Back to square one as jet crisis turns into messy mystery

Back to square one as jet crisis turns into messy mystery

July 15, 2012, Sunday/ 12:33:00

A series of public statements meant to shed light on how a Turkish jet crashed off the Syrian coast on June 22 have instead raised a barrage of questions, including whether the aircraft was shot down by Syrian forces at all, and are likely to create a headache for the government.

In its most recent statement on the incident, the military has apparently called into question the one constant of the Turkish narrative of the event: that the RF-4E Phantom was shot down by Syrian forces over the Mediterranean. Contrary to all other statements made to the public so far, the military referred to the plane as “our aircraft that Syrian authorities claimed to have downed,” immediately raising questions whether the plane crash was actually an accident.

In light of this statement, experts say the plane may have crashed due to a malfunction or pilot error.

The statement made by the military Wednesday afternoon also said an ongoing examination of pieces of the wreckage has revealed no evidence of what kind of weapon was used to take down the jet. It said the military is still examining a video feed of the wreckage lying on the seabed, adding that examination of the pieces retrieved thus far have revealed no traces of petroleum derivatives that could have been used as a fire starter or accelerant, of any organic/inorganic explosive material or of ammunition. The government reacted with anger after the jet incident, vowing that this “hostile” act would not go unpunished, and the military sent reinforcements to the Syrian border with a promise to respond to any Syrian military moves near the border. Discovery that the crash was actually an accident would put the government in a difficult position. However, the government is sticking to its earlier assertion that the plane was shot down by the Syrian forces. Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç dismissed questions raised by this latest statement, saying on Thursday that certain “nuances” should not be exaggerated.

July 7, Saturday

A total of 41 people were detained in simultaneous operations conducted across eight provinces against an exam-cheating gang with alleged links to the terrorist Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK). Police launched operations against the gang, known as “Joker,” which is accused of substituting experienced and successful people to sit various tests -- such as the State Personnel Examination (KPSS) and the Transition to Higher Education Examination (YGS) -- in place of actual examination candidates using forged documents. This gang allegedly arranged forged documents enabling people with the ability to achieve high marks in exams to replace students. By doing this, the gang is believed to have been privileging the placement of KCK members in public positions.

July 8, Sunday

For the first time in the history of the republic, some members of Parliament have spent an entire legislative year in jail, which is an unacceptable situation in democracies, Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu said. Speaking at the 11th Congress of the CHP’s Women’s Branches, CHP leader Kılıçdaroğlu said: “Elected deputies have spent one legislative year in jail for the first time in Republican history. This is not something that can be accepted in democracies. We condemn this strongly. Anyone who loves their country should rebel against this odd situation, this odd structure.”

An arrest warrant was issued for columnist Hüseyin Üzmez after the Supreme Court of Appeals upheld an earlier court ruling sentencing him to 13 years, one month and 15 days in prison for sexually abusing a minor and overturned his acquittal of charges of depriving a person of their freedom.

A car owned by two Turkish citizens that went missing in Syria last month was seen being driven by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, witnesses in Hatay who came from the Syrian side of the border said.

July 9, Monday

The Diyarbakır Governor’s Office did not give permission for an open-air rally that the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), Democratic Society Congress (DTK) and some civil society organizations had planned to hold on July 14th in Diyarbakır, so as to not allow the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) an opportunity to distribute its propaganda. However, the PKK and BDP called on people to attend the rally on July 14th.

Professor Büşra Ersanlı, who has been jailed for eight months as part of a probe into the terrorist KCK, said she faced legal action because some circles were disturbed by the participation of a Turk in the BDP, the Radikal daily reported. Ersanlı, along with publisher Ragıp Zarakolu, were arrested in November on terrorism charges as part of an investigation into the KCK, an umbrella group that allegedly encompasses the PKK and its affiliated organizations.

Speaking to Radikal from prison, Ersanlı said: “A Turk who is involved in politics from the ranks of the BDP, known as a pro-Kurdish party, is a disaster for people who are not used to thinking this way. For years, they have seen Kurds as slaves. They wanted to discourage someone who is an intellectual, a woman and a Turk from taking this path.” Ersanlı is a member of the BDP’s Party Council and Constitutional Commission.

The former deputy head of the Ankara Provincial Health Directorate, who testified in court as a witness in the Ergenekon terrorist organization trial, said a medical plot was put into action against then Prime Minister Bülent Ecevit in 2002 to cause his death. Mustafa Bolkan testified to the İstanbul 13th High Criminal Court as a witness in the 201st hearing of the Ergenekon trial. Ergenekon is a clandestine terrorist organization charged with plotting to overthrow the government.

July 10, Tuesday

All eyes are on Turkish gold sales after roughly three-quarters of Turkey’s gold exports made it to Iran in the first five months of the year. Data from the Turkish Statistics Institute (TurkStat) showed that Turkey exported gold worth $4.02 billion in the first five months of 2012, with $3.08 billion of that sum exported to Iran. This means Turkey’s gold exports to Iran have increased roughly eightfold compared to the same period in 2011. It is speculated that Iranians are turning to gold as a method of saving as Western sanctions tighten.

Mücahit Pehlivan, an orthopedic surgeon who secretly took part in the treatment of late Prime Minister Bülent Ecevit, said that what he did to Ecevit to improve his health was to halve the treatment ordered by Başkent University.

