1 Sep 2015
Turkey – August 2015
Coalition-building process, escalating conflict with PKK and ISIS, depreciating Lira, and the Syrian refugee crisis
Turkey is going through a hot summer between the coalition-building process and escalating violence. According to the results of the June general elections, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) obtained 41 percent of the votes, while the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) gained 25 percent. The ultra-nationalist Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) earned 16 percent, while the Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) claimed 13 percent by appealing to a broader electorate and surpassing the 10 percent election threshold. As a result, the AKP lost its majority of parliament seats and right to form a single-party government and was forced into coalition talks. On August 20 it was announced that the talks failed, and new elections will be held on November 1 with an interim government formed until then.
The election results were disappointing not only for the AKP, but personally for President Erdoğan who actively campaigned for the party by abandoning the neutrality customary to his position. Erdoğan wanted the AKP to get a super-majority in Parliament in order to make a constitutional amendment that would turn Turkey from a parliamentary democracy into a presidential one, thereby handing him extraordinary powers. HDP and CHP leaders Demirtaş and Kılıçdaroğlu link the AKP’s electoral failure to the collapse of the peace process with the Kurdish Worker’s Party (PKK), which the Turkish government considers a terrorist organization. They further argue that Erdoğan and the AKP continued to escalate the violence in order to mobilize the nationalist vote and win more votes in the new elections. The AKP rejects those accusations and holds the PKK responsible for the escalating violence.
The peace process with the PKK officially started in 2013 by the AKP government and led to a ceasefire and mutual constructive steps. Although there were difficulties during the process, the bombing in Suruç on July 27 that claimed the lives of 32 young socialists going to the Syrian Kurdish city of Kobane was the turning point. While ISIS claimed responsibility for the bombing, Kurdish forces linked it to the government, at least indirectly. Following the attack, the government blamed the PKK for the killing of two policemen, prompting Turkey’s military strikes and arrests targeting both ISIS and the PKK. Between June 20 and August 20 140 people, including 55 civilians, were believed killed in 18 cities. About 127 locations in 15 eastern cities were declared “safety zones” by the state with extraordinary safety measures in place, including forced deportations. Sixteen Kurdish-populated cities, towns and neighborhoods declared self-rule, and three mayors were arrested.
After the Suruç bombing Turkey joined the US-led coalition that conducted air strikes against ISIS through Iraq and Jordan since mid-2014. Turkey agreed to let the US use Incirlik Air Base located in southern Turkey in exchange for establishing a security zone at the Syrian border. Turkey has never hidden its opposition to Assad’s government or Kurdish autonomy in Syria, and has occasionally been blamed for turning a blind eye to or even collaborating with ISIS. Turkey aims to establish a security zone in Syria along the Turkish border in order to relocate nearly 2.5 million Syrian refugees, reneging on its open-border policy with the Syrians. The increasing numbers of refugees raised concerns in society and caused discrimination against Syrians. Furthermore, the growing number of refugees attempting to cross into Europe is lifting the crisis to an international level.
On its northeastern borders, Turkey continued its military cooperation with Azerbaijan during a joint tactical air force exercise called Eagle Tur-Az 2015 between August 22 and September 18. More than 30 aircraft were deployed for the exercise.
The Chinese Stock Market crash of Black Monday contributed to the existing trend of increased euro, dollar and gold prices, causing them to hit record levels on August 24. The resulting depreciation of the Turkish lira by 34 percent, combined with political and security concerns, is expected to cause higher inflation and outflow of foreign capital. Between August 8 and 24, foreign capital in Turkey decreased to $84 billion from $114 billion.
Following months of investigations, Turkish authorities uncovered the largest cigarette smuggling operation in Turkish history. An estimated 3.5 million packs of cigarettes worth 22 million Turkish lira were confiscated by the Sarp Customs on the Turkish-Georgian border.
Society and Culture
On August 24, floods and landslides caused 8 deaths and 17 injuries in Artvin, the Black Sea city on the Georgian border. Forestry and Water Affairs Minister Eroğlu blamed the disaster on heavy rainfall. Experts and the population have long warned the authorities about potential natural disasters caused by ongoing construction projects of hydroelectric plants and new roads and have organized protests.
Camp Armen was attacked by a group of anonymous people on the 100th day of resistance against demolition with an investigation still ongoing. Established as an Armenian orphanage and summer camp by the Armenian Protestant Church in 1962, Camp Armen became famous thanks to articles by Hrant Dink who was among the orphans who built it. In 1979, the Armenian Church was forced to return Camp Armen to its previous owners and it was later sold to various private enterprises. In May, the new owners wanted to demolish the building and replace it with a luxury site. The attempt was met with resistance and protests. The owners promised to return the land to the Church, but the process is still ongoing. Camp Armen was a venue for concerts, workshops, talks, Ramadan dinners and theater performances.
The second Yavaş-Gamatz Summer School, organized by Helsinki Citizens Assembly in Istanbul and Vanadzor, Armenia, was held for teachers from Armenia and Turkey from August 9 to 16. The summer school aimed to contribute to the normalization of relations by building trust and confidence between teachers.
This news review reflects the major events of the month and is based on media publications. The views expressed in the Review may be different from the views of the editors of the Caucasus Edition.