Turkey's European Union Minister Egemen Bagis has expressed concern that the European Union "was turning away from democracy" by installing technocrat governments in a number of countries to tackle the Eurozone's troubling economic problems.
"As far as I am concerned, one of the most important values of the European Union is democracy," Bagis told the Anadolu News Agency in an exclusive interview. "And what I fear right now is that the European Union is turning away from this very important value."
In Greece last week, Lucas Papademos formed a new technocrat government to deal with a major debt crisis that threatened the entire Eurozone.
Soon Italy followed as Mario Monti won the approval of the Italian parliament to form an interim government to salvage the country from a crushing economic downturn. Monti also appointed himself as the minister of economy and finance.
Bagis said Europe's technocratic cabinets toppled democratically elected governments in what he described as "economic coups," adding, however that the technocrats could not offer solutions that last long.
"Technocrats might be providing an important solution for a short term, but they cannot serve in the long-term. For economic success to be achieved, there needs to be stability and confidence," Bagis said. "These are the two magical words that Turkey had in the 1990s right after our own economic crisis."
He said the election of the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, was mainly the result of a growing trust at the political power, which he said translated that trust into economic investments, jobs and economic success.
"Europe needs stronger democracy supported by the will of the people who can come up with solutions that the people will support," Bagis said. "That's why as a friend we feel that we owe to our EU allies the reminder that they should not give up on their most important value which is democracy."
Asked how Turkey's relations with EU would be affected when the Greek Cypriot administration assumed the presidency of the EU in July 2012, Bagis said Turkey favored a settlement on Cyprus that secured a reunified state on Cyprus that represented the two sides of the island on equal political terms.
Turkey's accession talks with the 27-nation bloc have been stalled for over a year now. The EU started membership talks in 13 of 33 policy areas. Discussions on one of the issues have been provisionally closed and negotiations over eight others policy chapters would not open until Turkey meets a number of conditions, the EU said.
The conditions include extension of a trade agreement with the EU to Greek Cypriot side. The bloc demands that Turkey open its ports and airports to traffic from the Greek Cypriot side, which Turkey strongly rejects unless all international economic sanctions on the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus were removed.
'Draft Bill Should Fix Gul's Term in Office'
Lingering uncertainty over the length of Abdullah Gül's term as president should be resolved in a draft bill on presidential elections that has been submitted to the legislature, Parliamentary Speaker Cemil Çiçek said Wednesday.
"If Parliament fails to do that, the decision will be made by the Supreme Electoral Board, or YSK. The right thing to do is to give the date [of the next presidential election] in this bill," Çiçek told the private A Haber television channel.
Turkey's next head of state will be elected by a popular vote for the first time under constitutional amendments passed in 2007.
The bill, submitted in the previous legislative year, should also clarify procedural rules concerning the presidential election, such as where candidates would file their applications, whether they would receive financial aid from the Treasury for their campaigns and how objections would be lodged against candidates, Çiçek said.
The speaker would not say when the draft revision could be addressed.
"They can hold the meeting next week if they want," he said, referring to the parliamentary commission whose approval is needed before the bill goes to a vote at the General Assembly.
Parliament elected Gül for a single seven-year term on Aug. 28, 2007. Two months later, constitutional amendments introducing a popular vote to elect the president for a five-year, once renewable term, were approved by referendum. The question remains whether the amendments will be considered retroactive to affect Gül's mandate.
Responding to an by an opposition deputy, the YSK said last month that it was unable to produce a decision on when Gül's term would expire because the issue required "a special study and assessment."
Turkey Says Syrian Unrest is Internal Affair, Won't Allow Any Intervention
Turkey has said an uprising in Syria is its neighbor's internal affairs and that it will not allow any state to militarily intervene in Syria over the regime's brutal military crackdown on an eight-month uprising, ruling out any possibility that Turkey will become militarily involved.
"We won't send soldiers [to Syria], won't intervene and won't allow and create conditions for others to intervene," Bülent Arınç, Turkey's deputy prime minister told a local TV station in Bursa. Arınç, who is also the government's spokesman, said any foreign intervention would create divisions, not only in Syria, but across the region as well. He added that incidents in Syria are developing along ethnic lines and sectarianism is also playing a role.
