The following are translations of excerpts from the Turkish press.
AKP's TARGET IS ISLAMIC DEMOCRACY
Middle East scholar Bernard Lewis says that AKP has been very successful capturing all state [governmental] institutions and they finalized their control with the latest amendments to constitution. Now all judiciary bodies, including the Constitutional Court, is in their hands. He concludes: "AKP is on the way to an Islamic democracy. This is a one-way road. They can go down that road but they can not back out."
TRIPARTITE SUMMIT FOR LEBANON
Turkey is taking action to resolve the political crisis in Lebanon. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will travel to Syria today together with Qatar's Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani to persuade Syrian President Bashar Assad to hold an international conference regarding Lebanon.
TURKEY IS LEBANON'S CROSSROADS'
Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu commented on the crisis in Lebanon on his way to Baghdad, Iraq. Davutoğlu said, "We do not want Beirut to be divided. Turkey is the crossroads and there are expectations from us."
CLINTON WILL MEET WITH KILICDAROĞLU
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will setting a precedent when she meets with Republican People's Party (CHP) chairman Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu as well as Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu during her scheduled visit to Turkey on February 7.
The U.S. secretary of state rarely meets with opposition leaders in countries they visit. This makes the visit meaningful.
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER SAYS TURKEY TO GIVE CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS
Turkey's deputy prime minister said on Sunday that Turkey would give their constitutional rights to those who wanted to protect their own identities.
Deputy Premier and State Minister Bulent Arinc said that if a person said that he was a Kurd that was equivalent to that person saying he was a Turk.
"We will give their constitutional and humanitarian rights to those who want to protect their identities," Arinc said during a meeting of the Justice & Development Party (AKP) in Dortyol in the southern province of Hatay.
Arinc said the AKP was aware that terrorism could not be solved only with weapons and, therefore, has taken economic, social and political measures. "Now, there are 1,500 militants in Turkey and 2,500 others in Mount Qandil [Iraq], but this number can change. There are around 5,000 militants," he said.
Arinc said this number would not drop if people were prevented from taking to mountains. "You should take such social and security measures that the organization is hampered from staging armed attacks," he said.
The deputy premier said the government was determined to fight against terrorism and that Kurds are living in peace throughout Turkey, not only in a certain region.
Arinc said terrorism had no religion or color, and Turkey had distributed 4 quadrillion Turkish liras to terror victims so far.
The minister said according to the constitution, Turkey's official language was Turkish and schooling and official correspondence had to be in Turkish. "If we prepare a new constitution, we still need such an article," he said. Arinc said every one is free to speak other languages in their family life, streets, radio and TV channels or books and magazines, but the state should have a single official language and the schooling language should be Turklish. The terrorist organization was losing support, and was about to give up armed attacks, Arinc said.
On Armenian allegations on the incidents of 1915, Arinc said, "we have never been the children of a nation that made massacre or genocide, there is not such a murder in our history." Arinc said no one could accuse Turkey of carrying out genocide for incidents that occurred during relocation of some people who had rebelled against the [Ottoman] state.
Commenting on the general elections to take place in the summer of 2011, Arinc said the surveys indicated the possible vote of the AKP would be around 47-50 percent.
TURKEY'S ALEVI APPROACH IS TOOL OF ASSIMILATION, SAYS COMMUNITY LEADER
The Turkish government is attempting to destroy Alevi traditions and assimilate the community with its ongoing "Alevi initiative," according to the head of a leading organization from the group.
"Others are trying to describe our beliefs. They say, 'Alevis are our brothers,' but they impose compulsory religious courses on Alevi children. They build mosques in Alevi villages. We have nothing to do with this kind of brotherhood," Ercan Geçmez, head of the Hacı Bektaş Veli Anatolian Culture Foundation, told the participants of the Grand Alevi Congress held Sunday in Ankara.
Widely perceived by many as a liberal form of Islam, the Alevis comprise between 10 and 30 percent of Turkey's population. The government is currently seeking to build bridges with the country's Alevis through a series of "Alevi workshops" chaired by State Minister Faruk Çelik, but the meetings have yet to produce any concrete results.
Many Alevis are demanding the recognition of cemevis as the community's house of worship, the abolition of compulsory religious courses from the school's curriculum and the dissolution of the country's Religious Affairs Directorate.
"We insist on the abolition of the Religious Affairs Directorate. We want it for the freedom of the Sunni citizens as well. Because we would be free too if they were free," he said.
Solving the problems of the Alevis, Kurds and non-Muslims, requires the engagement of Sunni Turks through a process of reconciliation, Geçmez said. "We want equal citizenship. We want to live our belief just like anyone else. We know what our belief is and we want the state to keep its hands out of it."
