If Turkey wants to help, it should stay out of the process to solve the Karabakh issue, Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandyan has said, in response to Turkish officials' remarks that France should drop its leadership of the Minsk Group, a panel that has been seeking a solution to the political and territorial dispute between Azerbaijan and Armenia for the last two decades.

"If Turkey is sincere in its desire to help the process, it should stay out of it," Nalbandyan was quoted as telling the Armenian media by the Anka news agency on Monday. Nalbandyan's words follow remarks from Turkey's senior officials, led by President Abdullah Gül and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, that France, after its Senate passed a bill that criminalizes denying the "Armenian genocide," has lost its impartiality on the matter and should drop its leadership of the Minsk process, led by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, or OSCE.

Turkey closed its border to Armenia in 1993, after Azerbaijan and Armenian dialogue was hit due to the occupation of Karabakh, an Azeri enclave, by Armenian troops. Turkey backs Azerbaijani claims to Nagorno-Karabakh, which today has a large number of ethnic Armenian residents. Azerbaijan claims that most of the region's Azerbaijani settlers were expatriated during the Armenian invasion of the land. The issue has remained an unsolved dispute for two decades, and the Minsk Group, a multipartite platform that was organized to settle the dispute between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh region, has failed to come up with a single concrete step toward solving the problem.

France, a co-chair to the Minsk Group, earlier this month passed a bill in its Senate to criminalize denying or minimizing the number of the killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks in 1915, and drew harsh reactions from Turkey, which stated that France was accepting one side of the argument and even penalizing the expression of the other's defense, therefore losing its objectivity on the matter.
"There are no negations between Turkey and Armenia, secret or open, direct or indirect," Nalbandyan stated in response to questions on whether he was expecting Turkey to toughen its already hard stance on opening borders with Armenia, Anka reported. Nalbandyan, however, said that Turkey cannot keep the borders closed forever.

Back in June 2011, Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan labeled the Minsk Group "useless," while he reiterated Ankara's well-known position that normalization of relations with Yerevan is tied to resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The Minsk Group, the three co-chairs of which are France, Russia and the U.S., has strived to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. "Unless Azerbaijan and Armenia find a solution to the Karabakh problem, relations between Ankara and Yerevan will not be normalized," he said in an interview with Azerbaijan's ANS TV. When Turkey came close to normalizing relations with Armenia in 2008 through a set of protocols, the dragging dispute over Karabakh prevented the solution, although signed by both countries, were never ratified in their parliaments.


Congress Maneuvers Fuel Storm Within Opposition

The main opposition grappled with a fresh row Monday as party leadership announced that next month's convention scheduled to amend the party statute was Republican People's Party, or CHP, Chairman Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu's initiative and had nothing to do with dissidents' application.

According to CHP Deputy Chairman Nihat Matkap, a second convention could still be scheduled to meet the demand of the intra-party opposition.

"It will absolutely not exceed the 45 days" that party rules require, he told reporters.

Calling the dispute a "family matter," Matkap voiced hope that "our colleagues [the dissidents] may re-assess their position if they see that the amendments they request materialize in this process."

Kılıçdaroğlu's objective for the Feb. 26 convention is "to open debate on all the provisions of the statute so as to make it a more democratic one," Matkap said, adding that a "preparatory commission" would be set up to look into all amendment proposals ahead of the congress.

The question of who requests the convention is critical as it allows the callers to determine the agenda of the gathering. The dissidents, who Jan. 18 submitted 362 signatures demanding the Congress, had listed a series of demands aimed at curbing Kılıçdaroğlu's powers and easing the rules for forcing a chairmanship election.

Kılıçdaroğlu's move is seen as a counter-maneuver to forestall the dissidents' demands by proposing some democratic amendments in the statute. He is not likely to heed calls for curbing the chairman's powers and reducing the number of signatures required for holding an election for a new chairman.

Earlier in the day, the dissidents sent a formal letter to the CHP threatening legal action if the party failed to meet their call for a convention with the specific agenda they had drawn up. They warned that a failure to heed their application could result in the party being transferred to a trustee as in the recent case of the Felicity Party, or SP.

