Erdogan Seizes 50 Syriac Churches and Monasteries, Declares Them Turkish State Property

JUNE 27, 2017

The Turkish Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet) has seized control of at least 50 Syriac churches, monasteries, and cemeteries in Mardin province, report media sources from Turkey.

The Turkish-Armenian daily Agos reports:

After Mardin became a Metropolitan Municipality, its villages were officially turned into neighbourhoods as per the law and attached to the provincial administration. Following the legislative amendment introduced in late 2012, the Governorate of Mardin established a liquidation committee. The Liquidation Committee started to redistribute in the city, the property of institutions whose legal entity had expired. The transfer and liquidation procedures are still ongoing.

In 2016, the Transfer, Liquidation and Redistribution Committee of Mardin Governorate transferred to primarily the Treasury as well as other relevant public institutions numerous churches, monasteries, cemeteries and other assets of the Syriac community in the districts of Mardin.

The Mor Gabriel Monastery Foundation appealed to the decision yet the liquidation committee rejected their appeal last May. The churches, monasteries and cemeteries whose ownerships were given to the Treasury were then transferred to the Diyanet.

Inquiries of the Mor Gabriel Monastery Foundation revealed that dozens of churches and monasteries had been transferred to the Treasury first and then allocated to the Diyanet. And the cemeteries have been transferred to the Metropolitan Municipality of Mardin. The maintenance of some of the churches and monasteries are currently being provided by the Mor Gabriel Monastery Foundation and they are opened to worship on certain days. Similarly, the cemeteries are still actively used by the Syriac community who visits them and performs burial procedures. The Syriacs have appealed to the Court for the cancellation of the decision.

"We started to file lawsuits and in the meantime our enquiries continued" said Kuryakos Ergün, the Chairman of Mor Gabriel Monastery Foundation. Ergün said they would appeal to the court for the cancellation of nearly 30 title deed registries.

Included in the seizure is the 1600-year-old Mor Gabriel Monastery:

Foundation of Mor Gabriel Monastery, filed a court case at the Civil Court of First Instance in Mardin against the registration of title deed records in the name of Treasury.

In the petition filed to the court it has been noted that the properties subject to the court case had been, since ancient times, under the possession and ownership of the Foundation and the significance of Mor Gabriel Monastery has been underlined; "Its history dates back to the 4th century AD. The Monastery is one of the oldest monasteries in the world which is still active and is one of the most ancient religious centers of Syriacs and the entire world with its history of more than 1600 years.

Midyat Syriac Deyrulumur Mor Gabriel Monastery Foundation had been established on the basis of the imperial order of Sultan Abdülmecid Han during the Ottoman Empire in “1267 Islamic calendar (1851/1852 Gregorian calendar) and its status was redefined, became a legal entity, on the basis of the Foundations Law of 13.06.1935 with no 2762.

The Foundation had been recognised as "a religious community foundation" on the basis of a Regulation issued in 2002 by the Directorate General of Foundation and was included in the List of Religious Community Foundations drafted same year. Foundations that I'm not included in this list are in not recognised as religious community foundations."

Syriac groups in Europe have protested the seizures, calling them outrageous and illegal.

The Diyanet has officially rejected the seizure claims.

But government registries appear to show the property transfers to the Diyanet in Mardin.

As I reported here at PJ Media back in April, a number of European countries have reported that Diyanet-controlled mosques have been used by Turkish intelligence to spy on Turkish communities in their countries.

And the Turkish government opened last year a $100 million complex operated by the Diyanet just outside of Washington, D.C.

The confiscation of church properties and the closings have escalated under the regime of Turkish president Recep Erdogan and his program to re-Islamicize the country.

Istanbul nightclub terror attacker 'screamed Allahu Akbar' during massacre that left 39 dead and 69 injured

The gunman, who is still at large, screamed in Arabic as he blasted innocent people in Reina - one of Turkey's most famous clubs

1 JAN 2017
The Mirror

The 'Santa gunman' who gunned down 39 people and injured 69 with a machine gun in an Istanbul nightclub 'screamed Allahu Akbar' during massacre - an eye-witness has revealed.

A manhunt has been launched for the killer after he went on the run following the mass murder in the popular Reina nightclub, in Turkey.

A Lebanese woman who gave her name as Hadeel and was in the club with her husband has spoken of the moment the carnage unfolded.

She said: “At first we thought some men were fighting with each other.

“Then we heard the sound of the gunfire and ducked under the tables.

Of the 39 dead, 16 have so far been confirmed as foreigners and British authorities were trying to work out if any of those killed were UK nationals.

A Foreign Office spokesman said: "We are in touch with the local authorities following reports of an incident at a night club in Istanbul."

Terrified revellers ran for their lives as the gunman, armed with an AK-47 assault rifle, tore through the exclusive venue slaughtering people at will.

Many dived into the nearby Bosphorus waterway and hid underwater waiting for police to arrive.

The mayhem began when the unknown attacker, who witnesses claim was shouting in Arabic as he blasted through the club, arrived in a yellow taxi, shot a policeman stationed outside and then stormed in.

Named as 21-year-old Burak Yildiz, the tragic officer had been in the job for just a year.

Once inside, CCTV footage showed the terrorist appearing to take off his coat as he ran around the club shooting people at random.

Initial reports claimed the gunman had barricaded himself in toilets.

But following a search involving armed police and bomb experts, it appears he remains at large.

Up to 600 people were believed to be in Reina at the time.

Located in the Ortakoy district of Istanbul, it is one of the most well-known venues in Turkey and is popular with the city's rich and famous.

Celebrities including Sting, Paris Hilton and Gisele Bundchen have visited in the past.

Some witnesses spoke of multiple attackers, but officials have not confirmed this.

Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said 15 or 16 of those killed were foreigners but that only 21 of the bodies had so far been identified.

He said 69 people were in hospital, four of them in a critical condition.

He added: "A manhunt for the terrorist is underway. Police have launched operations.

"We hope the attacker will be captured soon."

The attack again shook Turkey as it tries to recover from a failed July coup and a series of deadly bombings in cities including Istanbul and the capital Ankara, some blamed on Islamic State and others claimed by Kurdish militants.

The club, one of Istanbul's most iconic that is popular with locals and foreigners alike, overlooks the Bosphorus Strait separating Europe and Asia in the city's cosmopolitan Ortakoy district.

Around 500 to 600 people were thought to have been inside when the gunman opened fire, broadcaster CNN Turk said.

Some jumped into the waters of the Bosphorus to save themselves and were rescued by police.

Istanbul Governor Vasip Sahin said the attacker had used a "long-range weapon" to "brutally and savagely" fire on people, apparently referring to some sort of assault rifle.

US President Barack Obama, on vacation in Hawaii, expressed condolences and directed his team to offer help to the Turkish authorities, the White House said.

Sahin and Soylu both referred to a single attacker but other reports, including on social media, suggested there may have been more, at least one of them wearing a Santa Claus costume which he later ditched in order to escape.

The Hurriyet newspaper cited witnesses as saying there were multiple attackers and that they shouted in Arabic.

"We were having fun. All of a sudden people started to run. My husband said don't be afraid, and he jumped on me. People ran over me. My husband was hit in three places," one club-goer, Sinem Uyanik, told the newspaper.

"I managed to push through and get out, it was terrible," she said, describing seeing people soaked in blood and adding that there appeared to have been at least two gunmen.

Dozens of ambulances and police vehicles were dispatched to the club in Ortakoy, a neighbourhood on the city's European side nestled under one of three bridges crossing the Bosphorus and home to nightclubs, restaurants and art galleries.

Sefa Boydas, a Turkish soccer player, wrote on Twitter: "I didn't see who was shooting but heard the gun shots and people fled.

"Police moved in quickly,".

"My girlfriend was wearing high heels. I lifted her and carried her out on my back."

Hurriyet quoted Reina's owner, Mehmet Kocarslan, as saying security measures had been taken over the past 10 days after US intelligence reports suggested a possible attack.

Turkey, a NATO member and part of the US-led coalition against Islamic State, faces multiple security threats including spillover from the war in neighbouring Syria.

It launched a military incursion into Syria in August against the radical Islamist group and is also fighting a Kurdish militant insurgency in its own southeast.

The New Year's Eve attack came five months after Turkey was shaken by a failed military coup, in which more than 240 people were killed, many of them in Istanbul, as rogue soldiers commandeered tanks and fighter jets in a bid to seize power.

Istanbul, Turkey's most populous city, has seen several attacks this year, the latest on Dec. 10, when two bombs claimed by Kurdish militants exploded outside a soccer stadium, killing 44 people and wounding more than 150.

In June, around 45 people were killed and hundreds wounded as three suspected Islamic State militants carried out a gun and bomb attack on Istanbul's main Ataturk airport.

Kurdish Militant Group Claims Responsibility for Deadly Istanbul Bombing

DEC. 11, 2016
The New York Times

ISTANBUL — A Kurdish militant group claimed responsibility on Sunday for a double bombing that killed 39 people and wounded 154 outside a soccer stadium in the heart of Istanbul the night before.

The group — Kurdistan Freedom Falcons — said in a statement that two of its members had carried out the suicide attacks in retaliation for state violence in the predominantly Kurdish region in southeast Turkey. The group also cited the continuing imprisonment of Abdullah Ocalan, the leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or P.K.K., which has waged a three-decade insurgency against the Turkish state.

The Kurdish Freedom Falcons, which claimed responsibility in June for a car bombing in Istanbul that killed at least 11 people, is considered an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party.

Prime Minister Binali Yildirim had blamed the P.K.K. for the twin bombings on Saturday night.

Turkish officials said the two suicide attacks were carried out near the Vodafone Arena stadium.

One of them involved the detonation of nearly 1,000 pounds of explosives in a vehicle, and the other was carried out by a suicide bomber who targeted police officers after a soccer game.

At least 30 police officers, eight civilians and one unidentified person were killed in the attacks, Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said during a funeral for one of the victims on Sunday.

The government declared a national day of mourning on Sunday, and top Turkish officials, including President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, attended funeral services held at Istanbul’s Police Headquarters.

“They should know that they would not get away with this; they will pay heavier prices,” Mr. Erdogan said after visiting the wounded at an Istanbul hospital. “They attacked vilely, perfidiously at two spots against those young lions, who were preparing to get on their buses.”

So far, the authorities have detained 13 people in connection with the attacks, the Istanbul chief prosecutor’s office said.

Violence has surged in southeastern Turkey and spilled over to western cities since the government started a counterinsurgency campaign against the P.K.K. after the group ended a two-year cease-fire in July 2015.

Turkey has been hit by a string of terrorist attacks this year that officials have attributed to Kurdish militants and the Islamic State. And the government’s crackdown and consolidation of power after an attempted coup over the summer have further set the country on edge.

On Sunday, video footage published by the local news media appeared to show one of the suicide bombers in the attacks on Saturday walking along a road when several police officers stopped him just before he detonated his explosives.

“All terror organizations are attacking our nation and our people for the same goal,” Mr. Erdogan said in a statement after the attacks. “Whenever Turkey takes a positive step with regards to its future, a response comes immediately before us in the form of blood, lives, savagery and chaos at the hands of terrorist organizations.”

Suicide Bomber in Turkish Wedding Attack Was 12-14 Years Old

51 people were killed and 61 were wounded in the blast in southern Turkey, which Turkish President Erdogan blames on ISIS.

Dasha Afanasieva

Aug 21, 2016

REUTERS - The suicide bomber who attacked a wedding party in the southeastern Turkish city of Gaziantep on Saturday killing 51 people was a child between the ages of 12 and 14, President Tayyip Erdogan said.

"Initial evidence suggests it was a Daesh attack," Erdogan said, using an Arabic name for ISIS, during a visit to Gaziantep after the attack. He said 69 people were in hospital and 17 were "heavily injured".

ISIS has been blamed for other attacks in Turkey, often targeting Kurdish gatherings in an effort to inflame ethnic tensions. The deadliest one was last October, when suicide bombers killed more than 100 people at a rally of pro-Kurdish and labor activists in Ankara.

Saturday's wedding party was for a member of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party, it said, and the groom was among those injured. The bride was not hurt, one local official said.

Celebrations were ending at the traditional henna night party, when guests have decorative paint applied to their hands and feet. Some families had already left when the bomb went off but women and children were among the dead, witnesses said.

Blood and burns marked the walls of the narrow lane where the blast hit. Women in white and checkered scarves cried, sitting crosslegged outside the morgue waiting for word on missing relatives.

"The celebrations were coming to an end and there was a big explosion among people dancing," said 25-year-old Veli Can. "There was blood and body parts everywhere."

"We want to end these massacres," witness Ibrahim Ozdemir said. "We are in pain, especially the women and children."

Turkey coup attempt reveals division over desire for secular or Islamist rule


By Anne Barker
ABC News

Turkish General Cevik Bir once said, "In Turkey, we have a marriage of Islam and democracy … The child of this marriage is secularism. Now this child gets sick from time to time. The Turkish armed forces is the doctor which saves the child. Depending on how sick the kid is, we administer the necessary medicine to make sure the child recuperates".

Those words help explain why Turkey has been vulnerable to so many military coups or coup attempts since it emerged as a modern secular nation under Mustafa Kemal Attaturk after World War I.

It was Attaturk who enshrined secular government in Turkey's constitution and removed the provision declaring that the "religion of the state is Islam".

General Bir was one of the masterminds of the last military coup in Turkey — in 1997 — which successfully ousted another Islamic leader, Necmettin Erbakan.

In the 12 months Mr Erbakan was prime minister his government began to steer Turkey down an increasingly Islamic path, appointing religious conservatives to government positions, pushing the case for Islamic schooling, and strengthening Turkey's relations with the Arab world.

Mr Erbakan's Islamic party was banned and Turkey was restored to secular rule. But in a country that is overwhelmingly Muslim, religious fundamentalism remains a powerful force in competition with secularism.

