Disagreements on two basic questions of how Turkey's new constitution will be drafted have delayed the work of a sub-panel drafting the procedural rules under which the cross-party Preparatory Constitution Commission will work.
On the first point of contention, opposition representatives have demanded guarantees from the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, that amendments agreed by the commission will not be altered once the draft charter is debated in the General Assembly, sources told the Hürriyet Daily News Tuesday.
The second point of disagreement concerns the handling of disputed provisions. One proposal suggested that contentious points be skipped, then reviewed again and, ultimately, left to party leaders to decide, but not all parties gave their consent. The opposition is worried that the government might press for a referendum on amendments they reject.
The four-member sub-commission was still trying to reach a compromise on these points as the Daily News went to print.
Sources said the AKP representative, backed by Parliament Speaker Cemil Çiçek, gave the cold shoulder to opposition demands that democratic reforms be passed in parallel with the constitution-making process on the anti-terror law, penal code and political party's law.
Once the sub-commission agrees on the procedural rules, the Preparatory Constitution Commission, made up of three representatives each from the four parties in Parliament, will begin work in earnest to overhaul the current constitution, which is a legacy of the 1980 military coup.
Çiçek will chair the commission as regularly as possible, but will assign a member of the body to replace him when he is absent.
The sub-commission has agreed that decisions taken by the commission will be made unanimously. Each party will have one vote, while a single representative from each party will be enough to convene a meeting.
Çiçek said the commission would wrap up its work within "a reasonable period of time" but did not set an explicit deadline. "We will not rush the issue but the reasonable period will not be that long either."
Commission members widely share the opinion that the new charter could be drawn up within 16 months.
Ankara, Baku Put $5 Billion in Refinery
Turkish energy company Turcas Petrol and the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan Republic, or SOCAR, have poured nearly $5 billion into a refinery at their PETKİM Petrokimya Holding joint venture in İzmir, making it Turkey's largest private sector investment.
The refinery is scheduled to begin operating in 2015 with a capacity to process 10 million metric tons of crude oil. The deal is the result of the strong cooperation between Turkey and Azerbaijan, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said during the refinery's groundbreaking ceremony.
The construction process will create 10,000 temporary jobs, while 1,000 permanent jobs will be created following the opening of the Aliağa Petrochemical Peninsula, Erdoğan said. Azerbaijani natural gas is also transported to the eastern province of Erzurum via the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum natural gas pipeline.
Erdoğan also said a Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway would be completed soon to connect the people of the three countries. The privatization of PETKİM reinforced the economic relations between Turkey and Azerbaijan by creating an economic partnership stemming from Turkish-Azeri friendship, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev said, adding that the deal followed the logic of the "one nation, two states" mantra shared by Turkey and Azerbaijan.
Cluster Model Between SOCAR, Turcas
"Our power is our alliance," Aliyev said, adding that the volume of the natural gas would be increased from Baku to Erzurum.
As part of the investment, SOCAR and Turcas will follow a cluster model. There will be a refinery with feedstock reliability, a crude oil processing capacity of 10 million tons, a container terminal with a minimum capacity of 1 million twenty-foot equivalent units, or TEU, an integrated port and a logistic area by the end of 2015. As part of the deal, Turcas and SOCAR established a joint venture company called SOCAR & Turcas Energy, or STEAŞ, 25 percent of which will be controlled by Turcas.
Turkey signed an agreement with Azerbaijan Tuesday to supply natural gas to the much-discussed Nabucco pipeline project, which will transport Caspian gas across Turkey to Eastern Europe.
The Şahdeniz II agreement was signed between the energy ministers of both countries in İzmir with the participation of Erdoğan and Azeri President İlham Aliyev during their first High Level Strategic Cooperation Council meeting.
"The details of the agreement will be revised by our energy ministers," Erdoğan told reporters at the press conference, but said he was expecting the completion of the pipeline's construction between Turkey and Azerbaijan next year.
Turkey will buy 6 billion cubic meters of gas from Azerbaijan and will help with the transfer of another 10 billion cubic meters of natural gas to Europe via the Nabucco pipeline, according to information obtained by the Hürriyet Daily News.
The EU-backed Nabucco project is designed to curb Europe's dependency on Russian resources by acquiring gas from other countries' resources in the Caspian region and the Middle East, particularly Azerbaijan. The signing of the agreement is an important development for the realization of Nabucco, whose contractors failed to tender the 6,500 kilometers pipeline crossing Turkish, Bulgarian, Romanian, Hungarian and Austrian territories.
The first council meeting between Turkey and Azerbaijan focused on economic issues, but the two regional allies also signed agreements on communications, encouraging investments, police force education and family and social policy.