Geçmez said various Alevi organizations would continue to hold mass rallies throughout the country to press the government on the abolition of the compulsory religious courses. One of the rallies will be held in İzmir on March 6, he added.
Turgut Öker, head of the Confederation of European Alevi Unions, lamented that Alevis had remained silent on the pains they had experienced. "If Alevis in Europe and Turkey could unite, we will end this cruelty. We are much stronger today."
Among other participants to the congress were Ali Balkız, head of the Alevi-Bektaşi Federation; Necdet Subaşı, coordinator of the Alevi initiative; Sezgin Tanrıkulu and Ercan Karakaş, both of the Republican People's Party (CHP); Adana Chief Prosecutor İlhan Cihaner; as well as a number of Alevi organization representatives and Alevi citizens.
"We want an end to the policies of assimilation. We want everyone to live their own beliefs in freedom. The people of our country deserve this," Öker said. "We have always talked about peace. Our language is the language of peace. We want everyone to learn and use this language. The government's Alevi opening has not resulted in the way we wanted. Whatever we have said was misunderstood by the government."
The Congress was scheduled to produce a joint communiqué late Sunday as the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review was going to print. The statement is expected to outline six main demands from the Alevi organizations including the abolition of compulsory religious courses; the dissolution of the Religious Affairs Directorate; the conversion of Sivas' Madımak Hotel, in which over 30 Alevi intellectuals were slain, into a museum; the return of dervish convents to Alevi control; the recognition of cemevis as Alevi houses of worship; and the termination of [forced] assimilation policies.
U.S. FIRM SWEETENS TURKEY HELICOPTER BID
A helicopter manufacturer from the United States, competing with an Italian rival for a Turkish tender to jointly produce 109 mostly military-utility helicopters worth around $4 billion, sweetened its bid over the weekend.
A senior official from Sikorsky Aircraft told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review that his company would guarantee that Turkey would do repair and maintenance work worth $1 billion on S-70i Black Hawk International helicopters belonging to third countries.
"Turkey will do maintenance-repair-overhaul work for the platforms of countries that have S-70i Black Hawk International helicopters. We guarantee this," the official said. "Altogether, this will be worth $1 billion for Turkey's defense industry over the next 20 years."
Sikorsky Aircraft is offering Ankara the T-70, a Turkish version of the S-70i Black Hawk International, which already features in the inventories of several countries as the export model of the U.S. UH-60 Black Hawk.
Sikorsky's rival, the Italian AgustaWestland, is proposing the TUHP 149, a Turkish version of its A149, a newly-developed utility helicopter, in the tender.
At the last meeting in mid-December of the Defense Industry Executive Committee, Turkey's top decision-making body for defense procurement, the highly anticipated decision for the selection of the Turkish military's next utility helicopter type did not come.
Defense Minister Vecdi Gönül told reporters at the time that Sikorsky's and AgustaWestland's offers were both judged insufficient. The main point of disagreement was the price, the minister said. "Talks with both companies will continue, but we think they should cut their prices."
Turkey's decision is now expected to be announced in March at the next meeting of the Defense Industry Executive Committee, whose members include Gonul, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Chief of Turkish General Staff Gen. Işık Koşaner and procurement chief Murad Bayar.
In recent months, both Sikorsky Aircraft and AgustaWestland announced a series of sweeteners in return for the selection of their utility helicopters. The tender is for a first batch of 109 utility helicopters, mostly to be used by the military and security forces, but the number is expected to rise to a total of about 300 in the future.
A top Sikorsky official said in October that his company had a fourfold benefit package worth billions of dollars to offer to Turkey. "If Turkey selects us for the 109 helicopter program, we will buy another 109 to be manufactured in Turkey and export them to third countries," Steve Estill, vice president for strategic partnerships at the Sikorsky President's Office, said at the time.
Sikorsky is also proposing to buy $1.3 billion-worth of Turkish-made helicopter components, set up a regional Black Hawk support base in Turkey and invest in a future Turkish project to build a light utility helicopter, Estill said.
Shortly after, AgustaWestland challenged Sikorsky's proposal. "Our competition is offering the manufacture under license of an already existing product," Guiseppe Orsi, chief executive officer of AgustaWestland said late October. "We are offering much, much more ... We are offering Turkey to become a joint developer of a brand new product ... Turkey may become a real helicopter player in the world if it chooses us."
Nearly 8,000 utility helicopters are expected to be replaced with new models throughout the world in the next few decades, Orsi said, adding that his company's Turkish program could grab international orders for at least 800 of such upgrades.
Assuming that each helicopter's acquisition price and its lifetime maintenance cost are both around $25 million and the TUHP program gets orders for 800 platforms over the next 25-30 years, "this program would collect a total of $40 billion, half of which would go to Turkey," he said.
