Israel's defense establishment wants to see ties with Turkey repaired, even supporting an apology to Ankara for a bloody 2010 raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla, Israel's Haaretz Daily reported Sunday.
Relations between the former allies have been in tatters since the military operation in which nine Turkish activists were killed when Israeli commandos raided a flotilla trying to breach a blockade on the Gaza Strip.
Ankara has demanded an official apology from Israel for the killings, but Israel has so far refused, in part fearing that such an apology could open the way for commandos who took part in the raid to be prosecuted.
But Haaretz reported on Sunday that defense and justice ministry officials have recently suggested that Israel could, in fact, head off potential lawsuits by Turkish human rights organizations by offering an apology.
Israeli lawmakers, including Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, have said publicly that the Jewish state will not apologize for the raid, warning that expressing any such sentiment would be humiliating.
But Israeli officials also acknowledge that upgrading relations with Ankara is a high diplomatic priority and that the Jewish state would benefit from a return to the once-warm ties the countries had.
Israeli Defense Officials Call for Apology
As Israel fears isolation after its raid against the Mavi Marmara ship; many circles in the country are now talking about an apology in order to overcome the current situation. In an article prepared in light of the information provided by the Israeli defense officials, the Israeli daily Haaretz said:
"Israel was considering apologizing to Turkey because of the Mavi Marmara attack." The paper wrote that the Israeli government had also started to hear army members' call for an apology.
AKP, CHP and MHP Make Joint Statement After Terrorist Attack
Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (AK), the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) and the second opposition Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) issued a joint statement Friday after a deadly terrorist attack in the southeastern province of Diyarbakir killed 13 Turkish soldiers and wounded seven others on Thursday.
In their joint statement, the three Turkish political parties said that all political and armed attacks targeting the Turkish nation's unity, integrity and the unitary state are destined to reach nowhere.
"We will be on the side of the government, an entity responsible for national security, in the fight against terrorism within the boundaries of a state of law, democratic principles and respect for human rights," the statement said.
"We offer condolences to the families of the soldiers martyred on Thursday. No force would be able to shake the national unity of Turkey. The Republic of Turkey's fight against terrorism is democratic, legitimate and legal," the statement also said.
U.S. Supports Turkey, But Urges Reforms
Turkey must get its own house in order in terms of freedoms before urging reforms in other countries, said U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
The top U.S. diplomat extended full support over the weekend to Turkey in its fight against terrorism, praised its role in modernization efforts across the region, and warned Ankara to clean its own house first.
In her comments, Clinton called on Turkey to address concerns over ailing human rights and freedom of expression issues by adopting a new constitution.
"If there is an area that I am concerned about with recent actions, it is the area of freedom of expression and freedom of the media," Clinton said early Saturday, responding to questions from young Turks at a town hall event.
"I do not think it is necessary, or in Turkey's interests, to be cracking down on journalists and bloggers and the Internet. It seems to me inconsistent with all the other advances Turkey has made," she said, adding that Turkey's institutions should be able to withstand the scrutiny and debate that a free press brings.
Clinton joined the Libya Contact Group meeting in Istanbul on Friday and then held bilateral talks with Turkish government officials and opposition party representatives Saturday. She met separately with Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and held a joint press conference with Davutoğlu where she voiced her concerns about deteriorating Turkish democracy.
Clinton also called on Turkish officials to continue the constitutional reform process, which would push Turkey closer toward a European Union membership.
Clinton's Focuses on New Charter
Americans believe such issues can be addressed in a new constitution for Turkey, the deputy leader of the main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, told the Hürriyet Daily News on Sunday. Clinton held an almost 45-minute meeting with CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu.
"She asked the party leader if the CHP could make any contribution in the new constitution to promote freedoms," party deputy leader Osman Korutürk said.
"We told her the CHP favors a new charter prioritizing the separation of powers, fundamental rights and freedoms and judicial independence. We believe the draft should include the views of all segments of society, including political party representatives as well as civil society," Korutürk said. "But, first of all, we think this is a matter of mentality. We believe the approach, the mentality, should change first."