Between 1960 and 2001 the military has intervened four times to ban successive Islamist parties through court action or coups. But each time new Islamist parties have emerged.

President a protege of former Islamist leader

So it was in 2001 that current president Recep Tayyip Erdogan — a political protege of Necmettin Erbakan — founded the Islamic leaning AKP, or Justice and Development Party, which was elected to power in 2002 and has ruled ever since.

Indeed Mr Erdogan once served four months in jail for inciting religious hatred after giving a public speech in support of Mr Erbakan, in which he cited the lines of a Turkish poem:

"Our minarets are our bayonets, Our domes are our helmets, Our mosques are our barracks."

Omer Taspinar, of the Brookings Institution, wrote in the book The Islamists Are Coming: Who They Really Are, the AKP moved to the centre-right over a decade "mainly to escape the fate of its defunct predecessors".

"Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) went through five incarnations before it found a balance that voters would embrace but the military would also accept, albeit reluctantly," he wrote.

But in recent years the AKP has become increasingly autocratic, more religious and less secular, lifting rules that banned women from wearing headscarves, imposing tougher restrictions on alcohol, building new mosques, and reintroducing religious education into schools.

More worryingly, the Turkish leader initially supported Islamist rebels fighting in Syria — as a counter force to separatist Kurds in Turkey's southeast — which helped give rise to the Islamic State group.

And in April his government supported a referendum for a religious constitution which critics say would remove any guarantee of secular rule.

Coup attempt reveals public's discontent

Rodger Shanahan, a research fellow at Australia's Lowy Institute, says the latest coup attempt points to the magnitude of the fissures in Turkish society.

"Parts of the military and other sections of society are unhappy with Erdogan's aggregation of power at the expense of democratic checks and balances," he writes.

"The coup plotters claimed to be acting to restore democracy without a hint of irony.

"However, they also pointed to the need to stem corruption and the move away from secularism, both claims that resonate with a significant element of the Turkish population."

He said the attempt failed because it was "littered with fundamental errors".

"To begin with, when you are committing regicide, the first target has to be the regent. Erdogan may have been isolated for a short period of time but he wasn't detained or otherwise neutralised," he says.

"Coup plotters only have the element of surprise for a short period of time. They have to create the impression the coup is a fait accompli and they are firmly in control in order to maintain momentum and quickly win over those outside the secret planning bubble that has existed up until the coup commences. This didn't happen."

And Mr Shanahan says it is unlikely Mr Erdogan will take any lessons from the coup attempt.

"To many leaders, an attempted coup would give one pause for thought as to the direction they had taken a society. But Erdogan cares little for introspection and is driven to a large extent by ideology.

"He has made his way in the hard scrabble of Turkish politics with a firm belief in using power to shape society, and the fewer constraints on that power the better.

"He is little interested in repairing fissures in society, rather he is focused on punishing those who were directly involved in the coup and in purging those who may support opposing views to that of the AKP."

He says Turkey's political prospects don't look good.

"It has a domestic terrorist problem from Islamic State and Kurdish groups, is fighting Kurds in the south east, and is under pressure to control foreign fighters entering and leaving Syria, all of this while hosting hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees. Turkey, once seen as the exemplar for secular, democratic Islam is no longer viewed in that way."

Turkey bans academics from traveling, blocks WikiLeaks website

July 20, 2016
Turkish Weekly

The Turkish government has banned all academics from foreign travel as part of wide-ranging restrictions put in place in Turkey following a failed military coup on July 15.

Turkey's High Board of Education made the announcement on July 20 and said the ban would be in place "until further notice."

The announcement comes one day after Turkey's High Board sacked 1,577 deans at universities across Turkey and revoked the licenses of some 21,000 teachers working in private institutions.

The moves are seen as attacks against U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, who has been accused of masterminding the attempted coup, which resulted in more than 200 people being killed.

Gulen, who actively promotes educational institutions in Turkey and other countries, has condemned the coup attempt and rejected any connection to it.

Meanwhile, Turkey's telecom agency on July 20 blocked access to the WikiLeaks website one day after it leaked hundreds of thousands of e-mails from the ruling Justice and Development Party.

WikiLeaks said it had obtained the e-mails before the coup attempt but had decided to release them "in response to the government's postcoup purges."

An estimated 50,000 soldiers, police, judges, civil servants, and teachers have been suspended or detained since the attempted coup.

Turkey: Mass arrests after coup bid quashed, says PM

July 16, 16

Some 2,839 soldiers, including high-ranking officers, have been arrested over an attempted coup that is now over, says Turkey's PM Binali Yildirim.

In a night he called a "black stain on Turkish democracy", he said 161 people had been killed and 1,440 wounded.

Explosions and gunfire were heard in Ankara, Istanbul and elsewhere overnight and thousands of Turks heeded President Erdogan's call to rise up against the coup-plotters.

It is unclear who was behind the coup.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan blamed a "parallel structure", in a clear reference to Fethullah Gulen, a powerful but reclusive US-based Muslim cleric whom he accuses of fomenting unrest.

However, in a statement, Mr Gulen rejected any suggestion he had links to the events, saying he condemned "in the strongest terms, the attempted military coup in Turkey".

Reasons behind coup: By BBC's Middle East Editor Jeremy Bowen

The attempted coup happened because Turkey is deeply divided over President Erdogan's project to transform the country and because of the contagion of violence from the war in Syria.

President Erdogan and his AK Party have become experts at winning elections, but there have always been doubts about his long-term commitment to democracy. He is a political Islamist who has rejected modern Turkey's secular heritage. Mr Erdogan has become increasingly authoritarian and is trying to turn himself into a strong executive president.

From the beginning Mr Erdogan's government has been deeply involved in the war in Syria, backing Islamist opposition to President Assad. But violence has spread across the border, helping to reignite the fight with the Kurdish PKK, and making Turkey a target for the jihadists who call themselves Islamic State.

That has caused a lot of disquiet. Turkey has faced increasing turmoil and the attempt to overthrow President Erdogan will not be the last of it.

The BBC's Katy Watson in Istanbul says by Saturday morning the Bosphorus Bridge had reopened, and traffic was flowing across it as if nothing had happened.

People here are shocked about the events of the past day - President Erdogan divides opinion among Turks but a military takeover was not something they saw coming, our correspondent adds.

Events began on Friday evening when tanks took up positions on two of the bridges over the Bosphorus Strait in Istanbul, blocking it to traffic. Troops were seen on the streets and low-flying military jets were filmed over Ankara.

Shortly after, a faction of the army released a statement saying that a "peace council" was running the country, and it had launched the coup "to ensure and restore constitutional order, democracy, human rights and freedoms".

President Erdogan was in the south-west holiday resort of Marmaris at the time. He made a televised address, via his mobile phone, urging people to take to the streets to oppose the uprising.

He then flew on to Istanbul, saying Marmaris had been bombed after he left.

In a speech at Istanbul airport, Mr Erdogan said: "What is being perpetrated is a treason and a rebellion. They will pay a heavy price."

Outbreaks of violence

The Turkish parliament and presidential buildings in Ankara were attacked. At least one bomb hit the parliament complex. MPs were believed to be hiding in shelters.

Gunfire was also heard outside Istanbul police headquarters and tanks were said to be stationed outside Istanbul airport.

Broadcaster CNN Turk was temporarily taken off air after soldiers entered the building and tried to take it over. CNN Turk later tweeted a photo of soldiers being arrested by police.

Mike Baddeley, on holiday in Marmaris, said he was woken by "a very large explosion, followed by, it seemed like one or two helicopters flying above our heads... with machine gun fire".

In the morning, he saw armed men in military fatigues walking around the hotel, but no further violence.

There were reports of fierce clashes in Taksim Square in the centre of Istanbul, and gunfire and explosions were heard near the square.

One of the helicopters being flown by rebels was reportedly shot down by government troops in Ankara.

Sporadic gunfire was still being heard in some areas by morning.

ISIS eyed as prime culprit in Istanbul airport terror attack

Published June 29, 2016

The coordinated massacre at Istanbul's Ataturk Airport came into clearer focus Wednesday as officials revealed a more detailed timeline of the terror attack that killed 42 and wounded 238.

After the three attackers arrived at the Turkish transit hub via taxi on Tuesday, one of the assailants entered the terminal, began shooting people and then blew himself up near X-ray machines, officials said. During the chaos, a second attacker rushed to the departures level and detonated his explosives. The third attacker waited outside during the entire episode, blowing himself up as scared travelers frantically flooded out of the airport.

"When the terrorists couldn't pass the regular security system, when they couldn't pass the scanners, police and security controls, they returned and took out their weapons out of their suitcases and opened fire at random at the security check," Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said Wednesday.

Several U.S. airports strengthened security measures due to the carnage in Istanbul, and, adding to the tension, a terminal at JFK Airport in New York was evacuated for a brief period Wednesday when a suspicious bag was spotted. It was later determined the unattended bag posed no threat and travelers were allowed back in the terminal.

Authorities viewed ISIS as the most likely culprit in the Istanbul attack, as the Turkey assault bore hallmarks similar to the March 22 coordinated terror attacks in Brussels, in which ISIS operatives killed 32 in coordinated bombings at Zaventem airport and a nearby metro station. But ISIS had not taken credit for Tuesday's attacks, and Ankara has battled Kurdish militants as well as ISIS.

Turkish officials told The Associated Press and Reuters that ISIS was the primary suspect, however, and the Islamic State released an infographic Wednesday in which it claimed to have "covert" units in Turkey. The infographic, sent out via ISIS' Amaq news agency, was made to commemorate the two-year anniversary of the militants establishing their so-called caliphate in areas of Syria and Iraq.

A U.S. government official told Fox News that the attack fits the profile of ISIS, which has stepped up its targeting of Turkey. The official said ISIS tends to attack internationally known targets with an economic impact, such as an airport, while the Kurdish terror group PKK generally targets Turkish military and law enforcement.

"If this Islamic State is indeed behind this attack, this would be a declaration of war," Analyst Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish Research Program at The Washington Institute, told AFP. "Turkey's vengeance will come down like rain from hell on the Islamic State."

Of the 238 people injured in the carnage, 109 had already been discharged from the hospital Wednesday morning, The Istanbul Governor's Office said. The Turkish Health Minister said 40 people remained in intensive care.

Most of those killed were Turkish, officials said. The 14 foreign travelers killed included six Saudis, two Iraqis and citizens from China, Iran, Jordan, Tunisia, Ukraine and Uzbekistan, Reuters reported.

The assault began when one attacker blew himself up outside the Ataturk terminal, the Haber Turk newspaper reported. Two other terrorists then opened fire at a point where X-ray machines are located.

"He's shooting up, two times, and he's beginning to shoot people like that, like he was walking like a prophet," Otfah Mohamed Abdullah, who witnessed one of the attackers, told AFPTV.

One attacker was shot at while running amid fleeing passengers, then blew himself up at an exit. The third attacker went up one level to where the international departures terminal is, was shot by police and blew himself up.

A Turkish official told The Associated Press that authorities were going through CCTV footage and eyewitness statements to establish a more detailed timeline of the attack. "It is a jigsaw puzzle" said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with government protocol.

Airport surveillance video posted on social media showed the moment of one blast, a huge ball of fire, and passengers fleeing in terror. Another appeared to show an attacker, felled by a gunshot from a security officer, blowing himself up seconds later.

The recent attacks on Turkey, a key partner in the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS and a NATO member, have increased in scale and frequency. They have scared away tourists and hurt the Turkish economy, which relies heavily on tourism.

Hundreds of passengers who fled the airport in fear were left sitting on the grass outside. Several ambulances drove back and forth, and security vehicles surrounded the scene.

As if to underscore Turkey's determination to carry on in the face of a growing threat, the airport reopened Wednesday, just hours after the dead were carried away and glass and debris were cleared.

Adam Keally, from Boston, said he heard gunfire followed by several explosions, then saw people "very badly injured."

Hevin Zini, 12, had just arrived from Duesseldorf, Germany, with her family and was in tears.

"There was blood on the ground," she told the AP. "Everything was blown up to bits... if we had arrived two minutes earlier, it could have been us."

Two South African tourists, Paul and Susie Roos from Cape Town, were at the airport and due to fly home at the time of the explosions.

"We came up from the arrivals to the departures, up the escalator when we heard these shots going off," Paul Roos told the AP. "There was this guy going roaming around, he was dressed in black and he had a handgun."

Veysel Allay, who was waiting for a friend in the arrivals terminal, told the Daily Telegraph, "A  man ran up and ripped open his jacket, showing a bomb vest. I ran before he did anything."

Jim Hyong Lee of South Korea told the Telegraph he and his family were checking in for a flight home when "we heard gunshots."

"I grabbed my family and ran," Lee said. "Someone waved us into the prayer room and hid us there until the police came."

A State Department spokesman told Fox News late Tuesday that Americans in Turkey were being urged to contact family members immediately.

Saudi Arabia's Embassy in Turkey said at least seven Saudis were injured in the attack and all were in stable condition.

U.S. and world leaders immediately offered condolences following the attack.

In the U.S., President Obama was briefed about the attack by Lisa Monaco, his homeland security and counterterrorism adviser. A statement from the White House on Tuesday condemned the attack "in the strongest possible terms."

"We remain steadfast in our support for Turkey, our NATO Ally and partner, along with all of our friends and allies around the world, as we continue to confront the threat of terrorism," the statement said.

Turkey has stepped up controls at airports and land borders and deported thousands of foreign fighters, but has struggled to tackle the threat of ISIS militants while also conducting vast security operations against Kurdish rebels, who have also been blamed for recent deadly attacks.

Turkish airports have security checks at both the entrance of terminal buildings and then later before entry to departure gates.