Two convicts in the killing of seven members of the Turkey Workers’ Party (TİP) in 1978 were released from jail as a result of a new legal amendment. Convicts Ünal Osmanağaoğlu and Bünyamin Adanalı were released on Tuesday from prison, benefitting from the third judicial reform package. Adanalı was serving his life sentence in Çanakkale, while Osmanağaoğlu was in Balıkesir prison. They are accused of murdering seven members of the left-wing party in what is popularly known as the “Bahçelievler massacre.” On Oct. 9, 1978, a group of gunmen raided a house in Ankara’s Bahçelievler district, killing seven students who were members of the party. Haluk Kırcı, Osmanağaoğlu and Adanalı, prime suspects in the killing, were handed down seven death sentences. When the death penalty was lifted in Turkey, their penalties were converted to life sentences.

A Turkish court rejected a request to release a pro-Kurdish deputy despite a new judicial amendment that facilitates the release of suspects, including those who stand accused of terror and coup crimes. The Diyarbakır 5th High Criminal Court rejected the demand from lawyers of suspect İbrahim Ayhan, who is also the BDP Şanlıurfa deputy, for his release. Ayhan is accused of being a part of the terrorist KCK.

July 11, Wednesday

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said a new law inserted in the newly adopted third judicial reform package is not aimed at saving deputies who are currently under arrest on coup and terrorism accusations from prison. “There is no law aimed particularly at jailed deputies,” the prime minister said on Wednesday during his Justice and Development Party’s (AK Party) expanded provincial chairmen meeting. “We will not say ‘yes’ to a call [by opposition parties] for Parliament [to release the jailed deputies]. Steps taken so far [as part of the new reform package] are aimed at all prisoners and convicts,” he stated.

Disagreements over Turkish and Russian policies on the Syrian crisis are so deep that they are unlikely to be reconciled soon. But as the crisis begins to show signs of sparking a global confrontation reminiscent of Cold War-era hostilities, Ankara is keen to prevent further poisoning of its ties with Russia by keeping channels of senior-level dialogue with Moscow open. Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan planned a one-day visit to Moscow on July 18 to find ways to end the 16-month violence in Syria that has left more than 15,000 Syrians dead.

Prosecutors and judges currently serving in Turkey’s specially authorized courts were appointed to the new regional terrorism courts, which were recently set up to replace the former. A statement released by the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) stated that new prosecutors and judges were appointed to the new regional terrorism courts, which will deal with terror-related cases. However, the judges and prosecutors currently handling the ongoing coup and terror cases are not among the newly appointed.

A majority of Muslims in six predominantly Muslim countries want democracy, personal freedoms and the ability to voice their support for Islam in political life, though at different levels, a Pew poll showed. The survey was conducted by the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project in Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt, Tunisia, Jordan and Pakistan from March 19-April 20.

July 12, Thursday

Prime Minister Erdoğan offered to merge his governing AK Party with the Voice of the People Party (HAS Party), led by Professor Numan Kurtulmuş, when the two met in the Prime Ministry building in Ankara. Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Kurtulmuş said he had received a formal proposal from the prime minister for a merger.

The first Turkish-made laser-guided missile, called Cirit, has been delivered to the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) by the Turkish defense contractor Roketsan thanks to a state-funded project in line with government aims to bolster the local defense industry and reduce dependency on foreign arms markets.

Military lecture notes, which were found in the house of an Ergenekon suspect, have revealed that gendarmerie members were told to violate the law if necessary in the fight to end the work of Christian missionaries in the country. The lecture notes made their way to the indictment of those responsible for the Zirve massacre, in which three Christians were killed at a publishing house in Malatya in 2007.

In separate decisions, courts in both Ankara and İstanbul have refused to release jailed suspects in the ongoing investigation into the Feb. 28, 1997 military intervention, popularly known as the postmodern coup, and some journalists who are accused of being members of the Ergenekon terrorist network.

In separate decisions, two İstanbul courts refused to release jailed suspects in ongoing investigations in the case of a cache of weapons found in Poyrazköy, allegedly hidden by military officers to assist a group plotting a coup, and the case of Balyoz (Sledgehammer), a subversive plot allegedly prepared by a clique inside the military.

July 13, Friday

Professor Büşra Ersanlı, who was arrested in November on terrorism charges as part of an investigation into the KCK, was released pending trial along with 15 other suspects in the case.

A witness who testified in court in the Ergenekon trial said officers at the General Staff Information Support Unit, along with civil servants in the same department, had conducted a massive purge following the emergence of the Action Plan to Fight Reactionaryism. Pvt. Cüneyt Alkan, who worked for the Information Support Unit as an aide to Gen. Mustafa Bakıcı, testified to the İstanbul 13th High Criminal Court as a witness at the 203rd hearing of the Ergenekon trial. An İstanbul court issued an arrest warrant for Bakıcı in 2011 as part of a probe into the establishment of several websites that allegedly ran propaganda campaigns against the government on behalf of the TSK.

The public has expressed disapproval of the way the AK Party government has handled seven of 10 major issues that have dominated the national agenda lately -- including claims of match-rigging in football, the killing of 34 civilians in Uludere and tense relations with Syria -- according to the findings of the latest monthly opinion poll. Conducted by the MetroPOLL research center, the poll suggests that roughly half of respondents have a negative view of the government’s position regarding these issues. According to the poll, 53.7 percent said they do not approve of the AK Party government’s position on a planned ban of abortions in Turkey.

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