A prosecutor's office's recent call for Turkey's top intelligence staff to testify in an ongoing probe is connected to efforts to reshape the country's political landscape in 2014, according to Dr. İbrahim Uslu, the head of a prominent research company.
"The president, the prime minister, the leader of the AKP [Justice and Development Party], its top-level administrators, the situation in Parliament and the municipalities will all change in 2014. Politics, in other words, will be entirely redefined," said Uslu, the head of the Ankara Social Research Center, or ANAR. "I personally think some people may have [devised] these attacks to have a say over that process, to be able to manipulate it and gain influence over the allotment of new roles."
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is widely tipped to replace President Abdullah Gül as head of state in 2014, when the president will be chosen in a popular vote for the first time. The government's aim in recently altering laws to protect Hakan Fidan, the head of Turkey's National Intelligence Organization, or MİT, from prosecution does not stem from a desire to simply protect a civil servant but is also designed to preserve its own policies, he was quoted as saying by the daily Akşam.
"I am worried that attacks of this nature could step up as 2014 approaches. [These forces] want to weaken the AKP and the state and to mislead them into making the wrong choices. It is going to be a battering process," he said.
A specially authorized prosecutor in Istanbul shook Turkey's political scene on Feb. 8 when he summoned Fidan; his predecessor, Emre Taner; former MİT deputy Afet Güneş; and two other MİT personnel for questioning into a probe into the Kurdish Communities Union, or KCK, the alleged urban wing of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK. None of them showed up at the prosecutor's office, prompting an order for Fidan to testify in Ankara and orders that the other four be detained.
In response, the prosecutor was removed from his post, while Parliament approved a law on Friday that forces prosecutors to obtain the prime minister's authorization before a criminal probe can be launched against current or former MİT officials.
Appeals Court Upholds Decision Calling KCK Terrorist Organization
The Supreme Court of Appeals on Monday upheld a lower court's decision that the Kurdish Communities Union, or KCK -- an umbrella political organization for the terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK -- is a terrorist organization, in the appeal case of a KCK suspect who was convicted of being a member of a terrorist organization.
Greek Patriarch Makes History in Turkish Parliament
Greek Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew made a landmark presentation at Parliament's constitution-making commission Monday, demanding equal treatment for non-Muslim minorities, including an equal share of public funds for religious services and education.
"It is the first official invitation to non-Muslim minorities in Republican history. We don't want to be second-class citizens. Unfortunately, there have been injustices in the past. These are all slowly being rectified. A new Turkey is being born. We are leaving the meeting with hope and are extremely grateful," the patriarch told reporters after the meeting.
Bartholomew made the presentation behind closed doors at the Constitution Conciliation Commission, tasked with drafting a new constitution for Turkey. The patriarch stressed his community's biggest problem was the fact that it did not have legal entity status and requested that the new charter guarantees that, sources told the Hürriyet Daily News.
He renewed demands for the re-opening of the Greek Orthodox seminary on Heybeliada (Halki) island off Istanbul, stressing that they accepted vocational school status for the seminary under the supervision of the Education Ministry.
"We want equality in all realms, including education and the bureaucracy. Minorities are virtually non-existent in the higher posts of the bureaucracy," he was quoted as saying.
Academic Emre Öktem, a member of the team accompanying the patriarch, suggested the new constitution should make a reference to the 1924 Lausanne Treaty, which guarantees the rights of Turkey's Greek Orthodox, Jewish and Armenian communities, and explicitly define the offense of "hate crimes."
In the 18-page paper Bartholomew gave the commission, he also said the new constitution should ensure that minorities benefit equally from public funds allocated for religion and education.
"The state has never extended financial assistance to any church or minority school," he said.
The head of the Syriac Mor Gabriel Monastery Foundation, Kuryakos Ergün, also met with the commission and similarly hailed the occasion. "It's a historic day. Syriacs have lived in these lands for 6,000 years. We are not guests here," Ergün told reporters.
Ergün highlighted the need to give Syriacs official minority status similar to that granted by the Lausanne Treaty to Jews, Greeks and Armenians. Non-Muslim minorities should be represented at the Directorate of Religious Affairs, he said.
Syriacs to Visit Turkish Parliament Next Week
"We do not believe the Fener Greek Patriarch Bartholomew possesses any authority to speak on behalf of all Christian minorities," Tuma Çelik, the head of the European Syriac Union, told the Hürriyet Daily News on behalf of the delegation. "At least, he does not represent us, the Syriacs. As such, he reserves no right to speak in our name. It is quite natural, however, for him to talk about ongoing problems in Turkey in a more general sense while he is laying down his own demands."