Turkey's Army, Navy, Air Force, Special Operations Command and Coast Guard Command are among the buyers of the first batch of military utility helicopters.
Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI), Turkey's main aerospace manufacturer, will officially be the program's prime contractor. Several other Turkish firms also will take part in production.
The Turkish military currently operates several different types of utility helicopters, with more than 100 S-70s, more than 50 older U.S.-made UH-1 Hueys, around 20 French-designed AS-532 Cougars and about 15 Russian Mi-17s comprising its helicopter fleet.
AgustaWestland earlier secured two contracts, worth billions of dollars, to lead the joint production of 60 T-129 attack helicopters to be used by the Turkish Army.
HAUNTED BY VIOLENCE, IRAQI CHRISTIANS FLEE TO TURKEY
Rising violence in parts of Iraq that Christians previously regarded as safe havens has compelled an increasing number to flee to neighboring Turkey. Safe in a tiny Catholic community in Istanbul, many Iraqi Christian refugees say returning home is not an option. "Going back to what?" one asks. "Getting killed?"
Terrorized by mounting extremist attacks, more and more Iraqi Christians are fleeing in panic to neighboring Turkey, among them lone minors sent away by desperate parents.
In Istanbul, a tiny Chaldean Catholic community has embraced the refugees, serving as their first point of shelter before the United Nations or local civic groups extend a helping hand.
The number of arrivals, available statistics show, has sharply increased since Oct. 31, when gunmen stormed a Baghdad church, killing 44 worshippers, two priests and seven security guards in an attack claimed by al-Qaeda's local affiliate.
"We saw many newcomers after the attack. We saw they had made no preparation and had no savings," said Gizem Demirci, an activist at the Association for Solidarity with Asylum-Seekers and Migrants.
"Moreover, we began to receive minors ... whose families are still in Iraq but had just enough money to send away a son or a daughter," she added without offering any specific figures.
The violence prompted an emergency summit by Iraq's top Muslim clergy in Copenhagen this week that issued a fatwa Friday that "condemns all atrocities against the Christians," said Andrew White, a participant and British vicar at St. George's Church in Baghdad.
The Shiite and Sunni religious leaders, who gathered at Denmark's initiative, urged Baghdad to criminalize inciting religious hatred and to "put the issue on the agenda of the next Arab Summit" to be held in the Iraqi capital in March, White told Agence France-Presse in Copenhagen.
In Istanbul, among the newest refugees is 21-year-old Sandra, whose family fled Baghdad in mid-November, alarmed by the church carnage and ensuing threats by Islamist extremists.
Christians represent less than 2 percent of the population in Muslim-majority Iraq.
"Some of our neighbors were killed in that attack," Sandra told AFP at the Chaldean Catholic Church in Istanbul. "At any time, it would have been our turn, the turn of our church."
Her father, a cook, made the decision to flee when the family felt the menace had reached its doorstep.
"We were at home with my mother and sister. At about 10:30 p.m., some men stormed in and made us lie down. They told us: 'Either you become Muslims or you go. Otherwise we kill you,'" Sandra said.
In her dreams, Australia is the final destination in a journey to a new life. Going back home is not even an option.
"Going back to what? Getting killed?" she asked.
For Israel Hannah, too, Iraq is now a lost homeland after an arsonist burnt down his grocery, destroying also any remaining resolve he had to stand strong and carry on.
The 61-year-old looks forward to a new start, probably in North America or Australia, as he already savors the little joys of tranquil life in Istanbul, where a modest, tiny flat accommodates his five-member family.
"You feel free anytime. You go to church at anytime on Sundays, or you visit this or that. We feel safe and we are thanking God," he said, still astonished at having celebrated Christmas in broad daylight, amid Muslim neighbors.
The Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Istanbul is alarmed over the rising number of refugees, stressing that they now come even from the country's relatively peaceful Kurdish-majority north that used to serve as a safe haven. But Archbishop Francois Yakan said some southern Iraqi Christians who had fled to the north no longer feel safe there, either.
According to church records, some 150 Christian families, or more than 600 people, arrived in Turkey in December, almost the same as during the whole of 2009.
"What worries us is that Christians in northern Iraq too are now scared. There are now people who come from Arbil, Zakho and Sulaimaniya," the archbishop said, referring to three cities in Iraq's Kurdish region.
"These are people who lived in peace previously," he said.
For migrants' activist Demirci, the October bloodshed at the Baghdad church was the landmark event that fueled the exodus.
"They were scared and left just like that," she said of the Iraqi Christians.
Figures by the Turkey office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees tend to confirm the trend: The number of asylum applications by Iraqi Christians has more than doubled in three months – from 183 in October 2010 to 428 in December 2010.