Istanbul's Ataturk Airport was the 11th busiest airport in the world last year, with 61.8 million passengers, according to Airports Council International. It is also one of the fastest-growing airports in the world, seeing 9.2 percent more passengers last year than in 2014.

Blast strikes military convoy in Turkish capital; at least 28 killed

By Liz Sly and Brian Murphy
February 17, 2016
The Washington Post

ISTANBUL — A bomb blast in the heart of the Turkish capital, Ankara, killed 28 people Wednesday, deepening a sense of crisis enveloping Turkey as it grapples with wars on three fronts.

The explosion appeared to have been caused by a car bomb that detonated as a military bus paused at a traffic light in a central neighborhood that houses the nation’s parliament and government headquarters, according to Turkey’s official Anadolu news agency. In addition to the deaths, at least 61 people were injured in the fireball that engulfed the bus and ignited trees in a nearby park at the height of the evening rush hour.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blast, which came amid increasing challenges from the civil war in neighboring Syria, Turkey’s intensifying feud with Kurds and the rising threat posed by the Islamic State.

A suicide bombing that killed 10 German tourists near the landmark Blue Mosque in Istanbul in January, a double suicide attack that claimed more than 100 lives at a peace rally in Ankara in October and another that killed more than 30 Kurds in southern Turkey last summer were all widely blamed on the Islamic State, although no group asserted responsibility. The attacks followed Turkey’s agreement to join a U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State and allow U.S. warplanes to launch attacks on the militants from Turkish bases.

In this instance, however, Turkish authorities were swift to blame the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, the Kurdish nationalist movement that has been waging war against the Turkish state for most of the past 30 years. Turkey and the United States both designate the PKK as a terrorist organization. The Turkish military in recent months has been pursuing a fierce campaign against PKK fighters and sympathizers, turning many of the Kurdish-majority cities in southeastern Turkey into war zones.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan immediately canceled a state visit to Azerbaijan and vowed retaliation, although he did not specify against whom.

Istanbul bomber entered Turkey as refugee from Syria


January 13, 2015

An Islamic State suicide bomber who killed 10 German tourists in the heart of Istanbul's historic district entered Turkey as a refugee from Syria and went undetected as he was not on any watch lists, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said on Wednesday.

The bomber, who blew himself up among groups of tourists on Tuesday near the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia, the top sites in one of the world's most visited cities, had registered with immigration authorities in the city a week ago.

Turkey has kept an open border to refugees from Syria's civil war and is now home to more than 2.2 million, the world's largest refugee population. But its border has also been used by foreign fighters seeking to join Islamic State or return from its ranks to commit atrocities abroad.

"This individual was not somebody under surveillance. He entered Turkey normally, as a refugee, as someone looking for shelter," Davutoglu told a news conference, adding he had been identified from fragments of his skull, face and nails.

"After the attack his connections were unveiled. Among these links, apart from Daesh, we have the suspicion that there could be certain powers using Daesh," he said, using an Arabic name for Islamic State.

Turkey accuses Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and his allies including Iran and Russia, of cooperating with Islamic State in the Syrian regime's effort to destroy Syrian opposition forces.

Turkey, which like Germany is a member of the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, has become a target for the radical Sunni militants.

It was hit by two major bombings last year blamed on the group, in the town of Suruc near the Syrian border and in the capital Ankara, the latter killing more than 100 people in the worst attack of its kind on Turkish soil.

Asked if Turkey planned retaliatory air strikes on Islamic State, Davutoglu said Ankara would act at a time and in a manner that it saw fit. He pointed out the Turkish military had hit Islamic State targets abroad after the Suruc and Ankara attacks.

But he said Russia's entry into the Syrian war was a complicating factor. Turkish war planes have not flown in Syrian air space since Turkey shot down a Russian fighter jet in late November, triggering a diplomatic row with Moscow.

"They (the Russian air force) shouldn’t obstruct Turkey's fight against Daesh ... Right now unfortunately there is such a barrier," Davutoglu said. "Certain countries are in an obstructive attitude in terms of Turkey’s air bombardments. They should either destroy Daesh themselves or allow us to do it."


Asked about a report in the Turkish media that the bomber had registered at an immigration office in Istanbul a week ago, Interior Minister Efkan Ala earlier confirmed that his fingerprints were on record with the authorities.

The Haberturk newspaper published what it said was a CCTV image of the man, named in some local media as Saudi-born Nabil Fadli, at an Istanbul immigration office on Jan. 5. Turkish officials have said he was born in 1988.

Foreign tourists and Turks paid their respects at the site of the attack early on Wednesday. Scarves with the Bayern Munich soccer club emblem were left along with carnations and roses at the scene, before Turkish police sealed off the area.

German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere, visiting Istanbul, said there were no indications Germans had been deliberately targeted and that he saw no reason for people to change travel plans to Turkey. He said Germany stood resolutely by Turkey's side in the fight against terrorism.

"If the terrorists aimed to disturb, destroy or jeopardize cooperation between partners, they achieved the opposite. Germany and Turkey are becoming even closer," he said, adding there was no link to Germany's role in the fight on terrorism.

Davutoglu praised the German group's Turkish guide who, according to the Hurriyet newspaper, yelled "run" after seeing the bomber standing among the tourists and pulling a pin on his explosives, enabling some of them to get away.

Witnesses said the square was not packed at the time of the explosion, but that several groups of tourists were there.

"I didn't finish the tour, you know, the tour I had bought," said Jostein Nielsen, a wounded Norwegian tourist, as he waited on a stretcher at Istanbul airport, his left leg bandaged.

"I still have to go to the Blue Mosque and the old Turkish Bazaar ... We have no hard feelings towards Turkey. We know there are some mad people out there," he said.

Research Paper: ISIS-Turkey Links
By David L. Phillips


Is Turkey collaborating with the Islamic State (ISIS)? Allegations range from military cooperation and weapons transfers to logistical support, financial assistance, and the provision of medical services. It is also alleged that Turkey turned a blind eye to ISIS attacks against Kobani.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu strongly deny complicity with ISIS. Erdogan visited the Council on Foreign Relations on September 22, 2014. He criticized "smear campaigns [and] attempts to distort perception about us." Erdogan decried, "A systematic attack on Turkey's international reputation, "complaining that "Turkey has been subject to very unjust and ill-intentioned news items from media organizations." Erdogan posited: "My request from our friends in the United States is to make your assessment about Turkey by basing your information on objective sources."

Columbia University's Program on Peace-building and Rights assigned a team of researchers in the United States, Europe, and Turkey to examine Turkish and international media, assessing the credibility of allegations. This report draws on a variety of international sources -- The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Guardian, The Daily Mail, BBC, Sky News, as well as Turkish sources, CNN Turk, Hurriyet Daily News, Taraf, Cumhuriyet, and Radikal among others.


Turkey Provides Military Equipment to ISIS

• An ISIS commander told The Washington Post on August 12, 2014: "Most of the fighters who joined us in the beginning of the war came via Turkey, and so did our equipment and supplies."

• Kemal Kiliçdaroglu, head of the Republican People's Party (CHP), produced a statement from the Adana Office of the Prosecutor on October 14, 2014 maintaining that Turkey supplied weapons to terror groups. He also produced interview transcripts from truck drivers who delivered weapons to the groups. According to Kiliçdaroglu, the Turkish government claims the trucks were for humanitarian aid to the Turkmen, but the Turkmen said no humanitarian aid was delivered.

• According to CHP Vice President Bulent Tezcan, three trucks were stopped in Adana for inspection on January 19, 2014. The trucks were loaded with weapons in Esenboga Airport in Ankara. The drivers drove the trucks to the border, where a MIT agent was supposed to take over and drive the trucks to Syria to deliver materials to ISIS and groups in Syria. This happened many times. When the trucks were stopped, MIT agents tried to keep the inspectors from looking inside the crates. The inspectors found rockets, arms, and ammunitions.

• Cumhuriyet reports that Fuat Avni, a preeminent Twitter user who reported on the December 17th corruption probe, that audio tapes confirm that Turkey provided financial and military aid to terrorist groups associated with Al Qaeda on October 12, 2014. On the tapes, Erdogan pressured the Turkish Armed Forces to go to war with Syria. Erdogan demanded that Hakan Fidan, the head of Turkey's National Intelligence Agency (MIT), come up with a justification for attacking Syria.

• Hakan Fidan told Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, Yasar Guler, a senior defense official, and Feridun Sinirlioglu, a senior foreign affairs official: "If need be, I'll send 4 men into Syria. I'll formulate a reason to go to war by shooting 8 rockets into Turkey; I'll have them attack the Tomb of Suleiman Shah."

• Documents surfaced on September 19th, 2014 showing that the Saudi Emir Bender Bin Sultan financed the transportation of arms to ISIS through Turkey. A flight leaving Germany dropped off arms in the Etimesgut airport in Turkey, which was then split into three containers, two of which were given to ISIS and one to Gaza.

Turkey Provided Transport and Logistical Assistance to ISIS Fighters

• According to Radikal on June 13, 2014, Interior Minister Muammar Guler signed a directive: "According to our regional gains, we will help al-Nusra militants against the branch of PKK terrorist organization, the PYD, within our borders...Hatay is a strategic location for the mujahideen crossing from within our borders to Syria. Logistical support for Islamist groups will be increased, and their training, hospital care, and safe passage will mostly take place in Hatay...MIT and the Religious Affairs Directorate will coordinate the placement of fighters in public accommodations."

• The Daily Mail reported on August 25, 2014 that many foreign militants joined ISIS in Syria and Iraq after traveling through Turkey, but Turkey did not try to stop them. This article describes how foreign militants, especially from the UK, go to Syria and Iraq through the Turkish border. They call the border the "Gateway to Jihad." Turkish army soldiers either turn a blind eye and let them pass, or the jihadists pay the border guards as little as $10 to facilitate their crossing.

• Britain's Sky News obtained documents showing that the Turkish government has stamped passports of foreign militants seeking to cross the Turkey border into Syria to join ISIS.

• The BBC interviewed villagers, who claim that buses travel at night, carrying jihadists to fight Kurdish forces in Syria and Iraq, not the Syrian Armed Forces.

• A senior Egyptian official indicated on October 9, 2014 that Turkish intelligence is passing satellite imagery and other data to ISIS.

Turkey Provided Training to ISIS Fighters

• CNN Turk reported on July 29, 2014 that in the heart of Istanbul, places like Duzce and Adapazari, have become gathering spots for terrorists. There are religious orders where ISIS militants are trained. Some of these training videos are posted on the Turkish ISIS propaganda website takvahaber.net. According to CNN Turk, Turkish security forces could have stopped these developments if they had wanted to.

• Turks who joined an affiliate of ISIS were recorded at a public gathering in Istanbul, which took place on July 28, 2014.

• A video shows an ISIS affiliate holding a prayer/gathering in Omerli, a district of Istanbul. In response to the video, CHP Vice President, MP Tanrikulu submitted parliamentary questions to the Minister of the Interior, Efkan Ala, asking questions such as, "Is it true that a camp or camps have been allocated to an affiliate of ISIS in Istanbul? What is this affiliate? Who is it made up of? Is the rumor true that the same area allocated for the camp is also used for military exercises?"

• Kemal Kiliçdaroglu warned the AKP government not to provide money and training to terror groups on October 14, 2014. He said, "It isn't right for armed groups to be trained on Turkish soil. You bring foreign fighters to Turkey, put money in their pockets, guns in their hands, and you ask them to kill Muslims in Syria. We told them to stop helping ISIS. Ahmet Davutoglu asked us to show proof. Everyone knows that they're helping ISIS." (See HERE and HERE.)

• According to Jordanian intelligence, Turkey trained ISIS militants for special operations.

Turkey Offers Medical Care to ISIS Fighters

• An ISIS commander told the Washington Post on August 12, 2014, "We used to have some fighters -- even high-level members of the Islamic State -- getting treated in Turkish hospitals."

• Taraf reported on October 12, 2014 that Dengir Mir Mehmet Fırat, a founder of the AKP, said that Turkey supported terrorist groups and still supports them and treats them in hospitals. "In order to weaken the developments in Rojova (Syrian Kurdistan), the government gave concessions and arms to extreme religious groups...the government was helping the wounded. The Minister of Health said something such as, it's a human obligation to care for the ISIS wounded."

• According to Taraf, Ahmet El H, one of the top commanders at ISIS and Al Baghdadi's right hand man, was treated at a hospital in Sanliurfa, Turkey, along with other ISIS militants. The Turkish state paid for their treatment. According to Taraf's sources, ISIS militants are being treated in hospitals all across southeastern Turkey. More and more militants have been coming in to be treated since the start of airstrikes in August. To be more specific, eight ISIS militants were transported through the Sanliurfa border crossing; these are their names: "Mustafa A., Yusuf El R., Mustafa H., Halil El M., Muhammet El H., Ahmet El S., Hasan H., [and] Salim El D."

Turkey Supports ISIS Financially Through Purchase of Oil

• On September 13, 2014, The New York Times reported on the Obama administration's efforts to pressure Turkey to crack down on ISIS extensive sales network for oil. James Phillips, a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation, argues that Turkey has not fully cracked down on ISIS's sales network because it benefits from a lower price for oil, and that there might even be Turks and government officials who benefit from the trade.

• Fehim Taştekin wrote in Radikal on September 13, 2014 about illegal pipelines transporting oil from Syria to nearby border towns in Turkey. The oil is sold for as little as 1.25 liras per liter. Taştekin indicated that many of these illegal pipelines were dismantled after operating for 3 years, once his article was published.

• According to Diken and OdaTV, David Cohen, a Justice Department official, says that there are Turkish individuals acting as middlemen to help sell ISIS's oil through Turkey.

• On October 14, 2014, a German Parliamentarian from the Green Party accused Turkey of allowing the transportation of arms to ISIS over its territory, as well as the sale of oil.

