Turkey's leading pro-Kurdish party could end its parliamentary boycott and return to the legislature if the government agrees to two key pre-conditions related to its fight against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, according to deputies.
The Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, is expected to demand that the government halt cross-border operations against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, in northern Iraq and "end the isolation" of convicted PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan when it meets this weekend with a number of groups for the Kurdish Conference in the southeastern province of Diyarbakır.
"A call to take the oath will come out of this conference. That is my expectation. We stated our reaction and pointed toward the problem. I also shared this with them [he BDP.] A protest cannot last forever," Şerafettin Elçi, the leader of the Participatory Democracy Party, or KADEP, who was elected with BDP support in the June 12 elections, told the Hürriyet Daily News on Thursday.
"If cross-border operations are conducted despite [northern Iraq's] regional Kurdish administration, this matter would transcend the PKK issue. It would transform [the matter] into a serious and [more] general Kurdish issue. Turkey needs to be careful about this matter. It must ponder a thousand times before leaping once," he said, adding that he was also against cross-border operations and Öcalan's isolation.
The status quo does not contribute any solution to the problem, he said.
The BDP group held a five-hour meeting in Diyarbakır on Wednesday and, according to information obtained by the Daily News, most of the deputies favored the idea of returning to Parliament when it re-opens Oct. 1. Those who opposed the idea said the initial reasons for refusing to take the parliamentary oath still stood, namely "the operations," "the continued imprisonment of five BDP deputies" and "the annulment of Hatip Dicle's deputyship."
The five deputies are jailed in connection with the Kurdish Communities Union, or KCK, trials, while Dicle was stripped of his deputyship by the Supreme Election Board, or YSK, following the election.
Elçi also said his contacts among the BDP deputies gave him the impression that a great majority of the party's deputies wanted to return to Parliament, but added that if BDP deputies ultimately chose not to take the oath, he would follow suit and abide by their decision.
Deputies in favor of taking the oath said these main demands could also be raised inside the Parliament and added that the BDP also needed to contribute to the framing of the new constitution.
BDP co-leaders Selahattin Demirtaş and Gülten Kışanak have also been granted authority by the group to make decisions in accordance with the unfolding developments. The issue will be discussed at length during the Kurdish Conference, while Demirtaş is also set to visit the five imprisoned deputies as well as Dicle.
Demirtaş to Test the Waters in Ankara
Demirtaş will be testing the waters ahead of Oct. 1 to see whether the government will display an attitude that is conducive to a BDP return to Parliament. To this effect, Demirtaş is expected to hold meetings with President Abdullah Gül, parliamentary speaker Cemil Çiçek and main opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu.
If the government rejects the BDP's demands, street protests in major cities and border areas, as well as a march toward the district of Gemlik in the northwestern province of Bursa, the closest district to Imrali Island where Öcalan is being held, are all expected to be on the BDP's agenda.
The Kurdish Conference
The Kurdish Conference of Turkey, which will bring together some 183 academics, intellectuals and Kurdish politicians, will feature discussions on the Kurds' national unity, common demands to end the armed conflict, the Kurds' status and expectations regarding the new constitution, as well as the Kurdistan National Congress.
The conference is also expected to call on the Kurdish deputies to take the parliamentary oath.
Turkey Warned Iran About Catering to Al-Assad
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said there is no significant tension between Turkey and Iran, but Turkey has warned Tehran about Syria on a number of occasions, saying Iran was pampering the Bashar al-Assad administration.
"We talked about this on the phone with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Later, he sent a special representative [to Turkey]. We also talked with him. They did change their attitude [on Syria]. Soon I will send Hakan [Fidan, undersecretary of the National Intelligence Organization (MİT)]. I will most likely have talks with Ahmadinejad after the UN meeting," Erdoğan said, speaking to journalists during a flight to Libya from Cairo, where he visited on Monday and Tuesday.
Speaking on relations with Iran, Erdoğan said he also had plans to visit the Islamic republic, saying it was possible for Iran and Turkey to work together against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, in Iraq's Kandil Mountains, where the PKK is based.
The prime minister also shared his opinions on the future of Egypt.
"The first test of democracy in Egypt will be the parliamentary elections due in November. If they can complete this test successfully, they might draft a new constitution and hold new elections to either elect a president or a prime minister," he said, noting that the voters will have four different ballots to vote with in November and "they are worried they might not finish it in one day."
"The important thing is holding the elections," Erdoğan said. "This will show the power of Tahrir Square." He warned that if the elections were not held properly, more protests could take place in Egypt.
Erdoğan also offered an explanation for the Muslim Brotherhood's anger at his words in Cairo, where he told Egyptians not to be "afraid of secularism."
