[Event of the week] Turkish-Syrian relations hit bottom after downed jet crisis

[Event of the week] Turkish-Syrian relations hit bottom after downed jet crisis

Despite an intensive sea and air search for the two pilots of the jet downed by Syria, only some fragments of the jet and a few of the pilots’ possessions have been found. (PHOTO aa, ABDÜLGAFUR KILIÇ)

July 01, 2012, Sunday/ 12:36:00

Relations between Syria and Turkey, which were already tense because of Turkey’s stance against the Syrian government, became worse when Syria shot down a Turkish military jet in the eastern Mediterranean on June 22.

As both sides desperately tried to de-escalate tensions before it exploded into a regional conflagration, in response to Syrian statements claiming that it shot down the Turkish plane because it entered Syrian airspace and was “not an attack,” Turkey said the unarmed plane was shot down in international airspace without any warnings while on a solo mission to test Turkey’s radar system and that the mission had no connection with the crisis in the neighboring country.

Just after the incident, Turkey delivered a diplomatic note to Syria over its downing of the Turkish jet. On Tuesday, when the first official statement from the government about the Syrian attack was made, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan warned Syria that the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) have been given instructions to treat any approaching Syrian military unit as a threat -- a sign that the Syrian crisis has sparked a bilateral conflict between the two neighbors. Noting that the attack has resulted in a new phase in Turkish-Syrian relations, Erdoğan said: “[Syrian President Bashar] al-Assad’s regime has become a clear and present danger to Turkey’s security. The rules of engagement of the Turkish Armed Forces have changed. Any military element that approaches the Turkish border from Syria that poses a security risk or danger will be regarded as a threat and treated as a military target.”

Another response came from NATO on Tuesday. It deemed Syria’s shooting down of the Turkish military plane as unacceptable, but stopped short of threatening Syria with a military response.

Meanwhile, in its first public statement about the downing of the Turkish jet, Russia said the incident should not be seen as a deliberate act by Damascus. The statement was dismissed by Erdoğan, who said Russia was acting as a mouthpiece for the Syrians.

June 23, Saturday

The Zirve Publishing House massacre, in which three Christian publishers based in Malatya were brutally murdered in 2007, is claimed to have been organized by a clandestine organization within the Turkish Armed Forces called the National Strategies and Operations Department of Turkey (TUSHAD). According to the indictment, TUSHAD was established in 1993 by former four-star Gen. Hurşit Tolon, on instructions from the illegal Ergenekon organization, while Tolon was serving as secretary-general of the General Staff. The 761-page indictment lists 19 suspects and was recently accepted by the Malatya 3rd Specially Authorized High Criminal Court. In the additional indictment, Tolon, also a key suspect in the Ergenekon investigation -- together with retired Col. Mehmet Ülger, a former Malatya gendarmerie regiment commander, and Maj. Haydar Yeşil -- stands among the accused. According to the prosecutors, the Zirve massacre was carried out by the Malatya cell of TUSHAD. The prosecution claims that efforts were made to transfer the blame to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and religiously conservative groups.

June 24, Sunday

“The press considered the General Staff a semi-divine office. The media got to be more than the fourth estate,” said Dinç Bilgin, once a renowned media boss. Pointing out the non-military basis of the Feb. 28, 1997 postmodern coup, he warned, “They could stage a military coup again.” With regards to a videocassette incident targeting Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen at the time, he confessed that the independence of his station, ATV, was compromised.

Regardless of the problems related to the European Union’s historical financial crisis and Turkey’s loss of enthusiasm regarding membership in the EU; participants of the 27th Abant meeting, titled “Different Perspectives on Turkey,” said that Turkey needs the EU in order to improve its fragile democracy. “Why does Turkey want to be in the EU?” asked Kurdish intellectual Ümit Fırat of the Helsinki Citizens Association. “Because the EU reforms have provided the much needed push for Turkey to make democratic reforms,” he answered, taking the floor on Saturday at the conference, which aimed to discuss contemporary cultural and political issues in Turkey and was held from June 22-24 in the province of Bolu.

June 25, Monday

Former Higher Education Board (YÖK) President Kemal Gürüz was arrested, becoming the first civilian to be arrested as part of the deepening investigation into the Feb. 28, 1997 military coup. He was arrested after prosecutors overseeing the probe referred him to court, requesting his arrest for his role in the 1997 coup that forced a civilian government to resign. Specially Authorized Ankara Public Prosecutor Kemal Çetin referred Gürüz, who testified for about three hours at the Ankara Courthouse, to the Ankara 12th High Criminal Court for arrest. The court complied with the request and ruled in favor of Gürüz’s arrest.

A fire that took the lives of 13 inmates at a Şanlıurfa prison on June 16 was started on orders from the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the governor of Şanlıurfa province claimed. The fire broke out after a fight among prisoners in the Şanlıurfa prison. An investigation was launched into the fire, which was followed by fires at other prisons in different towns over subsequent days. According to the latest allegations, Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) deputy İbrahim Ayhan, who is currently an inmate in the prison, incited inmates ahead of the incident.

A senior government official said Turkey is negotiating to obtain visa exemption from the European Union in exchange for allowing the EU to return to Turkey illegal migrants who reached EU countries by way of Turkey. Noting that EU countries expect Turkey to readmit illegal migrants, EU Affairs Minister Egemen Bağış said, “You only get what you deserve.” He added, “We would exert ourselves only as much as you would be prepared to support us regarding visas,” implying that Turkey is ready to meet the EU’s demand as long as the EU drops the visa requirement, which the minister described as totally senseless, for Turkish citizens.

