By On January 16, 2018

Syria crisis: Why Turkey is poised to attack Kurdish enclave Afrin

]]> Europe Europe Syria crisis: Why Turkey is poised to attack Kurdish enclave Afrin

A fighter from the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) gestures at displaced Syrians walking towards a Kurdish controlled checkpoint between the rebel-held town of Azaz in northern Syria    and the city of Afrin, along Syria's northern border with Turkey, as they attempt to cross in June 2017Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption One of Turkey's main concerns is to prevent a "Kurdish corridor" along its border

Turkish television channels have been reporting from the Syrian border every top of the hour with pictures showing the deployment of troops, tanks and armoured vehicles.

"The countdown has begun for Turkey's operation against Afrin," said one pro-government channel.

Its correspondent underlined that the troops on the border were already pointing at what the authorities term terrorist targets within Syria. There were also r eports of Turkish artillery shelling the area.

Earlier this week, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said an operation against the Kurdish-held enclave in northern Syria was imminent.

"We will get rid of terror nests one-by-one in Syria starting with Afrin and Manbij," he said.

Mr Erdogan's announcement follows the US decision to form a 30,000-strong border security force predominantly made up of Kurdish YPG fighters, whom Ankara regards as a national security threat and an off-shoot of the militant group PKK that has waged a war in the southeast of Turkey for over three decades.

  • Who are the Kurds?
  • Who are the Kurds?

An attack on Afrin would be an extension of the Euphrates Shield Operation, which targeted the Islamic State group along with the Kurdish forces and placed the area from Azaz to Jarablus under the control of Turkey-backed rebels. The eight-month operation officially ended in March 2017.

'Increasingly cornered'

"The Euphrates Shield Operation started in a climate when a few months earlier a Russian jet was downed by Turkey, when US co-operation with YPG forces was growing stronger and when Ankara increasingly felt it was pushed out of the game in northern Syria," says Metin Gurcan, a military expert.

"Thanks to Euphrates Shield, Turkey was able to get back in the Syria game. The timing of the operation on Afrin should be treated the same way. Ankara now feels increasingly cornered."

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Ankara considers the YPG, pictured in the area of Afrin, as an extension of the banned Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK)

Ku rdish-held Afrin enclave lies in the north-west of Syria, alongside the Turkish border. It is separated from the other Kurdish-controlled areas in northern Syria. One of Turkey's main concerns is to prevent the establishment of a "Kurdish corridor" along its border.

Many believe that the US decision to form a mainly Kurdish border security force actually drove Turkey to bring its Afrin operation forward.

"If the US really forms such a border force, then there will be a totally different equation in Syria," says Ahmet Kasim Han, an academic on international relations.

"This would point to a process that could potentially end with the forming of a YPG-PKK state in the north of Syria. Washington should have known that Turkey would react."

The operation against Afrin is expected to be carried out together with Syrian opposition fighters, as was the case with Euphrates Shield.

The attack reportedly will start with Turkish artillery units opening fire and clearing the land, followed by rebel units moving in. They will be followed by Turkish ground forces.

'New relationship'

But Metin Gurcan argues that an operation without the backing of an air force would make things very complicated for Turkey. He believes that is why the need for Russia's backing for the Afrin operation is crucial.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption President Putin and President Erdogan have recently patched up diplomatic ties

"Russia has to open its air space for this operation. Otherwise it might be very costly.

"Also, there are around 300 Russian soldiers in Afrin. If Russia gives a green light, then Turkish forces could clear out Afrin in one day. Otherwise, it could turn into a nightmare," he says.

Ahmet Kasim Han agrees that an operation without Russia's approval would be very costly for Turkey. But he thinks Moscow's approval could have very serious consequences as well.

"In the unlikely event of Turkey reaching an agreement with Russia, along with a tacit approval of the Syrian regime, then that would mean a watershed event in Turkey's relations not only with Russia but also with the West," Mr Han says.

"If Turkey's foreign policy moves closer to Russia as such, we could probably start talking of a new world order and a whole new relationship between Nato and Turkey," he says.

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Source: Google News Turkey | Netizen 24 Turkey

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By On January 16, 2018

Turkey, UK officials meet over status of Turkish jet program

ANKARA, Turkey â€" Top officials from Turkey have met with a high-profile British delegation to discuss ways to go forward with plans to design, develop and build the TF-X, the Turkish indigenous fighter jet in the making.

The British delegation, including International Trade Secretary Liam Fox and Rolls-Royce CEO Warren East, met Jan. 13 with Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, chief procurement officer Ismail Demir, Turkish Aerospace Industries CEO Temel Kotil and other senior Turkish officials. TAI is the prime local contractor of the TF-X program.

A statement from the Turkish prime minister’s office said that during the meeting, “our content over cooperation and recent advancing of our strategic partnership with the United Kingdom via joint programs was expressed.”

An official in Yildirim’s office said the Turkish and British teams agreed to produce the first prototype of the TF-X in 2023, the centennial of the Turkish republic.

“Additional financing for the planned work in 2018 was also discussed, but this topic requires further negotiations,” the official said.