"My words were misunderstood because of a translation mistake. In Arabic, there is a word for 'irreligiousness,' and the translator used that word for secularism. Secularism is not about being an enemy of religion," Erdoğan said. "It is about the state maintaining the same distance from all religions and acting as a custodian of their beliefs. This is what we mean when we say don't be afraid of secularism."
Erdoğan was on a two-day visit to Cairo, where he urged Turkish and Egyptian businessmen to transform the current high-level political relations between the two countries into bilateral trade relations and economic cooperation. He said he came to Egypt with businessmen to contribute to economic and trade relations, while addressing businessmen at the Turkey-Egypt Business Council General Assembly in Cairo on Wednesday.
He had a number of meetings with Egyptian authorities and public figures. He also met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday in Cairo, where he said that it was time to raise the Palestinian flag at the United Nations.
The meeting between Erdoğan and Abbas comes at a time when President Barack Obama is making a final effort to avert a diplomatic crisis over the Palestinian drive to win UN recognition as an independent state, which threatens to provoke a regional meltdown and further isolate Israel, the top U.S. ally in the Middle East.
In addition to Abbas, Erdoğan also had talks with Amr Moussa, former secretary-general of the Arab League, and Mohamed ElBaradei, former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA, during his visit. Moussa is a presidential candidate for elections expected to be held early next year; ElBaradei is also cited as a potential candidate.
Erdoğan also met on Wednesday with a delegation from Egypt's most powerful Islamist group, the Muslim Brotherhood, and Egypt's Coptic Christian leader Pope Shenouda III.
Turkey expelled the Israeli ambassador last week in a row over an Israeli raid last year that killed nine Turks on a flotilla bound for Gaza, the Palestinian enclave controlled by the Islamist group Hamas and under blockade by Israel.
Erdoğan's recent criticism of Israel has drawn strong support in the Arab world.
U.S. Official Says Turkish-American Relations Strengthened
Turkish-American relations have strengthened even more in the past year, according to U.S. Assistant Secretary of Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs Philip H. Gordon.
Delivering a speech at a meeting regarding the Transatlantic Trends survey conducted by German Marshall Fund, Gordon said that Turkey was an important ally of the United States. According to the Transatlantic Trends survey, 30 percent of the people in Turkey viewed the United States favorably, he said, and he said the U.S. hoped that the rate would rise.
The figure proved that there was still a sound ground for partnership and cooperation between Turkey and the United States, he said, adding that they attach a great importance to Turkish people's view regarding the United States and they were working on it.
The results of the survey underlined the importance of Turkish-U.S. relations and cooperation, he said.
Replying to a question, Gordon said they were sad about tension between Turkey and Israel, but that the cooperation between the two countries in the areas of defense, tourism, intelligence and trade was an example for the region. The U.S. called on the two countries to act moderately, he said.
Answering a question regarding Turkey's role in the Arab Spring, Gordon said that Turkey was an important actor in the region.
Gordon said that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu were very dynamic, stating that Erdoğan held talks with President Barack Obama and Davutoğlu held talks with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton often.
Erdogan Offers 'Arab Spring' Neo-Laicism
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Thursday repeated his controversial call for uprising-hit Arab countries to adopt "secular states," following Turkey's model.
"Turkey is a democratic, secular and social state of law. As for secularism, a secular state has an equal distance to all religious groups, including Muslim, Christian, Jewish and atheist people," Erdoğan said during a visit to Tunis, the place where the wave of pro-democracy revolts sweeping the Middle East and North Africa began late last year.
"Tunisia will prove to the whole world that Islam and democracy can co-exist. Turkey with its predominantly Muslim population has achieved it," Erdoğan said.
Erdoğan's administration is seen by many as a model for post-revolution Arab countries, though Islamic groups in Egypt were split over his pro-secularism remarks there.
"On the subject of secularism, this is not secularism in the Anglo-Saxon or Western sense; a person is not secular, the state is secular," Erdoğan said, describing Turkey as democratic and secular. "A Muslim can govern a secular state in a successful way. In Turkey, 99 percent of the population is Muslim, and it did not pose any problem. You can do the same here."
Erdoğan traveled to Tunisia following a rapturous welcome in Cairo and issued the kind of trademark warning to Israel that has earned him hero status on his "Arab Spring tour."
"Israel will no longer be able to do what it wants in the Mediterranean and you'll be seeing Turkish warships in this sea," the Turkish prime minister said after meeting with his Tunisian counterpart, Beji Caid Essebsi, on the third day of his visit to North Africa.
