The last time Sumeyye Yilmaz saw her husband Mustafa was the night of Feb. 18, 2019. The physiotherapist went to work the next day while she was still asleep and did not return.
After 24 hours without news of his whereabouts, Yilmaz said she went to file a missing persons’ report at her local police station in Ankara. The officers there told her she had been abandoned, that he had run away, and she immediately became suspicious.
Seeking answers, Sumeyye began looking through surveillance camera footage in her neighborhood. First, she found a video of Mustafa in their apartment’s elevator the morning of Feb. 19. She also saw exterior footage of him leaving the building and taking his usual commute route.
Then she found camera footage from adjacent buildings showing a man approach Mustafa and begin hitting him. Another man appeared during the melee and put a white bag over his head. Mustafa was then forced into a black Volkswagen Transporter van while a third man took his wallet, cell phone and jacket, which he quickly slipped on, and continued walking along Mustafa’s commute route as the van sped off with her husband inside.
Sumeyye said she took the footage to the police station, but the officer on duty would not accept it, recording only short clips of the videos with his cell phone.
“In those videos, there’s clear evidence of his abduction,” Sumeyye told Al-Monitor. “The black Transporter had taken tours around our house many times before they took him. And after his disappearance, you can see someone who comes to check the neighborhood cameras to see if they were working.”
“Neither the police nor the prosecutors I contacted are taking enough action to find my husband and he was taken from right in front of his home,” Sumeyye added.
Mustafa Yilmaz is one of at least two people that have gone missing in similar circumstances since February. The other is a dismissed civil servant from Antalya, Gokhan Turkmen. Following the sudden reappearance of four additional missing men at a detention site on July 28, human rights groups have amplified calls for investigations into the whereabouts of Yilmaz and Turkmen, who are believed to held incommunicado in police custody.
Since a 2016 coup attempt, the number of cases involving such disappearances have risen sharply in Turkey, as security officials have cracked down on supporters of Fethullah Gulen, who Ankara accuses of having orchestrated the failed putsch. Such tactics have not been widely used in Turkey since 1990s operations against Kurdish militants, and their resurgence in the post-coup period has alarmed local and international observers.
Read the full story on Al Monitor: https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2019/08/two-disappeared-turks-investigation-human-rights.html#ixzz5wbgfE5IM
A US delegation arrived in Turkey Monday to set up a joint operations center that will oversee the establishment of a so-called safe zone in Syria. The move follows a recent agreement between US and Turkish officials to address Ankara’s security concerns along its southern border.
Though details of the peace corridor’s size and management protocols remain undetermined, the command center is expected to serve as a conduit for negotiations shaping the future of a region that has long been a friction point in US-Turkish relations.
Deep disagreements remain over the role of Kurdish militants in the Syrian Democratic Forces with which the United States allied to eradicate Islamic State militants from northeast Syria. Turkey, a US NATO ally, sees elements of the SDF as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers Party, a Kurdish insurgent group designated as a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union that has waged war in Turkey since the 1980s.
With such divisions unlikely to be surmounted in the near-to-medium term, analysts view the establishment of the joint operations center as a mechanism to buy time and stave off a possible third Turkish military incursion into Syria that Ankara officials have been increasingly promoting in recent weeks.
“The United States’ priority was to prevent Turkey from taking unilateral steps,” Washington-based journalist and Kurdish affairs analyst Mutlu Civiroglu told Al-Monitor, noting the parameters of the safe zone can have different interpretations.
Read the full story on Al Monitor: https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2019/08/us-turkey-joint-command-center-safe-zone.html#ixzz5wVWD9Pv2
An elected official hasn’t run Caldiran, a town of 67,000 people near Turkey’s border with Iran, since February 2017.
That’s when the former co-mayor, Faruk Demir, was detained by presidential decree and placed in pre-trial detention for 11 months on terror charges. A state-appointed trustee took over municipal functions in Caldiran as in nearly 100 other municipalities — most of which were run by officials affiliated with the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) — that were impacted during mass purges stemming from a 2016 coup attempt.