Korutürk said the Americans were not openly talking about the backsliding of freedoms in Turkey, but that "we have seen a great deal of awareness on the part of the United States regarding rights and freedoms."
"I think Mrs. Clinton is a very smart, very clever official. It appeared she had studied her lesson very well," he added.
'I Would Stand Up for Rights'
During the town hall meeting Saturday, Clinton was asked: "Instead of being a member of the U.S. government, let's assume that you are a member of the Turkish government. What would you change first?"
She replied: "If I were in the Turkish government – which I am not, I say this very respectfully – I would be standing up for freedom of expression and freedom of journalism, freedom of bloggers and the freedom of the Internet."
During his meeting with Clinton, Kılıçdaroğlu also raised the issue of Cumhuriyet journalist Mustafa Balbay, who has been under arrest for three years on charges of membership in the alleged Ergenekon gang. Balbay and fellow Ergenekon suspect, Mehmet Haberal, were elected as deputies from the CHP, but the court has refused to release them.
Clinton told Kılıçdaroğlu that Washington had closely followed the CHP's refusal to attend an oath-taking ceremony in Parliament, Korutürk told the Daily News, adding that Clinton did not refer to the issue as an "oath-taking crisis" but as the CHP's decision not to take the oath.
"You've brought this issue to the agenda of the public. Finally, you reached a compromise and returned to Parliament," Clinton told the CHP leader. "This was a wise move."
Turkish Perception of Terrorism
Terrorism was another issue discussed in the two officials' talks. According to Korutürk, Kılıçdaroğlu said the CHP had the perception that Washington is not doing enough, especially concerning the situation in the Kandil Mountains in northern Iraq, where members of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, are based. In return, Clinton pledged U.S. support in Turkey's fight against terrorism.
Meeting with the BDP Brass
Clinton also met with the co-chairpersons of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, and Meral Akşener, the deputy leader of the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP.
"We have explicitly explained why we do not take our oaths in Parliament. One of our seats has been taken and six of our deputies were not released from prison," a BDP official told the Daily News.
Speaking to reporters after the meeting, BDP co-leader Selahattin Demirtaş said they informed Clinton about the party's policies to bring about a solution to the country's fundamental problems. "Turkey has the potential to solve its own problems through dialogue and consensus. It is up to us, politicians from the ruling and, of course, opposition parties," he said.
Clinton reaffirms close relationship with Turkey
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Saturday that the United States stands with its ally Turkey against terrorism and threats to internal and regional stability. "Our commitments to Turkey and its security are rock-solid and unwavering," she said.
The U.S. condemned the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, on every occasion and had extended strong support to the Turkish government to eradicate "PKK terrorism," Clinton said, adding that the two governments are also engaged in close cooperation in intelligence-sharing for tracking terrorists.
She also emphasized that Washington had included the PKK on its list of terrorism organizations. "[The] U.S. always supports the Turkish army in tracking terrorists and this support will continue," Clinton said, adding that the United States was aware of the dangers of terrorism.
U.S. Secretary of State Gives Assurances
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton attended a program in CNN Turk and responded to the questions of Turkish youngsters, imparting important messages.
Clinton said, "The United States and Turkey made close cooperation in Iraq. We will continue to give the intelligence whenever we get them. In the past, we supported the Turkish army in pursuing the PKK terrorists, this support will continue."
Clinton said, "We never supported PKK, we always condemned it. However, sometimes I also have the feeling that there is not adequate communication between the two countries in those matters."
U.S. Looks Forward to Religious Freedom Protections in Turkey, Clinton Says
The U.S. secretary of state said on Friday that there was a potential upcoming constitutional reform process and the United States looks forward to new protections for religious freedom, too.
Clinton said she would meet Fener Greek Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew on Saturday, and the United States would continue to urge the Turkish Government to reopen the Heybeliada Seminary as a symbol of Turkey's commitment to religious freedom.