Turkey Assists ISIS Recruitment

• Kemal Kiliçdaroğlu claimed on October 14, 2014 that ISIS offices in Istanbul and Gaziantep are used to recruit fighters. On October 10, 2014, the mufti of Konya said that 100 people from Konya joined ISIS 4 days ago. (See HERE and HERE.)

• OdaTV reports that Takva Haber serves as a propaganda outlet for ISIS to recruit Turkish-speaking individuals in Turkey and Germany. The address where this propaganda website is registered corresponds to the address of a school called Irfan Koleji, which was established by Ilim Yayma Vakfi, a foundation that was created by Erdogan and Davutoglu, among others. It is thus claimed that the propaganda site is operated from the school of the foundation started by AKP members.

• Minister of Sports, Suat Kilic, an AKP member, visited Salafi jihadists who are ISIS supporters in Germany. The group is known for reaching out to supporters via free Quran distributions and raising funds to sponsor suicide attacks in Syria and Iraq by raising money.

• OdaTV released a video allegedly showing ISIS militants riding a bus in Istanbul.

Turkish Forces Are Fighting Alongside ISIS

• On October 7, 2014, IBDA-C, a militant Islamic organization in Turkey, pledged support to ISIS. A Turkish friend who is a commander in ISIS suggests that Turkey is "involved in all of this" and that "10,000 ISIS members will come to Turkey." A Huda-Par member at the meeting claims that officials criticize ISIS but in fact sympathize with the group (Huda-Par, the "Free Cause Party", is a Kurdish Sunni fundamentalist political party). BBP member claims that National Action Party (MHP) officials are close to embracing ISIS. In the meeting, it is asserted that ISIS militants come to Turkey frequently to rest, as though they are taking a break from military service. They claim that Turkey will experience an Islamic revolution, and Turks should be ready for jihad. (See HERE and HERE.)

• Seymour Hersh maintains in the London Review of Books that ISIS conducted sarin attacks in Syria, and that Turkey was informed. "For months there had been acute concern among senior military leaders and the intelligence community about the role in the war of Syria's neighbors, especially Turkey. Prime Minister Recep Erdogan was known to be supporting the al-Nusra Front, a jihadist faction among the rebel opposition, as well as other Islamist rebel groups. 'We knew there were some in the Turkish government,' a former senior US intelligence official, who has access to current intelligence, told me, 'who believed they could get Assad's nuts in a vice by dabbling with a sarin attack inside Syria - and forcing Obama to make good on his red line threat."

• On September 20, 2014, Demir Celik, a Member of Parliament with the people's democratic party (HDP) claimed that Turkish Special Forces fight with ISIS.

Turkey Helped ISIS in Battle for Kobani

• Anwar Moslem, Mayor of Kobani, said on September 19, 2014: "Based on the intelligence we got two days before the breakout of the current war, trains full of forces and ammunition, which were passing by north of Kobane, had an-hour-and-ten-to-twenty-minute-long stops in these villages: Salib Qaran, Gire Sor, Moshrefat Ezzo. There are evidences, witnesses, and videos about this. Why is ISIS strong only in Kobane's east? Why is it not strong either in its south or west? Since these trains stopped in villages located in the east of Kobane, we guess they had brought ammunition and additional force for the ISIS." In the second article on September 30, 2014, a CHP delegation visited Kobani, where locals claimed that everything from the clothes ISIS militants wear to their guns comes from Turkey.

• Released by Nuhaber, a video shows Turkish military convoys carrying tanks and ammunition moving freely under ISIS flags in the Cerablus region and Karkamis border crossing (September 25, 2014). There are writings in Turkish on the trucks.

• Salih Muslim, PYD head, claims that 120 militants crossed into Syria from Turkey between October 20th and 24th, 2014.

• According to an op-ed written by a YPG commander in The New York Times on October 29, 2014, Turkey allows ISIS militants and their equipment to pass freely over the border.

• Diken reported, "ISIS fighters crossed the border from Turkey into Syria, over the Turkish train tracks that delineate the border, in full view of Turkish soldiers. They were met there by PYD fighters and stopped."

• A Kurdish commander in Kobani claims that ISIS militants have Turkish entry stamps on their passports.

• Kurds trying to join the battle in Kobani are turned away by Turkish police at the Turkey-Syrian border.

• OdaTV released a photograph of a Turkish soldier befriending ISIS militants.

Turkey and ISIS Share a Worldview

• RT reports on Vice President Joe Biden's remarks detailing Turkish support to ISIS.

• According to the Hurriyet Daily News on September 26, 2014, "The feelings of the AKP's heavyweights are not limited to Ankara. I was shocked to hear words of admiration for ISIL from some high-level civil servants even in Şanliurfa. 'They are like us, fighting against seven great powers in the War of Independence,' one said." "Rather than the [Kurdistan Workers' Party] PKK on the other side, I would rather have ISIL as a neighbor," said another."

• Cengiz Candar, a well-respected Turkish journalist, maintained that MIT helped "midwife" the Islamic state in Iraq and Syria, as well as other Jihadi groups.

• An AKP council member posted on his Facebook page: "Thankfully ISIS exists... May you never run out of ammunition..."

• A Turkish Social Security Institution supervisor uses the ISIS logo in internal correspondences.

• Bilal Erdogan and Turkish officials meet alleged ISIS fighters.

Mr. Phillips is Director of the Program on Peace-building and Rights at Columbia University's Institute for the Study of Human Rights. He served as a Senior Adviser and Foreign Affairs Expert for the U.S. Department of State.

Senior Western official: Links between Turkey and ISIS are now 'undeniable'

By Natasha Bertrand
July 28, 2015

(REUTERS/Umit Bektas) An ISIS fighter walks near a black flag belonging to the Islamic State as a Turkish army vehicle takes position near the Syrian town of Kobani, as pictured from the Turkish-Syrian border near the southeastern town of Suruc, Sanliurfa province, October 7, 2014.

A US-led raid on the compound housing the Islamic State's "chief financial officer" produced evidence that Turkish officials directly dealt with ranking ISIS members, Martin Chulov of the Guardian reported recently.

The officer killed in the raid, Islamic State official Abu Sayyaf, was responsible for directing the terror army's oil and gas operations in Syria. The Islamic State (aka ISIS, ISIL, or Daesh) earns up to $10 million a month selling oil on black markets.

Documents and flash drives seized during the Sayyaf raid reportedly revealed links "so clear" and "undeniable" between Turkey and ISIS "that they could end up having profound policy implications for the relationship between us and Ankara," senior Western official familiar with the captured intelligence told the Guardian.

NATO member Turkey has long been accused by experts, Kurds, and even Joe Biden of enabling ISIS by turning a blind eye to the vast smuggling networks of weapons and fighters during the ongoing Syrian war.

The move by the ruling AKP party was apparently part of ongoing attempts to trigger the downfall of Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime.

Ankara officially ended its loose border policy last year, but not before its southern frontier became a transit point for cheap oil, weapons, foreign fighters, and pillaged antiquities.

In November, a former ISIS member told Newsweek that the group was essentially given free rein by Turkey's army.

"ISIS commanders told us to fear nothing at all because there was full cooperation with the Turks," the fighter said. "ISIS saw the Turkish army as its ally especially when it came to attacking the Kurds in Syria."

But as the alleged arrangements progressed, Turkey allowed the group to establish a major presence within the country — and created a huge problem for itself.

"The longer this has persisted, the more difficult it has become for the Turks to crack down [on ISIS] because there is the risk of a counter strike, of blowback," Jonathan Schanzer, a former counterterrorism analyst for the US Treasury Department, explained to Business Insider in November.

"You have a lot of people now that are invested in the business of extremism in Turkey," Schanzer added. "If you start to challenge that, it raises significant questions of whether" the militants, their benefactors, and other war profiteers would tolerate the crackdown."

A Western diplomat, speaking to The Wall Street Journal in February, expressed a similar sentiment: "Turkey is trapped now — it created a monster and doesn’t know how to deal with it."

Ankara had begun to address the problem in earnest — arresting 500 suspected extremists over the past six months as they crossed the border and raiding the homes of others — when an ISIS-affiliated suicide bomber killed 32 activists in Turkey's southeast on July 20.

Turks subsequently took to the streets to protest the government policies they felt had enabled the attack.

Amidst protesters' chants of "Murderous ISIL, collaborator AKP," Erdogan finally agreed last Thursday to enter the US-led campaign against ISIS, sending fighter jets into Syria and granting the US strategic use of a key airbase in the southeast to launch airstrikes.

At the same time, Turkey began bombing Kurdish PKK shelters and storage facilities in northern Iraq, the AP reported, indicating that the AKP still sees Kurdish advances as a major — if not the biggest — threat, despite the Kurds' battlefield successes against ISIS in northern Syria.

“This isn’t an overhaul of their thinking," a Western official in Ankara told the Guardian. "It’s more a reaction to what they’ve been confronted with by the Americans and others. There is at least a recognition now that ISIS isn’t leverage against Assad. They have to be dealt with.”

President Erdoğan joins Quran defamation case as plaintiff

Hürriyet Daily News, June 17, 2015

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has become involved as a plaintiff in a case filed against a woman who allegedly “insulted the Quran” by posting a photo on Twitter showing her foot standing on the Muslim holy book.

The defendant faces up to four years in prison.

With Erdoğan’s involvement in the case there are now 22 plaintiffs, including Ankara Mayor Melih Gökçek and former minister Egemen Bağış, who was one of the most prominent names embroiled in Turkey’s huge corruption probe launched in late 2013.

The woman did not attend the first court hearing in the case, which was held in Istanbul’s 58th Criminal Court of First Instance on June 17.

The indictment against the woman, prepared by the Istanbul Public Prosecutor’s Office, carried a penalty of up to four years in prison on charges of “incitement to hatred and enmity.”

President Erdoğan’s attorney, Ferah Yıldız, said the charge against the woman was clear and they demanded that she be punished.

“My client [Erdoğan] has been harmed by the crime,” Yıldız added.

The attorneys of other plaintiffs, including Bağış and Gökçek, also said their clients had been harmed by the crime.

The indictment said the defendant was required to serve from 1.5 to 4 years in prison for “inciting society to hatred and enmity by insulting Islam, the Quran and the Prophet Muhammad.”

The woman, who is being tried without arrest, will be brought to court by force for the next hearing due to her absence in the first hearing.


Turkey journalists face 4.5 years jail over Charlie Hebdo cartoon

08 April 2015

Turkish prosecutors on Wednesday called for two prominent journalists who featured Charlie Hebdo's cover with the image of the Prophet Mohammed in their columns to be jailed for four and a half years.

Istanbul's chief public prosecutor has charged Ceyda Karan and Hikmet Cetinkaya with "inciting public hatred" and "insulting religious values" by illustrating their columns with the cartoon, the Hurriyet daily reported.

The cartoon was a smaller version of the controversial front cover depicting the Prophet Mohammed that French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo printed in its first edition after the attack on its offices by Islamist gunmen in January that killed 12 people.

The cartoon angered Muslims all over the world and most media in overwhelmingly Muslim Turkey refrained from publishing it.

Turkish daily Cumhuriyet on January 14 had published a four-page Charlie Hebdo pull-out translated into Turkish marking the French satirical weekly's first issue since the attack.

The edition did not include the controversial front cover of the Prophet Mohammed but a smaller version of the cartoon was included twice inside the newspaper to illustrate columns on the subject by Karan and Cetinkaya.

Prosecutors had announced the day after the publication of the issue that they had opened an investigation into the two columnists.

The case, based on a 38-page indictment and complaints by 1,280 individuals, has now been submitted to the criminal court ahead of trial, Hurriyet said.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu had condemned the publication of cartoons of the Muslim prophet as an "open provocation", warning that Turkey would not tolerate insults against Mohammed.

There has been growing concern about the numbers of journalists currently facing legal proceedings in Turkey, many on accusations of insulting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The Cumhuriyet daily, which sees itself as the voice of secular Turkey, is a vehement opponent of the Islamic-rooted authorities under Erdogan.

Women are not equal to men, Turkish president declares

The Associated Press
Published Monday, November 24, 2014 9:19AM EST

ANKARA, Turkey -- Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan set off a new controversy on Monday, declaring that women are not equal to men and accusing feminists of not understanding the special status that Islam attributes to mothers.

Addressing a meeting in Istanbul on women and justice, Erdogan said men and women are created differently, that women cannot be expected to undertake the same work as men, and that mothers enjoy a high position that only they can reach.

"You cannot put women and men on an equal footing," Erdogan said. "It is against nature. They were created differently. Their nature is different. Their constitution is different."

Erdogan added: "Motherhood is the highest position ... You cannot explain this to feminists. They don't accept motherhood. They have no such concern."

Lawyer and women's rights activist Hulya Gulbahar said Erdogan's comments were in violation of Turkey's constitution, Turkish laws and international conventions on gender equality and didn't help efforts to stem high incidences of violence against women in Turkey.

"Such comments by state officials which disregard equality between men and women play an important role in the rise of violence against women," Gulbahar said. "Such comments aim to make women's presence in public life -- from politics to arts, from science to sports -- debatable."

Erdogan, a devout Muslim, often courts controversy with divisive public comments. He has previously angered women's groups by stating that women should bear at least three children and by attempting to outlaw abortion and adultery.

He raised eyebrows this month by declaring that Muslims had discovered the Americas before Christopher Columbus.

Christians in Danger

July 8, 2010
National Review Online

Bishop Luigi Padovese, stabbed to death last month, is the latest victim of Turkey’s growing hostility to Christians.

For all the attention Turkey has gotten lately, very few Americans are aware that the Roman Catholic bishop serving as apostolic vicar of Anatolia was stabbed to death and decapitated last month by an assailant shouting, “Allahu Akbar! I have killed the great Satan!”