CHP lawmaker İsa Gök, a high-profile dissident, accused the party leadership of trampling on the law and described their maneuver as "a heavy insult." In another twist, CHP member Savcı Sayan rekindled allegations that the sex tape that forced ex-chairman Deniz Baykal to step down in May 2010 was part of a broader plan to remold the CHP, which involved party officials.

Speaking on the Beyaz TV channel, Sayan, a Baykal loyalist, claimed the business partner of an incumbent CHP deputy chair had a prior knowledge of the tape. Sayan described CHP Deputy Chairman Gürsel Tekin as a central figure shaping developments in the wake of the scandal and claimed Kılıçdaroğlu's chairmanship was only his "Plan B."

Tekin's "Plan A" was thwarted by the clique of then secretary-general Önder Sav, but it is still valid and could be soon realized, he said.


Pentagon Denies Report on Base Plans in Turkey

United States officials said military leaders were looking into creating new special operations bases in Turkey and eastern Jordan, as part of new plans to replace large forces with fast and light special operation units, The Wall Street Journal reported.

The report was denied by Pentagon's spokesperson and was not confirmed by Ankara on Friday.

"Reports about an additional U.S. force presence in Turkey are false. We have had no such discussions with the Turkish government. The United States military deeply values its close relationship with the armed forces of Turkey, one of our closest allies and NATO partners," Captain John Kirby, Pentagon's spokesman said in a statement Friday.

The daily, quoting U.S. officials, reported that military leaders were looking into the creation of new special operations bases in Turkey and eastern Jordan, near the border with Iraq, adding that they would supplement a network of airstrips and other facilities in the region that house drones and operatives used for missions in Yemen, Somalia and beyond.


Syria and Iran Influence Iraq, Turkey Row

Despite improving relations and rising trade between their two countries in recent years, the rhetoric between Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and his Turkish counterpart Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has become heated in recent weeks as Baghdad grappled with a political crisis that has stoked sectarian tensions.

"The war of words between Iraq and Turkey and some kind of escalation are largely related (to) what is going on in Syria," said Paul Salem, the director of the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, adding that before the Arab Spring uprisings against dictatorial regimes in the Middle East, Turkey's policy was one of "zero problem" and "good relations with everyone."

But Turkey was forced to choose between the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, which has been trying to crush a popular uprising since March 2011, and the Syrian people.

This has caused "trouble with regime allies and friends, which of course include the Maliki government and include Iran, and that is really the reason for the timing of the escalation of words" between Turkey and Iraq, Salem said.
Ankara, which has called for Assad to quit, has been at the forefront of international criticism of the Damascus regime's crackdown on protests and has also become a haven for many Syrian opposition activists.

Turkey and Iraq have traded accusations since Erdoğan telephoned Maliki on January 10 to discuss the political crisis engulfing Iraq since U.S. troops withdrew from the country on Dec. 18, pitting the Shiite-led government against the main Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc.

Iraqi authorities have charged Sunni Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi with running a death squad and Maliki, a Shiite, said his Sunni deputy Saleh al-Mutlak should be sacked after the latter said the premier was "worse than Saddam Hussein."

In response, Hashemi and Mutlak's Iraqiya bloc has boycotted the cabinet and Parliament; Hashemi is holed up in the autonomous Kurdistan region, which has so far declined to hand him over. Iraqiya, however, announced on Sunday it would end the Parliament boycott, somewhat easing the crisis.

On Tuesday, Erdoğan said "Maliki should know if you start a conflict in Iraq in the form of sectarian clashes, it will be impossible for us to remain silent."

Maliki responded by saying that "all Iraqis are proud of belonging to their country and no other. Erdoğan has provoked all Iraqis with his comments, particularly those he believes he is defending."

Mahjoob Zweiri, a professor of contemporary history and politics of the Middle East at Qatar University, said there are two reasons for the tension.

"Turkey believes Maliki's policies are delaying the stabilization of Iraq by marginalizing a part of the society," the Sunnis, Zweiri said, adding that Iraq's support of Assad's regime is also at odds with Turkey's position. "I don't think that Iraq and Turkey will go very much further (as) both countries have many interests together."

