Turkey Recap:


No Meze-ing Around
Jan. 28, 2021

What better way for Turkey and Greece to resume exploratory talks Monday after a long pause since 2016 than with fish and meze, because if there is one thing Greeks and Turks agree on, it’s the joy of eating local cuisine. Just don’t mention who certain foods belong to. We don’t want to open a new front just as tensions eased somewhat.

As expected, there was no breakthrough Monday except an agreement to keep talking, but even that, after last year’s dispute, is something to appreciate. Yet as MEI’s Gönül Tol writes, “Not everyone is happy though. (Turkish Pres. Recep Tayyip) Erdoğan’s nationalist allies worry that Ankara might make concessions to Athens on what they view as a national cause.” And Tol points out there are many areas of disagreement between the two from the Aegean to Cyprus.

The talks were also a chance for Ankara and Athens to show off the act of discussion to their Western partners, as maritime delimitation law expert Yunus Emre Açıkgönül suggests in one tweet from an insightful thread. On the same day the NATO allies’ senior diplomats met, Greece signed a $2.8bn deal with France, who offered to sell 18 Rafale fighter jets to Athens last year.

There’s been talk in Europe about Erdoğan’s “charm offensive”, especially after Turkish Foreign Min. Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu’s visit to Brussels. What does it mean for European Union sanctions threatened last month? Well, the bloc’s top diplomat Josep Borell said work was “ongoing”, adding, “The list is not ready, but has not been put aside.” Çavuşoğlu was more blunt in his remarks to Politico: “I told everybody that any restrictive measures against Turkey will ruin everything.”

Going beyond the calls for “concrete” action and “positive” developments, the EU-Turkey relationship is not what it was at the peak of optimism in 2005, when accession negotiations began. However, as Israel-Turkey trade numbers show, political disagreements can exist while maintaining strong economic ties. Turkey needs the EU. In 2019, the bloc was Turkey’s number one import and export partner, while Ankara was the bloc’s fifth largest trading partner. As recent events and history might indicate, money talks louder than words.
The Turkish and Greek delegations met Monday where fish and mezes were served, which the Athens side apparently “really liked,” according to a CNN Türk journalist. © Turkish Foreign Ministry
7-day breakdown
‘The invisibles’

In an incident that rekindled memories of security operations in the 1990s, Gökhan Güneş, a 23-year-old electrician, alleged he was abducted and systematically tortured over six days this week. On Jan. 20, four men forced Güneş into a car near his workplace in Kayaşehir, İstanbul, in a scene captured on surveillance footage.

Speaking at a press event hours after his release Tuesday, Güneş claimed he was held in an undisclosed location where he was beaten, doused in cold water and given electric shocks by abductors that called themselves “the invisibles.” The Turkish state has yet to make official comments on the accusations, but Güneş alleged the abductors tried to recruit him as an informant on a small Marxist group allied with the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP).

After he went missing, Güneş’ family organized daily protests in front of İstanbul’s Çağlayan courthouse to demand information on his whereabouts. Güneş’ lawyer credited public outcry and media coverage for his release Tuesday, adding a legal team would apply for investigations with Turkey’s Constitutional Court and the European Court of Human Rights.

Though cases of enforced disappearances subsided in Turkey in the 2000s, human rights advocates have documented the return of such practices after the 2016 coup attempt. Following the latest events, Turkey’s Human Rights Association issued a statement Wednesday seeking information on two Turkish citizens that went missing last year.
Gökhan Güneş described the alleged torture he underwent during the six-day period he went missing in a press event Tuesday at the İstanbul Branch of the Human Rights Association. © Diego Cupolo
Welcome to the club, Soylu

Is there friction between Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu and Justice Minister Abdülhamit Gül? No, insisted ruling party chairperson Numan Kurtulmuş to Haber Global channel in an interview Friday. He was asked the question after Gül said last Thursday: “I’m addressing those who give orders for arrests: Turkey’s a country with the rule of law.” 

There was immediate speculation his comments were a response to Soylu’s anger in a tweet last Wednesday over the release of a “vile” suspect that swore at his mother, who was then in hospital.

Not one to miss an opportunity for a quip, İYİ Party leader Meral Akşener welcomed Soylu to a club, as she expressed disgust at such insults. “An interior minister cannot complain via social media, though I respect mothers. But he’s welcome to our club,” she said Thursday. But the story doesn’t end there. The same suspect was arrested Friday for insulting the president.
Bee serious

As “vaccine nationalism” becomes another thing for the UK and the EU to fight over, a gleeful Erdoğan hailed Turkey’s progress on the issue Tuesday. “Look, in the world’s most developed countries, there are vaccination problems, they can’t find vaccines. Thank God we have, following the steps we’ve taken and the payments we’ve made, we’ve started vaccination,” he said, adding 50 million doses would come in the first stage.

Turkey received 6.5 million more doses of China’s Sinovac Biotech vaccine Monday, bringing the total to 10 million so far. Meanwhile, over 1.5 million people have been inoculated as of Thursday afternoon. There was also some good news Wednesday from Turkish Health Min. Fahrettin Koca, who said the number of cases had “rapidly fallen” by 80 percent thanks to measures taken. It’s a welcome note after Turkey passed 25,000 Covid-19 related deaths.

In the meantime, Turkish scientists developed a nasal spray that kills Covid-19 in one minute. But perhaps the remedy was closer to home than we realized. Some in Malatya bee-lieve allowing bees to sting them will protect them against the virus. We’re sure the news will create a buzz.

Ye’ll take the high road

During a news conference today (Thursday), Turkey’s Central Bank Gov. Naci Ağbal vowed to keep interest rates high in continued efforts to bring down the nation’s 14.6 percent inflation, reassuring investors left nervous after Pres. Erdoğan’s comment Friday that he was “absolutely against high interest rates.” 