There are fewer than 60 Catholic priests in all of Turkey, and yet Bishop Luigi Padovese was the fifth of them to be shot or stabbed in the last four years, starting with the murder of Fr. Andrea Santoro in 2006, also by an assailant shouting, “Allahu Akbar!” (An Armenian journalist and three Protestants working at a Christian publishing house — one of them German, the other two Turkish converts — were also killed during this period.)

What’s going on? Why has traditionally secularist Turkey, with its minuscule Christian community (less than 0.2 percent of the population), lately become nearly as dangerous for Christians as neighboring Iraq? And why has this disturbing pattern of events so far escaped notice in the West?

In a nutshell, all these violent acts reflect a popular culture increasingly shaped by Turkish media accounts deliberately promoting hatred of Christians and Jews.

As it happens, Bishop Padovese was murdered on the same day (June 3) that the Wall Street Journal published an eye-opening report on how Turkey’s press and film industry have increasingly blurred the distinction between fact and fantasy, especially since the Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) took power in 2002.

“To follow Turkish discourse in recent years has been to follow a national decline into madness.” That’s how Robert L. Pollock, editorial-features editor of the Journal, summed up the trajectory of the daily fare that shapes Turks’ attitudes toward the outside world — and toward non-Muslims in their midst. Indeed, much of what passes for fact in Turkish public discourse would be comical if not for the deadly consequences.

Take, for instance, the wildly popular 2006 film Valley of the Wolves, later serialized for television. An earlier Journal piece summing up the plot as “a cross between American Psycho in uniform and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion” hardly does it justice. The plot turns on blood-crazed American soldiers committing war crimes for fun and profit in Iraq. These include the harvesting of body parts from murdered Iraqi civilians on an industrial scale (overseen by a Jewish doctor, of course) for shipment in crates clearly labeled New York and Tel Aviv.

Valley of the Wolves is the most expensive and most commercially successful Turkish feature film ever. Worse yet, it comes with the endorsement of leading AKP figures, such as the speaker of the parliament (“absolutely magnificent”) and the mayor of Istanbul (“a great screenplay”). Mr. Pollock’s judgment? “It is no exaggeration to say that such anti-Semitic fare had not been played to mass audiences in Europe since the Third Reich.”

Unfortunately, this film — with its poisonous blood libel against Christians and Jews — falls well within what is now mainstream Turkish public discourse.

Consider only some of the wilder rumors given credence by the Turkish press — for example, how the United States intends to colonize the Middle East because of an impending asteroid strike on North America, or how the 2004 Asian tsunami was really caused by secret U.S. nuclear testing. The latter claim was so prevalent in the Turkish media that the U.S. ambassador at the time, Eric Edelman, actually organized a conference call with Turkish journalists to refute the calumny.

This is the overall context in which incendiary published accusations are made that Catholic priests, sometimes identified by name, are engaging in proselytism — that is, seeking to convert Muslims, often with cash payments. I happen to know just how implausible these claims are, based on my own experience as a Catholic seminarian living and working in the Middle East a decade ago. I found that pastors of the historic Middle Eastern churches almost always go out of their way to discourage prospective converts, rightly fearing agents provocateurs from the security services or Islamist groups. In the rare case where a conversion does occur, the person is generally baptized outside his home country, in a place where apostasy is not criminalized or barred by powerful social norms, such as preservation of family honor.

What local Christian clergy actually do is to tend shrinking flocks without seeking to add to their numbers. (These little congregations increasingly include migrants like the Filipina nurses and domestic workers who are ubiquitous throughout the Middle East.) Some also provide public goods such as education and health care for Muslims and Christians alike on a non-sectarian basis. Others serve the pastoral needs of pilgrims visiting places (like Turkey) where Christianity once flourished. Nearly all see themselves as silent witnesses for Gospel values in places where prudence now bars the Gospel’s open proclamation.

There are vanishingly few Christians and Jews in Turkey. So the numbers of non-Muslims in the country cannot begin to explain the mounting popular hostility — not simply toward Americans, Europeans, and Israelis, but toward Christians and Jews as such. Turkey’s population (roughly 77 million) is more than 99.8 percent Muslim, with its tiny Jewish and Christian populations (perhaps 25,000 and 150,000, respectively) looking like a rounding error. Yet more than two-thirds of all Turks (68 percent) expressed a negative view of Christians in the 2009 Pew Global Attitudes Survey, as opposed to the results in nearby Muslim-majority states with much larger Christian minorities, like Jordan (44 percent negative) and Egypt (49 percent). Hostility toward Jews, moreover, has spiked recently, with those self-identified as “very unfavorable” jumping from 32 percent in 2004 to 73 percent in 2009.

The short answer to the question why Christians keep getting attacked in Turkey is that ideas have consequences, with bad ones often leading to deadly consequences. In the current issue of Commentary, Michael Rubin offers a masterly step-by-step analysis of the way in which Turkey’s current Islamist rulers have systematically undermined and dismantled Atatürk’s secular legacy and have put in place an embryonic Islamist state. Ideas once expressed on the fringes of Turkish society have now become mainstream and respectable.

It is precisely this darkening climate of public opinion that provides the essential context for the spate of attacks against Catholic priests. Here it’s worth noting that, historically, Catholics were not regarded as enemies of modern Turkey in the way that Greeks and Armenians were. The Holy See was one of the first states to exchange ambassadors with the newly formed Turkish Republic in 1923; and one of its first ambassadors (from 1933 to 1944), still fondly remembered, was Angelo Roncalli, better known today as Blessed John XXIII.

So too is it a fact that Catholic clergy serving in trouble spots like Turkey have sometimes (though not always) enjoyed a certain immunity from violence or arbitrary arrest. That’s because the Vatican is widely perceived as a powerful entity that can command diplomatic and media attention (especially as compared to Christian evangelicals, who lack similar institutional support). That several Catholic priests have now been attacked in Turkey is a troubling new development that may reflect political Islam’s implacable hostility toward Pope Benedict XVI. Recall that what angered Islamists most about Benedict’s 2006 Regensburg lecture was not an injudicious quotation from a 14th-century Byzantine emperor. It was Benedict’s observation that while reason without faith leads to nihilism (Europe’s problem), faith without reason leads to fanaticism and violence (Islam’s problem).

But it’s also a fact that the killing of Catholic clerics in Muslim-majority states tends nowadays in the West to be passed over in silence or treated as business as usual. Imagine for a moment what would happen if — God forbid! — a very senior, foreign-born Muslim cleric were murdered in the U.S. in circumstances amounting to a hate crime. It is not difficult to imagine the likely aftermath: wall-to-wall media coverage, repeated international condemnations, and multiple presidential apologies.

In the case of Bishop Padovese, one close observer makes explicit the connection between pervasive media vilification and violence against Catholic clergy. Fr. Bernardo Cervellera, whose Asia News broke the story of the true facts surrounding the bishop’s murder, maintains that “there’s a campaign against Christian priests in Turkey. The government says it’s not true, the Turks say they don’t believe it, but it’s quite enough to watch television or read the newspapers to realize that indeed it is true.”

These facts — and their necessary implications — are a long way from the Islam-is-a-religion-of-peace happy talk peddled by both the Bush and Obama administrations. Little wonder that there’s practically no understanding in the U.S. that Turkey’s beleaguered religious minorities — and their co-religionists elsewhere in the region — serve as canaries in the coal mine, bellwethers for major policy shifts that our foreign-policy establishment is slow to grasp. Or indeed that the plight of these minorities mirrors, at least roughly, the state of U.S. interests and ideals in the region.

It wasn’t always the case that Americans paid no attention to the plight of Middle Eastern Christians. In the wake of World War I, the New York Times could safely assume a lively interest (and some Biblical literacy) among readers when editorializing in 1922 about the mass expulsion of ethnic Greek Christians from the new Turkish state: “Is this to be the end of the Christian minorities in Asia Minor — that land where, 13 centuries and more before the Turk came to rule, Paul had journeyed as a missionary through its length and breadth, and where the first ‘seven churches that are in Asia’ stood, to which the messages written in the Book of Revelation were sent?”

But that was then; and this is now.

—John F. Cullinan, a regular NRO contributor, writes frequently on international religious freedom and Middle Eastern Christianity.

Twelve officers charged over Turkey coup plot

By Daren Butler

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Twelve senior Turkish military officers were charged on Wednesday over an alleged plot to topple a government that secularist hardliners fear is pursuing a hidden Islamist agenda.

Turkey's top military commanders, who have seen the army's role as ultimate guardian of secularism eroded under European Union-backed reforms, held an emergency meeting late on Tuesday and warned in a statement of a "serious situation."

With tensions hitting investors' confidence and feeding speculation that elections due next year could be brought forward, Prime Minster Tayyip Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul will meet Turkey's top military commander on Thursday, a government source said.

Turkish stocks closed down 3.4 percent and the lira weakened to a seven-month low against the dollar, while bond yields rose.

Adding to uncertainty, Turkey's chief prosecutor Abdurrahman Yalcinkaya said he was looking into statements made by deputies from the ruling AK Party, but had not reached the stage of opening a formal investigation against the party.

Yalcinkaya tried to have the party banned for anti-secular activities in 2008. Speculation that he could try again has prompted talk that the government could call a snap election.

The AK Party, first elected in 2002 in a landslide victory over older, established parties blighted by corruption and accusations of misrule, is also embroiled in a dispute with the judiciary -- another pillar of the orthodox establishment.


The military has ousted four governments of various political hues since 1960, although the army says the days of coups are now over.

While the chances of another coup are seen as remote, anxiety is growing over what the generals might do next and what strains the situation might put on the armed forces' leadership.

Turkey's NATO allies, particularly the United States, want the overwhelmingly Muslim nation to mature as a democracy.

Its prospects of entering the EU depend partly on ending the special status that made the arrest of military personnel, still less a former force commander, by civilian authorities inconceivable until recently.

Tensions were triggered by an unprecedented police swoop on Monday that detained around 50 serving and retired officers.

A court late on Wednesday ordered five officers, four of them retired and including former Rear Admiral Feyyaz Ogutcu, to be sent to jail pending trial. Another two were released.

The most senior detainees, retired Air Force Commander Ibrahim Firtina and ex-navy chief Ozden Ornek, are being held at police headquarters in Istanbul and are expected to be brought to the court for questioning on Thursday.

The other seven officers charged in the early hours of Wednesday consisted of four admirals, two retired and two serving, a retired brigadier-general and two retired colonels.

Pending a formal indictment, the detainees are accused of belonging to a terrorist group and of attempting to overthrow the government by force.

Six officers were released from custody on Tuesday after questioning. It was unclear if they would face charges.


The army leadership has said previously that probes into a series of alleged coup plots is hurting morale in the ranks.

In a characteristically veiled and brief statement on its web site on Tuesday, the General Staff said its top commanders had met to "assess the serious situation that has arisen."

"What do you mean? Are you going to carry out a coup?" said a headline in Taraf, a low-circulation newspaper that has broken several stories of alleged coup plots.

The current investigation into the so-called "Sledgehammer" plan, allegedly drawn up in 2003, was triggered by a report in Taraf last month. The military has said the plan was just a scenario drawn up for an army seminar.

Retired military officers are among around 200 people indicted over separate plots by a far-right group known as Ergenekon. Critics say that trial is being used to target political opponents, an accusation the government rejects.

Blood feuds and gun violence plague Turkey's southeast

May 5, 2009

By Daren Butler - Analysis

BILGE, Turkey (Reuters) - "I wish fire upon the houses of those who set the fire in my house," said 75-year-old Sultan Celebi. "They ruined us all. I want for them the biggest punishment that is possible."

Celebi's words, uttered after an armed attack on a village wedding robbed her of four children, three daughters-in-law and one grandchild, amply illustrated the depth and bitterness of bloodfeuds, clan rivalries and vendettas in largely Kurdish southeastern Turkey; an unending cycle of violence and revenge.

Forty-four people were killed on Monday in one of the worst attacks involving civilians in Turkey's modern history. The massacre, perpetrated by masked men with automatic rifles and hand grenades, must put pressure on Ankara to address the root-causes of instability in the region, long a hindrance to Turkey's European Union membership quest.

The mass killing was, according to local residents, the culmination of a long family feud.

Sixteen women, including the bride, and six children were killed in Monday's attack in Bilge, a village of a few hundred people in the Turkey's conservative heartland.

While the scale of Monday's killing has shocked this Muslim country of 70 million, experts say dozens are killed in rural Turkey every year in "blood for blood" vendettas passed from generations over land disputes, grazing rights or matters of family honour.

Experts say the problem, which is more acute in the Kurdish southeast, is aggravated by unequal land distribution, power struggles in a feudal-style clan system and a decision by the government to set up well-armed village militias against Kurdish rebels.

"The modern...republic (of Turkey) was supposed to create a nation of citizens, but it has betrayed its ideals in the southeast," said Dogu Ergil, an academic and expert on Kurds.

"This is a combination of tribalism, love for guns and tradition gone awfully wrong," Ergil told Reuters.

Local residents said the feud within the extended Celebi family in Bilge dated back to a land conflict in the mid-1990s.

The attack, which witnesses said was carried out by several gunmen, came after the father decided to marry off his daughter to a man in the nearby city of Diyarbakir, passing over a groom from one part of the quarrelling Celebi family.


There are some 60,000 state-sponsored village guards throughout Turkey's southeast, who fight alongside state security forces against Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) rebels. Critics say the region is awash with guns.

Gareth Jenkins, an Istanbul-based analyst, said village guards have used their weapons many times to settle blood feuds.

Human rights groups have long called on the government to disband the village guards, whom they say are an unaccountable force; but disbanding them is not that easy.

"There are entire villages in the southeast where being a village guard is the only way of subsistence. The economy of entire villages is dependent on these forces so it's a serious social-economic problem as well," Jenkins said.

