[Turkey doesn’t just stand geographically between East and West. Turkey’s attitude towards problems ranging from the Armenia-Azerbaijani dispute to the Iranian nuclear program to the conflict in Syria and many others will have major implications for how these problems unfold. Because Turkey is in a period of rapid domestic change, its behavior is not as predictable in the past. Keeping track of the Turkish language press is one way for people interested in Turkey and its neighborhood to learn more about what is going on there and how Turkey’s foreign policy will evolve. Our Man in Istanbul provides this weekly summary; we thank him.]
Debate continued to rage in the Turkish press this week regarding Turkey’s role in the crisis in Syria. On Monday, before his meeting with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu reiterated that Turkey has no plans to set up a buffer zone or a humanitarian corridor on the Turkish-Syrian border, stating that his priority is for Turkey to contribute to the international conference on the crisis. Reports suggested that the Syria-related issues weren’t handled face to face, but instead in a series of phone calls before Davutoğlu arrived. Later in the week, the joint statement issued by Clinton and Davutoğlu regarding Syria received positive coverage. The Foreign Minister chose not to respond to ongoing speculation that he will table previous proposals for Turkey to extend humanitarian aid to the Syrian people. Milliyet columnist Aslı Aydıntaşbaş published long-simmering rumors that Turkey had a broader Syria strategy involving military, humanitarian and diplomatic dimensions, which was only abandoned recently. Sabah daily newspaper gave front page coverage to a supposed clandestine proposal for a “Mediterranean Intervention” against Damascus, discarded over disagreements about the logistics of a humanitarian corridor. On Friday, Cumhuriyet daily newspaper broke details of the second phone conversation between Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Russian President Dmitri Medvedev regarding Syria, in which the latter stated that his government would not send a delegation to the planned conference, triggering fresh condemnation of Russia in the Turkish press.
In an interview with Azerbaijani television station ANS, Prime Minister Erdoğan called on France to withdraw from the OSCE’s Minsk Group, an official mediator in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. French defense attaches were sent away from a meeting hosted by Turkey to discuss preparations for Anzak Day ceremonies in Çanakkale scheduled for April 25. Comments by Danish Ambassador Ruben Madsen about the need for the EU to open a new negotiating chapter with Turkey received positive coverage. NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen met with Foreign Minister Davutoğlu and President Abdullah Gül this week to celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of Turkey’s NATO membership; they discussed the planned NATO summit to be held in Chicago in May.
Two controversial legal proceedings dominated coverage of Turkish domestic affairs this week: the investigation of the Turkish intelligence service MIT’s involvement with the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK, the alleged urban wing of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK)); and the investigation of former Chief of the General Staff İlker Başbuğ for involvement in Ergenekon, now described as a domestic terrorism plot. After issuing arrest warrants for four MIT officials, including former intelligence chief Emre Taner and deputy undersecretary Afet Güner, the KCK prosecutor Sadrettin Sarikaya was removed from the case, ostensibly for violating the secrecy of the investigation and withholding information from his superiors. Coverage later turned to bureaucratic and legislative proposals under consideration to protect the intelligence services from ongoing and subsequent investigations. Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ issued a statement that intelligence officials had infiltrated the KCK in order to carry out their duties in gathering intelligence. Türkiye daily newspaper reported that 177 suspected members of the KCK were captured in operations in major Turkish cities on Monday (the number of arrestees remains disputed).
Before the chief prosecutor in the Başbuğ investigation rejected the General’s request for his trial to be conducted by the Supreme Court, Hürriyet columnist Şükrü Küçükşahin asserted that his treatment was inconsistent with the arrangements the government has planned to protect MIT officials in the KCK case. On Thursday, Turkey’s Court of Appeals accepted the formal indictment of Başbuğ, which accused him of senior membership in the clandestine ultra-nationalist terrorist group, Ergenekon. Başbuğ dismissed the charges and again professed his innocence.
Prime Minister Erdoğan is on the path to recovery after his second operation in connection with his reported colon cancer. In an interview, commentator Avni Özgürel stated Erdoğan was planning to revive dialogue with the PKK in April. Details became public this week of the Turkish Parliament’s planned special commission to investigate the massacres that occurred in Dersim 74 years ago. Reports also emerged that Erdoğan has been urging departments across his government to accelerate preparations for the construction of Turkey’s first nuclear power plant.