Demir was eventually released, though his trials continue. In the meantime, he prepared for the March 2019 municipal elections. This spring he ran for the town’s municipal assembly with the HDP co-mayor candidate Leyla Atsak. They won handily, but Atsak was denied the mayoral seat on the grounds she had been previously dismissed by presidential decree, despite being confirmed as a candidate by Turkey’s Supreme Electoral Council before the vote.
As in six other municipalities following the March elections, the mayorship was given to the runner-up candidate, which in Caldiran was Sefik Ensari of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). Demir maintained his position in the HDP-majority municipal assembly until Aug. 10, when he received a call informing him of his suspension.
“It was no surprise to me,” Demir told Al-Monitor. “I was expecting that they would do something unlawful and take this position from me.”
Demir was one of two elected HDP officials suspended from municipal duties over the weekend. Turkey’s Interior Ministry cited Demir’s ongoing trials as the basis for his suspension but did not respond to requests for interviews at the time of publication.
The move highlights ongoing pressure on Turkey’s minority rights-focused HDP, whose officials have for years been restricted or barred from participating in parliamentary and municipal politics. Nine of the party’s deputies, including former co-chairs Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag, remain in prison despite condemnation from international governments and human rights advocates.
Turkish leaders with nationalist leanings have long claimed the HDP is a political front for the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), an armed group that has waged war against the Turkish state since the 1980s. Following the collapse of state-sponsored peace talks in 2015 and with the ongoing threat of a Turkish military operation against a Kurdish militant enclave in northeast Syria, HDP officials continue to face allegations of terror links, limiting one of the primary legal avenues for Kurdish representation in the Turkish political sphere.
Read the full story on Al Monitor: https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2019/08/elected-officials-east-turkey-hdp-suspended.html#ixzz5wQ8ZXk1e
Independent journalist Hayri Tunc first noticed his news site Gazete Fersude was blocked on July 18.
He had been running the small alternative news outlet on personal funds for about a year with a team of five editors and 15 contributors. It was one of several news sites founded to fill a coverage gap left by the shuttering of nearly 200 news outlets since a 2016 coup attempt in Turkey. Media freedoms have been stifled as ongoing legal proceedings have landed at least 138 Turkish journalists behind bars, according to the press monitor Platform24.
Tunc said he wasn’t notified before Fersude was blocked on Turkish servers. In the past, he received court orders regarding specific articles that would result in legal proceedings if not removed from the website. Lacking the finances to hire a lawyer, Tunc usually complied to keep the publication operating.
“We try not to challenge those requests because we’re a small outlet,” Tunc told Al-Monitor. “Is it compliance to remove content? Not really. If even one person reads our content, it’s powerful. You get the information out.”
Despite such efforts, Tunc and his editorial team eventually received a court order on July 25 that banned his and 135 other websites and social media accounts. He said he shared document with colleagues, but it was dismissed as a rumor, causing little initial reaction. Tunc responded by simply changing his site’s address from .com to .net and proceeded with his daily news coverage.
“With censorship, you have no choice but to find your way around it,” he said.
The status quo remained intact until yesterday, when the same court order was published widely in the Turkish press, sparking rebukes from media organizations and free speech advocates who claim the space for the nation’s oppositional voices has been steadily shrinking in recent years.
The ban comes after a state-funded institution published a report accusing foreign media outlets of bias in their Turkish-language coverage, and a new law was enacted requiring state-issued licenses from web streaming services and online news broadcasters operating in the country.
“These procedures seem to contribute to a major policy, to a major attempt to destroy the pluralistic nature of the media and civil society organizations,” Erol Onderoglu, the Turkey representative for Reporters Without Borders, told Al-Monitor.
Read the full story on Al Monitor: https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2019/08/turkey-blocks-opposition-social-media-news.html#ixzz5vz4q7J5T
The operating space for critical journalism in Turkey continues to steadily shrink. As pro-state entities took over most mainstream outlets and government decrees shuttered dozens of opposition media organizations, Turkish journalists have increasingly moved toward online platforms to continue their work.
