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Turkish Press Roundup

Turkey’s evolving foreign policy toward Syria remained the central topic covered by the press this week. Outcries over escalating violence and Russia and China’s veto of the recent UN Security Council resolution were followed by an endorsement of Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s statement on Monday that Turkey would shelter all fleeing Syrian refugees. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan continued his criticism of Bashar al-Assad. Noting the thirtieth anniversary of the massacre in Hama, he said Syria’s leaders were “following the path of the pharaohs.” Commentary consistently described the Assad regime as headed toward civil war, with a plurality of newspapers endorsing Turkey’s emergent two-stage strategy, beginning with the opening of a corridor on the Turkish-Syrian border. Davutoğlu later confirmed on television that the first goal of Turkey’s foreign policy toward Syria will to be to form a “broad international platform” for advancing a multilateral solution. A few newspapers noted Iran’s allegations that Turkey plans to arm Syrian rebel. In response to public and parliamentary speculation, Davutoğlu stated unequivocally this week that the government was not considering intervening in Syria.

Underlining the continued Turkish sensitivity to the symbolic value of U.S. nuclear weapons maintained at the Incirlik Air Base, Milliyet daily newspaper reported that The Project On Government Oversight (POGO), a nonpartisan independent American watchdog organization, had voiced objections to the presence of U.S. tactical nuclear bombs in Europe. On the eve of the establishment of joint working groups between the European Union and the Republican People’s Party (CHP)—the party of Atatürk and now the main opposition—Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader of the Party, traveled to Brussels and met with EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Füle. While on a trip to Tunisia, Füle received favorable coverage for his comments that Turkey “is good inspiration for regional countries.” A Zurich prosecutor has begun a preliminary investigation of Turkish Minister for EU Affairs and Chief Negotiator Egemen Bağış, who flagrantly violated Swiss laws while visiting to the country last week by stating that the Turkish-Armenian massacres of 1915 did not constitute genocide. Economic Minister Zafer Çağlayan complained that the EU’s recent free trade agreements with third countries and have been harming Turkey’s economy.

Intelligence chief Hakan Fidan ignored a summons by a prosecutor investigating the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK), the alleged urban wing of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). He instead turned up at the presidential palace, where he held a two-hour meeting with President Abdullah Gül. The tensions surrounding this episode prompted a controversial column by Abdülkadir Selvi in Yeni Şafak, which discussed the potential prosecution of leaders in Turkey’s secretive intelligence agency, MIT, owing to evidence that emerged this past fall of their contacts with the KCK. This past week, opinion pieces in other papers decried “double standards” for intelligence officials, conflicting government strategies toward the PKK, and state mismanagement. Habertürk daily newspaper published the text of a protocol signed between MIT officers and PKK representatives in Oslo last summer. Fourteen casualties were reported this week in clashes between the government and the PKK in Bingöl and Çukurca. One attack was initiated by the government and the other, assumed retaliatory, was carried out by the PKK. The press described the initial attack by the government as a success and emphasized that only one Turkish army official died, to 13 PKK deaths.

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