"No country, including my own, has a monopoly on truth or a secret formula for ethnic and religious harmony," Clinton said during a high-level meeting on combatting religious intolerance organized in Istanbul by the Organization of the Islamic Cooperation (OIC).
Clinton said this takes hard work, persistence and patience. "But wherever we come from, and however we worship, all of us can do more in our own lives, in our positions of leadership and in our communities to bridge the divides that separate us," she said. "Here in Istanbul, which for so long has symbolized a bridge between cultures and continents, we have the opportunity to recommit ourselves to this goal," Clinton said.
"Fifteen years ago in this room, the secretary general said about Istanbul, 'This is a city, which, for over five centuries, has been one of those rare lands of peace, where people of different religions live together in an environment of perfect harmony.' So if you will permit us, Secretary General and Foreign Minister, we want to take some of that spirit home from wherever we came – and we want to do so by transporting it in our hearts, so that it is imprinted there and continues to remind us of the work ahead," Clinton said.
"And in established democracies, we are still working to protect fully our religious diversity, prevent discrimination and protect freedom of expression. So, for all of these reasons, this gathering and the shared commitment it represents, is vitally important. It is one of these events that have great ramifications far beyond this room."
Referring to the Human Rights Council resolution 1618, Clinton said, under this resolution, the international community was taking a strong stand for freedom of expression and worship, and standing against discrimination and violence based upon religion or belief.
"These are fundamental freedoms that belong to all people, in all places, and they are certainly essential to democracy. But as the secretary general just outlined, we now need to move to implementation. The resolution calls upon states to protect freedom of religion, to counter offensive expression through education, interfaith dialogue, and public debate, and to prohibit discrimination, profiling, and hate crimes, but not to criminalize speech unless there is an incitement to imminent violence. We will be looking to all countries to hold themselves accountable and to join us in reporting to the UN's Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights on their progress in taking these steps," the secretary said.
She continued, "For our part, I have asked our Ambassador-at-Large for Religious Freedom, Suzan Johnson Cook, to spearhead our implementation efforts. And to build on the momentum from today's meeting. Later this year, the United States intends to invite relevant experts from around the world to the first of what we hope will be a series of meetings to discuss best practices, exchange ideas, and keep us moving forward beyond the polarizing debates of the past, to build those muscles of respect and empathy and tolerance that the secretary general referenced. It is essential that we advance this new consensus and strengthen it, both at the United Nations and beyond, in order to avoid a return to the old patterns of division.
"The Human Rights Council has given us a comprehensive framework for addressing this issue on the international level. But at the same time, we each have to work to do more to promote respect for religious differences in our own countries. In the United States, I will admit, there are people who still feel vulnerable or marginalized as a result of their religious beliefs. And we have seen how the incendiary actions of just a very few people, a handful in a country of nearly 300 million, can create wide ripples of intolerance. We also understand that, for 235 years, freedom of expression has been a universal right at the core of our democracy. So we are focused on promoting interfaith education and collaboration, enforcing antidiscrimination laws, protecting the rights of all people to worship as they choose, and to use some old-fashioned techniques of peer pressure and shaming, so that people don't feel that they have the support to do what we abhor," Clinton said.
"In Europe, we are seeing communities coming together to address both the old scourge of anti-Semitism and the new strains of anti-Muslim bias that continue to undermine the continent's democratic ideals. Across the Middle East and Asia, we look to both people and leaders to resist the incitement of extremists who seek to inflame sectarian tensions, and reject the persecution of religious minorities such as the Copts or Ahmadis or Bahadis.
"In Egypt and Tunisia, we hope to see minorities brought into the process of drafting a new constitution and given a seat at the table as new democracies take shape. And I know that, here in Turkey, there is a potential upcoming constitutional reform process, and we look forward to new protections for religious freedom as well," Clinton said.
The UN Human Rights Council adopted the Resolution on combating intolerance, negative stereotyping and stigmatization of, and discrimination, incitement to violence, and violence against persons based on religion or belief in the spring of 2011.