Erdoğan reiterated his insistence on an Israeli apology for last year's raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla that left nine Turkish pro-Palestinian activists dead.
"Relations with Israel cannot normalize if Israel does not apologize for the flotilla raid, compensate the martyrs' families and lift the blockade on Gaza," Erdoğan said, adding that Turkey would assure protection for Turkish vessels bound for Gaza or elsewhere in international waters. "Israel cannot do whatever it wants in the eastern Mediterranean. It will see our determination. Our frigates, our assault boats will be there."
Erdoğan's visit marks "the willingness to strengthen brotherly relations and cooperation between Tunisia and Turkey," the Tunisian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu was one of the first top foreign officials to visit Tunisia in February and is also among the Turkish ministers accompanying Erdoğan on his visit. Davutoğlu signed a friendship and cooperation agreement with his Tunisian counterpart, Mouldi Kefi, in Tunisia on Thursday.
Accompanied by a delegation of ministers and businessmen, Erdoğan arrived late Wednesday at the Tunis international airport, where he was welcomed by Prime Minister Essebsi.
Around 4,000 people waving Turkish and Palestinian flags had also gathered at the airport under heavy security to show their support for the man who has become one of the region's most popular leaders. Erdoğan is due in Libya on Friday for the final leg of his tour. The transitional administration there has also said that Islam would be the main source of legislation in the new Libya.
Turkish PM Meets Prime Minister of Transitional Government in Tunisia
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan met with Tunisia's transitional government's Prime Minister Beji Caid Essebsi in Tunis on Thursday.
Erdoğan was welcomed by Essebsi at the prime ministry building.
Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, Economy Minister Zafer Caglayan and Justice and Development Party, or AKP, Deputy Chairman Omer Celik also attended the meeting.
After the meeting, a cooperation agreement was to be signed between the two countries.
Turkish Businesspeople Hold Record For Talks During Egypt Visit
The Chairman of Turkish Exporters' Assembly, or TIM, Mehmet Buyukeksi, said Thursday that more than 1,200 Egyptian businesspeople attended meetings with Turkish counterparts in Egypt on Wednesday.
Such a number of meetings was a record figure, Buyukeksi said.
Aside from the meetings, panel discussions took place on the construction sector, transportation and other investments, Buyukeksi said.
"Turks' investments in Egypt are worth $1.5 billion. Trade potential between Turkey and Egypt is about $3.1 billion." Buyukeksi said. "We believe we can soon reach the trade volume of $5 billion as indicated by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. New Turkish investments in Egypt will boost Turkey's exports."
Egypt waits for investments in such sectors as textiles, ready made garments, energy, health, cleaning products, chemicals, construction and related materials, Buyukeksi said.
Cicek Makes IRA, ETA Comparison Regarding PKK Talks
An alleged meeting between Turkey's intelligence chief and senior members of an outlawed terror organization was nothing different from what Britain and Spain did in the past, a senior Turkish official has said.
"The Turkish Republic is doing the same as what Britain, Spain and other countries that suffered from terror have done in the past. That's how I read this," Parliament Speaker Cemil Çiçek told reporters Thursday.
His comments referred to alleged negotiations between the National Intelligence Organization, or MİT, and senior members of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, over ending terrorist acts in return for granting rights to citizens of Kurdish descent. A recording was recently leaked of one of these meetings, which were brokered by a third-party country and took place in Oslo, Norway, in 2009 and 2010.
The leaked tape purportedly contained negotiations between Hakan Fidan, now the MİT chief, his deputy Afet Güneş, and three members of the European wing of the PKK, Sabri Ok, Zübeyir Aydar and Mustafa Karasu. An Ankara prosecutor has launched an investigation into the release of the recording. MİT had yet to make a statement on the issue when the Hürriyet Daily News went to press late Thursday.
MİT completed an internal investigation Wednesday but would not make a statement on it, CNNTürk reported Thursday. The news channel also said Fidan returned to Ankara on Wednesday from Egypt, where he had accompanied Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on a trip.
The statement by Çiçek, who coordinated the government's fight against terror in his capacity as deputy prime minister in 2009 and 2010, was seen as an indirect confirmation of the meetings between state officials and terrorists.
"The Republic of Turkey and its institutions are doing what has to be done. We should look at this issue in this framework," Çiçek said, comparing the alleged meetings with Britain's talks with the IRA and Spain's talks with ETA. Both countries negotiated with terror organizations as a way to end the violence. Aydar has meanwhile denied that the recording was leaked by the PKK.
"This is not related to us. We are following and discussing the developments. The organization [PKK] will make the necessary statements if needed," he said in an interview with Roj TV, a Denmark-based satellite broadcaster the government accuses of being a mouthpiece for the PKK.