Now state regulators are seeking to restrict online broadcasting with a new law that free speech advocates claim may be used to silence what’s left of alternative news sources in Turkey, both domestic and foreign-based. On Aug. 1, Turkey’s Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTUK) authorized an amendment to require streaming services and online broadcasters to obtain licenses — costing up to $18,000 (100,000 liras) — to continue reaching Turkish audiences.
The law not only applies to platforms like Netflix, YouTube and PuhuTV, but also to the many web-based Turkish-language news services provided by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Voice of America (VOA) and Germany’s Deutsche Welle. Media entities have been given 30 days to acquire licenses and risk being blocked from Turkish markets if they fail to do so or their applications are not approved.
Critics of the law claim its broad language regarding the definition of news broadcasters and what constitutes socially appropriate content gives regulators free rein to target independent voices and may further curtail free speech in the country. Turkey is already home to one of the most restrictive media landscapes in the world, according to Reporters Without Borders.
“When we look at this law, its sole goal is to control internet broadcasting,” Ilhan Tasci, a RTUK council member who voted against the amendment, told Al-Monitor.
“Many people focus on what will happen with Netflix or PuhuTV or other online streaming services,” Tasci continued. “But the big picture is we have a new internet broadcasting sphere that is challenging traditional media outlets, and this alternative media is making the state uncomfortable.”
Read the full story on Al Monitor: https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2019/08/new-license-law-limits-turkey-online-news-outlets.html#ixzz5vkm0eYxM
In his first press conference as the new governor of the Central Bank of the Republic of Turkey, Murat Uysal reduced the nation’s inflation forecast and said he had “considerable” room to implement more interest rate cuts in the coming months.
Uysal was appointed by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan earlier this month after his predecessor was dismissed for resisting aggressive interest rate cuts. During his speech on Wednesday, he echoed comments by Turkey’s Finance Minister Berat Albayrak the previous day that state leaders would seek to implement financial policies to revive Turkey’s long-ailing economy.
“In the upcoming period, we have a considerable room for maneuver on rates. Its application, timing and size will depend on the improvements on prices and financial stability,” Uysal said. “We will make [the decision] based on data.”
The press conference came a week after Uysal implemented Turkey’s first monetary easing policies in four years, slashing the central bank’s key interest rate by 425 basis points to 19.75%. The cut was deeper than most investors had expected, but made little initial impact on the nation’s currency, the Turkish lira, which has since appreciated slightly.
Such policies can be risky at a time when Turkey’s inflation rate hovers just below 16%, unemployment remains high and many banks and private companies struggle with foreign currency-denominated loans following the lira’s collapse in August 2018. Yet some observers say that Turkish officials have been granted a window of opportunity to repair the nation’s economy by US President Donald Trump’s reluctance to impose widely anticipated sanctions for Erdogan’s acquisition of Russian-made S-400 missile defense systems.
Whether the central bank will now move to improve credibility issues and address the root causes of the nation’s sluggish economic growth remain to be seen, said Wolf Piccoli, co-president and political risk analyst at Teneo Intelligence.
“There is a grace period now provided by the improved external backdrop, but they are not using the grace period to fix the house,” Piccoli told Al-Monitor. “Actually, what they are doing is more damage and are generally just trying to gain more time.”
Read the full story on Al Monitor: https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2019/08/turkey-economy-s400.html#ixzz5vSYd9B6E
Following 17 years of one-party dominance, round-the-clock curfews, a coup attempt, mass purges and a string of elections marred by irregularities, Turkish society has become deeply polarized. Its academic institutions are not immune to the divisive political undercurrents.
On Friday, July 26, Turkey’s Constitutional Court ruled that legal proceedings against a group of purged academics violated their freedom of speech, drawing applause from rights advocates and condemnation from a separate group of pro-government academics.