He said that a research and development road map was also discussed during talks in Ankara.

In January 2017, Britain and Turkey signed a deal worth more than £100 million (U.S. $137 million) to develop the Turkish fighter jet. The deal involves TAI and BAE Systems.

A few months later, in May, Rolls-Royce partnered with Turkish industrial group Kale with the aim of building engines for the TF-X. Rolls-Royce’s Turkish venture came less than a year after the company, in October 2016, offered a joint production partnership to Turkey with a view to powering planned Turkish platforms and potential sales to third parties. The British company’s proposal involved a production unit in Turkey to manufacture engines for the TF-X, as well as for helicopters, tanks and missiles.

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In October 2015, a memorandum of understanding had been signed between Turkey and Rolls-Royce for technological know-how and a production unit. Under the plan, Rolls-Royce will launch an advanced manufacturing and technology center in Turkey ― the company’s eighth such unit worldwide.

The Ankara meeting came at a time when Turkish officials are preparing to select an engine for the TF-X. In addition to Rolls-Royce, Tusas Engine Industries, TAI’s sister company and an engine specialist, expressed interest in powering the TF-X.

Turkish officials say they rely on foreign technology in order to build, in the longer term, an indigenous engine that will power the TF-X.

They say the choice of engine was the most critical step at this stage of the TF-X program. “All other design work will depend on the engine to be selected,” one official said. “Once we have decided on the engine, the rest of the program will automatically gain pace.”

The TF-X program is run by the country’s procurement agency, the Undersecretariat for Defence Industries. But the decision on the engine will be made by the ultimate panel that oversees top procurement decisions ― the Defence Industry Executive Committee, which is chaired by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Source: Google News Turkey | Netizen 24 Turkey

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By On January 16, 2018

Iran, Turkey's senior officials discuss banking ties

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TEHRAN, Jan. 16 (Xinhua) -- Senior officials from the Central Bank of Iran (CBI) and Turkey met in Iran's capital Tehran to discuss new ways of developing banking relations between the two neighboring states, Financial Tribune daily reported on Tuesday.

In the meeting, Ahmad Araqchi, CBI's deputy for foreign exchange affairs, and Murat Uysal, vice governor of the Central Bank of Turkey, called for expanding economic and trade ties for facilitating banking relations.

"The currency swap agreement (signed last year between Iran and Turkey) is one of the measures of the central banks of both countries to increase cooperation and is expected to be implemented soon as the infrastructures are set in place," Araqchi said.

On Oct. 20, Iran and Turkey's central banks announced that both neighbors had signed a currency swap agreement for condu cting bilateral trade in local currencies.

Based on the agreement, the two banks allocated a credit of five billion Turkish lira (1.32 billion U.S. dollars) and its equivalent in Iranian rial to their respective agent banks, namely Bank Melli Iran and Ziraat Bank, to be used as letters of credit with a repayment period of one year for both countries' traders.

The currency swap agreement is aimed at reducing costs for both countries' traders, as they will no longer need to use intermediate currencies since the specified agent banks are allowed to finance bilateral trading via international payment tools such as letters of credit and remittances in their local currency.

Iran and Turkey further aim to connect their bank cards in a move that will allow their citizens to benefit from mutual electronic banking services and facilitate tourism.

"The implementation of the currency swap agreement with Iran is an important part of Turkey's pl an to expand strategic ties between the two nations," vice governor of the Central Bank of Turkey said in Tehran meeting.

Besides, Huseyin Aydin, CEO of Turkish Ziraat Bank who also heads Turkey's association of state-owned lenders, said at the meeting that his bank welcomes enhanced ties with its Iranian counterparts.

"While a number of Iranian banks have opened accounts with Ziraat, similar negotiations are underway with other banks. Ziraat Bank's account with Bank Melli Iran has also been opened," he said.

Besides, Osman Arslan, chief executive of Turkish Halkbank, sought to outline the current policies of the lender under his months-old leadership, and vowed that as before, the bank will "play its own role in expanding banking ties with Iranian banks."

Source: Google News Turkey | Netizen 24 Turkey

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By On January 16, 2018

Turkey's Erdogan calls on EU to respond to US's 'terror army' in Syria

Turkey's president has called on Nato to take a stance against the US, a fellow ally, over its plans to form a 30,000-strong Kurdish-led border security force in Syria.

Turkey has been threatening to launch a new military offensive in Syria against Syrian Kurdish militias, which Ankara considers to be terrorists because of their affiliation with a outlawed group fighting an insurgency in southern Turkey.

On Monday President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused Washington of creating an "army of terror" in Syria, along the border with Turkey, and vowed to crush the US-backed border force.

Addressing his ruling party's deputies on Tuesday, Mr Erdogan questioned Nato's stance on the issue, saying: "Hey Nato! You are obliged to make a stance against those who harass and violate the borders of your members."

Ties between Turkey and the US have deteriorated over the latter's support of the Kurdish militia, known as the People's Defense Units, or YPG, which Turkey says is a major threat to its security.