According to Aydar, the meetings began in 2006 through imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan.
Turkish Assault Boats in Eastern Mediterranean Possible at Any Time, Erdogan Says
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, visiting Tunisia on the second stop of his North Africa tour, reiterated his criticism of Israel, saying Turkish frigates and assault boats might be sent to the Eastern Mediterranean at any time to ensure freedom of navigation.
"Israel will not be able to move in the Eastern Mediterranean as it wishes. It will see our determination in this regard," he said at a joint press conference with Tunisian interim Prime Minister Beji Caid el Sebsi on Thursday.
Erdoğan is on a tour of three North African countries -- Egypt, Tunisia and Libya -- whose regimes have been toppled in recent months in widespread pro-reform protests that came to be commonly known as the Arab Spring. The tour comes amid a crisis in Turkey's relations with Israel.
Earlier this month, Turkey expelled the Israeli ambassador and other senior diplomats and suspended military agreements with the Jewish state after Israel refused to apologize for a deadly raid in 2010 on an aid ship trying to break the blockade of Gaza, which resulted in the deaths of eight Turks and a Turkish-American.
Turkey also vowed to take measures to ensure freedom of navigation in the Eastern Mediterranean, raising the possibility of a naval confrontation with Israel. Ankara says the blockade of Gaza is illegal and promised to seek a review of the blockade by the International Court of Justice.
Erdoğan said in Tunisia that Turkey will ensure freedom of navigation for all ships, not only those that are headed to Gaza.
Turkey, Germany Prepare for 50th Anniversary of Labor Agreement
Turkish Minister of Labor and Social Security Faruk Celik said Wednesday that activities to mark the 50th anniversary of a labor agreement between Turkey and Germany would be attended by Turkish President Abdullah Gul and other high dignitaries on Oct. 30, Nov. 1 and Nov. 16.
Faruk Celik met German Minister of State for Migration, Refugees and Integration, Maria Bohmer, in Istanbul on Wednesday where the two attended a meeting between the delegations of the two countries following their tête-à-tête meeting.
Celik and Bohmer spoke to journalists after the completion of talks between the respective delegations.
"We talked for more than an hour and held a very fruitful and successful meeting with Bohmer," Celik said.
Immigration Monument to be Erected at Cologne
"We had a meeting with Bohmer in Germany on January 25. At that meeting, we had discussed the activities to mark the 50th anniversary of a labor agreement between Turkey and Germany," Celik said. "Some of the topics we discussed were holding a symposium, publishing success stories in the past 50 years, the erection of the Immigration Monument in Cologne, and train trips," Celik noted.
The unemployment of the Turkish people living in German was also a problem addressed by the two leaders. The unemployment rate in Germany is 7 percent, but for the Turkish community living in Germany, the unemployment rate is as high as 22 percent, Celik said.
"We discussed with Bohmer the high percentage of unemployment among Turks living in Germany, Celik said. "And we exchanged ideas with Bohmer to bring down the rate of unemployment among Turks living in Germany, including providing vocational training," Celik said.
Bohmer told Celik that a draft law on the accreditation of foreign diplomas would be adopted at the German Parliament in September.
The last topic addressed by Bohmer and Cilik was the Turkish-German Friendship Week.
Nearly 370,000 Turks were retired in Germany while 560,000 others are currently working. One out of five tourists who arrive in Turkey is German. We have very close relations. And, as such, the last week in October was proposed to be designated as the Turkish-German Friendship Week, Celik also said.
Turkey Warns of Cyprus Gas Drill if Greek Cyprus Continues Offshore Drilling Plans
Turkey has warned that it will sign a continental shelf delimitation accord with Turkish Cyprus if Greek Cyprus proceeds with plans to start offshore drilling for oil and gas next month.
Such an agreement would designate areas in the eastern Mediterranean Sea where Turkey and northern Cyprus could launch their own oil and gas exploration projects.
Meanwhile, Greece on Thursday said Turkey should drop threats to Cyprus over the latter's gas exploration plans.
"Turkey is trying to escalate the tone. This is dangerous and it needs to stop," Foreign Ministry spokesman Grigoris Delavekouras said. "We hope that Turkey will behave soberly and will refrain from further raising tension. There needs to be stability in our area because we are in a very sensitive period."
Turkish officials met Thursday with a Turkish Cypriot delegation to discuss the dispute with Greek Cyprus, which has been escalating in the background behind a crisis with Israel that has already prompted a Turkish decision to step up military presence in the East Mediterranean.
