Turkey's top institutions are not in a crisis but are instead working together in harmony, the Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Sunday in his first comments on the fight over an attempt to probe top spy officials, and his first remarks since emerging from follow-up digestive surgery.
"No one should harbor hopes of growing divisive and sinister seeds. No one should pray for a crisis. No one should dream of chaos and conflict. All institutions are working with harmony and motivation that has never before been seen in the history of the country," Erdoğan said in an address to the youth branches of the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, via a videoconference.
The event was his first public appearance since Feb. 10, the date of his second digestive-tract operation. Erdoğan's words follow a massive crisis that erupted in the country after a specially authorized prosecutor called Hakan Fidan, chief of the National Intelligence Organization, or MİT, and four other MİT officials to testify over an ongoing probe on the Kurdistan Communities Union, or KCK, the alleged urban wing of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, on the grounds that some MİT members who infiltrated the KCK had exceeded their authority in their duties.
Prosecutor Sadettin Sarıkaya and senior police officers carrying out the KCK operations were immediately removed from their office while the government increased the immunity of MİT personnel as a result of the call for testimony.
"The judiciary, police, army and the intelligence services are in complete coordination. They are devotedly doing their duties. Tarnishing institutions and trying to show them in disharmony will not bring any benefit to our country," Erdoğan said.
Recalling that the harmony and coordination among the institutions could be possible thanks to this government's efforts through "silent revolution and transformation," the prime minister said: "We will not permit illegitimacy in this country. We will never enslave those who have been elected under the appointed ones. We have always been sensitive toward the harmony and coordination between the executive, legislative and judicial branches and the institutions."
Calling all columnists, intellectuals, the media and politicians to exercise common sense when interpreting such developments, Erdoğan criticized those who were trying to suggest the AKP was in conflict with the people.
In an indirect reference to the alleged fight between the AKP and the Fethullah Gülen religious community, Erdoğan said, "They will never bow before anyone as they are representing the will of the people."
The crisis appears over following the president's summary approval of an amendment making the prime minister's consent obligatory before a prosecutor can launch probes against intelligence officials.
All eyes have now turned to Erdoğan, who will find prosecutors' requests to probe Fidan and other senior officials on his desk when he returns to Ankara, likely this week.
Under the amended Article 26 of the MİT Act, the prime minister's permission will be required to investigate MİT members as well as "public officials the prime minister assigns to specific tasks" for crimes that arise from the nature of their duties or they commit while on duty or for offenses handled by special authority courts.
Though the law increases the immunity for MİT personnel, it does not mean that intelligence officers will be above the law.
"If MİT personnel commit a crime, then the laws will be applied for him or her. MİT personnel are not untouchable," Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ told the daily Yeni Şafak Sunday.
Noting that five MİT personnel had been prosecuted since Erdoğan approved their requests after the AKP came to power in 2002, Bozdağ dismissed claims that the amendment will exempt intelligence service members from prosecution even if they commit crimes.
Erdoğan, meanwhile, also said during his speech that he wanted a "modern and pious" youth.
"We are making the biggest investment in the new generations, we are doing everything possible for a well-educated and well-informed youth," Erdoğan said. "I'm talking about a modern and pious youth, I'm talking about youth standing up for their language and religion."
Capture Warrants for Four MIT Officials Canceled
Warrants recently issued for the capture of four National Intelligence Organization, or MİT) officials as part of an investigation into a Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK)-linked terrorist organization have been cancelled.
The İstanbul Specially Authorized Prosecutor's Office, which obtained the warrants on Feb. 10, announced on Monday that it had canceled the warrants. Earlier this month, an İstanbul prosecutor summoned MİT Undersecretary Hakan Fidan to testify in an ongoing investigation into the Kurdish Communities Union, or KCK, which Turkish prosecutors say is a group that controls the PKK and other affiliated groups. Fidan's predecessor, Emre Taner, MİT Deputy Undersecretary Afet Güneş and two MİT officials were also summoned to testify.
