The National Intelligence Organization, or MİT, rejected Thursday an Istanbul prosecutor's invitation for its head to answer questions in an ongoing judicial process as the government lent its full support to the chief in an effort to avert the deepening crisis.
MİT head Hakan Fidan, as well as two former MİT officials, Afet Güneş and Emre Taner, did not appear in court to provide testimony Thursday. In an urgent move to avert the prosecution of the MİT officials, the Justice Ministry launched an initiative to amend both the MİT Act and the Penal Code in order to make probing intelligence members' probe more difficult.
The details of the amendment were specially crafted by Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin, who met with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan twice Thursday. In the first phase, Article 250 of the Penal Code, which gives broad autonomy for specially authorized prosecutors to prosecute whomever they want, could be changed. Second, the amendment will also include Article 26 of the MİT Act, which essentially says a MİT member could be prosecuted only with the prime minister's consent. This article could be rewritten to increase its scope to exempt MİT brass from being prosecuted.
Specially authorized Sadettin Sarıkaya's unprecedented move to summon Fidan and the two former MİT officials has shaken Ankara; some have speculated on the existence of a simmering power struggle within the state.
MİT's message came in the late afternoon as Fidan was meeting President Abdullah Gül and Erdoğan was meeting Ergin in an effort to put an end to the crisis between the country's most important institutions. Chief of General Staff Gen. Necdet Özel also visited Erdoğan just before the prime minister met with Gül.
A statement by the President's Office made public after the meeting said it was a routine weekly meeting and that the focus was on the latest developments. Gül is "closely watching the situation," according to the statement.
According to MİT's earlier message to the prosecutor's office, the MİT Act requires the permission of the prime minister before its members can be prosecuted. The organization also said that as MİT was located in Ankara an Ankara-based court should make the request.
Speaking at a conference in Istanbul Thursday, former deputy MİT chief Cevat Öneş said such a development "cannot even take place in Patagonia" -- a Turkish phrase to emphasize backwardness.
The incident displayed how much Turkey needs a "qualified democracy," Öneş added. Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ also defended Fidan, saying he "was just doing his job."
"It is MİT's primary task to infiltrate terrorist organizations and collect information on their plans. But if you mix apples and oranges and accuse people who are risking their lives in the service of the nation, that would be extremely wrong," Bozdağ told reporters.
Fidan, Taner and Güneş had been asked to give testimonies in the judiciary's wide-ranging investigation into the Kurdistan Communities Union, or KCK, the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party's, or PKK, alleged urban wing.
"What I see is that there is no crime committed [by MİT]. There is a duty done. I read comments suggesting that this duty constitutes a crime. But one cannot accuse people by comments but by law," Bozdağ said.
The prosecutors sought to question the suspects in relation to a number of claims, including charges pertaining to MİT operatives who allegedly transgressed their duties to infiltrate the KCK and gather intelligence by actually facilitating the KCK's administration instead, according to the Hürriyet Daily News.
Turkish Prime Minister Resurrects Debates on Islamification
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's comment that his government wants to "raise a religious youth" has touched a nerve in society, fuelling debates over an alleged "hidden agenda" to Islamize secular Turkey.
"We want to raise a religious youth," said Erdoğan, himself a graduate of a clerical school and the leader of the Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party, or AKP, during a parliamentary address last week. "Do you expect the conservative democrat AK Party to raise an atheist generation? That might be your business, your mission, but not ours. We will raise a conservative and democratic generation embracing the nation's values and principles."
Erdoğan's remarks drew strong criticism from the staunchly secular Republican People's Party, or CHP, founded by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, with its leader calling him a "religion-monger."
"It is a sin to garner votes over religion. You are not religious but a religion-monger," said Kemal Kilicdaroglu, accusing Erdoğan of polarizing the country by touching its fault lines.
"I'm asking the prime minister: What can I do if I don't want my child to be raised as religious and conservative?" wrote prominent liberal commentator Hasan Cemal in the Milliyet daily. "If you are going to train a religious and conservative generation in schools, what will happen to my child?"
Columnist Mehmet Ali Birand also criticized Erdoğan this week in an article titled "The race for piety will be our end."
"What does it mean, really, that the state raises religious youth? Is this the first step towards a religious state?" he wrote in the Hurriyet Daily News. "Erdoğan must explain what he meant, otherwise a dangerous storm may erupt and go as far as fights about being religious versus being godless."