Arınç's remarks come at a time when Syria's armed opposition groups asked Turkey to create a buffer zone to shelter anti-regime fighters. Lt. Salem Odeh, a defector from Latakia, told Reuters this week that historic and religious ties with Turkey that go back to the Ottoman Empire mean Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's opponents -- generally wary of outside interference -- would accept a Turkish military role.
"I just hope there will be a Turkish military intervention. It's better, and they have longstanding blood ties from old times, and they are closer to the East than the West," he added.
Citing Israeli security officials, the Israeli Haaretz reported on Thursday that they believe Turkey is moving toward a military intervention in Syria, in order to create a secure buffer zone for opposition activists. Accordingly, Turkey is expected to set up secure buffer zones on its border with Syria that would allow armed opposition groups to organize against the Syrian regime from bases protected by the Turkish military, according to Haaretz.
However, Arınç categorically ruled out any discussion among government circles that Turkey is considering military intervention. "There is absolutely no such thing," he underlined. "Some Turkish politicians and some countries are saying Turkey will intervene in Syria. This is totally wrong. This is impossible, we don't think of it."
Turkish President Abdullah Gül, on an official visit to Britain, said this week that change is inevitable in Syria, but said this should come from within Syria, not through external intervention. Earlier, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan spoke of the fate of defeated dictators from Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini to Muammar Gaddafi and bluntly told al-Assad to step down.
Arınç also ruled out the possibility of Turkey directing events in Syria and added that developments in the country are Syria's internal affairs. He urged the Syrian government to refrain from using weapons against those who demand rights and demanded that the authority enact reforms immediately, go to elections, strengthen democracy and increase political participation in order to represent all opposition groups in Parliament.
Turkey is only urging Syrian authorities not to use tanks in the face of these demands and that this means "you are fighting against your own people," Arınç said. The Turkish minister's rejection of any intervention stands in contrast to Turkish diplomats' earlier comments that Turkey may intervene if there is a huge influx of Syrian refugees fleeing violence or a large-scale massacre.
No Business Retreat in East After Deadly Attacks
Turkey's plan to explore and produce oil in the country's southeast will continue undeterred by recent terror attacks, said Energy Minister Taner Yıldız said Wednesday.
"Turkey will continue its investments in the country's southeastern and eastern region with determination," Yıldız told the Daily News. His remarks came a day after the country's state-run Turkish Petroleum Corporation, or TPAO, signed a deal with Royal Dutch Shell to conduct oil exploration in Southeast Anatolia and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, killed three at an existing oilfield in the southeast.
The PKK killed the three workers in an attack on an oilfield in the southeastern province of Batman overnight, the Anatolia News Agency reported. Two security personnel and an electrician were shot dead in Şelmo field, which is operated by Dallas-based firm Transatlantic Petroleum. The field is the second largest in Turkey.
"This is not just an attack targeting oil fields and natural gas lines in the country, but also Turkey's development," Yıldız said, adding that the attacks also targeted Kurdish people living and working in the region. "In total Turkey produces nearly 3,000 barrels of oil per day from 82 wells and hundreds of locals work in field operation."
Previous attacks on gas and oil pipelines in the area, as well as the Wednesday Batman attack, target Turkey's political stability, the minister said. "The outlawed PKK has no capacity to represent Kurdish people at all."
In 1993 and 1994, some firms stopped operations in the region due to security reasons after terrorist attacks in the area, Yıldız said.
"We will increase the security measures and our investments in the region," he said. "I do not think the matter is that complicated."
TPAO's deal with Shell finalized terms on seismic research off the Mediterranean province of Antalya, as well as land-based drilling work in the southeastern province of Diyarbakır.
Deputies, NGOs Criticize Recent KCK Detentions
Deputies from the Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, and representatives from other NGOs met in Istanbul to criticize the government on the recent detentions of Kurdish Communities Union, or KCK, members.
