Turkey – November 2015


Election victory of AKP, murder of Tahir Elçi, and shooting of a Russian warplane

Internal Politics

The Justice and Development Party (AKP) won the November 1 snap elections and came to power with a remarkable boost compared to the June 7 elections. The AKP secured 49.5 percent of the votes and 317 of 550 seats in the Parliament. The main opposition the Republican People’s Party (CHP) managed to improve slightly on its June 7 performance getting 25.3 percent and 134 seats. The Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) lost a considerable number of votes. The HDP barely managed to cross the 10 percent threshold and ended up with 59 seats compared to 13 percent and 80 seats in June. The MHP dropped to 11.9 percent from 16 percent in June ended up with 40 seats.

The first legislative year of the 26th term of the Turkish Parliament began on November 17 with the new MPs taking their oaths. The HDP MP Leyla Zana started the oath-taking ceremony with the Kurdish words “Bi Hevîya Aşîtî Kî Bi Rûmet Û Mayînde…” (In the hope of an honored and perpetual peace), and continued the oath in Turkish. Chairperson of the first parliamentary session Deniz Baykal invited Zana to take her oath again, however she did not return to do so. A similar situation arose during the oath taking ceremony in 1991, when Zana spoke Kurdish in the Parliament and, as a consequence, was imprisoned for 10 years, which was a first in the Turkish Parliament’s history.

President Erdoğan has approved the cabinet list drafted by Prime Minister Davutoğlu. Istanbul deputy Berat Albayrak, Erdoğan’s son-in-law, was appointed as the new Energy and Natural Resources Minister. Despite key changes, many in the new cabinet are well-known names who served in the one-year government under Davutoğlu between August 2014 and August 2015. The new government program has set the adoption of the presidential system in line with President Erdoğan’s desires as one of its top priorities, together with the making of a new constitution and improvements on democratization.

The conflict in the Southeast continues with curfews and human tragedies. The curfew in the Silvan district of Diyarbakır and the Nusyabin district of Mardin have caused inhumane conditions and civilian causalities and drawn widespread criticism from opposition politicians and rights groups. On November 13, Prime Minister Davutoğlu responded to the criticism saying that military operations in Silvan “will continue until not a single terrorist remains” amid a curfew in effect for 12 days in the town. Intense combat beginning on November 3 in Silvan between the security forces and the Patriotic Revolutionist Youth Movement (YDG-H) – an affiliate organization of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) – forced hundreds of families to flee their homes in the curfew zone. In the 3 neighborhoods under the curfew, phone lines, the internet connection, water, and electricity are cut off, and there is no access to food.

On November 28, while giving a press statement under the famous Four-Legged Minaret in Diyarbakır about the damage it had been subject to during the military operations, Kurdish human rights lawyer and Head of Diyarbakır Bar Tahir Elçi was murdered along with two policemen. Tahir Elçi had acted as the lawyer for many human rights violation cases both at the national and European level, and had won remarkable legal cases. Lately, he had been the target of nationalist circles for saying “PKK is not a terroristic organization” on national TV. The government suggested that the PKK is responsible for the deaths, although the Diyarbakır Bar considers it an assassination. Following Elçi’s murder, many cities were scenes for protests, which were met with police attacks.

Concerning the media freedoms, 14 TV channels and radio stations incorporated in the Gülen Movement and linked to the Samanyolu Broadcasting Group have been removed from the satellite platform TÜRKSAT. Prosecution has been brought against Nokta magazine columnist Perihan Mağden over a charge of insulting President Erdoğan. Zaman daily was subjected to a police raid, some journalists were fined, and others were sent to court. Cumhuriyet editor-in-chief Can Dündar and Ankara bureau chief Erdem Gül were arrested because of their news coverage on arms smuggling to the Syrian rebels with MİT (National Intelligence Agency) trucks.

External Politics

Turkey shot down a Russian warplane, a Russian-type SU-24, near the Syrian border on November 24. The government claimed that two warplanes, whose belonging was unknown at the time, violated the Turkish airspace up to a depth of 2.19 km for about 17 seconds. The Turkish military said the jet was given 10 warnings in 5 minutes before being shot down by two F-16 fighter jets. Both pilots ejected after the aircraft was hit; while one pilot died, the other pilot was rescued.

This is one of the most serious publicly acknowledged clashes between a NATO member country and Russia for half a century. Russian President Putin evaluated the incident as “a stab in the back by terrorist accomplices”. Putin blamed the Turkish government for aiding ISIS. Erdoğan, on the other hand, rejected the claims and insisted that the shooting occurred because of the rules of engagement. Both leaders explained their expectations for an apology from the other side, and exchanged strong words. Russia started to implement a series of sanctions against Turkey from abolishing the visa-free regime to the expulsion of Turkish businessmen. Turkey and Russia have had a very deep and strategic partnership including in the sectors of energy, tourism, food, and construction, thus the straining of relations caused serious tension in the markets.

The previous week, the G20 Summit meeting took place in Antalya on November 14-16 under Turkey’s presidency. In the Summit, Turkey prioritized the situation in Syria, the Syrian refugees, and the fight against terror. Foreign Minister Sinirlioğlu confirmed on November 17 that NATO allies Ankara and Washington have agreed to stage a “joint operation” along Turkey’s border with Syria, with sources saying this is the start of a previously announced bid to establish an “ISIL-free zone”.

Society, Culture, and Sports

On November 18, Alexis Tsipras paid a visit to the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul for the first time as the Prime Minister of Greece. As part of the efforts to improve neighborly relations, the Prime Minister Tsipras and Prime Minister Davutoğlu attended a friendly game where Turkey and Greece met on the football pitch for the first time in eight years. Some Turkish fans booed during the minute’s silence for the victims of the Paris attacks before their national team drew 0-0 with Greece. One month ago, some Turkish supporters in the city of Konya also booed a minute of silence for the victims of the October 10 Ankara Massacre, in which 102 peace activists were killed by the Islamic State. Both incidents created a fierce public debate in Turkey.

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.

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