The prosecutor was later taken off the case on the grounds that he had exceeded his authority and is currently being investigated by judicial authorities. The government has also introduced a bill requiring the prime minister's permission before MİT officials can be questioned. The bill was quickly approved by Parliament and ratified by President Abdullah Gül late on Friday, effectively nullifying the summons for Fidan.
The investigation concerns suspected collaboration between the KCK and MİT officials who infiltrated the KCK to gather intelligence about the organization but allegedly ended up involved in illegal activities, including attacks planned by the KCK.
Cicek Renews His Calls for Democratic Charter
Parliamentary Speaker Cemil Çiçek repeated his calls to civil society to contribute to the constitution-making process, describing the course as the only way to expand democratic rights and freedoms in the country.
"We must create a new constitution that will create a system of government that will produce more services for citizens, and a more modern and advanced democracy. It must meet the needs of the people. Instead of being the source of problems, the constitution must give the political institution the authority and opportunity to solve issues," Çiçek said Sunday at a citizens' meeting of the Constitution Platform made up of nongovernmental organizations and trade unions.
The meeting is part of the Turkey's Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges, or TOBB, initiative "Turkey Speaks."
Çiçek and the parliamentary commission tasked with renewing the charter already visited Konya and Edirne and are planning to visit more provinces to raise awareness about the constitution-making process and to obtain more support from different segments of society.
Politics, as an institution, has a responsibility to the people of Turkey to rewrite a new constitution that will remedy the problems that "we have been complaining about together over the years," Çiçek said.
All opinions, suggestions and views will be considered when drafting the new constitution, Çiçek said.
"Otherwise, we would have presented you with a constitution drafted behind closed doors," he said, adding that had been done in the past. "The people rejected that. They said that they would not accept a constitution that did not include the citizens, and ask them for their opinions. This is why we are here, asking you what you want for the new constitution."
TOBB Chairman Rifat Hisarcıklıoğlu, speaking at the same meeting, said the current constitution would not allow Turkey to achieve its ambitious goals of becoming a top 10 economy and a leading nation.
"Our ideals no longer fit the mold. We must make a new constitution shaped by the people," he said.
Deputies serving on Parliament's Constitution Conciliation Commission, as well as NGO members, attended the meeting.
Ankara Chides Greek Foreign Ministers for Remarks Targeted at Turkey
The Turkish Foreign Ministry on Sunday condemned recent remarks by Greek Foreign Minister Stavros Dimas criticizing Turkey in presence of NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who visited both countries last week on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of their membership in the 27-nation alliance.
"It is known by the Greek authorities and all parties concerned that we are paying special attention to ensuring that our relations with Greece are conducted on the basis of a positive agenda. While it is expected that the celebration of the 60th anniversary of our countries' simultaneous accession to NATO should strengthen this positive agenda, the fact that Greek authorities resort to such accusations and claims is in contradiction with the spirit of alliance and does not bode well with a positive agenda in our relations," a statement from the Foreign Ministry said.
The statement did not specify the accusations. According to a Turkish media report, Dimas said during a joint news conference with Rasmussen in Athens that Turkey "sabotages" NATO by its "provocations aimed against Greece and Cyprus."
"We are witnessing acts of provocations that sabotage alliance ties," Dimas was quoted as saying by the private Cihan news agency.
The Foreign Ministry said problems with Greece are surmountable and that Turkey will continue to work for resolution of these problems. But it said multilateral platforms of cooperation, such as NATO, should not be used as venues to address these problems.
Euro Judge Warns Turkey on Long Jail Terms
The first female Turkish justice at the European Court of Human Rights has urged Turkey to maintain a balance between freedom of expression and anti-terrorism measures while also warning Ankara about the number of cases pending before the court.
"The number of pending cases at the European Court of Human Rights has reached 16,000, and 245 of them pertain to the freedom of expression. All states take measures while fighting against terrorism, but the freedom of expression ought to be protected," Justice Işıl Karakaş said, according to the daily Cumhuriyet.