Neither religious nor political uniformity can be imposed on Turkey given regional, ethnic and sectarian diversity in the country, wrote Semih Idiz in the Milliyet daily on Tuesday. He said millions of people "have subscribed to secular lifestyles" even before the republic.
Erdoğan 's AKP has been in power since 2002 and won a third term with nearly 50 percent of the vote in the 2011 elections, securing 325 seats in the 550-member Parliament.
But since then, the influence of the military, considered as guardian of secularism, has waned. Dozens of retired and active army officers, academics, journalists and lawyers have been put behind bars in probes into alleged plots against Erdoğan 's government.
Critics accuse the government of launching the probes as a tool to silence opponents and impose authoritarianism. Secular quarters argue Erdoğan 's conservative government is also step by step imposing religion in every aspect of life, saying many restaurants already refuse to serve alcohol during Ramadan.
They also criticize recent changes to legislation under which religious school graduates will now be able to access any university branch they like, while in the past they had only access to theology schools.
Birand expressed fears that the changes would not be confined to this and would lead to censorship in television broadcasts. The Turkish television watchdog RTUK "will restrict all kissing scenes; they will confuse pornography with explicit broadcast and all television screens will be made pious," he added. "Then will come religious foundations. After them, it will be municipalities. All kinds of Koran teaching courses, legal or illegal, will mushroom."
Observers say Erdoğan 's message contradicts what he had said during a recent tour of Arab Spring countries, in September.
"As Recep Tayyip Erdogan I am a Muslim, but not secular. But I am a prime minister of a secular country. People have the freedom to choose whether or not to be religious in a secular regime," he said in an interview with an Egyptian TV station and published by the Turkish daily, Vatan.
"The constitution in Turkey defines secularism as the state's equal distance to every religion," he said in remarks that provoked criticism from the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.
Armenians Take Action to Protect Shrines at Risk
Malatya Municipality's recent demolition of a "Final Prayer" chapel at an Armenian cemetery has spurred Armenian-Turks into action about other at-risk sites around the country.
"[The idea of establishing] a commission could perhaps gain currency, but we first need to take into consideration the situation that Turkey is [embroiled] in. The example of Malatya may not stick well everywhere," former Malatya Philanthropists Association, or HAYDER, head Garo Paylan told the Hürriyet Daily News.
"We used to have graves that are thousands of years old across Anatolia, but they were either paved over with roads or new buildings were erected on top of them. It is no longer possible to retrieve most of them, but we at least need to claim the remainder," Paylan said.
HAYDER, which first brought the matter of Armenian sites before the public's attention, continues receiving sporadic phone calls about the status of Armenian remnants elsewhere in the country.
"We are progressively evaluating the requests," Paylan said, adding that they were hesitant in taking any further steps at the moment. Denouncing as insincere the interest shown by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the Malatya Municipality in the chapel's demolition, Paylan also said they had made a retreat for fear of public reaction.
Turkish Foreign Minister Urges Syria Peace Meet on U.S. Visit
The international community cannot afford to watch the "massacre" taking place in Syria without acting, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Thursday during a visit to Washington.
Davutoglu is urging an international conference to resolve violence that erupted when demonstrators last spring began demanding that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad be removed from office. The government crackdown on dissidents has killed more than 6,000 people since March 2011, according to human rights organizations.
"We cannot let Syrian people die every day and the international community will follow blindly," Davutoglu said during a lecture at George Washington University in the United States capital.
The Turkish government announced Wednesday it is trying to organize "as soon as possible" an international conference that seeks a peaceful settlement of the Syrian crisis. A peace conference also has supporters in the U.S. government, which is organizing its own meeting, called "Friends of Syria," among stakeholders in the uprising.
Davutoglu is scheduled to hold talks with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on the Syrian crisis during his stay in Washington.
"We want to have an international platform if the UN doesn't function in that way, to show solidarity with the Syrian people against this bloodshed, massacre," the Turkish minister said.
He was referring to a United Nations Security Council vote last week that struck down a resolution calling for a transition in the Assad government to end the violence. Russia and China vetoed the measure.
Davutoglu did not give details on the location or date of the peace conference he proposes.
Turkey is a former ally of Syria but broke off relations because of the violent backlash against demonstrators by the Assad regime.
