[Event of the week] Kurdish control over Syria’s north sparks concerns
Members of the Democratic Union Party, linked to the PKK, raised Kurdish flags on some buildings and held protests after Syrian Kurds seized control of the city of Kobane in Aleppo. (PHOTO CİHAN, İBRAHİM ÇELİK)
Reports indicating that Syrian Kurds have been gaining control over major Kurdish towns and cities near the Turkish border have sparked a debate on whether a new Kurdish self-governing region is emerging next to Iraqi Kurdistan and have fueled concerns that the area may turn into a new base for the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
Syrian Kurdish groups have reportedly gained control of several towns, including Kobane and Efrin in Aleppo and Amude in the city of al-Hasakah, over the past few days, while negotiations with Syrian forces for the peaceful surrender of Qamishli, the biggest Kurdish city in Syria, are under way.
Turkish media outlets have published conflicting reports over what has been going on in the Kurdish areas of Syria since last week, when the Syrian forces had apparently moved from the north to Damascus and other regions to strike back at the opposition fighters after a major attack in the capital on July 18 which killed the Syrian defense minister and two other senior officials. Some reports say the PKK has sent its militants to the Kurdish region in Syria, while others maintained it was the peshmerga forces of the Iraqi Kurdish administration that have been dispatched to the area to “protect the Syrian Kurdish population from the PKK-affiliated Democratic Union Party [PYD].”
Kurdish authorities denied the latter claim. “A number of newspapers and websites have published reported [sic] that Kurdish Peshmerga forces have entered Kurdistan of Syria, but we firmly reject that news as baseless and far from the truth,” the website of the Kurdistan Region Presidency quoted a presidential spokesperson as saying.
Syrian Kurds confirmed that Kurdish forces did enter from Iraqi Kurdistan recently but said they were Syrian Kurdish soldiers who had defected from the Syrian military, not peshmerga forces as reported by some media outlets and the Syrian Arab opposition.
July 21, Saturday
The General Staff sent authentic documents bearing wet signatures to the İstanbul 10th High Criminal Court, which is hearing the ongoing trial against the generals who allegedly plotted to stage a coup d’état, relying on a plan they named Sledgehammer. Critics of the court process have often accused the prosecution of relying on unauthenticated evidence, as the indictment has mostly been based on digital documents, but the emergence of the originals of the documents with wet signatures is expected to put an end to these discussions. The General Staff sent 26 documents to the court, all of which verify claims put forward by the prosecutor that the generals, while working on their plot, kept tabs on religious groups and local newspapers as well as monitored ballots cast during elections at polling stations set up in military residential complexes.
July 22, Sunday
Turkey closed its Cilvegözü border gate with Syria after nine Turkish trucks were recently burned and several others were looted. The question of who is responsible for the looting, however, is yet to be answered.
CarrefourSA, a French retail chain that is conducting a campaign in cooperation with the Turkish Red Crescent (Kızılay) to deliver foodstuffs to the needy, reportedly demanded that a headscarved worker be prohibited from serving in a tent where aid packages were being collected.
A total of five Turkish soldiers were killed and seven others injured when a military helicopter crashed in the southeastern province of Hakkari, near the Iraqi border. The S-70 Sikorsky helicopter crashed after it appeared to lose power during a landing in a remote, mountainous area of Hakkari’s Dağlıca district, the General Staff revealed in a statement on its official website soon after the crash occurred. The helicopter was carrying soldiers to a site in Hakkari’s Yüksekova district where military operations are being conducted against the outlawed PKK terrorist organization. Speaking to press at an official funeral ceremony on Tuesday, Chief of General Staff Gen. Necdet Özel refuted allegations that the military helicopter crash was a result of a terrorist PKK attack.
July 23, Monday
Victims of a 1993 hotel fire in the central province of Sivas, allegedly set by an angry mob including religious fundamentalists, lost their lives due to gunshot wounds rather than fire, the Yeni Akit daily reported. The daily carried photographs of the victims’ bodies taken at the morgue on the day of the incident. It also published photographs of some of the victims on its front page. In the photos, which were taken on the day of the incident at the morgue of Sivas Numune Hospital, it is possible to make out bullet wounds on the bodies of the victims, but no visible burns.
The Chief Prosecutor’s Office of the Diyarbakır Regional High Court launched an investigation into 32 unsolved murders that were carried out in Şırnak’s Silopi district between 1993 and 1995, demanding life sentences for 15 JİTEM members, whom it accused of being members of a terrorist organization, the first such reference to the clandestine organization. The move by the prosecutor’s office has been interpreted as recognition of JİTEM, a clandestine and illegal intelligence organization formed within the gendarmerie that allegedly perpetrated hundreds of unsolved murders in the Southeast, as a terrorist organization.
July 24, Tuesday
An additional indictment in the trial of those accused of the 2007 murder of three employees of the Zirve Christian Publishing House in Malatya introduced new evidence to back the prosecution’s claims that the murders were committed by a cell of the Ergenekon terrorist network, and were premeditated. The 761-page document claims that Ergenekon used the National Strategies and Operations Department of Turkey (TUSHAD) -- an undercover military unit -- and a man named İlker Çınar to study the conditions in Malatya prior to the murders. The indictment states that TUSHAD and Çınar relied on right-wing academics and media to start an anti-minority campaign, and that the murders were committed after Ergenekon was able to lay the groundwork through anti-Christian propaganda. The indictment also states that the murder of a Catholic priest in Trabzon in 2006 and the assassination of Armenian-Turkish journalist Hrant Dink on Jan. 19, 2007, were part of the same plot.