Karakaş laid out her warnings in a briefing to 17 government institutions.
Karakaş said 24 percent of all pending cases regarding Turkey at the European court are about the prolonged duration of legal proceedings, while 16 percent pertain to the violation of property rights and expropriation.
"Respect for human rights... and the principle of [upholding] a state of law are crucial to the sensitive balance between security and freedom," said Karataş, who arrived in Ankara upon the invitation of the Undersecretariat of Public Order and Security.
Karakaş also said certain articles of Turkey's Anti-Terror Law harbor great perils to the freedom of expression and called for article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code to be scrapped entirely.
The European court receives large numbers of cases from Turkey over the violation of press freedoms, leading to unfavorable perceptions in Europe, while the length of arrest periods in Turkey run counter to the jurisprudence of the European court, she said.
According to data released Jan. 26, a total of 159 cases filed against Turkey resulted in judgments that included at least one violation of human rights. Russia followed Turkey as the second most-convicted violator, with 121 judgments including at least one violation, while Ukraine came in third with 105 convictions.
Around one-third of all unfavorable judgments passed against Turkey had to do with complaints regarding the length of proceedings, according to the European court's Web site -- a problem that has led to years of imprisonments for many, including dozens of journalists arrested on various charges.
Most of the remaining verdicts pronounced against Turkey by the European court found it guilty of charges pertaining to "inhuman or degrading treatment," "lack of effective investigation," "right to liberty and security," "right to a fair trial," "non-execution" and "protection of property."
Ankara Cautious on Hosting Iran Talks
The next round of talks between Iran and six world powers on the Islamic republic's nuclear program will be held in Istanbul, Iran's foreign minister said Sunday in Tehran, The Associated Press reported.
According to the semi-official Iranian Mehr news agency, Iran proposed Istanbul as the venue of talks in Supreme National Security Council Secretary Saeed Jalili's letter to European Union Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton. The agency added that this proposal had been accepted by Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and Ashton, who represents the P5+1 group consisting of the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany.
Addressing the date of the talks, Salehi said in the letter that Jalili had called for the resumption of talks as soon as possible. "We are waiting for the response." There was no confirmation by Turkey late Sunday that new rounds of talks over Iran's nuclear program would be held in Istanbul, as announced by Salehi.
With concerns that Iran was using the meetings in order to reduce the international pressure exerted by Western powers and to buy more time, Turkey did not seem enthusiastic when the possibility first came to the agenda. Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, who held intensive talks with his United States counterpart, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, last week in Washington, said the meeting should be held with an eye to finding a solution.
"They should come together and not leave the meetings until they solve the problem. They should not come together for just one meeting and resume talks a year after and experience the same difficulties and processes. We hope there will be a solution if both parties concentrate on achieving a breakthrough," he said.
The last round of talks between Iran and the five permanent members of the P5+1 were held in Istanbul in January 2011, but ended in failure. The West wants Iran to meet United Nations Security Council demands to stop uranium enrichment, but Tehran has accused the other side of pushing not "dialogue but dictation." The U.S. and its allies accuse Iran of seeking to develop nuclear weapons, while Iran maintains its nuclear program is entirely peaceful.
"We are looking for a mechanism for a solution for the nuclear issue in a way that it is win-win for both sides," Salehi said at a joint media conference with his visiting Nicaraguan counterpart. "We understand the other side's position and we want them to have conditions to save face. We are going into the talks with a positive outlook and we hope they will come to the negotiations with goodwill."
Iran has sent a letter replying to an EU offer made in October to resurrect the talks that collapsed in Istanbul last January. The EU and the U.S. greeted the Iranian reply with cautious optimism, with Ashton, who made the October offer, calling it "an important step" amid high international tensions over Iran.
The UN and the West have imposed a raft of sanctions on Iran in an unsuccessful effort to force it to halt its atomic activities. The Western measures have badly impacted Iran's economy, but Tehran has responded by ramping up its uranium enrichment.