Source: Google News Turkey | Netizen 24 Turkey


By On January 14, 2018

Turkey's Abdullah Gül discovers political spine, maybe

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (L) and former president Abdullah Gül | Ozan Kose/AFP via Getty Images

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (L) and former president Abdullah Gül | Ozan Kose/AFP via Getty Images

ISTANBUL â€" Abdullah Gül seems an odd candidate for the job of saving Turkey’s democracy.

After all, he co-founded the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) alongside Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and served as Turkey’s president while his erstwhile ally was prime minister.

Yet a public spat between Gül and Erdoğan has raised hopes among Turkey’s democrats that the ex-president could join the opposition and run against his old friend in next year’s election.

Gül has voiced measured unease over the government’s policies before, but it was only when he condemned a presidential decree in the last week of 2017 that Erdoğan began firing back.

The controversial decree grants immunity to civilians who tried to stop the attempted coup in July 2016 and any “acts of terror” in its aftermath. The legal definition of terrorism in Turkey is broad, and opponents have warned that the decree encourages vigilantism and violence.

“There are no longer normal political or electoral conditions to speak of in Turkey” â€" Suat KınıklıoÄŸlu, fellow at the Institute for Security and Development Policy

Gül called the decree “worrisome” in a carefully worded tweet, criticizing its vague language.

Speaking at a rally in northern Turkey a few days later, Erdoğan responded. “Shame on you,” he said, addressing Gül. “Did we not share a cause?”

Gül refused to back down. “As someone who believes in freedom of thought and expression, which are founding principles of our party, I will continue to express my view in situations I find necessary,” said Gül’s office in a note signed by the ex-president on December 30.

Ever since, the clash of the presidents has become the talk of the country â€" and the question of whether Gül will run for office next year is dominating political shows and newspaper columns.

Turkey’s democrats say that 2019 is their last chance. It’s the year that constitutional changes passed in last year’s referendum will come into force, transforming Turkey’s parliamentary democracy into a presidential system â€" a recipe for one-man rule, the opposition says.

But to become Turkey’s all-powerful president, Erdoğan will still need to win the twin parliamentary and presidential elections in fall 2019.

Many of Erdoğan’s opponents see Gül as an ideal challenger, given his wide appeal. Unlike Turkey’s current opposition leaders, the former president would be capable of drawing support from across the country’s rigid ideological and cultural divides, including the Kurds.

“If he decides to run, he has the biggest chance of shaking Erdoğan’s rule,” said Gönül Tol, director of Turkish studies at the Middle East Institute in Washington.

“The Kurds can vote for him, liberals can vote for him, Turkish nationalists can vote for him,” she added. “And certainly people within the AKP who have been uneasy about what ErdoÄŸan has be en doing â€" they would vote for him.”

Gül’s comments â€" and the idea that he could run in 2019 â€" have clearly struck a nerve, with AKP officials publicly reprimanding their ex-president. Abdulkadir Selvi, an influential columnist at Hürriyet, wrote: “ErdoÄŸan has declared war on Gül.”

Gül’s critics have dismissed the idea that he could become Turkish democracy’s savior as absurd. They note that aside from continuous but gentle criticism, Gül has done little to counter Erdoğan’s authoritarianism, including during his term as president from 2007 to 2014.

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (R) and former president Abdullah Gül | Adem Altan/AFP via Getty Images

Abdullatif Şener, an AKP co-founder who has now split with the party, ridiculed Gül for his cautious language last week, calling his comments on the decree a “small, shy, timid expression of criticism” in an interview with the leftist newspaper Evrensel. Gül, Şener said, was “not an alternative” to Erdoğan.

Many of those who consider him a suitable candidate doubt that Gül is brave enough to openly challenge Erdoğan.

“He’s a very risk-averse person,” said Tol. “For him to decide to run, he’d have to know it’s bulletproof … I talked to some people who are personally very close to him who say he’s waiting for the right moment. But I feel very skeptical.”

Gül’s office did not respond to requests for an interview.

Suat Kınıklıoğlu, a fellow at the Institute for Security and Development Policy who served as an AKP MP until 2011, said he thinks Gül’s recent comments suggest the ex-president is “not comfortable with just observing.” Still, he did not believe Gül would necessarily run for office.

“I am more inclined to think that he sees himself a s a man who has been in a meaningful office in Turkish politics and that he feels he is entitled to comment on issues of national importance,” he said.

Whether Gül will challenge ErdoÄŸan and whether he would stand a chance of winning are, in any case, secondary questions to KınıklıoÄŸlu. His chief concern is whether the choice for 2019 will matter at all â€" given the serious deterioration of freedoms and democracy in Turkey.

“There are no longer normal political or electoral conditions to speak of in Turkey,” he said. “I do not think that free and fair elections are possible anymore in Turkey, and thus find the current debate about the 2019 elections somewhat sterile.”

He was not surprised that Turkish democrats are fixated on Gül. “Isn’t this a clear demonstration that none of the current opposition leaders offer hope to be a serious contender against Erdoğan?” he asked.

The Middle East Institute’s Tol agreed. “They are actual ly desperate,” she said. “I don’t see any other credible challenger.”

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Source: Google News Turkey | Netizen 24 Turkey