A parliamentary commission set up to investigate past coups in Turkey heard the testimony of former Chief of General Staff Gen. İsmail Hakkı Karadayı and former Interior Minister Meral Akşener regarding the Feb. 28, 1997 postmodern coup. İdris Şahin, the spokesperson for the commission, spoke to reporters on Monday evening and said the commission heard “good things” from both Karadayı and Akşener about the tradition of coups in Turkey.

June 26, Tuesday

The Organization of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC) convened in a high-level summit in İstanbul, pledging better regional political and economic cooperation. The summit was marked by the release of a Summit Declaration accepted among BSEC member countries in honor of the 20th anniversary of the organization. The joint declaration provides a roadmap outlining the framework for joint action that aims to initiate developmental goals of the organization for the upcoming 10 years..

Fifteen members of the terrorist PKK were released after fleeing the organization and surrendering to security forces in the southeastern province of Şırnak.

Col. Ali Çakmakkaya, a judge, describes the headscarf as a “symbol of terrorism” in a voice recording, in which he also uses profanity while referring to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his wife, Emine Erdoğan. The voice recording was released on Twitter, although the date of the recording remains unknown. A caption provided with the recording says Çakmakkaya made the statements in an official military setting.

June 27, Wednesday

Massoud Barzani, the president of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq, has said PKK officials accept the notion that armed attacks do not serve the solution [of the Kurdish question] during his meeting with Kemal Burkay, a Kurdish political activist and poet who returned to Turkey last year from Sweden, where he had been in exile as a political asylum-seeker since the 1980 coup d’état forced him to flee Turkey. News websites affiliated with the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) reported that Barzani said during the meeting that the return of Burkay after 30 years of exile marks a positive change.

A public prosecutor reopened a cold case in which seven civilians were killed by soldiers during a funeral for three PKK members in the Kulp district of Diyarbakır province in 1991 and is questioning military officers and soldiers who took part in the incident. Three PKK members were killed in a military operation in a rural area near Kulp in 1991, and their bodies were brought to the district for a funeral. For unknown reasons, tensions flared between some residents of Kulp and gendarmerie units during the service, and the situation took a turn for the worse when a soldier was killed by a bullet fired from an unknown source. Seven civilians were killed after other soldiers opened fire on the crowd. According to various accounts, the commander of the troops was allegedly responsible for the shooting.

Defense Minister İsmet Yılmaz said his ministry is continuing to work on options for dealing with conscientious objectors. Speaking to reporters, the minister said their efforts are aimed at protecting the Turkish state from new fines to be imposed by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) due to Turkey’s policy of mandatory military service. In Turkey, military service is compulsory for all male citizens over the age of 20; however, if a man is enrolled in an institution of higher learning, he is allowed to delay his service until he completes his education.

Turkish security forces discovered 300 kilograms of explosive in the Dağlıca region of Hakkari province, where eight soldiers were killed in an attack by the terrorist PKK on June 19. Security units have not found such a large amount of explosives in this region in many years.

Two PKK members, who turned themselves in to Turkish security officials after escaping their camps in northern Iraq, claimed that they had registered their names at BDP offices to join the PKK. The former PKK members were released by a court without being sentenced to prison terms under Article 221 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK), called the “active repentance” law.

June 28, Thursday

  A recent German court ruling stating that circumcising young boys constitutes assault and should be deemed illegal has been met with harsh criticism by religious communities in Germany. The ruling sparked controversy and heated debates among the Muslim and Jewish communities, which regarded the decision as a violation of their religious freedom.

Turkey’s politicians and jurists continue to speak out against government plans to pass a law abolishing or significantly curtailing the powers of specially authorized courts, which deal with constitutional crimes, organized crime and terror. Critics say the abolition of these courts before the finalization of ongoing coup and terror cases would mean “alarm bells” for Turkish democracy, as the fight against coup-aspiring circles and other criminal networks may come to a halt.

A parliamentary commission set up to investigate coups in Turkey heard the testimony of journalist Nazlı Ilıcak regarding the Feb. 28, 1997 postmodern coup. İdris Şahin, the spokesperson for the commission, replied to reporters’ question after Ilıcak gave her testimony. Şahin said the journalist provided the commission with significant information about relationships between the media and politicians before and after the Feb. 28 coup.

June 29, Friday

The Ankara 12th High Criminal Court detained six members of the Confederation of Public Sector Trade Unions (KESK) on Friday for suspected links to the KCK and released KESK head Lami Özgen.

A recent poll prepared by the ANAR research company has revealed that 66 percent of Kurdish people want to live together peacefully with Turks as one community, while only 6.2 percent of Kurds harbor separatist ideas. The ANAR poll was conducted with the participation of 5,179 respondents from 26 provinces across Turkey. The poll also reveals that 84 percent of Kurdish respondents see Turkish people as their brothers, while 4.1 percent of Kurdish people have feelings of hostility towards Turks. This shows that the vast majority of Kurds have no problems with Turks and have no feelings of hostility towards Turkish people.

In response to is a government plan to pass a law that would abolish or significantly curtail the powers of Turkey’s specially authorized courts, Turkey’s non-Muslims have voiced their concerns and indicated that progress in important cases should not be affected by the changes. “Our concern is in regards to the fate of current cases such as Ergenekon, Zirve and Hrant Dink. Changes to the law should not affect the progress of these key cases which are not only important for the non-Muslim community but also for the whole of Turkey,” said Tatyos Bebek, a civil society activist from the Armenian community.

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