The agreement would make Azerbaijan one of the most important gas suppliers to the European continent, Aliyev said, hailing bilateral cooperation with Turkey.
Ahead of the council meeting, Erdoğan delivered a speech at the groundbreaking ceremony of the Aegean Refinery in Aliağa and said Turkey and Azerbaijan shared the same views on the Cyprus and Nagorno-Karabakh issues, the same ideals on bringing peace to the Caucasus and the same approach to terrorism.
Turkey will "fight shoulder to shoulder with Azerbaijan until the occupation of Karabakh comes to an end," Erdoğan said at the opening ceremony of an oil refinery in İzmir.
"The occupation of Karabakh saddens Turkish nationals as it does Azerbaijani brothers," he said, adding that he believed "Azerbaijani brothers" shared the sorrow of Turks whenever a Turkish youngster was killed in terror attacks. "No country should forget that one day, they will also become the target of the terrorists they are tolerating or turning a blind eye to."
Turkey was always grateful to Azerbaijan for its support to Turkey in counter-terrorism, and particularly when Azerbaijan extended a helping hand in the first hours following Oct. 23's devastating earthquake in the eastern province of Van.
"Turkey is a great state and can solve all of its problems. Our extending a helping hand after the earthquake in Van was an act that came right from our heart," Aliyev said.
BDP Leader, Atalay Meet After Parliamentary Debate
In further comments, Demirtaş slammed the hostile rhetoric against Kurds by some television presenters and bloggers who linked the Van disaster to a recent wave of deadly attacks by Kurdish militants as "racist and fascist." Some have hailed the quake as retribution for the attack.
The Republican People's Party, or CHP, and the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, also denounced the nationalist outbursts.
"Fanning discrimination with rhetoric like 'It is now their turn to weep' is a base and inconsiderate attitude that must be condemned," MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli said.
CHP Chairman Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, for his part, drew attention to the fact that the former mayor of Erciş, whom he held responsible for the unlicensed construction of multi-story buildings in the district, was now a Parliament member from the AKP.
Speaking at the parliamentary debate, CHP Deputy Haluk Eyidoğan called for tighter regulations on the construction and inspection of buildings in high-risk areas. Referring to Kılıçdaroğlu's visit to Van, Eyidoğan pointed out that the CHP leader was able to crumble pieces of the walls of razed buildings with his bare hands.
Turkish Military Denies Report of Tanks Crossing into Northern Iraq
Turkish military officials have denied media reports that Turkish tanks crossed the border into northern Iraq as part of an incursion to hunt down Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, terrorists.
"These reports are not true. Our tanks carried out a maneuver inside Turkey, close to the border with Iraq, and east of the southeastern town of Silopi," Turkish General Staff said Tuesday in a statement posted on its Web site.
The Turkish military launched an extensive security operation inside Turkey, as well as in northern Iraq, after PKK terrorists last week attacked several targets in the town of Cukurca, in the southeastern province of Hakkari, killing 24 soldiers and wounding 18 others.
Turkish Prime Minister Denies Thousand Terrorists Killed in PKK Combat
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Tuesday denied a media report that claimed the Turkish military had killed over a thousand PKK terrorists in an operation conducted in Turkey and in Iraq's north.
"The figures given by the BBC, which said that 1,300 to 1,400 terrorists have been killed, are baseless," Erdoğan said. "As the General Staff had earlier put it, within the last five days, 54 terrorists have been killed inside Turkey and 200 to 270 others have been killed in Iraq's north."
Erdoğan was speaking at a joint press appearance with Azeri President Ilham Aliyev after a meeting of the High Level Strategic Cooperation Council in the western port city of Izmir.
Erdoğan also joined the Turkish General Staff in denying reports that Turkish tanks crossed the border into northern Iraq as part of an extensive security operation inside Turkey, as well as in northern Iraq after PKK terrorists attacked several targets last week in the town of Cukurca, in the southeastern province of Hakkari, killing 24 soldiers and wounding 18 others.
PKK Poses Threat to United States, Congresswoman Says
The outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, poses a critical threat not just to Turkey, but also to United States interests in the Middle East, according to U.S. Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.
The United States is playing an indispensable role in the battle against the PKK, Ros-Lehtinen, the chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in Dallas during a recent ceremony marking Turkey's Republic Day, the Anatolia News Agency reported Tuesday.
Ros-Lehtinen also said she was concerned about the effort to label the violence that occurred during the fall of the Ottoman Empire as "genocide," referring to the mass killings of Armenians in 1915.