In a recent operation, 70 people were detained including 42 lawyers, many of whom represented the jailed leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, Abdullah Öcalan, former parliamentary deputy Mahmut Alınak and local administrators of BDP.
BDP Deputy Sebahat Tuncel slammed the government and said Kurdish people should not be kept out of politics.
"If Kurdish people remove themselves from politics because of this violence and pressure, it would be tragic," Tuncel said.
Another BDP deputy, Hasip Kaplan, also said all the conversations were recorded during the lawyers' meetings with Abdullah Öcalan on the İmralı Island.
On Nov. 23, Istanbul's Deputy Public Prosecutor Fikret Seçen announced the government had strong evidence that Öcalan's lawyers carried messages to PKK members in the Qandil Mountains. Seçen said the lawyers directed Öcalan's orders to PKK members.
"There can't be any connection between the lawyers and PKK members because every meeting has been recorded by prosecutors. All meetings are under the surveillance of the government," Kaplan said.
Despite rising tensions between Kurdish and Turkish societies, Tuncel said they prefer to live together in peace. "We would like to live together peacefully, however the increasing pressure is making it more difficult."
Meanwhile, 15 people who celebrated Öcalan's birthday were detained Wednesday in raids conducted in five cities.
Following the arrest of political science Professor Büşra Ersanlı in a prior KCK raid, a petition circulated and was signed by more than 700 academics to protest her arrest.
Ersanlı was faculty member at Marmara University's Political Science Department and a member of the Constitutional Commission of BDP in Parliament. She was arrested on Oct. 28 based on claims that she lectured at BDP's Academy of Politics. By signing the petition, its signatories said they wanted to lecture at the BDP Academy freely.
CHP Head Says Dersim Lands Should Be Returned
Turkey's main opposition leader Wednesday rebuked Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan over comments on the 1930s Dersim killings, charging that the latter's apology on the issue was inadequate.
"You need to follow up on your apology. There are the Dersim deportations. The archives pertaining to those deportations also need to be made public. You ought to return the lands of those deported families," Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader of the opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, said while speaking at the Assembly Hall of the Kozyatağı Cultural Center of Istanbul's Kadıköy Municipality.
Kılıçdaroğlu said he had previously requested the documents Erdoğan presented while making his apology on Nov. 23, but added that he was denied permission. The people of Dersim in eastern Turkey would not allow their pain to be exploited for political ends by the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, the CHP leader added.
"It does not suffice to apologize. None of the documents he disclosed are new. The book he disclosed is the same book I read in the 1970s. Apologizing is inadequate, you ought to open up the state's archives," Kılıçdaroğlu, who is from Tunceli, the name Dersim was given in 1930, said.
Turkey's primary concern at the moment is not about local governments but about facing up to history in a frank manner, Kılıçdaroğlu said.
"Mr. Prime Minister, your duty is to open up the state's archives in addition to apologizing. When you open them up, then we are also going to see the true documents. Then we can sit down and face our history," he said.
British and American documents are also accessible by the public and Turkey's past can also be traced in those documents, he said. The CHP had brought a motion before Parliament for such documents to be made publicly available in Turkey as well, but the motion was rejected by AKP deputies, he added.
In the late 1930s, the Turkish military conducted an operation in the area of Dersim killing thousands of people.
Turkey to Produce Engines for Tanks
Turkey will now manufacture engines for tanks and warships for the first time in the history of the nation's defense industry, a top procurement official said.
Undersecretary for Defense Industries Murad Bayar said the weakest component of the recently flourishing business was arguably engine-manufacturing, which the nation will now work to eliminate. Bayar said domestically manufactured engines will be used in the serial production phase of Altay, Turkey's first national main battle tank.
Since 2007 Otokar, one of Turkey's largest armored vehiclemakers, has been designing the Altay with industrial support from South Korea's Hyundai Rotem. Under a nearly $500 million contract, four prototypes should be built by 2015, after which serial production is scheduled to begin.
The mock-up of Altay, projected to have a 120 mm gun, was introduced to the public in May at the 10th International Defense Industry Fair, or IDEF, in Istanbul.
