Turkish President Abdullah Gül, accompanied by Chief of General Staff Gen. Necdet Özel, spent the weekend visiting border troops in eastern and southeastern Turkey.
Gül's visit to the troops on the border, which included the Gendarmerie Corps Command of Public Security in the eastern province of Van, the 34th Tactical Division Command in the border district of Yüksekova in Hakkari, and the Mountain and Commando Brigade Command in the same province, was intended to boost morale among the troops.
Speaking to soldiers in the southeastern province of Şırnak, Gül said he is proud of the soldiers' sacrifice and presented them with small gifts.
"These small gifts are just symbols of how much we appreciate your success and your sacrifice," Gül told the soldiers, whose responsibility is to secure part of the Iraqi border. "We, as the Turkish nation, are proud of you."
Gül traveled by helicopter, accompanied by five assault helicopters amid intense security measures. The president also addressed the wives of the soldiers in the Çukurca district of Hakkari.
"The wives of soldiers with such an important mission are also on a mission. Your mission is one of the toughest," he said.
Photographs of the visits were made public Sunday on the president's official Web site.
Kurdish Language Department Opens Amid Political Tension
After years of efforts, a number of rejections and strong debates, Turkey's first undergraduate-level Kurdish language and literature department is welcoming students for its first class today at Artuklu University, in the southeastern province Mardin.
The beginning of the Kurdish program, considered by many a positive development, comes at a time of recent tension over discussions about to commence on Turkey's new constitution. The discussions are to be between the ruling and oppositional parties, including the Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, which is primarily focused on the Kurdish issue.
While tension among the delegates is expected to rise especially on the first three articles – the articles focus on "the characteristics of the Republic" -- an academic move to officially integrate Kurdish culture into Turkey's education system is already regarded as a sign of development.
"When we established the School of Eastern Languages, I had planned to set up a Kurdish Language and Literature Department and kept re-applying to YÖK [the Higher Education Board]," Artuklu University Rector Serdar Bedii Omay said. "This city is the center of upper Mesopotamia, and Kurdish [culture] is a major part of this."
Twenty-one students have enrolled in the four-year undergraduate program established at the School of Eastern Languages and Literatures.
As the academic season starts, department head Professor Kadri Yıldırım said there had been a considerable number of applicants who have shown interest in the program. Many of them, however, are concerned about what will happen once they graduate.
"Students who have applied to the program are all keen on studying Kurdish, yet they have questions on how they will find employment opportunities," Yıldırım said, adding that students would likely be able to get jobs with the university as it offers Kurdish as an elective class to all students.
"There will not be any problems in employing the first-year graduates, and I also think that as other universities start opening Kurdish-language classes and once Kurdish is used in the primary education system, this department will become more popular," Yıldırım added.
Indeed, several other universities in the eastern region of Turkey, such as Hakkari, Muş, Tunceli and Bingöl have also started offering Kurdish-language classes in recent years. Istanbul's Bilgi University has offered a Kurdish course since 2009 as well.
Classes such as this one are part of a wider debate in Turkey – a country in which the Constitution decrees that only Turkish is permitted as a language for primary education. But members of other ethnic groups, especially Kurds, have increasingly challenged this law, demanding that their native tongues also become a language of instruction.
Artuklu University founded the first Kurdish department offering post-graduate work in 2009 as part of the Living Languages Institute.
In the first year of Kurdish education, students will take a grammar course, a Kurdish folk literature, history of the Kurdish language and a course on Kurdish poetry. Four of the five faculty members in the program will teach the Kurmanji dialect, the most widely spoken Kurdish dialect in Turkey; one professor will teach Zazaki.
Still, Yıldırım said the department lacked the necessary textbooks for the classes.
"We are preparing our own books," he said. "We finished the grammar and folklore books, and for others we will go through our class notes."
Too Early to Speak on Iran Plot, Ankara Says
Turkey is proceeding cautiously following a briefing by United States officials on an alleged Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi Arabian ambassador in Washington, D.C., saying it is too early to comment on the incident.
"The U.S. official briefed us about the whole story; some of its parts are already publicized. We mostly listened to the U.S. official," a Turkish diplomat told the Hürriyet Daily News on condition of anonymity, adding that Ankara would continue to monitor developments in the court case.
The official visited Ankara on Oct. 14 and briefed Turkish officials on the alleged Iranian plot. Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu also discussed the issue in a telephone conversation with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Daniel Benjamin, coordinator for the U.S. counterterrorism office of the State Department, held talks with Davutoğlu and other Turkish diplomats in Ankara as part of the U.S. delegations who have been visiting permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, including Russia and China, seeking support against Iran's alleged plot.
Benjamin also dispatched the indictment in the court case to Turkish officials, the diplomat said.