The delegation is set to meet with the commission as part of ongoing efforts to frame a new constitution will include Evgil Türker, the head of the Federation of Turkish Syriac Associations, Sabri Akbaba, the representative of Syriac institutions in Germany, and Tuma Özdemir, the representative of the Istanbul Mesopotamia Culture and Solidarity Association, as well as Çelik.
Presidency Urges New Trial in Dink Murder
The Turkish Presidency's State Supervisory Council, or DDK, recommended Monday that top police and gendarmerie officials be prosecuted in the main Hrant Dink murder case due to their alleged negligence before and after the journalist's 2007 killing.
The suggestion amounts to a non-binding call to the judiciary to restart the Dink murder trial and places the suspected public servants next to the gunman. The DDK, which outlined its recommendations in a report released Monday, also touched on the need to reform the secret services in order to have the ability to prevent the murders of key personalities or social unrest like the bloody incidents that took place in Sivas in 1993 or in Kahramanmaraş in 1978.
"Hrant Dink's murder must be evaluated as a whole, starting from when Dink was singled out as a target and threatened," the 650-page report said. An especially crucial section of the report reads: "Successive acts of negligence by public officials have not been probed as a whole. Different units conducted different probes into [these acts] in terms of authority and location … This method has resulted in not assessing the events as a whole, while also resulting in not prosecuting all claims together."
Dink, an Armenian-Turk who was editor-in-chief of the weekly Agos, was gunned down outside his paper in 2007 by an ultranationalist. President Abdullah Gül ordered the DDK to investigate the murder because the Jan. 17 verdict against the perpetrators did not satisfy public sensitivities.
According to the court's verdict, Dink's murder was not an organized crime, despite serious claims that some public servants were "indirectly" involved. Ogün Samast, the gunman, was sentenced to life in prison, while Yasin Hayal and Erhan Tuncel were acquitted on charges of being members of an illegal organization. Hayal was sentenced to life on charges of "instigating" the murder. The verdict caused a public uproar, and insult to injury was added when it was understood that the Istanbul 14th High Criminal Court even "forgot" to announce a verdict on one of the suspects.
The DDK report is non-binding and will have no official effect on the proceedings. However, the Dink family has already appealed and the report sends an "advisory" message to the Supreme Court of Appeals for the annulment of the lower court's decision.
Claims were directed at Istanbul's former Gov. Muammer Güler, as well as the Istanbul Police Department's Intelligence Director, Ahmet İlhan Güler. Accordingly, the Trabzon chief of police sent a report to the Istanbul Police Department to warn of an assassination plot against Dink, but Güler allegedly did not take it seriously. Attempts to investigate Güler after the murder have been blocked.
The report's findings regarding the negligence of the Trabzon Police Department have been omitted from the file put on the web. This section includes the assessment of six important criticisms leveled against the verdict.
The report recalled that some police officers who arrested Samast immediately after the murder allowed him to be photographed with a Turkish flag as if he were proud of what he had done and described this as the "emergence of a marginal understanding."
Noting that senior public servants had a direct affect in not protecting Dink before the murder even though they had received crucial intelligence regarding the impending danger, the report suggested that these civil servants should also be prosecuted.
China's Vice President in Turkey, Eyes Cooperation
China's leader-in-waiting, Xi Jinping, kicked off a key visit to Turkey on Monday night to boost already blossoming commercial ties between the two rising powers.
Xi, who is expected to be president of the world's most populous nation next year, is set to have talks with Turkish officials, including Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, according to a written statement he delivered upon his arrival in Ankara Monday night. Xi's key visit to Turkey came following a weeklong trip to the United States and Ireland last week.
Trade Minister Zafer Çağlayan and Ankara Governor Alaaddin Yüksel greeted the Chinese vice president upon his arrival. He said in the written statement that he came to Turkey on the invitation of President Abdullah Gül, aiming to deepen, what he described as, "understanding and friendship" between the two nations.
The last high-level visit to China by Turkish officials was in 2009, when Gül visited China, followed by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao's trip to Turkey a year later. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu also paid a six-day visit to China in late 2010 and his Chinese counterpart, Yang Jiechi, came to Turkey in January of 2010.
The two countries referred to increasingly deepening relations between the two nations as "strategic cooperation" in 2010 and celebrated the 40th anniversary of establishing diplomatic ties between the two nations.
China is Turkey's largest trade partner in the Far East and its third biggest trade partner after Germany and Russia. Bilateral trade volume between Turkey and China has increased 21-fold in the past 10 years, reaching $24 billion. While Turkey exports $2.5 billion worth goods to China, Chinese exports to Turkey amount to $21.5 billion.
The two countries are hoping to reach $50 billion in 2015 and $100 billion in 2020 in the arena of bilateral trade volume. The number of Chinese tourists has also increased 67 percent since 2009, exceeding 100,000 tourists for the first time in 2011.