For Turkey, the negotiations should be built on two principles. The first is that Iran should guarantee its nuclear program will have no sort of military dimension; the second is that the right to develop nuclear technology for peaceful purposes should also be given to Iran.
Turkish diplomats have said Turkey will not take part in the negotiations but will provide logistical support, as well as security, for the parties. Salehi's announcement came a day before an International Atomic Energy Agency delegation is expected in Tehran to hold two days of talks with Iranian officials on the suspicions.
A previous visit on the same issue at the end of January yielded no breakthrough.
Turkey Pushed Over Syria
Turkey is in a very difficult situation vis-à-vis Syria as many Western countries are pushing it to intervene in its southern neighbor, a prominent Arab media scholar has said, adding that such an attack would not benefit Ankara.
"A lot of countries are refraining from getting involved in Syria militarily, and it is in the interest of a lot of countries to push Turkey to intervene Syria. But the reality is, is that it might not be in Turkey's best interest," Adel Iskandar, a lecturer at Georgetown University, recently told the Hürriyet Daily News.
"The Syria case is a true tragedy in every sense of the term because the Syrian people are caught between two unfavorable situations: On one side, there is the authoritarian, bloody-minded regime of Bashar al-Assad and, on the other, there is the threat of foreign intervention, which they don't trust but they might need out of necessity," Iskander told Hürriyet on the sidelines of a conference he gave at Istanbul's Bilgi University.
A military intervention against Syria would not be "as easy as Libya," he said. "Al-Assad still has some supporters. They will fight to the last minute. And this would lead to a full-fledged war between Syrians themselves. Turkey finds itself at the center of all of this. An attempt to stabilize Syria might destabilize Syria more."
Iskandar also noted the importance of differences between Turkey and the Arab Spring countries.
"Holding up Turkey as an example to the Arab world is an oversimplification and not useful to anyone," Iskandar said. "The Turkish experiment is extremely unique, and its long history starts with the post-Ottoman area and [Mustafa Kemal] Atatürk. Each country has to devise its own way toward democracy. [The ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP,] is not the Muslim Brotherhood or the Salafis. And you are not going to be able to turn the Muslim Brotherhood or the Salafis into the AKP in one night."
Iskandar said holding up Turkey as a model for the Arab Spring countries honored neither the Arab world nor Turkey.
"Turkey is not an entirely Middle Eastern country. It is a cosmopolitan nation, it has its own particularities. And these particularities are completely different from Libya, for instance," Iskandar said.
Iskandar drew attention to the fact that the "Turkish model is framed on the notion that secularism is an important part of the state structure."
"The majority of the Arab world doesn't have secularism in politics. Even [toppled Egyptian leader] Hosni Mubarak was not secular. The term 'secular' in the Arab world is considered an extremely negative term. You can't call yourself 'secular' in the Arab world. Besides, people want religion to be a part of politics. It is in the opposite direction to Turkey's state traditions. It has to be seen through a historical lens," Iskandar said.
Iskandar, who has written one of the most prominent books on Qatar's Al-Jazeera news network, also discussed how the channel has covered the ongoing Arab Spring.
"To a large extent, Al-Jazeera did the job they should be doing by covering the story that unfolded. At the end of the day, Al-Jazeera has made its bread and butter from political protests. So it was natural for Al-Jazeera to cover the protests," he said.
However, Iskandar said there were some uprisings that the channel had completely neglected.
"Like in Bahrain. [In terms of the] percentage of the protestors, the Bahraini movement is the largest movement in the Arab Spring. However, the saddest situation is that while the Bahraini and Syrian revolts started at the same time of the year; one year after that Syrian is getting 99 percent of the coverage while Bahrain is only getting 0.01 percent of the coverage. This is going to hurt the network and its credibility in the eyes of the public," Iskandar said.
China's Xi in Turkey to Talk Syria, Energy
Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping will seek to enhance bilateral political and economic cooperation when he arrives in Turkey for talks, while also possibly pursuing a nuclear power plant contract, according to a Turkish official.
