1 Nov 2015
Turkey – October 2015
Terrorist attacks in Ankara, deteriorating media freedoms, Syrian conflict and refugee crisis, and Nobel Prize in chemistry
On October 11, Turkey was shaken by the largest terrorist attack in its history. An explosion took place at the Peace Rally in Ankara, which was organized by a large number of unions and professional associations. According to the Ankara Medical Chamber, 106 people died and 86 were badly wounded with 20 in the intensive care unit. On October 20, Ankara Public Prosecutor’s Office announced that the attack was planned by ISIS. On the very same day, after the explosion, PKK announced a unilateral cease-fire with Turkey.
The suicide bombers were identified as Yunus Emre Alagöz and Ömer Deniz Dündar, both members of the “Dokumacı” group. The leader of the group Mustafa Dokumacı has been under wiretap surveillance within the framework of an investigation into al-Qaeda since September 2013. Dokumacı was allegedly involved in the bomb attacks in the province of Diyarbakır on June 5 and the district of Suruç on July 20.
In order not to interfere with the investigation, Ankara’s 6th Criminal Court put a week-long ban on the broadcast of any kind of criticism, comments, reportage, or interviews about the bombing in Ankara. Along with many alternative media outlets, one mainstream opposition newspaper, Cumhuriyet, did not comply with the ban. The Provincial Police Chief, the Intelligence Branch Chief, and the Security Branch Chief were unseated in Ankara. An Ankara prosecutor launched an investigation of Interior Minister Selami Altınok and several public officers for neglect of duty over the bombing.
Meanwhile, the trial for the famous Gezi Protests of Summer 2013 was concluded on October 23. The court sentenced 244 of 255 defendants, among them four doctors who treated the injured, to terms of imprisonment between 2.5 months and 18 months.
Throughout the month of October, the pressures on media freedom continued. Almost every day from October 1 to 22, a number of journalists charged for various crimes testified in courts. Telecommunications Directorate ruled to block access to 12 websites and news portals critical of the government. On September 30, a group of four people attacked journalist, columnist, and TV host Ahmet Hakan in front of his house. On October 28, a trustee panel was appointed to the Koza İpek Media Group on the basis of supporting the Gülen Movement. The headquarters of the media outlet were raided by the police, and TV channels and newspapers were shut down. On a positive note for media freedom, Today’s Zaman Editor-in-Chief Bülent Keneş arrested for allegedly insulting the President via twitter was released.
From October 3 to 10, Russian and Turkish planes had 13 dangerous encounters along the Syrian border, according to Turkish Deputy Foreign Minister Aydin. Near the state borders, Turkish fighter jets downed a drone on October 16, whose ownership could not be determined as stated by the General Staff. The Russian Defense Ministry rejected the possible claims stating on October 16 that all Russian aircraft operating in Syria, including drones, have safely returned to their base. To give a background, Turkey has all along favored the ouster of Assad and confronted the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its armed branch, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), to prevent them from gaining footing in the north of the country as it considers them affiliates of PKK. Turkey supports what are known as the “moderate Islamist opposition” groups in Syria. President Erdoğan criticized Russia’s air strikes in Syria saying they target moderate rebels fighting against President Bashar al-Assad. He vowed to express his concerns to Vladimir Putin.
In regard to the evolving Syrian refugee crisis, President Erdoğan visited Brussels on October 5 urging the EU to consider imposing safe havens and no-fly zones in Syria. Instead, the EU offered Erdoğan €3 billion in addition to the opening of the new negotiation chapters for EU accession as well as visa liberalization measures in exchange for border controls and improved rights for refugees in Turkey in order to prevent the flow to Europe. The agreement has met criticism from many circles both in Turkey and Europe, condemning the EU for turning a blind eye to the human rights violations in Turkey in exchange for a deal as well as for giving AKP political advantage before the November 1 elections.
In a long-awaited decision, the ECHR Grand Chamber ruled by a majority of ten judges against seven that Switzerland violated Turkish politician Perinçek’s freedom of speech. In 2005, at a number of conferences in Switzerland, Doğu Perinçek had stated that the Armenian genocide is an “international lie”. The Switzerland-Armenia Association had then filed a criminal complaint against Perinçek based on the Swiss law criminalizing the denial of the Armenian genocide, and the Swiss court had found Perinçek guilty.
According to a report by the Mediterranean Touristic Hoteliers Association (AKTOB), the number of tourists visiting Antalya declined by 5.1 percent to 9.7 million in the first 9 months of the year. A rise in the number of German tourists has enabled the city to compensate for the decrease in the number of Russian tourists, according to the AKTOB report. Losses in income from tourism are expected to surpass $5 billion.
Society, Culture, and Sport
Aziz Sancar was awarded the 2015 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his studies on DNA instauration. The public discussions, however, focused not on his success in the sciences but on ethnicity, speculating whether he is Kurdish or Turkish. Sancar’s cousin, HDP Deputy Mithat Sancar, further stimulating the controversy, announced, “People should know that Aziz Sancar’s first language is Arabic. We speak Arabic in the family.”.
October hosted many festivals and cultural events. The 14th annual Filmekimi featured the screening of 46 movies. The 5th International Crime and Punishment Film Festival with the theme “Ayr/mc/l/k”, meaning “Discrimination”, screened 47 films from 23 countries.
On the musical scene, Akbank Jazz Festival celebrated its 25th anniversary with various concerts and events from October 21 to 30.
To honor the 100th birthday of Edith Piaf, the legendary French singer was portrayed on an Istanbul stage with the play “Edith Piaf-Marcel”, performed by the Yerevan State Youth Theater, the first Armenian play staged 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.