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.

Former Erdogan ally establishes new party in Turkey

12 December 2019

A new contender will join Turkey’s political landscape Friday morning, when former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu takes the stage at Ankara’s Bilkent Hotel to establish a breakaway conservative party.

Named Gelecek Partisi, or Future Party, Davutoglu will be joined by a group of to-be-disclosed founding members to announce his manifesto, which is expected to target center-right swing voters seeking an alternative to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

According to Future Party spokesperson Abdullah Adabas, Davutoglu will outline his party policies Friday in preparation for elections currently scheduled for 2023. Rumors have been circulating over the party’s formation since September, when Davutoglu resigned from the AKP, with which he served as minister of foreign affairs and then prime minister from 2014 to 2016 before falling out with Erdogan.

The former premier has criticized AKP policies in recent months and took formal steps Thursday in submitting his party application to the Interior Ministry. Along with former Economy Minister Ali Babacan, who is also expected to form a new party in the coming weeks, Davutoglu may draw votes away from the traditional AKP electorate, but will face an uphill climb in becoming a significant threat to Erdogan’s hold on power, according to political observers.

“The main criticism leveled against [Davutoglu] is he had turned a blind eye to the democratic backsliding that happened in the country partly under his watch,” Berk Esen, an assistant professor at Ankara’s Bilkent University, told Al-Monitor. “The fact that now he’s challenging Erdogan, it seems for many people disingenuous.”

Read the full story on Al Monitor.

As EU mulls response, Ankara doubles down on Libya accords

11 December 2019

Disputes over tracts of the eastern Mediterranean Sea continue to rattle the region as Ankara doubles down on plans to conduct gas exploration activities in areas claimed by Cyprus and Greece.

Following a Nov. 27 agreement between Turkey and the UN-recognized Libyan government in Tripoli that redrew maritime borders between the nations, European Union officials are weighing a response to fast-moving developments that have increased tensions among neighboring states.

Speaking to national broadcaster A Haber Wednesday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Turkey would not stand idle as regional energy resources are developed without Ankara’s involvement.

Within our continental shelf, no one can conduct activity without our permission. If it happens, we will prevent it, of course,” Cavusoglu said in a televised interview.

Read the full story on Al Monitor.

Erdogan drops block on NATO defense plan as trust issues linger

04 December 2019

As a NATO summit defined by discord, name-calling and accusations came to a close Wednesday, an unexpected show of unity took shape as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reversed his stance on a previous threat to block resolutions during the meeting.

Ahead of the two-day London gathering, the Turkish leader said he would hold up NATO defense plans for Baltic states and Poland if allies did not designate the US-backed People’s Protection Units in Syria as a terror organization.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg announced that Erdogan had withdrawn the ultimatum late Wednesday. In a joint statement, member states reaffirmed their commitment to the alliance, saying, “Terrorism in all its forms and manifestations remains a persistent threat to us all.”

In a closing press conference, Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda said the Turkish leader did not impose any demands in return for his support of the NATO plan.

“No one demanded anything from us for this,” Nauseda said. “We all thanked President Erdogan for his solidarity.”

The development, along with the final communiqué despite earlier reports one may not have been released, were positive developments in an otherwise rocky summit marked by disagreements among allies. Still, as NATO leaders return to their nations, a myriad of unresolved issues will continue to foster distrust between Turkey and some member states.

Read the full story on Al Monitor.

“My Only Crime Was That I Was a Doctor”: How the Syrian Government Targets Health Workers for Arrest, Detention, and Torture

04 December 2019
Proud to have contributed to the latest Physicians for Human Rights project, in which researchers interviewed 21 Syrian health workers who shared evidence linking their arrest, imprisonment, and ill-treatment to their medical work. 
Read the report here.

Erdogan to hold up NATO plan unless allies recognize terror threats against Turkey

03 December 2019

The points of disagreement between Turkey and NATO allies now run from weapons deals with Moscow to developments in northern Syria, the eastern Mediterranean, Libya and back up to the Baltic states — encircling the nation that long played a key role as the bloc’s southeastern flank.

Speaking as he departed for the NATO summit in London Tuesday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reaffirmed he would oppose a defense plan for the Baltic nations and Poland unless the allies classify a Kurdish militia as a terrorist organization.

“If our friends at NATO do not recognize as terrorist organizations those we consider terrorist organizations … we will stand against any step that will be taken there,” Erdogan said, referring to the Kurdish-led People’s Protection Units (YPG) in northeast Syria against which Ankara launched a military operation in October.

The statements add to simmering tensions regarding burden-sharing and member states’ commitments to the alliance as it marks its 70th anniversary, and risk further unsettling relations in the face of growing threats from Russia and China.

Following conflicting reports of Turkish opposition to the defense plan, Erdogan doubled down, saying he had spoken with his Polish counterpart Andrzej Duda by phone and would hold meetings with him along with the leaders of the United Kingdom, France and Germany Tuesday.

Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, director of the German Marshall Fund in Ankara, said the attempt to secure the terror designation was unlikely to succeed in the short term, but it could help Ankara officials mitigate pressure during the two-day summit over Turkey’s unilateral operation in northeast Syria.

“I don’t believe that Turkey can realistically expect NATO to register the YPG as a terror organization at this point,” Unluhisarcikli told Al-Monitor. “The YPG is only important for Turkey so far, but the Baltics and Poland are important for several allies.” He added, “I think Turkey would take a very big risk by going forward with its threat of blocking the plans.”

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