"Formal talks have not been launched yet, but China has previously expressed its interest in Turkey's nuclear power bid," the official told the Hürriyet Daily News on condition of anonymity.
A joint credit fund could be launched for China's possible upcoming energy projects in Turkey, the official said. The fund enables Chinese companies to invest in other countries.
During the visit, Xi will have talks with President Abdullah Gül and take part in activities such as the China-Turkey Economy and Trade Forum in Istanbul.
"The Chinese side is ready to work with the Turkish side to push forward China-Turkey strategic cooperative relations through this visit," Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Liu Weimin said in a Feb. 7 press conference.
The two sides will conduct an in-depth exchange of views on bilateral relations and international and regional issues of common interest, Liu said.
The Syrian crisis is expected to be one of the key issues of the talks, as China vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution against the Syrian regime earlier this year. Turkey will be looking for international support to increase pressure on the Bashar al-Assad regime at the "Friends of Syria" meeting in Tunisia on Feb. 24.
Turkey is the third leg of Xi's ongoing three-nation tour. Concluding his visit to Ireland, the Chinese vice president is expected to arrive in Turkey Sunday and start his talks Monday. He also visited the United States last week.
Xi, 58, is expected to succeed Chinese President Hu Jintao, who must retire as head of the Communist Party later this year and from the presidency in 2013.
Turkey Loses Bid for Indonesia Submarines
Indonesia has informed a German-Turkish partnership that South Korea has won Jakarta's competition for U209 submarines and that the duo should instead focus on the sale of more developed U214 subs to the Southeast Asian giant, a senior Turkish official said.
The message was conveyed during the visit of Adm. Agus Suhartono, the chief of staff of Indonesia's military forces, to Turkey last week, the Turkish official said this weekend.
Turkey, led by the Undersecretariat for Defense Industries, SSM, and Germany, led by ThyssenKrupp's shipyard, HDW, entered the Indonesian Navy's competition of more than $1 billion after it came to an end, effectively ensuring Seoul's victory.
South Korea's Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering announced on Dec. 22 that it had won the $1.1 billion Indonesian deal for three submarines. As for Turkey, a $2 billion submarine deal with HDW for the joint manufacture of six U214 platforms formally took effect in July, the German company said. Turkish procurement officials also confirmed the information.
"As a longstanding partner and supplier to the Turkish Navy, ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems can now begin executing the order. The order will contribute to securing employment at [ThyssenKrupp's] HDW in Kiel, as well as at many subcontractors in Germany and Turkey, for the next 10 years," it said.
A major loan deal between German banks and the Turkish Treasury rescued the multibillion-dollar submarine contract between the Turkish state and Howaldswerke Deutsche Werft on the last day of 2010, Turkish procurement officials said earlier.
"We will try to work hard to meet the requirements for the second competition [for the U214 deal]," said the Turkish procurement official.
The Indonesian side also offered a number of consolations to the Turkish side. The Indonesians will come up with a $100 million Turkish proposal to make military radios produced by Aselsan, the procurement official said.
The Indonesians separately plan to propose a facility to produce Roketsan-made missiles after they sign a contract with the company. Jakarta will also produce FNSS-made 8x8 vehicles.
Turkey and Indonesia are two of the largest Muslim countries and are keen to develop their defense industries and ties.
Turkey Welcomes Large Number of Iranian Firms
The number of Iranian firms established in Turkey registered a record increase last year, according to the Anatolia news agency.
Some 590 Iranian firms were established while the number of Iranian joint ventures hit a total of 2,140. Iran was also the number one country in terms of the increase in the number of firms in Turkey, hitting 41 percent in 2011.
The total number of international firms established increased 15.9 percent in 2011, reaching 3,278 compared to the previous year, when the figure was 3,309. The sectors the international firms showed an interest in mainly spanned wholesale and retail trade, real estate leasing, transportation, communications and storage. Some 347 of those firms had an authorized capital exceeding $500,000.
Some 1,547 of these firms came from the European Union, while 412 of them were from other European countries. Another 1,245 of them came from the Middle East.