"This is a deeply emotional issue and I do not believe that it is an appropriate subject for Congress to become involved in," Ros-Lehtinen said. "The Turkish model of a modern, democratic and predominantly Muslim nation is particularly valuable now in light of the revolutionary changes in the region collectively termed the 'Arab Spring,'" she said.
She also expressed great concern about the deterioration of the relations between Turkey and Israel, saying she strongly encouraged Turkish officials to restore military cooperation between the two countries.
Earthquake Death Toll Rises
The Turkish Prime Ministry announced Tuesday that, as of 4:00 p.m., a total of 459 citizens were killed and 1,352 others were wounded in the 7.2-magnitude earthquake that shook eastern Van province on Sunday. The number of demolished buildings is 2,262.
Turkish President Pleased with Unity in Earthquake Aftermath
Turkish President Abdullah Gul said Tuesday he was pleased to see "our nation united in the face of the recent earthquake that hit the eastern province of Van Sunday."
Speaking to reporters in Ankara, Gul said that everyone in Turkey, all the way from the north to the south and from the east to the west, showed sensitivity after the earthquake and rushed to Van.
"My citizens from Van will feel that they were never alone. The Turkish state's helping hand, and those of the whole nation, will embrace the residents of Van," Gul said.
Turkey Accepts Foreign Aid
After initially turning down offers of international aid following Sunday's 7.2-magnitude earthquake, Turkey has said it will accept foreign aid, even from once-ally Israel, as the need for housing materials for those left homeless has become an urgent need, a source said Wednesday.
"Turkey has asked us for caravans for the homeless after the earthquake," Foreign Ministry Spokesman Yigal Palmor told the AFP. "We accepted immediately and we will quickly see what we can supply."
Israel made an offer of assistance on Sunday, shortly after the quake struck, but Turkey, at first, refused it. Israeli President Shimon Peres called his Turkish counterpart Abdullah Gul to express sympathy.
Ties between Israel and Turkey, once strong allies, have been strained since May 2010 when Israeli naval commandos stormed a flotilla trying to sail to Gaza in defiance of a blockade, killing nine Turks.
Israel to Send Quake Aid to Turkey
Israel said on Tuesday that it was launching an airlift of supplies to help Turkey cope in the aftermath of a devastating earthquake hit the southeast, following a request from Ankara, with an initial shipment of prefabricated homes prepared to leave on Wednesday.
Israel's Foreign Ministry said Ankara had sought the aid via the Israeli Embassy there, after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu offered assistance during a telephone call to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan after the quake struck on Sunday.
The humanitarian offer, which comes as the number of dead has reportedly risen to 4000, is seen as possibly easing diplomatic strain between the allies since Israel's killing of nine Turks on board a Gaza-bound flotilla last year.
Israeli Foreign Ministry Spokesman Yigal Palmor said Turkey had "relayed a request to the embassy in Ankara for mobile homes" and that Israel was looking into the logistics of shipping these supplies. "We are checking what we can do, and will do whatever we can," Palmor said.
In Ankara, a Foreign Ministry official said Turkey had requested prefabricated housing and tents from more than 30 countries.
"We informed all countries who offered help, including Israel, of a request for specific post-emergency items, such as prefabricated homes, containers and tents," the official said.
Israel, geographically close to Turkey, with each country situated on opposite sides of Syria and Lebanon, has sent equipment and rescue teams to Turkey following past earthquakes as well. And Turkey sent fire-fighting planes last December to help Israel battle a brush fire that killed 41 people.
Turkey's Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç denied on Monday that Ankara had declined an offer of aid from Israel.
Tensions between the two increased last month when Turkey expelled the Israeli ambassador after Israel refused to apologize for nine Turks killed in an Israeli raid of an aid flotilla in May 2010. Israel said its marines acted in self-defense in clashes with pro-Palestinian activists aboard a vessel bound last year for Gaza, which is ruled by the Islamist group Hamas.
Barzani Donates $1 Million for Quake Victims, Help Offers Continue
Massoud Barzani, the leader of northern Iraq's autonomous Kurdish government, donated $1 million to the Turkish Red Crescent (Kızılay) on Tuesday for the victims of a deadly earthquake that hit eastern Turkey on Sunday.
News reports said a delegation from the Kurdistan Democratic Party, or KDP, led by Barzani, visited the Turkish Consulate in Arbil early Tuesday and expressed solidarity with quake victims in the eastern Turkish province of Van. The delegation presented the Turkish consulate general with a $1 million check to be delivered to Kızılay.