During talks with Benjamin, Clinton spoke with Davutoğlu to discuss the case and other issues, including an upcoming Afghanistan-Pakistan meeting in Turkey, the diplomat said.
The U.S. State Department ordered all its embassies to mobilize their host countries against Iran over the alleged plot. The U.S. also briefed the embassies of some countries in Washington.
Iran has strongly denied any involvement in what the U.S. says was a plot by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards' elite Quds force to kill the ambassador by hiring assassins from a Mexican drug cartel for $1.5 million. Meanwhile, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Oct. 12 that several countries had not applied sanctions against Iran as strongly as they might.
"The question ahead of us is what further steps we can take in the UN and those consultations continue with our UN Security Council partners," Nuland said. "Our message has been very clear that we think Iran should be held to account, so I think it's premature to say what the Security Council might be prepared to do, but we're continuing to work on that."
Erdogan Lashes Out at EU over Latest Progress Report, Cyprus
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has slammed the European Union for "slinging mud" at Turkey in its latest accession progress report and disparaged the bloc over its financial woes.
Erdoğan ruled out any dialogue with the EU if the Greek Cypriots take over its rotating presidency next year and argued that rectifying injustices against the Turkish Cypriots have now become a "matter of honor" for the bloc.
"The progress report has once again shown the serious eclipse of reason at the EU. Turkey is closer to EU norms than ever and we all know why things are actually stuck," Erdoğan said in a speech at his party's gathering at Kızılcahamam, near Ankara, at the weekend. "And their state of affairs is evident: They are crumbling, their currency is in disarray. But Turkey is up on its feet, and not thanks to them, but to its own people."
Erdoğan pledged Turkey would stay on the path of reform, but said that abandoning the Turkish Cypriots will "not be the price we pay to overcome obstructions" in the accession process.
Stressing that Greek Cyprus was granted membership despite rejecting a reunification plan at the 2004 referendum, Erdoğan said: "This problem is now a matter of honor for the EU. They will either implement their 2004 decision and open the door for trade with the Turkish Cypriots or will continue to spoil the Greek Cypriot side and live with this shame forever."
Erdoğan dismissed Greek Cyprus as "a country that is null and void for us," adding that, "the EU will fail to find Turkey for six months" if the Greek Cypriots take over the EU presidency in July, despite the island's persisting division.
Decrying a Greek Cypriot drive for gas drilling in the east Mediterranean, he warned that "those who claim unilateral ownership of the island's riches will see a multi-fold response by Turkey."
Turkey Plans New Border Gates with Iran, Iraq, Georgia
Customs and Trade Minister Hayati Yazıcı has given instructions for four new border crossings with Iraq, Georgia and another with Iran, Anatolia News Agency reported.
The new crossing with Iran, expected to become operational in 2013, will be at Dilucu in Iğdır province. Turkish and Iranian officials are planning a joint field visit soon to choose the exact location for the gate.
At the Iraqi frontier, where the Habur border gate is already overwhelmed, the construction of a second crossing in the Aktepe-Bacuka area in Şırnak province was agreed to last week when Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari visited Ankara. Construction is planned for next year.
Another crossing is planned at Ovaköy for 2013 to cater mainly for small vehicles and trains when the Turkey-Iraq railway project is completed. Two other gates with Iraq are planned at Derecik and Üzümlü in Hakkari province.
Ankara has also drawn up projects to add four new border crossings to the existing two with Georgia after bilateral trade exceeded $1 billion, growing five times over the past eight years.
Construction is planned to start in the coming weeks for a new gate at Çıldır-Aktaş in Ardahan province. Another border gate to be inaugurated next year in the same province will be at Cambaz, intended to serve also as a train station on the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railroad.
Turkish officials are in contact with Georgian counterparts for two other crossings, at Muratlı and Camili in Artvin province. The crossings will be designed mainly to make life easier for Turkish villagers in the mountainous region during harsh winters by allowing them to use a road via Georgia for transport.
Four Policemen, Two Civilians Hurt in Turkey Bomb Blast
A makeshift bomb went off during a demonstration by supporters of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, in southern Turkey Sunday, injuring four policemen and two civilians.
The device, hidden behind a trash can, exploded in the town of Sehan in southern Adana province as "our security forces intervened to stop a banned protest, injuring six people, including two civilians," the Anatolia news agency quoted Adana Governor Huseyin Avni Cos as saying.
"Two police officers are in serious condition," Cos said.
The NTC news channel said police were moving to disperse a banned demonstration by supporters of the PKK at the time of the blast.
A surge of attacks by Kurdish rebels also targeting civilians are piling pressure on Turkey, which has threatened to launch an incursion into northern Iraq to root out rebel bases. Turkish warplanes have bombed rebel bases in northern Iraq several times since August, killing between 145 and 160 rebels, according to the general staff.