Trade between the two countries amounted to $12 billion in 2011, and Turkish Economy Minister Zafer Caglayan has said Ankara wants this to rise to "$20 billion or $30 billion in 2012."

Some blame a tussle between Iran and Turkey for influence in Iraq for the war of words.
Like Iran, Iraq is ruled by Shiites, while Turkey is largely Sunni. Syria is ruled by minority Alawites, a branch of Shiism.

The Iraq-Turkey crisis is a "struggle for control of Iraq between Iran and Turkey," said Joseph Bahout, a professor at Sciences Po in Paris and a Middle East specialist. The previous Turkish-Iranian-Syrian condominium fell apart because Syria is in the situation that we know and the departure of the Americans (from Iraq) left a void that the two countries (Turkey and Iran) are trying to fill," he said.

"But ultimately, we are heading for a great Sunni-Shiite divide that stretches from Iraq to Lebanon and passes through Syria. The three countries will become a front line that will see conflict between the two main communal forces (Sunni and Shiite) in the region, and in this context, Turkey is obliged" to hold its ground.


Gul Predicts Fast End for Syrian President

The downfall of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government is inevitable and should no longer be delayed, Turkish President Abdullah Gül told reporters Monday en route to Abu Dhabi.

"Some think we want a war in Syria. But we have no hidden agenda. We've done all without expecting anything in return. We are sorry, but, unfortunately, Syria is now in the midst of an inevitable process," he said. "What's important is that this process doesn't linger on for long. The end is clear. All that matters [now] is the process, and how painful it will be."

Reflecting on the positive developments in Tunisia and Egypt, despite some setbacks, Gül noted the absence of independent institutions under dictatorial regimes.

"The dictatorships not only oppressed people, the development of independent institutions and traditions was also hindered," the president said. "Thus [their job] is not easy. Just think of the problems that Turkey, as the most democratic, most secular and most developed country in the Islamic world, is going through."

Addressing speculation that Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal may move to Turkey, Gül said Ankara was the biggest supporter of the Palestinian cause and that Hamas was the elected government in the Gaza Strip.

"[Any move would be] related to the conditions. One should not reject anything categorically," Gül said, adding that he "does not have information" regarding any wish by Mashaal to relocate to Turkey.

Gül also commented on concerns the region was coming under the influence of Iran.

"Of course, the region has its realities. But there could be ignorant and irresponsible ones who strive to turn these realities into an element of conflict. Thus, one should act with utmost responsibility," Gül said. "And that's what Turkey has been doing."

Asked about Turkey's rights record and specific cases in which journalists remain imprisoned, Gül said his "overall stance" was well-known.

"This is the area which has to be protected vigorously by Turkey," he said. "If the area of freedom of thought, press freedom and human rights gets stained, other [successes] will not be visible, whatever one does."


Germany Pays Compensation to Relatives of Turkish Victims

German Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger said Germany began to pay compensation to the relatives of Turkish victims of extreme rightists.

Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger said the paid compensation was between 5,000 to 10,000 euros to the relatives of eight Turks who had been killed by extreme rightists.

Recently, German officials discovered a neo-Nazi cell whose members have killed eight Turks in the past ten years. A hit list targeting 88 people, mostly immigrants, was found during a search into the homes of the suspected members of the neo-Nazi cell. The hit list includes prominent figures from Turkish and Muslim communities in Germany, as well as Munich politicians.


TPG, News Corp., Time Warner Bid for Turkey's Calik Media

TPG Capital, News Corp. and Time Warner have placed bids for the media assets of Turkey's Çalık Holding, which also has interests in energy and finance, three sources close to the matter told Reuters on Monday.

"TPG, (News Corp's Rupert) Murdoch and Time Warner placed bids. I know TPG is very aggressive," said a source close to the deal, adding the submitted bids were around $1 billion, near the asking price.

He said the sale process could be completed in February.

Çalık bought ATV-Sabah for $1.1 billion in 2007 from the Savings, Deposits and Insurance Fund, or TMSF. Çalık took on $750 million of bank debt in April 2008 to finance that acquisition.


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