The defendants were among 2,200 Academics for Peace who were persecuted for signing a peace declaration opposing Turkish military operations in the nation’s southeast in 2016. The court claimed charges of “making propaganda for a terrorist organization” violated the academics’ rights to freedom of expression as protected under the Turkish Constitution.
Yet what some viewed as a victory for democratic rights in an increasingly restrictive atmosphere for dissident voices, others saw as a betrayal of the state. Earlier this week, a group of 1,066 academics released their own declaration, saying the verdict “damaged the memories of our martyrs and veterans and hurt the social conscience.”
“Blaming a state for fighting terrorism is not regarded as freedom of expression in any country in the world,” read the statement, which was signed by people within the administrations of Agri Ibrahim Cecen University, Istanbul Aydin University and Medeniyet University, among other institutions.
The backlash against a ruling upholding the constitutional rights of Turkish academics — from within academia itself — highlights the deep fractures that have split Turkey’s higher education institutions under the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).
Read the full story on Al Monitor: https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2019/07/turkey-supreme-court-purged-academics-rights.html#ixzz5vHcbSFoO
Hassan, a Syrian undergoing medical treatment in Turkey, was on his way to renew his documents when he was stopped at a police checkpoint in the nation’s southern Hatay province.
“They asked me if I had an ID. I said no,” Hassan told Al-Monitor. Four days later he was sent to Syria’s Idlib province.
Speaking from Idlib, Hassan, whose name has been changed for security reasons, said he was given a temporary protection card when he first entered Turkey in 2013. He remained to work and support his family in Syria until 2016, when he voluntarily returned to Idlib and was asked to hand over his Turkish ID when he crossed the border gate.
While in Idlib, he said he developed a liver condition that worsened when he was detained and tortured by militant groups operating in the province. Following his release, Hassan returned to Turkey in the spring of 2019 for medical care. He began his treatment at private hospitals and to access more affordable state health care services, he needed to renew his temporary protection card, an identification document used by registered refugees in Turkey.
Then earlier this month, while on his way to the immigration office in Hatay, Hassan was detained by police and held, he claims, for four days without food. In the detention facility he was asked to sign a “voluntary return” form and was eventually sent back to Syria.
“[They] gave me a paper to leave Turkey and I was so afraid of the security officials that I almost collapsed,” Hassan said, adding that after he returned to Syria, he spent many days bedridden due to his illness.
Now he hopes to return to Turkey to complete his treatment and bring his family there, but fears he may be stuck in Idlib as more Syrian refugees arrive by the bus load after being stopped without identification documents.
Stories of forced deportations have multiplied in Turkey this summer as tensions continue to grow between Syrian refugees and their host communities. Accused of taking low-skilled jobs from Turkish citizens and not paying taxes for the businesses they operate, the Syrians’ initial welcome appears to be wearing thin in Turkey, where high unemployment and an economic downturn have aggravated relations.
Violent brawls have erupted in districts with high refugee concentrations and anti-Syrian rhetoric — from both of Turkey’s top political parties — during the recent Istanbul elections have brought long-simmering dissatisfaction with Syrians to the forefront of the national discourse.
In a July poll by the Piar Research group, more than 80% of respondents said hosting Syrians was not the government’s responsibility and that all 3.6 million Syrian refugees living in Turkey should be repatriated.
Turkish officials have begun to crack down on unregistered Syrians as well as those living outside the provinces where they are registered. While state leaders claim no Syrian refugees are being repatriated against their will, human rights groups have documented a number of deportation cases indicating otherwise.
Read the full story on Al Monitor: https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2019/07/syrian-refugee-deportation-turkey.html#ixzz5vBiSCsL0
One month ago today, Yigit Aksakoglu was released from prison after being held on charges he’s still trying to understand.
The early childhood services advocate was taken into custody on Nov. 17, 2018, for “attempting to overthrow the government” during the 2013 Gezi Park protests, and was released on parole after seven months to continue his trial, in which he faces a life sentence without possibility of parole.
“I was picked up for no reason, that’s the only way I can explain it,” Aksakoglu told Al-Monitor.
