Turkish state seizes foundation linked to Erdogan political rival

22 January 2020

Former Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has come under an increased amount of pressure since resigning from the nation’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) last year to establish his own political movement.

On Jan. 21, Turkey’s General Directorate of Foundations took control of the Foundation for Sciences and Arts (BISAV), which Davutoglu co-founded in 1986 to support and bolster the nation’s conservative intellectual community.

“This arbitrary attitude is a grave step that could inflict great harm on our hundreds of years of foundation history and it is also a dangerous action that could affect not only the Foundation for Sciences and Arts, but all foundations in our country as well,” read the Jan. 21 statement of Mustafa Ozel, a founding chair of the BISAV board of regents.

In response, the General Directorate of Foundations defended its appointment of three officials to oversee the management of BISAV, stating on its website: “This is not a trustee appointment. This action is to protect the legal character of the Foundation for Sciences and Arts, its tangible assets and establishment objectives.”

The move comes after Sehir University, another institution spearheaded by Davutoglu, was turned over to the state-run Marmara University in December due to financial issues cited by the Higher Education Board.

Both state seizures coincide with Davutoglu’s establishment of the Future Party, or Gelecek Partisi (GP), last month. Through his new political platform, Davutoglu seeks to challenge longtime ally President Recep Tayyip Erdogan by appealing to conservative voters disenchanted with rising polarization and economic turbulence in Turkey after nearly 18 years of AKP rule.

The latest polls place support for the former prime minister in the single digits, and observers believe his path to becoming a formidable threat to Erdogan’s leadership will face many obstacles, as evidenced by the swift takeover of two institutions central to Davutoglu’s conservative vision.

“This sends a message to the entire Islamist camp that if they try to go against the regime, there’s a price to pay,” Berk Esen, an assistant professor of international relations at Bilkent University in Ankara, told Al-Monitor.

Read the full story on Al Monitor.

Turkey gains clout in Libya negotiations following Berlin conference

22 January 2020
The Berlin conference on Libya ended Jan. 19 with domestic and foreign actors agreeing on fragile proposals to enforce an arms embargo and to work toward de-escalating a conflict that has gripped the nation since the fall of Col. Moammar Gadhafi in 2011.

Though many of the conclusions set forth mechanisms for progress, including the establishment of a cease-fire committee that is to meet regularly, few expect short-term changes on the ground in Libya as a sustainable resolution remains elusive. Still, in the days following the summit, observers have said Turkey’s increased involvement in the conflict acted as a catalyst for the European and international community to revisit developments in Libya.

Ankara, through agreements with the Tripoli government demarcating shared maritime boundaries in November and then with parliamentary approval of Turkish troop deployment to Libya earlier this month, has expanded its diplomatic clout in the nine-year conflict and has positioned itself as a key broker in developments moving forward.

In recent months, Turkish officials have increasingly supported the UN-recognized Government of National Accord headed by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj in Tripoli against an offensive launched in April 2019 by eastern Libya commander Khalifa Hifter.

Sinem Adar, a research associate at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs in Berlin, said Ankara has multiple interests in its logistical and material backing of the Government of National Accord, including territorial and energy claims in the eastern Mediterranean, political alignments and economic incentives in the form of prewar Turkish debt.

Adar told Al-Monitor that the summit has helped Ankara buy further time to keep the Government of National Accord intact, adding, “One can perhaps argue that the summit for Ankara is a short-term gain, in this respect.”

Read the full story on Al Monitor.

Turkey-Egypt row escalates as Anadolu Agency staff detained in Cairo

16 January 2020

Four staff members of the Turkish state news wire, Anadolu Agency, were detained in Cairo and are being held in an undisclosed location in the latest escalation between the Turkish and Egyptian administrations.

The two governments have been at odds since the 2013 coup over former Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi by current leader Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Though few details have emerged regarding a Tuesday evening raid on the agency’s Cairo bureau, media professionals say the move may be linked to developments in Libya, where Turkey and Egypt are backing opposing sides in an ongoing civil war.

“These arrests have nothing to do with our journalistic activities,” Metin Mutanoglu, Anadolu’s editor-in-chief, told Al-Monitor.

He called for the immediate release of the staff members and said that Egypt’s Interior Ministry had identified the Anadolu Cairo office as a “cell house” for a terrorist organization, calling the statement “direct proof that these arrests are politically motivated.”

Read the full story on Al Monitor.