"We hope to build the engines for the Altay in the serial production stage in the first batch of 250 tanks that will be manufactured domestically after 2015," Bayar said. "We need to obtain this engine-making capability." Eventually Turkey plans to build up to 1,000 Altays.
Bayar said another option was to develop the tank's engine jointly with South Korea.
"We need to make engines for our naval platforms, which have a good chance to be exported," he said. Turkey has begun to produce up to 12 national corvettes, the smallest of major warships, in a program called Milgem that is worth up to $3 billion. The first corvette was delivered to the Navy this fall and a second was put to sea for tests.
Turkey has sold several of the smaller boats to countries in the Middle East and Asia. The country plans to make its own national frigate by 2020 with domestically manufactured engines. Frigates are the largest warships in the Turkish Navy.
"Producing engines and power systems is not the most difficult thing to do in the defense industry," said an Ankara-based defense analyst. "But to make sense, you have to make sure that manufacturing engines is economically feasible. Compared to Turkey's capabilities in several other sectors in defense industry, Turkey already lags behind in the producing its own engines."
Turkey is not yet looking at large-scale plans to manufacture its own aircraft engines. Its main engine maker Tusaş Engine Industries, or TEI, co-produces engines for aircraft under license of large foreign companies.
Africa Seeks Turkish Islamic Education
Muslim religious authorities from Africa have called on Turkey to take on a greater role in Islamic education in African communities in a joint declaration issued Wednesday.
The declaration came after talks in Istanbul and Ankara hosted by the Religious Affairs Directorate and said Turkey should open religious representation offices on all levels in African countries, increase university contingents and scholarships for theology students and support the establishment of schools in Africa similar to Turkey's religious vocational high schools.
"Turkey is expected to take a more active role and offer opportunities to meet the urgent need for well raised and educated human resources, particularly in the area of religion, in Africa countries," the text said. "In this sense, educational institutions similar to the Imam-Hatip schools in Turkey should be used as an example for schools in Africa and backed with faculties providing higher religious education like [Turkey's] theology faculties."
The declaration also encouraged businesspeople, primarily those from Turkey, "who care for the problems of Africa and Muslims" to continue their support for the continent's Muslim communities under closer coordination. Muslim communities in Africa need radio and television channels to promote Islam and offer religious knowledge through educational and cultural programs, it said.
The declaration also stated the establishment of a permanent secretariat at Turkey's Religious Affairs Directorate, made up of both Turkish and African officials, is required to ensure the cooperation decisions are properly implemented.
The declaration stressed the quality of Islamic religious education in Africa carried significant importance for "securing peace and stability on the continent and providing a basis for the proper understanding and implementation of Islam."
Some 125 representatives from 46 African countries took part in the four-day gathering, titled the Second Summit of African Muslim Religious Leaders, which was held with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's support.
Turkish Military Launches Probe into Fugitive Senior General
The General Staff has launched an investigation into the case of retired Maj. Gen. Mustafa Bakıcı, who is suspected of having fled to Russia to evade arrest as part of a probe in which he is accused of being part of a propaganda campaign.
The General Staff said in a brief statement on Thursday that the General Staff's military prosecutor launched an investigation into Bakıcı. The major general, who was the commander of the 23rd Border Division Command, was assigned to a desk job at the Land Forces Command's inspection department during this year's Supreme Military Council, or YAŞ, due to his suspected involvement in an anti-government Web site campaign.
He was also among the 14 suspects for whom the İstanbul 13th High Criminal Court issued arrest warrants as part of the investigation on Aug. 8 after an indictment prepared by the prosecutor overseeing the case was accepted by the court. Bakıcı refused to turn himself in to prosecutors. He is among the key suspects in the ongoing investigation into alleged anti-government websites.
The investigation into the propaganda Web sites began in 2010 based on evidence found in the home of retired Col. Hasan Ataman Yıldırım, another suspect in the case. Later, an anonymous tipster from inside the military sent an email to inform the public and the prosecutors that the General Staff had established 42 websites for the sole purpose of disseminating propaganda about the government and religious communities.