Ağbal pledged to keep monetary policy tight, stating Turkey would reach its official five percent inflation target by the end of 2023 despite economic pressures. Since his appointment in November, Ağbal has sought to rebuild the Central Bank’s credibility and his work may be paying off as more than $15 billion have streamed into Turkish assets under his leadership. More positive news came Tuesday, when the International Monetary Fund projected Turkey’s economy to grow six percent this year. 

Yet as the Covid-19 pandemic weighs on global markets, an opposition deputy highlighted local impacts, citing a report that found nearly 100,000 small businesses closed across the country in 2020. Stubbornly high inflation has also led to spikes in staple food costs, prompting Turkish regulators to fine companies charging ‘exorbitant’ prices.
Daughters of Co-conspirators

And there’s been a lot of strange news from Turkey this week. To list a few, NBA star and Fethullah Gulen-supporter Enes Kanter is dating Ariana Rockefeller, meat enthusiast Salt Bae is under investigation for indecent exposure, a former AKP deputy claimed US Pres. Joe Biden has Kurdish roots, the Turkish hair industry is booming and a tech startup is offering QR codes for gravestones to help remember lost loved ones.

Yet the headline that’s garnered most attention is the announcement former US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and her daughter are producing a TV series about Syrian Kurdish women fighters. The show is based on the soon-to-be-released book, “The Daughters of Kobani”, by journalist Gayle Tzemach Lemmon and will likely draw ire from officials in Ankara, where just Sunday, Turkey’s Communications Director Fahrettin Altun urged the West to stop spreading lies on the Kurdish movement.
Speed reads
Turkey Offers Uncertain Refuge for Iranians Fleeing Persecution (NYT)

Turkish appeals court overturns acquittal in Gezi trial (Reuters)

Turkey seeks arrest of judges, prosecutors over coup ties (AP)

West Africa: Pirates launch deadly attack on Turkish ship off Nigeria (DW)

Turkey’s scapegoating of McGurk rooted in revisionism (Al-Monitor)

Syria: Are water supplies being weaponized by Turkey? (DW)

How Qatar and Turkey came together (Economist)

An alleged Saudi troll campaign is targeting a movie about the murder of Jamal Khashoggi (WaPo)

Turkey Plans New Soccer Laws to Curb Excessive Spending (Bloomberg)

Turkish delivery app Getir hits international market, arrives in London (TRT World)

Turkey’s Overlooked Role in the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War (GMF)

Turkish Broadcasters Under Pressure to Be on Same Wavelength as Ruling Party (VOA)
Weekend reads
Generation Z Turns on Erdogan

As protests continue over Erdoğan’s appointment of an AKP-affiliated rector to Boğaziçi University, journalist Paul Benjamin Osterlund links the current demonstrations to increasing state pressure on Turkish academia. Relaying varied and detailed interviews with the nation’s youth, Osterlund writes, “Turkey’s Generation Z is facing a battered economy, staggering unemployment rates, and a political reality where their peers can be arrested for holding a banner or writing a tweet.” (Newlines)

Why the EU and the United States Should Rethink Their Turkey Policies in 2021

Laying out a stark progression of events in Turkey-West relations, Carnegie analysts Marc Pierini and Francesco Siccardi argue Ankara’s “current foreign policy is both disruptive and deeply rooted in domestic politics,” which “produces political unreliability.” The authors suggest a six-step plan for recalibrating relations, noting significant challenges lie in striking the “right balance between containing Turkey’s actions” and maintaining “economic and security cooperation while enticing tangible improvements in the rule of law.” (Carnegie)

Autocratization, permanent emergency rule and local politics: lessons from the Kurds in Turkey

Local politics are used to enable the permanency of emergency rule, write political scientist Matthew Whiting and scholar Zeynep N. Kaya in this article which uses Van as an example. They explain how “exceptional rule” goes as far back as the Ottoman Empire and focus on Kurdish mayors removed after the failed coup during the state of emergency. Ankara “changed the operation of local democracy in a way that was not possible prior to emergency rule”, they note, with a decree in which an accusation of a crime alone was enough to replace an elected mayor. (Democratization)

Turkey, Saudi Arabia eye improved ties after Gulf crisis ends

Now that the dispute between Qatar and its Gulf neighbors – led by Saudi Arabia – is officially over, journalist Andrew Wilks explores what that means for Ankara and Riyadh. The author points to “signs of warming relations”, including a call between Erdoğan and the Saudi king. The Turkish economy likely welcomes any improvement as Aykan Erdemir, senior director at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington, points out improved trade relations with Saudi Arabia would ameliorate Turkey’s widening current account deficit, writes Wilks. (Al Jazeera

For related reading, we recommend End of the Qatar Embargo: An Opportunity, not Threat, for Turkey by Anthony Skinner for Fikra Forum.
Erdoğan at the launch ceremony Saturday for the country’s first indigenous frigate Istanbul (F-515). © Turkish Presidency
The week ahead
Jan 28  MEI hosts online panel titled, Imagining Future Airwars: What Turkish Successes in Nagorno-Karabakh and Libya Might Foreshadow, at 1500 EST / 2300 TSİ

Jan 29  Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif visits Turkey

Jan 29  Turkey’s Yunus Emre Institute hosts webinar titled, Ancient Wonders Lecture Series: Hattusa, at 1200 EST / 2000 TSİ

Feb 3  Latest inflation data published by Turkish Statistical Institute

Feb 3  The Robert Bosch Academy hosts a virtual debate titled, The Biden Administration and the Middle East: Back to the Future or a Managed Retreat?, at 1000 EST / 1800 TSİ