Erdogan vows to defend Tripoli government after Libya talks fail

15 January 2020

After seven hours of indirect talks, the leaders of Libya’s rival factions left Moscow Monday without agreeing on a cease-fire deal.

Russian and Turkish officials — which back opposing sides — had led the effort but came away empty handed when Libyan National Army (LNA) commander Khalifa Hifter refused to sign a draft proposal he claimed did not satisfy his conditions.

In response, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Tuesday he would continue defending the internationally recognized Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA). Speaking before the Turkish Parliament, Erdogan said Hifter had “run away” from cease-fire deal and vowed Turkey would not refrain from teaching the eastern Libyan commander “a lesson” if his LNA forces proceed with their 10-month-long offensive on Tripoli.

“The coup-plotting Hifter first said yes but then fled Moscow,” Erdogan said. “We have completed our duty; the rest is the duty of Mr. Putin and his team.”

The next round of peace talks are scheduled for Sunday at a long-delayed Berlin Conference, where international leaders will attempt once more to end a conflict that has gripped Libya since the fall of former Prime Minister Moammar Gadhafi in 2011.

Though the Moscow talks ended without results, some analysts note that Russian and Turkish leadership in establishing a shaky cease-fire Sunday and bringing the Libyan opponents into negotiations has been a diplomatic victory for Erdogan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin.

Read the full story on Al Monitor.

Years after coup, purged civil servants feel trapped in Turkey

14 January 2020

Leyla Simsek Rathke was acquitted of terror-related charges in September, but she continues to struggle to regain basic rights such as the freedom to travel, work and access social services.

Simsek Rathke, a former academic at Marmara University in Istanbul, was dismissed under a state of emergency in February 2017 in mass purges that saw more than 130,000 civil servants lose their positions following a 2016 coup attempt in Turkey.

Frustrated by the inability to get her job back or obtain a valid passport, Simsek Rathke joined a group of purged civil servants in the Kadikoy district of Istanbul Sunday to protest the ongoing restrictions on dismissed workers. Though the post-coup state of emergency ended in 2018, many of those accused of collaborating with terror groups on dubious evidence continue to find justice evasive in appeals courts. Throughout the process, they have remained ostracized from broader Turkish society, which they feel has cast them as criminals.

In recent months, the dismissed civil servants have ramped up efforts to draw attention to their dire situation.

“For three years now, I have been jailed in this country,” Simsek Rathke told Al-Monitor, referring to her travel restriction. “I got a job offer to teach at the University of Kassel [in Germany] and I couldn’t leave. … I didn’t want to try the illegal way. Some of our friends did that, but I didn’t want to escape like that because I am not a criminal.”

Read the full story on Al Monitor.

TurkStream gas pipeline will bring Moscow, Ankara closer than ever

07 January 2020

Following a visit to Syria, Russian President Vladimir Putin will join his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan Wednesday to open the TurkStream gas pipeline, a major energy project that analysts say will deepen ties between the two nations and expand Moscow’s political leverage in the region.

During a ceremony in Istanbul, the two leaders will inaugurate a project consisting of two pipelines, the first of which will begin supplying 15.75 billion cubic meters of gas to Turkish markets, while the second is scheduled to open later in 2020, carrying the same capacity to southeastern European countries.

Though the pair are expected to hold closed-door meetings regarding developments in Idlib and Libya, where Russia and Turkey back opposing sides, Turkish officials are calling the opening of TurkStream a significant advancement for the nation’s energy security.

“We have made a huge leap forward toward becoming a major energy corridor,” Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay told the state-run Anadolu Agency last week.

The 930-kilometer (580-mile) pipeline linking the Russian Black Sea port of Anapa with Kiyikoy, just west of Istanbul, is opening less than two months after the inauguration of the Trans-Anatolian Natural Gas Pipeline, which transports energy from gas fields in Azerbaijan through Turkey and then to European markets.

While the developments strengthen Turkey’s position as a regional energy transit hub, the TurkStream pipeline will also increase Turkish dependency on Russian energy imports, according to Kerim Has, a Moscow-based analyst on Turkish-Russian relations.

“Russia will play the role of a hegemonic actor in Turkey’s gas market,” Has told Al-Monitor. “And from the Russian perspective, Russia can diminish its dependency on Ukraine as a transit country.”

Read the full story on Al Monitor.

Turkish parliament approves troop deployment to Libya

03 January 2020

In a measure with regionwide implications, the Turkish parliament approved a motion Jan. 2 to deploy forces to Libya during an extraordinary meeting before the start of its 2020 legislative session next week.