Critics say the state encouraged tribal loyalties by creating a system of state patronage to counter the rising influence of the separatist PKK guerrillas in the 1980s.

"The government committed the grave mistake of creating peace and order by setting up a system of local notables and giving them weapons," Ergil said.

The massacre in Bilge, and the culture that lay at its roots, will likely add grist to the mill to those in Europe who say Turkey is too poor and too backward to join the bloc.

The government has said it has improved the rights of women, especially in the conservative southeast, where honour killings are common, but Brussels wants more to be done.

"We are feeling a great sorrow as a nation. Such a primitive cruelty that opened deep cuts in our conscience is inexplicable," President Abdullah Gul said in a statement.

"Everybody should think seriously about tradition, blood feuds and animosity standing before human life in this era we are living in. Individual and institutional efforts should be made not to allow this kind of incident to happen again."

On Tuesday, bulldozers were busy in Bilge digging out graves to bury the dead as women wailed nearby in the rain.

"This village is cursed," a 19-year man said." (Additional reporting by Thomas Grove and Paul de Bendern; Writing by Ibon Villelabeitia; Editing by Ralph Boulton)


Turkey's Turn From the West

By Soner Cagaptay

The Washington Post

Monday, February 2, 2009

Turkey is a special Muslim country. Of the more than 50 majority-Muslim nations, it is the only one that is a NATO ally, is in accession talks with the European Union, is a liberal democracy and has normal relations with Israel. Under its current government by the Justice and Development Party (AKP), however, Turkey is losing these special qualities. Liberal political trends are disappearing, E.U. accession talks have stalled, ties with anti-Western states such as Iran are improving and relations with Israel are deteriorating. On Thursday, for example, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan walked out of a panel at Davos, Switzerland, after chiding Israeli President Shimon Peres for "killing people." If Turkey fails in these areas or wavers in its commitment to transatlantic structures such as NATO, it cannot expect to be President Obama's favorite Muslim country.

Consider the domestic situation in Turkey and its effect on relations with the European Union. Although Turkey started accession talks, that train has come to a halt. French objections to Turkish membership slowed the process, but the impact of the AKP's slide from liberal values cannot be ignored. After six years of AKP rule, the people of Turkey are less free and less equal, as various news and other reports on media freedom and gender equality show. In April 2007, for instance, the AKP passed an Internet law that has led to a ban on YouTube, making Turkey the only European country to shut down access to the popular site. On the U.N. Development Program's gender-empowerment index, Turkey has slipped to 90th from 63rd in 2002, the year the AKP came to power, putting it behind even Saudi Arabia. It is difficult to take seriously the AKP's claim to be a liberal party when Saudi women are considered more politically, economically and socially empowered than Turkish women.

Then there is foreign policy. Take Turkey's status as a NATO ally of the United States: Ankara's rapprochement with Tehran has gone so far since 2002 that it is doubtful whether Turkey would side with the United States in dealing with the issue of a nuclear Iran. In December, Erdogan told a Washington crowd that "countries that oppose Iran's nuclear weapons should themselves not have nuclear weapons."

The AKP's commitment to U.S. positions is even weaker on other issues, including Hamas. During the recent Israeli operations in Gaza, Erdogan questioned the validity of Israel's U.N. seat while saying that he wants to represent Hamas on international platforms. Three days before moderate Arab allies of Washington, including Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, gathered on Jan. 19 in Kuwait to discuss an end to the Gaza conflict, Erdogan's officials met with Iran, Syria and Sudan in Qatar, effectively upstaging the moderates. Amazingly, Turkey is now taking a harder line on the Arab-Israeli conflict than even Saudi Arabia.

For years, Turkey has had normal relations with Israel, including strong military, tourist, and cultural and commercial ties. The Turks did not emphasize religion or ideology in their relationship with the Jewish state, so Israelis felt comfortable visiting, doing business and vacationing in Turkey. But Erdogan's recent anti-Israeli statements -- he even suggested that God would punish Israel -- have made normal relations a thing of the past. On Jan. 4, 200,000 Turks turned out in freezing rain in Istanbul to wish death to Israel; on Jan. 7, an Israeli girls' volleyball team was attacked by a Turkish audience chanting, "Muslim policemen, bring us the Jews, so we can slaughter them."

Emerging anti-Semitism also challenges Turkey's special status. Anti-Semitism is not hard-wired into Turkish society -- rather its seeds are being spread by the political leadership. Erdogan has pumped up such sentiments by suggesting Jewish culpability for the conflict in Gaza and alleging that Jewish-controlled media outlets were misrepresenting the facts. Moreover, on Jan. 6, while demanding remorse for Israel's Gaza operations, Erdogan said to Turkish Jews, "Did we not accept you in the Ottoman Empire?" Turkey's tiny, well-integrated Jewish community is being threatened: Jewish businesses are being boycotted, and instances of violence have been reported. These are shameful developments in a land that has provided a home for Jews since 1492, when the Ottomans opened their arms to Jewish people fleeing the Spanish Inquisition. The Ottoman sultans must be spinning in their graves.

The erosion of Turkey's liberalism under the AKP is alienating Turkey from the West. If Turkish foreign policy is based on solidarity with Islamist regimes or causes, Ankara cannot hope to be considered a serious NATO ally. Likewise, if the AKP discriminates against women, forgoes normal relations with Israel, curbs media freedoms or loses interest in joining Europe, it will hardly endear itself to the United States. And if Erdogan's AKP keeps serving a menu of illiberalism at home and religion in foreign policy, Turkey will no longer be special -- and that would be unfortunate.

Soner Cagaptay, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, is the author of "Islam Secularism and Nationalism in Modern Turkey: Who Is a Turk?"


Bombing kills 5 in Turkish resort town

Two foreigners among dead; new attack raises alarm in nation's tourism industry.


The Associated Press

Sunday, July 17, 2005


ANKARA, TURKEY – A bomb tore apart a minibus in a popular Aegean beach resort town Saturday, killing at least five people, including two foreigners, in the second explosion in a week aimed at Turkey's vital tourism industry.
The blast in the coastal city of Kusadasi, a favorite destination for British, Irish and German tourists, reduced the bus to a scorched, twisted heap of metal.
A man's charred body was shown in news photos draped over the remains of a seat and an injured woman lay on the road, just a few yards from the beach. Civilians rushed to the bus after the attack and carried the injured away from the burning wreckage.
Police boosted security in the town, searching cars as they entered and patrolling the town's center with dogs.
Nobody claimed responsibility for the attack. Kurdish rebels have carried out bombings in Aegean resort towns but a Kurdish rebel commander, Zubeyir Aydar, condemned Saturday's explosion in a statement to the Germany-based Mesopotamian News Agency, which often carries rebel statements. The statement could not be verified.
Leftist and Islamic militants also are active in the country, a member of NATO and one of Washington's most important Muslim allies.
Police initially said a female suicide bomber carried out the attack after a woman's torso was found torn apart on the bus, indicating she had been carrying the bomb. But authorities later said explosives had been planted on the bus and more evidence was pointing toward a bombing rather than a suicide attack.
One British citizen was killed and five were wounded, the British Foreign Office said, another blow to Britain after the July 7 bus and subway bombings in London that killed more than 50 people.
Separately, a regional governor said an Irish tourist and two Turks were also killed in the blast in Kusadasi, 45 miles south of the port city of Izmir. A fifth person killed has not been identified.

The attack - the second to hit a resort town in under a week - caused alarm in Turkey's lucrative tourist industry, which had expected to welcome more than 20 million visitors this year and take in some $19.5 billion, a 50 percent increase over revenues in 2004.


European mission unearths torture claims in Turkey

· Reports follow launch of EU membership talks
· Ankara dismisses findings as 'silly stories'

Helena Smith in Athens
Monday October 10, 2005
The Guardian

A European parliament delegation visiting Turkey to check on its progress in human rights has found "shocking" reports of murders and mutilations, a British MEP said yesterday. The findings, which come a week after Brussels launched membership talks with Turkey, highlight the scale of progress the predominantly Muslim country needs to make in its quest to join the European Union.

Richard Howitt, part of the mission by the parliament's seven-member human rights subcommittee, told the Guardian: "What we heard was shocking. There were accounts of soldiers cutting off people's ears and tearing out their eyes if they were thought to be Kurdish separatist sympathisers ... You can't hear these things without being emotionally affected."

The MEP, Labour's European foreign affairs spokesman and a champion of Turkey's EU accession, said the abuses had been corroborated by human rights organisations. A trip by the group to Turkey's Kurdish-dominated south-east had also confirmed allegations that security forces were reverting to tactics from "the bad old days", although statistics showed that instances of torture had fallen by around 13% since last year. Indiscriminate shootings, widespread extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests and instances of masked men raiding homes in the night were reported to have made a comeback.

"Our sources were very credible and the evidence was corroborated by all the different groups we spoke to," said the MEP. "They left me in no doubt of the veracity of the claims."

But Turkey's foreign ministry spokesman, Namik Tan, called the claims "silly stories". "They are purely fictitious. They have nothing to do with the truth. You won't find anyone who is credible in Turkey saying such things."

Mr Howitt said that in September alone 95 people had been arbitrarily arrested in Van, a town near Iran. Among them was Yusuf Hasar, a 19-year-old suspected Kurdish rebel sympathiser whose body was found last week after being arrested by police the previous day. The violations have coincided with an upsurge of violence in Turkey's troubled south-east. Armed clashes have intensified since rebels lifted a unilateral ceasefire in June last year.

The delegation, whose findings will form the basis of a report that will feed into Turkey's membership negotiations, was equally appalled by reports of violence against women and allegations of body organs being removed by security forces. Mazumber, a group representing the relatives of torture victims, told the MEPs that vital organs were routinely removed from the bodies of ethnic Kurds, presumably as part of the illicit trade in people trafficking.

Mr Howitt said it was essential the abuses be confronted before Ankara got into the nitty-gritty of the talks.

Since assuming power in 2002, Ankara's modernising Islamist government has won plaudits for overhauling the penal code, abolishing the death penalty, dismantling once-dreaded state security prisons and increasing cultural rights for ethnic minorities. But Turkish human rights defenders still speak of a pervasive "culture of violence" in the country's police, security and judicial forces.


EU to highlight Turkish torture issue


By Andrew Rettman

Turkey must stop torture, allow freedom of worship and limit the powers of the military in the next two years if it is to join the EU by 2015, according to a draft European Commission proposal seen by the Financial Times.

The paper on "principles, priorities and conditions" of Turkish EU membership contains 150 short-term targets for Ankara and will be finalised later this month.

The draft says Ankara must have "zero tolerance" against torture, must "adopt a law comprehensively addressing all the difficulties faced by non-Muslim religious minorities and communities ...establish full parliamentary oversight of military and defence policy" and "ensure the independence of the judiciary".

The new document will be used to guide negotiations once they get fully under way in late 2006 or in 2007.

The EU has already begun screening Turkish legislation for compliance with European law in the field of science, culture and education after agreeing to start accession talks on 3 October.

The negotiating mandate is one of the toughest ever imposed on a candidate country, giving member states wide scope to use national vetos in closing any of the 35 chapters of the membership process.

The mandate also states the EU can suspend talks if it finds "a serious and persistent breach...of the principles of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and the rule of law".

Cultural revolution

The issue of European values is set to come to the fore in the accession process due to its strong impact on public opinion in both Europe and Turkey.

Earlier this month, French president Jacques Chirac caused a stir by saying the country will have to undergo a "major cultural revolution" in order to join the EU.

Reports indicate that public support for EU membership is waning in Turkey itself, while a Eurobarometer study in September showed that just 35 percent of Europeans back Turkish accession and 84 percent believe Turkey must "respect systematically human rights" to move ahead.

Turkey adopted a new penal code abolishing the death penalty in June this year and has been a signatory of the European Convention on Human Rights since 1954.

But international human rights organisations continue to ask painful questions about the country's European credentials.

The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg upheld a ruling in May that the Kurdish minority leader Abdullah Ocalan was denied a free trial.

Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders are also worried about article 301 of the new penal code, which forbids insults against the "symbols of the state's sovereignty and the honour of its organs" and could be used to gag the press.

The trial in December of Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk over his open discussion of Turkey's Kurdish and Armenian massacres last century will thrust the European values debate into the spotlight as well.


EU official issues warning on Turkey's prosecution of author

Says issue could damage chances of joining union


The Boston Globe

By Colin Nickerson, Globe Staff

December 16, 2005

BERLIN -- The European Union official overseeing Turkey's admission to the 25-nation bloc warned yesterday that Turkey's prosecution of a bestselling author for insulting ''Turkishness" could damage the country's chances of joining the EU.

''It is not Orhan Pamuk who will stand trial, but Turkey," EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said in an unusually blunt statement released in Brussels. ''This is a litmus test of whether Turkey is seriously committed to freedom of expression and to reforms that enhance the rule of law."

Pamuk, 53, Turkey's best-known novelist, is expected to go on trial today for stating in a Swiss magazine interview what most historians regard as unassailable facts: That some 1 million Armenians were slaughtered by Turks in the 1915-1918 genocide and that thousands of ethnic Kurds have lost their lives in more recent civil strife in modern Turkey.

The case has stirred outrage across Europe, where there is deepening opposition to allowing Turkey -- whose population is largely Muslim and whose landmass lies almost entirely in Asia -- to join an economic and political confederation whose most basic membership requirement is a commitment to democracy and to such values as freedom of speech.

Membership is considered vital to Turkey's economic future. The admission process is expected to take years.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is among the European leaders opposed to granting admission to Turkey, partly because of the country's poor human rights record and wavering attitudes toward democratic principles, including the idea that citizens have a right to criticize the government and national institutions.

Such activist organizations as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have criticized Turkey for bringing criminal charges against Pamuk and dozens of other writers and scholars for allegedly defaming ''Turkishness and Turkish national institutions," usually for making public remarks about historical events considered strictly taboo.