In the resolution, the UN Human Rights Council expressed its concern that incidents of religious intolerance, discrimination and related violence, as well as negative stereotyping of individuals on the basis of religion or belief, continue to rise around the world. In this context, the resolution condemns any advocacy of religious hatred against individuals that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence, and urges states to take effective measures, as set forth in the present resolution, consistent with their obligations under international human rights law, to address and combat such incidents; and condemns any advocacy of religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence, whether it involves the use of print, audio-visual or electronic media or any other means.
The council also calls upon states to adopt measures and policies to promote the full respect for, and protection of, places of worship and religious sites, cemeteries and shrines, and to take measures in cases where they are vulnerable to vandalism or destruction. The council also calls for strengthened international efforts to foster a global dialogue for the promotion of a culture of tolerance and peace at all levels, based on respect for human rights and diversity of religions and beliefs, and decided to convene a panel discussion on this issue at its seventeenth session, within existing resources.
Clinton Delivers Turkish President Message from Obama
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton conveyed President's Barack Obama's messages on Turkish-Israeli relations to Turkey's President Abdullah Gul the other evening.
While watching the Bosphorus from the Huber Mansion in Istanbul, Clinton expressed her admiration for the city and said that such beauty gave people the strength to correct the bad things in the world.
Touching on the Mavi Marmara crisis afterward, Clinton said President Obama attached great importance to the recovery of Turkish-Israeli relations and would be happy to see the ties between the two countries improve. Gul told Clinton that Turkey would not reject Israel if the country made a move.
Clinton: United States Stands with Turkey
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Saturday that the United States stands with its ally, Turkey, against terrorism and threats to internal and regional stability. "Our commitments to Turkey and its security is rock solid and unwavering," she said.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and Clinton gave a news conference following their meeting in Istanbul, and Clinton expressed pleasure over being in Turkey and representing her country in those important discussions.
She also offered her condolences for the loss of Turkish soldiers in southeastern province of Diyarbakir.
"Two years ago in Ankara, President Obama pledged to renew the alliance between the United States and Turkey and, especially, to focus on the friendship between the Turkish and American people. Today, we can say with confidence that our bonds are sound, our friendship is sure and our alliance is strong. Our partnership is rooted in a long history and a very long list of mutual interests, but most important, it is rooted in our common democratic values. It is through the lens of this shared democratic tradition that the United States welcomes Turkey's rise as an economic power, as a leader in the region and beyond and as a valued ally on the most pressing global challenges.
"I would like to say just a few words about the future of our relationship and why I believe it is so important to both our nations. First, on the economic front, because of the seriousness of the strategic issues we confront together, the economic dimensions of our relationship can too often be overlooked. But as President Gul and President Obama have affirmed, the growing economic cooperation between Turkey and America is providing new energy to us both. So far this year, trade between us is up more than 50 percent. That means more jobs and greater prosperity in both our countries. But we see even greater potential ahead and we are committed to furthering and expanding trade and investment. We are both entrepreneurial peoples, and the more we work together, the more creativity and talent we will unleash. So I am delighted that Turkey will host the second Global Entrepreneurship Summit here in Istanbul later this year, building on the progress that we made last year in Washington.
"There is also a chance to foster even closer ties between our people, our businesses and our communities. For example, in the run-up to the summit, the public-private initiative called Partners for a New Beginning is working with the Coca-Cola Company, the Istanbul Chamber of Commerce, and other partners to offer Turkish women entrepreneurs new seed grants, and training," she said.
"Today, the foreign minister and I discussed additional ways we can further strengthen our ties. Turkey's upcoming constitutional reform process presents an opportunity to address concerns about recent restrictions that I heard about today from young Turks about the freedom of expression and religion, to bolster protections for minority rights, and advance the prospects for EU membership, which we wholly and enthusiastically support," she said, adding, "We also hope that a process will include civil society and parties from across the political spectrum. And, of course, I hope that sometime soon we can see the reopening of the Halki Seminary that highlights Turkey's strength of democracy and its leadership in a changing region.