A sub-commission of the Turkish Parliament’s Coup and Memorandum Investigation Commission will examine state documents concerning National Security Council (MGK) meetings in the run-up to the Feb. 28, 1997 military coup to shed light on the coup process. The sub-commission that is investigating the Feb. 28 coup in particular earlier requested the relevant documents from the Presidency and Prime Ministry.
A 79-year-old Kurdish woman who was given a 20-month prison sentence for spreading the propaganda of the terrorist PKK was unceremoniously released from prison following outrage expressed by civil rights groups.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan claimed that Turkey would not hesitate to make a tit-for-tat response to any future attack from Syria, reiterating that the Turkish military has new rules of engagement for any security threat from the country since a Turkish reconnaissance jet crashed off the Syrian coast.
July 25, Wednesday
The Supreme Court of Appeals overruled a lower court’s dismissal of a case to shut down the Çankaya Cemevi Building Association, which had been taken to court for refusing to take out a description referring to cemevis -- places of worship for the Alevi community -- as a house of worship. Turkey and Turkey’s Religious Affairs Directorate do not recognize cemevis as legitimate places of worship.
A former minister, Güneş Taner, who was heard by Parliament’s Coup and Memorandum Investigation Commission concerning the Feb. 28, 1997 military coup, told the commission that retired Gen. Çevik Bir, who played a major role in the coup, attempted to prevent granting Ülker, Turkey’s largest food company, state incentives because it was labeled “reactionary,” the Radikal daily reported.
Prime Minister Erdoğan warned that Turkey won’t hesitate to retaliate militarily to any threat emanating from Syria’s north as he stated that Syria’s embattled President Bashar al-Assad is abandoning territories close to the Turkish border to Kurdish groups said to be linked to the PKK. “The terrorist PKK organization’s cooperation with the [Democratic Union Party] PYD is something we cannot look favorably upon,” Erdoğan said in the interview. “If there is a formation that’s going to be a problem, if there is a terror operation, [if] an irritant emerges, then intervening would be our most natural right.”
He also stated that Turkey would not accept a Kurdish state in northern Syria, claiming it would take action against any such plans because “it is a direct threat to Turkey.” Responding to claims that Assad has handed over control to Kurdish groups in northern Syria and that these groups would in turn establish a federal or independent Kurdish establishment, Erdoğan asserted that such an establishment would constitute a red line for Turkey and it would not say “all right” to that, due to the close links of those Kurdish groups to the terrorist PKK.
The recent pounding of the Turkey-bordering city of Aleppo by Assad’s forces could be a harbinger of a refugee influx into the country, which could move Turkey close to its red line and force the country to weigh buffer zone plans along the Turkish-Syrian border, experts said.
July 26, Thursday
Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu responded to criticism of his government’s Syria policy by vowing to restore historic links with a vast area spanning the Balkans and the Middle East that were severed by wars a century ago.
A mafia leader serving eight years in prison for heading a criminal gang was brought to the İstanbul 13th High Criminal Court to testify as a witness in the Ergenekon trial. Alaattin Çakıcı, arguably the most famous mafia boss in Turkey, who was convicted of “leading an organized crime gang” by an İstanbul court in 2007, testified at the 209th hearing of the trial into Ergenekon.
The European Union’s negative attitude towards Turkey may push the country to search for alternatives as seen in a recent statement made by the country’s prime minister. Prime Minister Erdoğan made a surprising admission on a recent television program, saying that he jokingly asked Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to include Turkey in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), complaining of the negative attitude some EU countries have towards Turkey.
Prime Minister Erdoğan reasserted that Turkey will take measures to prevent Syrian Kurdish groups affiliated with the terrorist PKK from ruling northern Syria, a day after he announced that intervention in Syria is an “undisputed right” if terrorists within the troubled southern neighbor pose a threat to Turkey. “We will not let the terrorist group to set up camps [in northern Syria] and pose a threat to us,” Erdoğan told reporters before departing for London to attend the opening ceremony for the Olympic Games. “No one should attempt to provoke us. We will not bow to provocation but rather take whatever steps are necessary against terrorism.
President Abdullah Gül, along with many other state officials, attended an iftar hosted by Alevi organizations.
July 27, Friday
A newly discovered letter written by then-President Süleyman Demirel to then-Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan ahead of the Feb. 28, 1997 military coup shows that Demirel warned Erbakan of the infiltration of state institutions by religious fundamentalists.
A special sergeant, who has been at large as a suspect in a trial into a number of unsolved murders committed in the Southeast between 1993 and 1995, allegedly under orders from Col. Cemal Temizöz, was captured.
Foreign Minister Davutoğlu said that Kurds in Iraq and Syria are not a threat to Turkey but emphasized that Ankara would not allow what he called “terrorist” groups like the PKK or al-Qaeda to establish a presence in Syria near the Turkish border.
Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan said he hopes the “real sons of Syria” will respond to an armed assault the Syrian regime is getting ready to launch in Aleppo.
“The regime is preparing for an attack with tanks and helicopters in the city center of Aleppo. It’s not clear what’s going to happen today. The foreign minister and I have been following the developments. I hope that the regime gets the answer it deserves from Syria’s own sons,” Erdoğan said in response to questions from reporters in London.