Xi also said in the statement that the two nations have made progress in the political, economic and cultural spheres since they established diplomatic relations in 1971 and that China and Turkey have significant shared interests in preserving world peace, supporting development and fighting against global problems. He added that China wishes to maintain the strategic cooperation it enjoys with Turkey by further strengthening ties between the two states.
The Chinese vice president is also scheduled to have talks with Gül and Parliament Speaker Cemil Çiçek. Xi will visit historical places in İstanbul on Wednesday and address a Turkish-Chinese business forum.
Defected Syria Soldier Vows Return, Fight
Amro, from the Bab Amr neighborhood of the restive city of Homs, defected to Turkey last week and has been staying in a Hatay refugee camp where Syrian defector soldiers have been staying. Another intelligence general from the Syrian army defected to Turkey last week. His name has not yet been revealed due to security reasons, Syrian opposition forces said. The Turkish Foreign Ministry was not available to comment on the issue when the Daily News went to print Monday.
Two Syrian lieutenants who recently defected from the Syrian army talked to the Hürriyet Daily News regarding the alleged atrocities in Syria.
Lt. Abdulselam Abdulrezzak, who used to work in the chemical weapons department in the Syrian army, said chemical weapons were used against civilians during the military offensive of the Syrian security forces in Bab Amr.
"BZ-CS, Chlorine Benzilate, which damages people's nerves and makes them fade away, is being used in Bab Amr. They wanted to also use it in Zabadani [on the Lebanese border] but they made an agreement with the Free Syrian Army forces at the last minute and they backtracked. I couldn't stand all these and ran away," Abdulrezzak told the Daily News Sunday.
Showing his military ID in order to prove his post in the Syrian army, Abdulrezzak said Syrian soldiers were given gas masks recently in order to protect themselves from the chemical weapons that would be used against the protestors in Syria. Abdulrezzak said he will join the Free Syrian Army, whose leader, Col. Riad al-Asaad, is based at a camp in a southern province in Turkey, and then return to Syria to fight with rebel forces against the regime.
Ibrahim al-Hajiali, a lieutenant in the Syrian army who escaped to Turkey four months ago, said he had been in prison for one year because of his involvement in the opposition groups.
"My wife was a dentist in the army hospital. However, she was also blacklisted. I fought within the revolutionary forces after prison. Now we both escaped to Turkey. But I continue supporting the revolutionary forces in Syria," al-Hajiali said.
Barzani Calls on PKK to Lay Down Arms
The president of the Kurdish Regional Administration, Mesut Barzani, has called on the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, to lay down arms and start civil dialogue, while speaking at a conference in Iraq's northern province of Arbil.
Barzani commented on the awaited "Kurdish National Conference" plan, saying the only condition for the PKK to attend the conference was to become involved in politics and abandon arms, according to the reports from Peyamder, a Web site known for its close ties with the Kurdish Regional Administration.
"If the PKK shows good faith, stops the war and builds for peace, they can participate in the Kurdish National Conference, in which Kurds will tell the world that they build their policies based on dialog and diplomacy," Barzani reportedly said.
Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, leader Selahattin Demirtaş also attended the conference organized in remembrance of the first independent Kurdish nation state in history, the Kurdish Republic of Mabahad, which existed between 1946 and 1947.
In Kurdish, Demirtaş touched on the problems of Syrian Kurds during his speech.
"Syrian Kurds need support; all the Kurdish movements should do their bit. The conference is crucial, and it has vital importance for us," Demirtaş said.
Iraqi VP Slams Barzani's Call for Support
Following Barzani's call on all Iraqi leaders to sit together to find a way out of Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi's case, Iraq's embattled Sunni vice president slammed government charges Monday that he ran death squads and called on "all honest Iraqi people" to rise up to his defense.
Al-Hashemi's words came a day after the president of the Kurdish Regional Government, or KRG, Masoud Barzani, called on concerned parties to resolve the issues through dialogue.
The government's charges "are politically motivated," al-Hashemi said in a speech broadcast from the northern Iraqi city of Arbil, where he has sought haven from arrest in the autonomous Kurdish region.
Last week, a judicial panel in Baghdad concluded al-Hashemi was behind at least 150 bombings and assassinations since 2005. The conclusions stemmed from a review of a December 2011 arrest warrant accusing al-Hashemi of paying his bodyguards $3,000 to kill security forces and government officials.
Turkish Foreign Minister Favors G-20 Over UN on Syria Issue
Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, speaking in Los Cabos, Mexico where is he attending the foreign ministers' meeting of the G-20 states, said the deadlock in the United Nations Security Council encouraged the Syrian regime to increase its assault on the dissidents.