"I think across the region, people from the Middle East and North Africa particularly, are seeking to draw lessons from Turkey's experience. It is vital that they learn the lessons that Turkey has learned and is putting into practice every single day. Turkey's history serves as a reminder that democratic development depends on responsible leadership, and it's important that that responsible leadership help to mentor the next generation of leaders in these other countries."
Clinton said they have talked about the successful meeting of the Contact Group yesterday concerning Libya, the situation in Syria and what is happening in Afghanistan, where Turkish troops are training Afghan forces to take on their own security, and, of course, our mutual efforts against violent extremism, against terrorists, including the PKK.
When asked what kind of a process the United States will pursue about Syria, Clinton said, "Let me begin by saying that the foreign minister and I discussed our shared interest in seeing an end to the violence and a respect for the will of the Syrian people for political and economic reform. Yesterday, we witnessed the largest demonstrations to date in Syria, an effort to try to convey directly to the government the pent-up desire of the Syrian people for the kind of reforms that they have been promised. And at the same time, we saw continued brutality by the government against peaceful protest.
Now, Syria's future is up to the Syrian people, but of course, the efforts by the opposition to come together, to organize, to be able to articulate an agenda, are an important part of political reform. And we believe that every country should permit such organizing and the support of opposition. We think that makes for more accountable, more effective government. So we're encouraged by what we see of the Syrian people doing for themselves. This is not anything the United States or any other country is doing. It's what the Syrians are doing, trying to form an opposition that can provide a pathway, hopefully in peaceful cooperation with the government, to a better future."
Asked about the stance of the United States regarding holding a referendum in Cyprus at the beginning of 2012, Clinton said, "We don't think the status quo on Cyprus benefits anyone. It's gone on for far too long. We believe both sides would benefit from a settlement, and we strongly support the renewed, re-energized efforts that the United Nations is leading and that the Cypriots themselves are responsible for because, ultimately, they're the ones who have to make the hard decisions about how to resolve all of the outstanding issues," Clinton said.
"We want to see a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation, and we would like to see it as soon as possible. We would like to see it by 2012. And that is something that the UN has said. That's something I know Turkey believes. It's something we believe. And we're going to do everything we can to support this process and finally try to see a resolution."
Turkey Bands Together Against Terrorism
Citizens who have gathered via Internet for the 13 soldiers killed during the clashes in southeastern Diyarbakir province, staged demonstrations to condemn terrorism all across Turkey. Thousands of people attended the protests at Istanbul's Taksim Square and Bagdat Street, as citizens, including veterans and relatives of fallen soldiers, gathered at Kizilay in the capital of Ankara. Thousands of people also met at the Konak neighborhood in the Aegean city of Izmir and condemned terrorism carrying Turkish flags in their hands.
'We Don't Want Our Children to Die,' Turkish Protestors Shout
Hundreds of thousands of women, men, old people and children who have organized a protest over the Internet condemned terrorism yesterday.
"We don't want our children to die," the crowds shouted during the demonstrations. In 2004, the world talked about millions of people who had gathered in Spain to say "No Pasaran" (No Passing) to terrorist acts of ETA. Turkey witnessed a similar protest yesterday. Hundreds of thousands were on the streets all across Turkey to protest PKK terrorism, despite the extremely hot weather. During the protests, citizens carried Turkish flags and photographs of the Turkish soldiers who lost their lives at the latest PKK attack in Silvan town of southeastern province of Diyarbakir.
Thousands Protest PKK Killings
The Turkish military has launched a probe into a deadly terrorist attack following reports claiming that mistakes by the military allowed the ambush to happen.
Thirteen soldiers were killed in the attack Thursday by members of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, the highest casualty toll to the military since late 2008.