Aksakoglu was included in a 657-page indictment along with 15 other defendants including prominent Turkish philanthropist Osman Kavala in what would become known as the Gezi Trials. The group was charged with organizing and financing the 2013 protests that prosecutors claim sought to topple President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development Party.
Initially detained without charges, Aksakoglu only became aware of the accusations four months into his detention. The Gezi indictment was unsealed in March 2019 – by which time Kavala had been in pretrial detention for 16 months. As he gets back to normal life, Aksakoglu maintains he was lucky to be released and that many detainees remain in Turkish prisons with neither charges nor convictions.
“Time passes by in prison and there is not a moment that you aren’t thinking about when you will be released,” Aksakoglu said, adding he was held in solitary confinement with daytime access to a “nine-step-by-nine-step” outdoor courtyard.
“I lived in shock for the first 50 days or so,” Aksakoglu continued. “But then I established a routine. I read four or five newspapers a day. I read work-related stuff. … I played my ukulele at least an hour every day. I exercised every day at least an hour.”
Aksakoglu’s time in prison highlights the growing use of lengthy and arbitrary pretrial detention in Turkey. Though the practice is not new and international courts and human rights groups have long condemned its liberal application by Turkish courts, extended pretrial detentions have increased dramatically following the mass purges ongoing since a 2016 coup attempt.
Now, as the Turkish judiciary begins its summer recess, from July 20 to Aug. 31, about 58,000 people remain imprisoned in Turkey without charges or convictions, according to Ministry of Justice data from November 2018 analyzed by the Turkish Human Rights Association. Several high-priority cases will continue during the period, but most others have been postponed until after the break.
The broad use of prolonged pretrial detention, particularly in cases involving politically motivated terrorism charges, has raised concerns that it’s become a form of summary punishment in post-coup Turkey.
Read the full story on Al Monitor: https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2019/07/gezi-protest-detainee-released.html#ixzz5uixvwJj8
In the latest escalation over Turkey’s gas drilling activities within disputed offshore territories near Cyprus, EU foreign ministers imposed an initial round of punitive measures on Ankara on Monday evening. The move follows months of increasing tensions, in which the Republic of Cyprus issued arrest warrants for crewmembers aboard Turkish gas exploration ships and Ankara responded by deploying a third ship, expanding its energy development operations off the island’s shores.
The measures include the suspension of high-level diplomatic contact between the EU and Turkey, as well as negotiations on the Comprehensive Air Transport Agreement, which regulates regional commercial flights, and a reduction of pre-EU accession financial aid for Turkey in 2020. EU ministers also prompted the European Investment Bank to review its lending programs in Turkey, which totaled $434 million in 2018.
“The council deplores that, despite the European Union’s repeated calls to cease its illegal activities in the eastern Mediterranean, Turkey continued its drilling operations west of Cyprus and launched a second drilling operation northeast of Cyprus within Cypriot territorial waters,” the foreign ministers said in a statement after passing the measures on Monday.
Markets did not initially respond to the EU measures, and the Turkish lira traded at a steady 5.70 per US dollar throughout the day.
The developments underline growing discord between Turkey and its Western allies on multiple fronts. Ankara faces a separate set of sanctions for its acquisition of Russian S-400 missiles, and its continued gas drilling activities near Cyprus have thrown long-stalled reunification talks on the island into question, disrupting a delicate geopolitical balance in a region where neighboring states are vying to develop yet untapped energy resources.
Responding to the EU measures, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said he was unfazed by the funding cuts and that Turkey would continue its activities near Cyprus by sending a fourth ship to the Eastern Mediterranean.
“There is no need to take [the measures] very seriously,” Cavusoglu said on Tuesday.
He added, “We have three ships there, God willing we will send a fourth ship to the Eastern Mediterranean as soon as possible. Let them understand that they cannot deal with Turkey with such methods.”
Read the full story on Al Monitor: https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2019/07/eu-turkey-sanctions-drilling-cyprus.html#ixzz5trm6VbEn