The cases, brought by prosecutors, come even as the government in Ankara has proclaimed a greater dedication to individual freedoms in its effort to join the European Union.

''From the world-renowned poet Nazin Hikmet in the 1930s to Orhan Pamuk today, Turkish judges have prosecuted and imprisoned the country's greatest writers," Holly Cartner, director for Europe and Central Asia for Human Rights Watch, said in a statement from Istanbul. ''A Turkish judge has to make a truly strong declaration to prove those days are over."

But prosecutors appeared determined to press ahead with a high-profile prosecution despite the international uproar -- and despite the warnings from Europe. Rehn's statements marked the first time that the EU has unequivocally linked Turkey's hopes for EU membership to an attack on free speech that has drawn criticism across the Western world.

''The trial of a novelist who expressed a nonviolent opinion casts a shadow over the accession negotiations between Turkey and the EU," said Rehn, who is Finnish. ''Considering the number of recent prosecutions, it appears that [Turkey's] new penal code does not provide sufficient protection for freedom of expression."

Pamuk, author of such highly praised bestsellers as ''Snow" and ''My Name is Red," has had his works translated into 30 languages.

At least 60 other Turkish writers, scholars, and publishers presently face charges under Turkey's recently revised ''Article 301," according to Amnesty International. Among other things, the modified penal code makes it a criminal offense to criticize ''Turkishness," national institutions, or the founder of the republic, Mustafa Kemal -- known as ''Ataturk."

If convicted, Pamuk faces up to three years behind bars, although most analysts believe it extremely unlikely he will be imprisoned if found guilty in Sisly Primary Court No. 2 in Istanbul. But a guilty verdict -- even one accompanied by a paltry fine -- would send a shocking message to European nations watching closely as Turkey strives to modernize both its political system and its economy.

''Pamuk's conviction or a postponement of his trial would signal a serious reverse to recent reforms in Turkey," Cartner said.

Charges were brought against Pamuk after he angered Turkish nationalists, fundamentalist Muslims, and many ordinary Turks by saying in a February interview with Switzerland's Das Magazin weekly that ''thirty thousand Kurds and one million Armenians were killed in these lands."

Although few historians doubt that hundreds of thousands of Armenians were killed in Turkey, discussion of the topic remains largely off-limits in Turkey and the government denies that such a genocide occurred. The taboo was lifted slightly this year when Istanbul's Bilgi University hosted a cautious conference on the ''Armenian question" -- a gathering that triggered angry protests.

''What happened to the Ottoman Armenians in 1915 was a major thing that was hidden from the Turkish nation -- it was a taboo," Pamuk told the BBC. ''But we have to be able to talk about the past."

Pamuk's other allusion was to the killing of thousands of ethnic Kurds during clashes between Turkish armed forces and Kurdish insurgents in the 1980s and 1990s. The exact numbers of casualties remain unclear, and many Turkish civilians also died at the hands of avowed Kurdish ''freedom fighters," but there is no doubt many innocent lives were lost.

Many Turks, however, believe that Pamuk insulted the nation.

''He overstepped the mark," nationalist organizer Kemal Kerincsiz told Turkish reporters. ''Orhan Pamuk should not have played with history, and with the sentiments of Turks." 

Shooting kills priest in Turkey

An Italian Catholic priest has been shot dead outside his church in north-east Turkey.

Police in the Black Sea port of Trabzon said they were searching for a teenage boy seen fleeing from the scene of the attack on Sunday.

It was unclear if the shooting was connected to widespread Muslim outrage over cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.

Turkish broadcaster NTV identified the priest as Andrea Santore and said he died from a single shot to the chest.

Turkey has seen regular protests in recent days over the Danish caricatures of Muhammad.

Leaders of the overwhelmingly Muslim country have condemned the pictures, but have also called for calm.

The Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, who is the spiritual head of the world's Orthodox Christians, and other non-Muslim clerics in Turkey have also criticised the images.

Several Italian newspapers have reprinted the pictures, saying they are defending freedom of expression.


Turkey restricts viewing of "Brokeback Mountain"

Associated Press, THE JERUSALEM POST

Mar. 16, 2006


Turkey's Culture Ministry has restricted the viewing of the Oscar-winning gay romance "Brokeback Mountain" to viewers over the age of 18, saying that the movie violated public morals, a ministry official said Thursday.


The restriction reflects the sensitivities in overwhelmingly Muslim Turkey, where homosexuality is largely a taboo subject.


The movie ratings subcommittee of the Culture and Tourism Ministry restricted the viewing of "Brokeback Mountain" before its opening in Turkey next Friday, the ministry official said on condition of anonymity. Turkish officials cannot speak to the press without prior authorization. The subcommittee ruled that the movie would harm public morals, the official said.


Majority of Turks Oppose Hijab Ban, Back Gov't

IslamOnline.net & News Agencies

ANKARA — The majority of Turks are satisfied with the performance of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government and are opposed to the official ban on hijab in public offices and universities, according to a poll published on Wednesday, June 14.

The poll, conducted by Isik and Sabanci universities in Istanbul, found that two thirds of the 1,846 people polled in more than 20 towns and cities support Erdogan's efforts to ease hijab ban on students and civil servants, Reuters reported.

The mainly Muslim country of 72 million has a strongly secular political tradition. In 1997, President Ahmet Necdet Sezer issued a decree banning hijab in state-run institutions, including schools and universities. Hijab-donned women were also banned from frequenting any social clubs affiliated to the military institution. Even veiled journalists have been repeatedly prevented from covering news conferences inside government institutions. Many in Turkey's military, academic and judicial establishment view this ban as a key pillar of Turkey's secular order. Islam sees hijab as an obligatory code of dress, not a religious symbol displaying one’s affiliations.


The poll, conducted in March and April, showed that the majority of Turks were more conservative on social and moral issues. Three fifths of those interviewed attributed failure in life to a lack of religious faith. Nearly a third said boys and girls should be taught in separate classes at school. They also opposed allowing their Muslim daughters to marrying non-Muslims. Nearly half of the respondents said tourists spoil Turkish morality and harm its culture. They voiced unease with the spectacle of naked or near-naked tourists soaking up the sun at Turkish resorts. Nearly a third of those polled expressed dissatisfaction with the democratic process in the country. More than half said they were happy with the government of the ruling Justice and Development party.

Turkey faces a general election by November 2007. Forty percent of those polled said they would prefer a military-led government and nearly a third expressed dissatisfaction with the democratic process. Turkey's powerful armed forces traditionally rank as the institution most respected by Turks. The military has ousted democratically elected governments four times in the past 50 years but has seen its powers trimmed by EU-backed reforms.

The poll also confirmed falling support for joining the 25-member euro club, down to 57 percent from 74 percent a few years ago. The European Union and Turkey officially kickstarted on Monday, June 12, the long-awaited accession talks, the most important cornerstone of membership process, after EU foreign ministers overcame last-minute objections from Cyprus. Turkey has been trying to join the European club since the 1960s.


Unveiling Turkey

By Tulin Daloglu
May 9, 2006

   ANKARA, Turkey. -- "Let those wearing headscarves go to Arabistan," Turkey's former president, Suleyman Demirel, said recently. Yet when I arrived in Ankara's Esenboga international airport last week, I thought for a second that no unveiled women remained in the capital of this Muslim nation. Hundreds were returning from umrah — visiting the sacred lands in Saudi Arabia. Some even had black hijab, showing only a glimpse of their eyes. The baggage claim was chaos, and at the exit gate the passengers were outnumbered by nearly twice as many loved ones waiting to pick them up. Most of them wore a shalwar — a very loose pant, with a skirt on top of it. All wore dark colors.

    It would have been a moment of truth if Mr. Demirel could see these people arriving in their homeland rather than leaving it. When Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was elected almost four years ago, he didn't bring them from Arabistan; he just encouraged them not to hide any longer. I would argue that even the black hijab is not a threat to the secular republic. It is, after all, just a piece of fabric. The problem is the mindset that puts women under the black hijab.

    The problem is uneducated people pushing and shoving while doing something simple like passing through passport control and collecting their bags. The problem is men ordering women around: "stay," "don't move anywhere," "pick that luggage up and bring it here."

    Mr. Demirel should be the last person to advise any Turkish nationals to go anywhere but Turkey. As one of the longest-serving public officials, he should question how he and the politicians of his generation let the secular republic down, jeopardizing the aim of Westernizing the country. He should question how the first lady of the first revolutionary Muslim nation in the region was accustomed not to shake men's hands because it is not religiously "appropriate," but advised to break that rule in the course of her state duties.

    Turkey's so-called secular and Western politicians did not prioritize either the education or the rule of law as they should have. They let the economy down and introduced corruption. And they are exactly the ones who allowed political Islam to emerge and are responsible for the backward image of women wearing hijab and headscarves in today's Turkey.

    While Turkey had its domestic troubles, Europe exploited its vulnerabilities. Before awakening to the presence of radical Muslim terrorists and ideology, European policies helped feed and encourage political Islam in Turkey. After September 11, French President Jacques Chirac defended secularism by banning all religious symbols from public and government places. Previously, France slammed the Turkish Republic by challenging a Turkish deputy who wanted to be sworn in while wearing her headscarf. Leyla Sahin, a medical student who was expelled from Istanbul University in 1998 because she insisted on wearing the headscarf to class, lost her appeal — in the aftermath of horrendous terrorist attacks on America — when the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the state has a right to protect the public's interest and its secular nature.

    However, before September 11, Europeans viewed political Islam differently than the Turkish Republic that was trying to challenge it. They have a different, Christian history. But the Islamists challenged the secular nature of the new republic from day one. "All these problems do occur because of different interpretations of the principles of secularism," Turkish Parliament spokesman Bulent Arinc said recently.

    Evidently, Europe's former approach to Islamist groups is partly responsible for the confusion. Otherwise, the Turkish Republic's stand on the issue before September 11 seem to be in perfect alliance with Europe's decisions after September 11. Europe should have known that political Islam, conducted in the absence of women, has an ideology quite different than the freedoms they pretend to defend in the name of human rights or freedom of religion.

    Before September 11, Europe condemned Turkey by not respecting freedom of religious expression. Before September 11, they never dared question the responsibilities of the religious elites being open-minded to the standards of today's and tomorrow's education. They did not question the content of some so-called religious practices and culture. What's more, Turkey's so-called secular former presidents and prime ministers should question why Turkish emigrants have trouble adjusting to the European way of life, and why the Indians, with their distinct culture and religion, face no similar negative tension in foreign societies. India is a rising power, from its nuclear journey to its competition with Silicon Valley.

    Turkey, however, is wasting time trying to solve the controversy over "a piece of fabric" on women's heads. With women making up just 4 percent of parliament's membership, men evidently make the final decisions over their affairs.

    Failing a miracle that would take this matter out of the political arena, there is no hope that the issue will be solved in a peaceful manner soon. The question is, will the increasingly veiled masses be able to change the spirit of the secular republic?
    Tulin Daloglu is the Washington correspondent and columnist for Turkey's Star TV and newspaper. A former BBC reporter, she writes occasionally for The Washington Times.


A tense time for a papal visit

Turkey, which doesn't recognize the Roman Catholic Church, is still rankled by Benedict's comments on Islam.

By Tracy Wilkinson, Times Staff Writer
November 25, 2006  

'It's a kind of preemptive intolerance: Don't let it flourish because it might take over. Everyone is afraid of something.'— Mustafa Akyol - Writer and expert on interfaith relations, on why the vast majority of the Turkish people mistrust Christianity.

ISTANBUL, TURKEY — To reach Turkey's most important Roman Catholic church, a visitor must scour a traffic-choked street to find the metal doors, walk down a flight of stairs, cross a courtyard and finally step into the consecrated basilica.

Inside the Holy Spirit Cathedral here, the lights remain low until a minute before evening Mass, and then reveal frescoed ceilings with gold-trimmed arches, 22 crystal chandeliers and blond-marble columns. On this night, 14 worshipers dot the pews.

In the Turkish capital, Ankara, the only Catholic church is even more discreet: It is marked simply by a French flag.

When Pope Benedict XVI travels to Turkey next week, he will be making his first trip to a predominantly Muslim country at a moment of diplomatic fragility.

He also will be traversing some of the most ancient and revered milestones of Christianity, in a land where Christianity is disappearing and where non-Muslim minorities complain of systemic discrimination, harassment and violence against them.

It is a complex agenda. The pope's main purpose is to meet with the Istanbul-based spiritual leader of the world's 250 million Eastern Orthodox Christians in a show of ecumenical solidarity. But he must also use the visit to attempt to repair the damage from comments he has made that cast Islam in a negative light.

Among Turkey's nearly 70 million Muslims, reaction to Benedict's visit ranges from disinterest to intense anger. A man opened fire early this month on the Italian Consulate in Istanbul, telling police later that he wanted to "strangle" the pope. A nationalist gang called the Gray Wolves is staging regular demonstrations protesting the pontiff's arrival.

Among the estimated 100,000 Christians who live in Turkey, there is hope that Benedict's presence will cast light on their difficulties.

The Roman Catholic Church is not legally recognized in Turkey. It functions largely attached to foreign embassies; its priests do not wear their collars in public.

Most Christians in Turkey are of the Armenian, Greek and other Orthodox denominations, and although most of these are recognized in the Turkish Constitution as minority communities, they face severe restrictions on property ownership and cannot build places of worship or run seminaries to train their clerics.

Such hardships make it almost impossible for Christians to sustain and expand their communities, advocates say. The Greek Orthodox, for example, have dwindled to no more than 3,000, just 2% of the community's size in the 1960s.

Fueled by a vitriolic, and growing, potion of nationalism and Islamic radicalism, spasms of violence have led to the killing of one priest this year, the beatings of two others and the burning of a Christian prayer center. Christian tombstones are often vandalized and property frequently confiscated by authorities.

