/05/money-culture-language-barriers-turkey-s-bid-end-refugee-only-schools

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    Kurds protest Turkey’s Afrin offensive during Newroz celebrations

    Newroz festivities in Turkey’s largest Kurdish-majority city, Diyarbakir, were marked by anger and frustration over Ankara’s military operation in Afrin and the international community’s inaction.

    Photo Essay: http://p.dw.com/p/2ujvt

    Diyarbakir, Turkey - © Diego Cupolo 2018