Turkish Envoy Can't Get Meeting with Al-Maliki
Turkey's ambassador to Baghdad, Yunus Demirer, has been unable to obtain an appointment with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki since taking office Dec. 1, 2011, the Hürriyet Daily News reported Thursday.
Demirer has met with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and Masoud Barzani, the president of the regional Kurdish administration, but has remained unable to meet with al-Maliki despite asking for a meeting.
Diplomatic relations between Iraq and Turkey are tense after al-Maliki accused Ankara of intervening in Iraq's internal affairs after a crisis erupted between Shiite and Sunni political groups.
Turkey's Voice Needed in NATO, Secretary General Says
Secretary General of NATO Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Thursday that he had no doubts that the Turkish government would remain attached to NATO.
Answering questions of the Turkish media at the NATO headquarters in Brussels, Rasmussen said that they needed "Turkey's voice in NATO."
"Turkey played a crucial role during the Cold War. There is no need to say that Turkey played a key role in that term as a neighbor of the Soviet Union. We are in a new security climate following the Cold War and the latest developments indicate that Turkey could play a crucial role. What is happening in North Africa and the Middle East shows how strong a role Turkey could play. Aside from its geographic location, Turkey's historic, cultural and religious ties to the region will make Turkey play a vital role," Rasmussen said.
"I consider Turkey as a loyal ally that carries critical importance. I have close ties with Turkish President Abdullah Gul, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and National Defense Minister Ismet Yilmaz ever since I have assumed the post of NATO Secretary General, Rasmussen underlined.
"I do know that Turkey is strongly attached to our alliance and I appreciate Turkey's important contributions to NATO operations.
"Turkey has made great contributions to NATO operations in the Balkans, Libya and Afghanistan. Turkey has made its territory available for a NATO missile defense system. Turkey has an important role in the alliance. Turkey will continue to play an important role for the security of the European Atlantic region. Within this frame, we need Turkey's voice in NATO, Rasmussen emphasized.
"NATO-EU ties could be carried further before the Cyprus issue gets resolved. I propose that the EU signs a security agreement with Turkey and admits Turkey into the European Defense Agency as a full member and, in return, Turkey accepts that the EU includes the Greek Cypriot side as one of its 27 members," Rasmussen said.
"NATO has no plans for an intervention in Iran or Syria. I call on the Tehran administration to act in conformity with its international obligations and the Damascus regime to meet the legitimate demands of its people," Rasmussen added.
Rasmussen will pay a trip to Turkey soon as part of activities to celebrate Turkey's 60 years in the alliance.
Sarkozy Calls on Turkey to 'Face Its History'
French President Nicolas Sarkozy has again called on Turkey to "face its history" in reference to Armenian genocide claims stemming from the 1915 incidents.
France collaborated with the Nazis during World War II, but it later faced up to that period in history, the ntvmsnbc news Web site reported him as saying.
Sarkozy spoke Wednesday at the annual dinner honoring France's Jewish community. Before the dinner, Sarkozy met with Gilad Shalit, an Israeli-French soldier who was held hostage for five years by Palestinian militants, according to the Associated Press.
Shalit made an unusual public appearance, meeting with Sarkozy in his presidential palace in Paris. Shalit did not speak to reporters afterward but his father, Noam Shalit, said, "We are very moved."
Sarkozy praised Shalit for his "exemplary courage" and his parents for "their determination and their dignity in the face of the ordeal and the anguish," according to a statement from the president's office.
Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian has called on Israel to stop the "play of words" and recognize the Armenian genocide allegations, referring to a statement from the chairman of the Holocaust Institute, Israel Charny, Panarmenina.net reported.
Nalbandian quoted Israel Charny, founder and director of the Jerusalem Institute of Holocaust and Genocide: "Everyone in Israel must realize: Charny knew the meanings of both the Holocaust and the Genocide." Nalbandian was responding to his Israeli counterpart Foreign Ministe Avigdor Liberman, who suggested "the term Holocaust is inapplicable in reference to any other tragedy." Nalbandian said the term Holocaust was never used to describe the Armenian "genocide."
Libya, Turkey to Partner in Military Exercises and Strategy
Libyan Chief of General Staff Yussef al-Mangush said Libya would make partnership with Turkey both in military exercises and strategic area.
Al-Mangush told AA on Thursday that Libyan army would be in more communication with Turkish army in the coming period. Noting that the Turkish army had been extending support to the Libyan people from the beginning of rebuilding process of the country, Al-Mangush said they were planning to have Libyan soldiers trained by Turkish soldiers.
