1 Oct 2015
Turkey – September 2015
Formation of the interim government, conflict in the Southeast region, deteriorating media freedoms, and 14th Istanbul Biennial
Turkey is on its way to snap elections. Meanwhile, an interim government will be in charge until the new Parliament is formed. Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, who was assigned to form the interim government, offered the ministerial posts to the MPs from all the political parties that are represented in the Parliament as was required by law. Although the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) refused to participate in the interim government, MHP MP Tuğrul Türkeş accepted the offer. That move resulted in his expulsion from the MHP, which was founded by his father Alparslan Türkeş in 1969, and him joining the AKP (Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party).
For the first time in Turkey’s history, the MPs from a Kurdish political party, namely the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), participated in the formation of the government. However, the HDP MPs Minister of European Union Affairs Ali Haydar Konca and Minister of Development Müslüm Doğan resigned on September 22. The ministers said in a press conference that they resigned due to the unacceptable behavior towards them, the creation and escalation of the conflict, and security concerns for the election environment.
During his short term, Ali Haydar Konca contradicted the long-held position of the Turkish government regarding the 1915 killings of Armenians in one of his very first press conferences and stated that, “The fact that massacres happened is explicit and clear and everybody accepts that.” While Konca did not use the word “genocide,” some of the leading Armenian media in the Diaspora and Armenia, such as Asbarez and Armenpress, accepted the statement as an official acknowledgement of the genocide.
Meanwhile in September, the conflict with the PKK continued to escalate in the Southeast. Severe clashes took place in the Kurdish region of Turkey after a curfew was declared in Cizre, Yüksekova, and other places in the region. Although Prime Minister Davutoğlu claimed that “no civilians died in Cizre,” it is assumed that 20 civilians died and 9 civilians and 25 security guards were injured from September 4 to 12. All public services including water and electricity, garbage collection, health services, and the education and legal systems were interrupted during the curfew. The HDP’s MPs and ministers started a march to enter Cizre. However, 40 MPs were stopped twice on the road by soldiers. Cizre’s Mayor Leyla İmret, who was elected with 81 percent of the vote, was removed from office by the Interior Minister.
Media freedoms were further violated due to the conflict. Twenty journalists were dismissed from the mainstream newspapers Hürriyet, Milliyet, and HaberTürk. Doğan Media Group, which owns Hürriyet, was raided. Between July 27 and August 28, 103 websites were blocked and 10 journalists were attacked. Apart from the national media, 2 Vice News journalists were arrested in the Southeast and a Dutch journalist living in Diyarbakır was detained and deported from the country. On September 14, police forces raided Nokta Magazine for “spreading propaganda of an illegal organization and insulting the President”. Copies of the magazine were confiscated, as Nokta prepared an image depicting President Erdoğan taking a selfie in front of a soldier’s funeral. On September 28, police forces raided Dicle News Agency and detained 32 journalists, 31 of them were released in the next morning.
This September, Europe’s worst migration crisis in decades gave rise to a tragic image that shocked people all over the world. A boat with immigrants went down several kilometers away from the Turkish coast of Bodrum where the drowned body of Aylan Kurdi washed up. Following the official visit of European Council President Donald Tusk to Turkey as part of a regional tour with a focus on the Syrian refugee crisis on September 9-10, EU leaders on September 24 pledged at least 1 billion euros for Syrian refugees in the Middle East and closer cooperation to stem migrant flows into Europe.
Governor of Artvin Kemal Cirit claimed that the wanted prosecutors Zekeriya Öz and Celal Kara fled to Armenia through Georgia. The Anadolu Agency featured video footage recorded by surveillance cameras that showed Öz and Kara crossing the border. The Armenian National Intelligence Service denied the claims, and Turkey’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not confirm it, either. Öz and Kara were running the “Ergenekon investigation” that accused several army officials and journalists of plotting against the government and also unveiled the corruption linked to President Erdoğan’s family and 4 former ministers with “17-25 December investigation.” However, the prosecutors’ links with the Gülen Movement made them lose their posts and get charged with forming an illegal organization and attempting to topple or incapacitate the Turkish government through the use of force or coercion. The tension had escalated between President Erdoğan and Fetullah Gülen after the government’s decision to close private test prep schools across the country. Turkey now regards the Gülen Movement, once an ally of the AKP, as a terrorist organization.
The tender for “4.5G mobile technology” held by the Information and Communication Technologies Authority ended with a record 3.35 billion euro bid from Britain’s Vodafone and Turkish duo Avea and Turkcell. The tender had been postponed in May, weeks after President Erdoğan urged Turkey not to waste time with 4G and move straight to 5G. Turkish officials had dubbed the technology being auctioned as 4.5G.
Society, Culture, and Sport
September 6 and 7 marked the 60th anniversary of the pogroms against non-Muslims, which were one of the darker episodes of Turkish history. A variety of commemoration events were held, such as the commemoration ritual that was organized for the first time by the Greek community of Istanbul at Aya Yorgi Church.
The Turkish film director Emin Alper’s latest movie received the Special Jury Prize at this year’s Venice International Film Festival. The dystopian movie “Abluka” (Frenzy) centers on the story of 2 brothers who are struggling to survive under heavy political violence.
The 7th International Hrant Dink Award was presented on September 15, on Dink’s birthday. This year’s awards were granted to the women’s rights activist Samar Badawi from Saudi Arabia and to Kaos GL, an initiative that works for LGBT rights in Turkey.
The 14th Istanbul Biennial, “SALTWATER: A Theory of Thought Forms,” offers city-wide exhibitions in a variety of authentic venues like the Hrant Dink Foundation and Agos; Casa Garibaldi; Trotsky House, Rizzo Palace, and Mizzi Mansion on the Prince Islands; Istanbul Modern Museum, Museum of Innocence, and Galata Greek Primary School between September 5 and November 1.
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.