Some newspaper reports Saturday claimed that the team hit by the terrorists was very tired, as its troops had been on operations for the last 48 hours. The reports also said that some soldiers died not due to militants' bullets, but to "friendly fire" from Turkish jets that fire-bombed the scene of the attack. According to another allegation, the military delayed sending additional forces to the region to counter the assault.
Military sources who spoke to the daily Milliyet columnist Fikret Bila denied these claims, but said an initial probe had already been launched, not to investigate the validity of these allegations, but to find out how the attack occurred. Sources said no jets were flying over the region and that such planes were not used in close-range combat, though helicopters were used in the response to the attack.
On Thursday afternoon, a PKK group ambushed a military team in Silvan, part of Diyarbakır province in southeast Anatolia. The soldiers were reportedly caught unprepared as they were taking a rest in a forested area. Thirteen troops were killed in the attack, as were seven PKK members, while several other soldiers, including the commander of the team, were injured.
Denying that the blaze that broke out was started by the fire bombs dropped by the Turkish fighter jets, sources noted that the attack occurred in the afternoon, when the temperature topped 40 degrees Celsius.
"The place where the attack occurred was full of long hay. Even one cartridge bullet could have started a fire there. The terrorists also used Russian-made hand grenades that can cause a fire," one source said.
Responding to the criticism that the team was composed mainly of basic privates instead of professional soldiers, the sources said the team was part of the gendarmerie's Tactical Commando Regiment. The gendarmerie is responsible for the security of Turkey's rural regions and was thus in the area Thursday when the PKK attacked, the sources said.
It is not yet known whether the army will share the findings of its report with the public.
The attack came at a time when the PKK has escalated its attacks following the end of a July 15 cease fire. The government held an emergency meeting Friday and stated that the fight against terror would continue with full determination. Political parties represented in Parliament issued a joint declaration late Friday denouncing terrorism and voicing unity against the PKK's attacks.
Despite the joint statement, the opposition parties continued to criticize the government's policies in handling the anti-terror fight. Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader of the main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, said the army's morale was broken due to the unending arrests of senior generals. The statement drew a harsh response from Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who accused Kılıçdaroğlu of supporting terrorism through his remarks.
"He does not know what he says. I do not think he read my statement. I do not take his statements seriously," the CHP chief told the Daily Cumhuriyet on Sunday, repeating his questions to Erdoğan about the content of the government's negotiations with imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan. "Is there anyone who knows what's being discussed there? No," Kılıçdaroğlu said, referring to İmralı Island, where Öcalan is incarcerated. "Is there anybody who knows as a result of which deal the PKK announced a truce? No. [How about] why the terrorists have begun attacking again? Is there anybody who knows about this?"
Blaming the ruling party's policies for the escalation of terrorism, Kılıçdaroğlu offered to embrace a nonpartisan policy to end the terror problem in Turkey.
Autonomy Carries No Meaning, Kurdish Intellectual Says
Tarik Ziya Ekinci, a Kurdish intellectual, said that the democratic autonomy announced by the Democratic Society Congress (DTK) are "words with no meaning."
"In the past, they had declared a Parliament overseas. Later on, this parliament was shut down," Ekinci said. "The declaration of autonomy has no practical results. They plan to establish their own assembly. This would be an assembly that no one recognizes," Ekinci also said.
Counter-Terrorism Should be Left to Police Forces: Security Expert
Professor Sedat Laciner, a security expert, has said that it was a big mistake to leave counter-terrorism to the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) for the past 30 years.
"In the fight against terror, we have done away with the old methods but have not replaced them with new ones. An army stays lumpish against terrorists. A new unit comprised of experts from the police, gendarmerie and intelligence forces, should be established in the fight against terror," Laciner said.
Average Age for Members of Terrorist Organization PKK: 26.3 Years, Report Says
According to a report prepared by a Turkish foundation, individuals who join the terrorist organization PKK live seven years on average. The report said that the average age of those terrorists killed in clashes with Turkish security forces is 26.3. Iran is the second country, after Turkey, from which most individuals join the terrorist organization PKK, the report also said.