Turkey has come under repeated criticism from Western human rights organizations and the Vatican for its failure to promote religious freedom. Turkey is an Islamic but secular country; in reality, this means that all religious activity, including mosques and imams, is controlled by the government.

"Obviously, more needs to be done to promote religious freedom for all denominations," Ali Bardakoglu, president of Turkey's powerful Religious Affairs Directorate, said in an interview. But he defended the government's treatment of minorities, contending that Christians and other non-Muslims do not face serious problems.

Bardakoglu was one of the most emphatic critics of Benedict after the pope delivered a speech in Regensburg, Germany, in September that denounced Islamic violence and quoted a medieval Byzantine emperor who disdained Islam and its prophet, Muhammad. Adding insult to injury, as far as many Turks were concerned, the emperor was defending Constantinople, cradle of Orthodox Christianity, against the Muslim conquest that gave the city its name today: Istanbul.

Bardakoglu said the pope was welcome in Turkey despite the speech, which touched off outrage throughout the Muslim world. And although he said he accepted Benedict's subsequent explanations, Bardakoglu did not appear completely appeased.

"It is unfortunate that there are circles within Western society that attempt to blacken the name of our religion and are infected with Islamophobia," he said. "The role of the Vatican and the pope should be to help fight stereotypes. Rather than open debate, they should be seeking to heal wounds."

In a remarkable gesture, the pope will meet with Bardakoglu, the country's top religious figure, at his ministry, a modern, imposing building on Ankara's outskirts, on the first day of his Turkey visit. Bardakoglu's directorate commands a huge budget and oversees all of Turkey's imams.

Originally, the Vatican expected Bardakoglu to call on the pope at the Vatican Embassy, as protocol would have dictated. But the Turks refused. After a series of negotiations, the pope agreed to go to Bardakoglu. "It is a gesture of goodwill," a senior Vatican official said.

The pope's controversial presence in Turkey represents a balancing act for the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which regards itself a vital bridge between the West and East, a way for Westerners to deal with a modern and democratic Islam. But it also cannot appear too cozy with a pontiff who, in the view of many, is not fond of Muslims or Turks.

Erdogan is not scheduled to receive Benedict, citing a previous commitment to attend a NATO summit in Latvia on Tuesday and Wednesday. And there is no plan for the prime minister to see him off when the pope departs Dec. 1.

Both the Vatican and Turkish officials said this was not a snub, but Erdogan told visiting reporters in Istanbul last month, "You can't expect me to arrange my timetable according to the pope."

The frictions are rooted in history. The Ottoman Empire, which ruled the region for more than six centuries, was relatively tolerant of Jews, Christians and other non-Muslims. But before and during World War I, Western powers collaborated with Christian and other minorities to bring down the Ottomans. In the carnage that followed, as many as 1.5 million Armenians were slaughtered, a similar number of ethnic Greeks expelled and 1 million Turks deported from Greece.

The 1923 Lausanne Treaty founded the Republic of Turkey and recognized minorities. But deep mistrust persists, and even today among ardent nationalists, Christians are seen as a potential fifth column.

"It's a kind of preemptive intolerance: Don't let it flourish because it might take over," said Mustafa Akyol, a writer and expert on interfaith relations. "Everyone is afraid of something."

Akyol, a Muslim, said he once wrote a column advocating that the museum of St. Sophia, or Aya Sofya, in Istanbul be returned to its original use, that of a church. The response was harsh: He was threatened and castigated as a "secret Greek." The pope is scheduled to visit St. Sophia, built in the 6th century as a Byzantine church and converted to a mosque in the 15th century by the Ottomans.

The mere rumor that the pope might say a prayer at the site has led to a bit of hysteria. Islamic newspaper Milli Gazete, in a front-page commentary last week, lashed out at the government for permitting the "Crusaders" to plan to bless the former church in a brazen attempt to "revive Byzantium."

For their part, Turkish officials have sought to minimize the pontiff's main mission on this trip: to worship alongside Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, head of the world's Orthodox Christians. The coming together of the two religious leaders is meant as a bridging of the 1,000-year-old rift between the two ancient branches of Christianity.

Such frictions notwithstanding, Turkey, compared with many Muslim countries, is relatively hospitable to non-Muslims. But its failure to make more progress on freedom-of-religion issues has been an important stumbling block in its years-long campaign to join the European Union.

It is EU pressure that has nudged Ankara along in easing some of the restrictions on minorities; for example, a Protestant group in Istanbul has for the first time been allowed to open a church.

"The EU reforms give people a sense of hope that there is light at the end of the tunnel," said Greek Orthodox Father Alexander Karloutsos. "It's been very dark here."


Turks near coup

UPI Editor Emeritus

April 30, 2007

WASHINGTON, April 30 (UPI) -- Turkey is currently one of the most important hubs of the diplomatic universe. Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf flew in for the weekend for fence-mending talks with his neighbor, Afghan President Hamid Karzai. They might just be in time to witness a military coup.

The Turks have also been playing a crucial role in the discreet talks about a new dialogue between Iran and the United States, and last week hosted a meeting between the European Union's top diplomat, Javier Solana, and Ali Larijani, secretary of the Supreme National Security Council of Iran, underlining Turkey's growing diplomatic profile. Both Solana and Larijani made a point of praising Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul for his diplomacy and publicly welcomed his candidacy to become Turkey's new president.

And yet half a million Turks took to the streets Sunday to protest Gul's candidacy, just as 300,000 had been on the streets a week earlier to protest the prospect of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan becoming the next president.

Even more ominously, the Turkish military has signaled its own deep disapproval of either Erdogan or Gul getting the top job because, despite the overwhelming electoral mandate of their AK (Justice and Development) Party, the two politicians are moderate Islamists.

Gul's wife, Hayrunissa, wears a headscarf, a controversial symbol of her faith in a Turkey that was founded and run as a completely secular state. And the Turkish military, which has mounted three coups in the last 35 years, sees itself as the custodian of the country's secular constitution as laid down by the founder of modern Turkey, Kemal Ataturk.

"It is observed that some circles who have been carrying out endless efforts to disturb fundamental values of the Republic of Turkey, especially secularism, have escalated their efforts recently," said a formal statement from the Turkish military last week. "The problem that emerged in the presidential election process is focused on arguments over secularism. Turkish Armed Forces are concerned about the recent situation.

"It should not be forgotten that the Turkish Armed Forces are a party in those arguments, and absolute defender of secularism," the statement went on. "Also the Turkish Armed Forces (are) definitely opposed to those arguments and negative comments. It will display its attitude and action openly and clearly whenever it is necessary."

And yet Erdogan's government has been one of the most successful in modern Turkish history. The economy is booming. The EU has accepted Turkey as a candidate for membership and opened formal accession negotiations. Turkey, a veteran NATO member, has peacekeeping troops in Lebanon, has good relations with Iran and Israel and also with much of the Arab world, and in general has played a highly responsible role in the region.

All of this is now at risk in the growing row over the next presidency. Erdogan backed away from the post after seeing the scale of the opposition to him, and possibly recalling his own time in prison after what the military saw as an inflammatory Islamist speech. (He had quoted a poem that included the lines: "the minarets shall be our bayonets.") As a result, the internationally popular and very diplomatic Foreign Minister Gul became the presidential candidate, and the AK Party's dominance should easily ensure him the required 367 votes in the 550-seat parliament.

At least that was the case until the military spoke, until the secular opposition parties boycotted a parliamentary vote that would have seen Gul installed, and until the 500,000 pro-secular demonstrators took to the streets Sunday.

Turkey is now in the throes of a full-blown political crisis, and a military coup cannot be ruled out.

"The president must be loyal to secular principles. If I am elected, I will act accordingly," Gul pledged at his nomination for the presidency.

The problem for secular Turks is that a Gul presidency would mean that the Islamists, however moderate and pro-democracy, would control the presidency, the government, the parliament and the judiciary -- appointed by the president. That would leave only the military as a bastion of traditional secular values.

"Turkey is secular and will remain secular," chanted the hundreds of thousands who protested in Istanbul Sunday. Significantly, they also chanted: "We want neither Sharia, nor a coup, but a fully democratic Turkey."

The opposition parties, and also the military, apparently want the country's Constitutional Court to intervene and call for new elections. The likelihood is that Erdogan and Gul would win another majority in Parliament, although possibly not enough to secure the two-thirds vote required to elect a president.

That could mean a compromise. But it would be a compromise secured through a threat of military intervention, casting a dark shadow over Turkey's democratic credentials and giving a strong boost to those in the EU who oppose Turkish entry. And that would leave Turkey with few places to turn but back to the Middle East and the Islamic world. The West is left with the unhappy choice of welcoming a moderate Islamist Turkey living under constant threat of military coup or losing one of its few friends in a dangerous neighborhood.

There is one other option, which could be even uglier. Some Turkish observers speculate that the military might drop its opposition to Gul's presidency if they are given the green light to crush the renewed threat of Kurdish nationalism and the prospect of a sovereign Kurdish state that could attract their own Kurdish minority. This would mean an invasion of northern Iraq, where the autonomous Kurdish provinces are one of the few success stories of modern Iraq. Of all three options, this could be the most dangerous.


Plotters seized as tension mounts in Turkey

(CNN-July 1, 2008) -- Political tensions rose Tuesday across Turkey as police seized two retired generals, a prominent journalist and others accused of plotting to overthrow the government and prosecutors undertook a court case to ban the Islamic-rooted ruling party. 

The developments dramatize the sharp and serious political tensions between the country's Islamic-rooted ruling party -- the Justice and Development Party, or AKP -- and its outspoken critics from the nation's secularist establishment.

Since autumn, police have been arresting and jailing people accused of being part of Ergenekon, an alleged plot to overthrow the government. During the effort, there has been harassment of journalists, and news reports have said many people are being held without charge.

On Tuesday, police made 22 arrests in Ankara, Istanbul, Antalya and Trabzon, according to Turkey's semi-official Anadolu Agency, which said its information came from prosecutors. Three other people were being sought, the agency said.

Those seized include former generals Hursit Tolon and Sener Eruygur; Mustafa Balbay of the Cumhuriyet newspaper; Sinan Aygun, leader of the Ankara Trade Organization; and Ecument Ovali, a college professor. The newspaper said police conducted a search at its Ankara headquarters.

This came hours before a Turkish prosecutor presented evidence in a court case that would ban the AKP because of its alleged involvement in what prosecutors call anti-secularist activities, such as its failed support for toppling the ban on Muslim headscarf at universities.

Turkish secularists believe the AKP is intent on undermining the secular constitution and nature of the modern Turkish state and on intimidating political opposition. The popularly elected AKP believes the effort to disband the party is a political move and says it is promoting democracy and pursuing goals that would bring Turkey into the European Union.

This is the second time Cumhuriyet has been targeted with accusations of involvement in Ergenekon. In the spring, police briefly held the newspaper's editor, Ilhan Selcuk.

"We spoke with our lawyers after Balbay was taken away ... about these operations happening now as the chief prosecutor, Abdurrahman Yalcinkaya, started presenting his verbal explanations in the constitutional court," Arcayurek said.

"We don't know if this is a special treatment, or a coincidence. But I can say on behalf of everyone at Cumhuriyet newspaper, including editor in chief Ilhan Selcuk, we cannot be guilty of anything else but loving our country very much and protecting its rights. They cannot find anything else against us."

Turkey, a strong U.S. ally and NATO member, is a democratic state and has long been regarded as a bridge from Asia and Europe and from the West to the Muslim world.

Although it is a predominantly Muslim nation, Turkey has taken the trappings of religion out of public life, in accordance with the policies of Kemal Ataturk, the revered founder of the modern Turkish republic.

Ovali made reference to Ataturk when he spoke to reporters watching him being detained in Trabzon.

"I am being found guilty of loving Ataturk and the republic," he said.

Wolfgang Piccolo, an analyst for the Eurasia Group, said in a report Tuesday that the timing of the arrests and the high profile of those seized reflects the political nature of the Ergenekon probe.

"Coming a few hours before the first hearing in the closure case against the AKP, the arrests will further reinforce the already widely shared impression in Turkey that the operation is part of the power struggle between the AKP and the hard-line secularists, most notably the military," he said.


6 Die in Attack on U.S. Post in Turkey

New York Times

July 10, 2008

PARIS — A group of unidentified gunmen opened fire on Turkish security guards outside the United States Consulate in Istanbul on Wednesday, the Turkish authorities said, and at least three police officers and three assailants were killed in a brief gun battle. Officials said that a fourth assailant escaped.

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The late-morning attack was the first on a diplomatic mission in the city since 2003 when 62 people were killed in assaults on the British consulate, a bank and two synagogues. While the motives behind this attack were not immediately clear, Turkish officials described the gunmen as terrorists.

“Turkey struggles and will struggle against the mentalities that organize and stand behind these attacks until the very end,” President Abdullah Gul said in a statement. “Everyone, after all, has seen that nothing can be achieved through terror.”

In a televised news conference, Istanbul’s governor, Muammer Guler, said one of the police officers died at the scene and two others died of bullet wounds in a hospital. One of the officers was part of the consulate security detail, while the other two were traffic police officers. Another police officer and a tow-truck driver were also wounded.

“Three policemen were martyred and three attackers were killed,” Mr. Guler said. He added later that, while the authorities were waiting for final confirmation of the identity of the assailants, all three were believed to be Turkish citizens. Ross Wilson, the United States ambassador in Turkey, said that none of the dead or injured were Americans.

Later, the Turkish interior minister, Besir Atalay, said that two of the slain attackers had been traced through their fingerprints. Speaking to the Anatolian news agency, he identified them as Erkan Kargin, 26, from the eastern town of Bitlis, and Cinar Bulent. Both, he said, had records of petty crime.