Belgian Foreign Minister Steven Vanackere joined officials from all over the world on Tuesday in extending condolences and offering sympathy to Turkey. Saying that he was deeply affected by the earthquake's tragic toll on Turkey, Vaneckere said in a written statement that Belgium stands in solidarity with Turkish families who have lost loved ones in the disaster and also included a personal condolence message to his Turkish counterpart, Ahmet Davutoğlu.
Davutoğlu also received a call from Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Kemal Ali Amr, who said that Egypt is ready to dispatch help to Turkey, and that Egypt shares the sorrow of Turkey at this difficult time, the Anatolia News Agency reported on Tuesday.
Turkey and the Iraqi regional administration have recently vowed to strengthen their cooperation against the terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, which uses mountain bases in northern Iraq to launch attacks on Turkey.
A magnitude 7.2 quake killed at least 370 people and leveled more than 2,000 buildings in Van on Sunday. Leaders around the world, including United States President Barack Obama, conveyed their condolences and offered assistance, but Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Turkey is able to cope for now.
Azerbaijan, Iran and Bulgaria still sent aid, he added. Among those offering help were Israel, Greece and Armenia, who have all recently had problems in diplomatic relations with Turkey.
Turkish Government Caught Off Guard by Tent Demand
The Turkish government admitted Tuesday it was caught off guard by a high demand for tents in the wake of the killer earthquake in Van as victims of the disaster and the opposition stepped up criticism of the relief effort.
The Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, Turkey's main Kurdish political movement, called on the governor of Van to step down, charging that he was refusing to cooperate with the city's BDP mayor and taking hold of humanitarian assistance sent to the municipality.
"There is a certain shortage of tents. We are transporting tents from neighboring countries," Deputy Prime Minister Beşir Atalay said during a parliamentary debate Tuesday.
The shortage, he explained, resulted from the fact that many quake victims preferred to erect tents outside their damaged homes instead of moving to tent cities that the Red Crescent set up. The number of tents dispatched to Van city, the worst-hit district of Erciş and surrounding villages, stood at 15,000 and was expected to reach 25,000 today, Atalay said. The government will build new homes for the victims in one year, he added.
"There is no place that has not been reached. Search-and-rescue efforts are continuing in Erciş," he said.
The BDP decried the relief effort as "inept" and criticized the government for turning down foreign assistance offers, claiming that some villages were still not reached. He expressed gratitude, however, to a nationwide outpour of solidarity with Van's Kurdish-majority population.
"The government deserves as much criticism as the people deserve gratitude. Nobody can explain why tents haven't been erected," BDP co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş said in a speech at his party's parliamentary group meeting, lashing out at Van Gov. Münir Karaloğlu for not returning calls by the city's BDP mayor to coordinate relief efforts.
"We do not accept such a discriminative mentality," Demirtaş said. "If you are governor of only half of Van, then you must resign."
U.S. Officials to Visit Turkey to Boost Terrorism Cooperation
A group of United States officials are set to visit Turkey to boost cooperation in the combat on the terrorism of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, a spokesperson with the U.S. State Department said.
"We have a Defense Department-led interagency delegation en route to Turkey to have bilateral consultations on how we might be able to strengthen U.S.-Turkish bilateral cooperation in the counterterrorism field," Victoria Nuland said a daily press briefing Tuesday.
The delegation had come up in a phone call between U.S. President Barack Obama and Turkish Premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan, adding that the delegation would be led by Assistant Secretary of Defense Alexander R. Vershbow.
Asked if the Turkish government had given a feedback over a U.S. offer to help quake relief in Turkey, Nuland said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had spoken to Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Monday.
"She made the call to express our condolences, to express our concern, to reiterate the offer that our Embassy has made to the Turkish authorities to be helpful. My understanding is that the foreign minister was very grateful for that, but that they have indicated, so far, that they intend to handle the response to the earthquake within their national disaster management system," Nuland said. "But again, the Secretary reiterated our offer. We stand by if there is anything that is needed on the Turkish side. And obviously, we offer our condolences to those who lost their lives and those who were wounded."
Turkey Signs Natural Gas Agreement with Azerbaijan
Turkey and Azerbaijan on Tuesday signed an agreement on the purchase and transfer of natural gas from Azerbaijan as part of the "Shah Deniz 2" project.
The agreement was signed following a meeting of the High Level Strategic Cooperation Council that was attended by Turkish Premier Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev.
Turkey and Azerbaijan on Tuesday also signed agreements for cooperation in fields ranging from forestry to communications and training of police officers. Another agreement signed Tuesday was between Turkey's leading news provider Anadolu Agency, or AA, and Azerbaijan's AzerTAC news agency for cooperation.