Though details remain unclear on the involvement of Turkish troops in direct combat operations, the vote established a one-year mandate for Turkish forces to transfer weapons, planes and vehicles in support of the UN-recognized Tripoli government headed by Fayez al-Sarraj.

Turkish units will also help establish elite Libyan forces, exchange counterterrorism intelligence and play a larger strategic role through operational cooperation and joint exercises with Sarraj’s Government of National Accord forces amid an ongoing offensive on Tripoli led by eastern Libya commander Khalifa Hifter.

The news comes one week after Sarraj submitted a formal request for Turkish military support, which Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in December was the prerequisite for a troop deployment.

While Turkish drones and proxies have been increasingly active in Libya over the past year, the parliamentary vote, passed 325-184 with 80 abstentions, is expected to complicate a civil war and escalate tensions between regional actors who back opposing sides in the conflict.

“This is a repeat of the mistake that the governing party in Turkey made in Syria,” Faruk Logoglu, former Turkish ambassador to the United States, told Al-Monitor. “They are going to repeat the same mistake on perhaps a less controllable scale in Libya.”

He added, “It’s wrong. It will not serve the benefit of the Libyan people, nor will it serve the interests of the Turkish Republic. I think it will only serve to prolong, deepen and widen the conflict in Libya.”

Read the full story on Al Monitor.


Facing new refugee wave from Syria, Ankara sends delegation to Moscow

23 December 2019

Syrian regime troops backed by the Russian air force launched a new offensive into the opposition-held Idlib province last week, sending thousands of residents fleeing toward the Turkish border.

Responding to the latest developments in the 8.5-year-old Syrian war, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country, which currently hosts 3.7 million Syrian refugees, could not handle a fresh wave of migrants on its own.

Speaking at an awards ceremony Sunday, the Turkish leader said an estimated 80,000 people were currently moving toward the Turkish border in the Syria’s northwestern Idlib province, where about three million people have taken shelter from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces in the ongoing conflict.

“If the violence toward the people of Idlib does not stop, this number will increase even more,” Erdogan said. “In that case, Turkey will not carry such a migrant burden on its own.”

He added such inflows of new refugees could recreate unsustainable pressure on humanitarian aid groups that led to the 2015 EU migration crisis. “The negative impact of the pressure we will be subjected to will be something that all European nations, especially Greece, will also feel,” Erdogan said.

On Monday, Turkey’s Humanitarian Relief Foundation reported 120,000 civilians were moving toward the Turkish border.

Read the full story on Al Monitor.

Facing US sanctions, credit-fueled Turkish economy heads toward turbulence

19 December 2019

Following a currency crisis sparked by US-Turkey tensions last year, the Turkish lira recovered much of its losses and remained fairly stable through 2019. Economic difficulties persisted with high unemployment, slow growth and grim news reports of families committing mass suicide due to their inability to pay off debts — but overall, Turkish markets proved more resilient than expected.

Now, as Washington lawmakers take steps toward imposing sanctions on Turkey for its acquisition of the Russian-made S-400 missile system and its recent Syria incursion, analysts remain uncertain the nation’s economy can sustain further instability in the year ahead.

“At times like this, small triggers may cause sharp fluctuations in financial markets and it is important to be cautious and develop right policies,” Selva Demiralp, an economics professor at Koc University, told Al-Monitor. “Sanctions may work as one such trigger.”

Read the full story on Al Monitor.

Turkey slams US defense bill as sanctions loom

18 December 2019

As lawmakers in Washington debate the impeachment of President Donald Trump, officials in Ankara are weighing how the latest US defense bill will impact Turkey.

In an 86-8 vote, the Senate passed the $738 billion National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) Tuesday, sending the legislation to the president, who has expressed support for the bill and is expected to sign it into law.

While the Trump’s fate remains to be determined, political analysts say the NDAA signals bipartisan congressional support for sanctions on Ankara with few signs Capitol Hill will change course in punishing Turkey for its purchase of Russian S-400 missile defense systems, among other points of discord between the longtime NATO allies.

By passing the defense plan, US lawmakers are “foreshadowing what will come, and they demonstrate the strength of the anti-Turkey sentiment in the US Congress,” Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, director of the German Marshall Fund in Ankara, told Al-Monitor.

He added, “I think that in a few weeks, Turkey will be facing real sanctions.”

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