"The Syrian government is holding bloodier operations as it has the impression that the international community will not act following the vetoes of Russia and China to the UN Security Council resolution," he said.
Blaming the UN for its ineffectiveness in the post-Cold War era because of its dependence on five permanent members' votes, Davutoğlu praised the G-20 for "having a more embracing character."
Speaking to reporters after making a speech in the first G-20 foreign ministers' meeting on Sunday, Davutoğlu also said the G-20 is more representative than the UN.
"In the aftermath of the Cold War, there is still a trend to continue with Cold War structures. However, we should be producing new values in parallel to globalization. [...] A widely participated in decision-making mechanism is needed. In this respect, the G-20 constitutes a good discussion platform," Davutoğlu said.
Davutoğlu also said turning the country into a prison would be the biggest mistake, addressing the claims that al-Assad forces are deploying landmines on the borders of Syria.
Tunisian Foreign Minister Rafik Abdessalem said Monday there had been an agreement at a meeting of Mediterranean region states to preserve Syria's territorial integrity and avoid "an Iraqi scenario." Also, Syria's opposition, including Syrian National Council and other opposition groups is expected to take part in an international conference in Tunis on Friday.
In Washington, the senior U.S. military officer, General Martin Dempsey, said intervening in Syria would be "very difficult" because it was not like Libya. Syria's army is very capable, with a sophisticated, integrated air defense system and chemical and biological weapons, Dempsey said.
Iran Says UN Nuke Inspectors Will Not Visit Site
Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said a United Nations team visiting Iran has no plans to inspect the country's nuclear facilities, but will only hold talks with experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency Tuesday in Tehran to "accelerate" cooperation with the UN watchdog.
The two-day IAEA visit, which started Monday, is the second in less than a month by the UN team amid growing concerns over alleged Iranian weapons experiments. On Monday, Iranian radio said the UN team had asked to visit a military complex outside Tehran that has been suspected as a secret weapons-making location.
Iran denies charges by the West that it seeks nuclear weapons.
Putin Plans Asymmetric Radar Reply
Russia must implement strong countermeasures to respond to NATO's planned deployment of a missile shield in Europe, Putin wrote in an article on national security in the state newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta, ahead of his bid for a third Kremlin term in the March 4 presidential polls.
"The time demands decisive steps to strengthen a single system of air and space defense of our country. We are being pushed towards these actions by the policy of the United States and NATO on the question of deploying a missile shield," Putin wrote.
He said Russia should not try to create a "costly" rival shield, but its strategic nuclear forces and air and space defense forces should aim to "overcome any system of missile defense."
"In this question there cannot be too much patriotism," the Agence France-Presse quoted Putin as saying.
Leaders of the NATO alliance gave their backing in 2010 for the Europe-wide ballistic missile shield -- which officials say is aimed at thwarting missile threats from the Middle East, particularly Iran. Turkey hosts a radar system in the eastern province of Malatya as part of the NATO anti-missile project.
Putin has dismissed the United States' claim that the prospective shield was intended to counter the Iranian missile threat, saying its real goal was to erode Russia's nuclear deterrent.
"Russia's military and technical response to a global American missile shield and its segment in Europe will be effective and asymmetrical," he said. "And it will fully correspond to the United States' steps on the missile shield."
While a nuclear conflict looks unlikely, scientific progress leads to the emergence of new weapons that could change the character of war, Putin said, The Associated Press reported. He specifically referred to precision long-range non-nuclear weapons, saying they emerge as a key instrument of modern warfare.
"We must not tempt anyone with our weakness," Putin said. "Therefore, we will never, in any circumstances, give away our potential of strategic deterrence and will strengthen it."
Putin said the government plans spending about $770 billion on modernizing its armed forces and defense industry over the next decade by purchasing more than 400 intercontinental ballistic missiles, more than 600 combat aircraft, dozens of submarines and other navy vessels and thousands of armored vehicles.
"Within the next decade, the armed forces will receive more than 400 modern ground- and sea-based intercontinental ballistic missiles, eight ballistic missile submarines, about 20 general purpose attack submarines, over 50 surface ships and some 100 military-purpose spacecraft," Putin said, the Russian Ria Novosti news agency reported.
He said the number will also include "over 600 modern aircraft, including fifth-generation fighters, more than a thousand helicopters, 28 regimental sets of S-400 [SA-21 Growler] surface-to-air missile systems, 38 division sets of Vityaz air defense systems, 10 brigade sets of Iskander-M (SS-26 Stone) tactical missile systems, more than 2,300 modern tanks, some 2,000 self-propelled artillery systems and guns, as well as more than 17,000 military vehicles."