"As a result of the meeting, it has been agreed that [Northern Cyprus] will conclude a continental shelf delimitation agreement if the Greek Cypriot administration proceeds with offshore drilling activities in the south of the island," a Foreign Ministry statement said.
"We are determined to protect the rights of the Turkish Cypriots. They are not going to be spectators if the Greek Cypriots start to drill," a senior Turkish diplomat told the Hürriyet Daily News.
'Contract is Ready'
All preparations for the delimitation agreement between Turkey and Turkish Cyprus have been completed and it will be signed "immediately" if Greek Cyprus starts exploration work, he said.
A Turkish delegation, led by the Energy Ministry's undersecretary, will go to northern Cyprus on Friday for further consultations on the issue. The delegation will include representatives from the General Directorate of Petroleum Affairs, the Turkish Petroleum Corporation and the Foreign Ministry. Turkey has repeatedly urged Greek Cyprus to suspend oil and gas exploration plans, arguing that such unilateral action would preclude Turkish Cypriot rights to the island's natural resources.
Contribution from AFP stories were used in this report.
Turkey, Turkish Cyprus Mull Mediterranean Sea Oil Exploration
Turkish and Turkish Cypriot executives met in Ankara on Thursday to discuss recent developments in Greek Cyprus' ambitions to explore for oil and natural in the eastern Mediterranean Sea.
Officials from the Foreign, Economy and Energy ministries of northern Cyprus gathered together with Turkish Foreign Ministry executives and experts from some Turkish public institutions in Ankara.
Turkish and Turkish Cypriot executives are expected to discuss implementing decisions made in Ankara on Sept. 9.
Last week, Turkey's Parliament Speaker Cemil Çicek visited northern Cyprus and met Turkish Cypriot executives. After the meeting, Turkish Cypriot President Derviş Eroğlu's special envoy, Kudret Özersay, said Turkey and northern Cyprus began holding talks on the steps they would take against oil and natural gas exploration initiatives.
In 2010, the Greek Cypriot administration and Israel signed an accord to demarcate their maritime boundaries to facilitate searching for mineral deposits in the East Mediterranean.
Turkey Won't Tolerate a Second Habur, PM Says
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said the government's previous approach to bring Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, militants home peacefully has come to an end.
In October 2009, Turkey allowed some PKK militants to return through the Habur gate on the border of Iraq. But this will be no more, according to a statement that comes on the heels of the release of a recording which revealed that talks were under way between Turkish state officials and PKK representatives.
During a flight from Cairo to Libya on Thursday, Erdogan answered questions regarding the secret recording documenting a talk between National Intelligence Organization, or MIT, officials, including Undersecretary Hakan Fidan, and PKK representatives, apparently held in Oslo some time before 2010.
The tape, leaked to the press on Wednesday, has put the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, which earlier denied that any direct negotiations were going on with terrorists, in a difficult position. The main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, and the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, have vehemently criticized the government over the tape.
In response to a question on whether he believed the Oslo meeting's leak would affect Turkey's ongoing process to end terrorism, Erdoğan answered no.
"The state will continue to carry out its responsibility. The process won't be affected. The state will implement the decisions it has taken," Erdoğan said. "The separatist terrorist organization and its political extensions shouldn't expect the kind of goodwill on our part that we have shown in the past."
Erdoğan said he had no guesses about who might have recorded and leaked the conversation, but he didn't rule out Israel in response to a question on whether that country, whose dislike of Fidan is well known, could be behind the leakage.
"It is well-known that some segments have in the past targeted Mr. Fidan. We are investigating how it was leaked. But we won't just cross Mr. Fidan off over something like this, even though he might have made mistakes. The tape has shown the ill intentions of those that leaked it. No good will come out of this for anyone," Erdoğan said.
He also criticized the two opposition parties for using the recording as material for polemics.
"I am not at all worried about either Kılçdaroğlu or Bahçeli's statements. We sent Mr. Fidan with full confidence to İmralı [to talk to PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan]. The opposition doesn't see the distinction between the state and the government," he said. "We said we will never talk to İmralı as the government, but the state has to do its responsibility. Now tell me, how can I possibly work together with the opposition in fighting terror?"
On Oct. 19, 2009 the PKK turned over a group of its members to Turkish authorities at the Habur border gate, which, at the time, was seen as a groundbreaking move that might lead to the disarmament of the PKK. PKK supporters, however, turned the militant's return into a major show of power, with massive demonstrations in the Southeast, offending nationalist sentiment in Turkey and also the families of soldiers killed in clashes with the PKK.
"The [Habur] approach is over," Erdoğan said. "No one should expect that kind of approach any more."