Al-Mangush said 6,000 uniforms and equipments and 30 vehicles sent by Turkey for Libyan soldiers were very important for them.
He noted that the Libyan army entered a reconstruction period after the 42-year rule of Moammar Gadhafi ended, saying they would train Libyan soldiers in many countries like Turkey and Jordan.
Turkey, Iran Diverge Over Syria
Turkey and Iran, regional heavyweights and heirs to imperial pasts, expanded trade in the past decade and papered over their traditional rivalry with diplomacy and rhetoric. Now these neighbors have staked out opposing positions in Syria, where outside players seek to sway an outcome to the bloodshed that could, in turn, alter power balances in the Middle East.
Iranian-Turkish tension could grow if regional efforts to end the violence intensify as expected after Russia and China vetoed a United Nations resolution calling for the ouster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Ankara wants him to leave, while Tehran supports him. At the same time, they want to preserve warm ties that mask fundamentally different tactics and visions.
Turkey's willingness to clash over Syria is likely to be tempered by reliance on Iran for one-third of its oil supplies, as well as natural gas, that have helped to power its impressive economic engine. The Turks have also sought to make mediation a centerpiece of foreign policy, and that includes hopes for a diplomatic solution to the dispute over Iran's nuclear program.
Baku Doubts Paris' Role
Baku is mulling whether to move to end France's role in the Minsk Group, which is tasked with solving the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute, on the grounds that it has lost its impartiality following legal moves in favor of its strong Armenian diaspora.
"The Minsk Group has 15 members and Turkey is part of it, too. [France's position as the body's co-chairman] could be brought to the agenda of the group either by Turkey or by Azerbaijan," Azerbaijani Ambassador to Turkey Faik Bagirov told the Hürriyet Daily News in an interview Wednesday.
The Minsk Group was formed by the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe, or OSCE, in 1992, with the task of resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh problem between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Alongside France, Russia and the United States are co-chairs of the group, which has been mediating for the last two decades without any solid success. France's recent attempt to punish denials of the 1915 incidents as genocide caused a reaction both in Ankara and Baku and has brought its role as a mediator into question.
"The Minsk Group was formed March 24, 1992; thus we are commemorating its 20th year. A meeting could be held on this occasion in which France's role would be discussed as well. It's no doubt that France's neutrality is already a matter of question," Bagirov said, but added that there was no clear procedure on how to expel a co-chairing country.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said France would no longer play a constructive role in the South Caucasus since it had already shown itself to be pro-Armenian.
"Of course, 20 years is a very long time. The group whose task was to find a solution to this problem failed to do so. In the meantime, some acts taken by France only helped Armenia to distance itself from the main principles of international law and to ease its hands in negotiations," the ambassador said.
Bagirov said Azerbaijan was also closely following France's legislative process with particular attention to the Constitutional Council, which will decide whether or not the "genocide" denial bill is admissible.
"From the very beginning, we have said this attempt was in violation of democratic principles and freedom of expression," Bagirov said, expressing his disappointment over media claims that Baku did not exert enough efforts to stop the legislation in France.
"I want to underline this fact: No country in the world other than Azerbaijan supported Turkey in this process. Not a single country of the Islamic Conference Organization [lent it support]. It was only Azerbaijan which gave this support because our ties are based on brotherhood and friendship," he said.
For Bagirov, those who planted the idea of a lack of Azerbaijani support among the Turkish public were members of "some hostile circles who tried to sow discord between Turks and Azeris."
"Their purpose is to damage Turkish-Azeri friendship. The media should be very careful in regards to internal and external attempts to this end," he said.
One of the fault lines between Turkey and Azerbaijan was observed during the unfinished reconciliation process between Ankara and Yerevan in 2009. Though the two countries signed two protocols to normalize ties and open their sealed border, Turkey refused to ratify the agreements due to strong Azerbaijani reaction.
"Consider if these protocols had been approved," he said, noting that they would have only served to support "an occupying state." "The Turkish Republic openly understood this."
Touching on an end to visa requirements between Ankara and Yerevan, Bagirov said the process could be completed by the end of the year after Azerbaijan harmonizes its relevant laws. The issue will be raised during a high-level strategic council meeting that is expected to be held in the coming months.