The Syrian regime is trying to absolve itself of its sins against its own people by pledging democratic change, a Turkish diplomatic source said on Tuesday.
"The Syrian regime did not keep any of their promises to the Syrian people or international actors like Turkey and Russia," a Turkish diplomat, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said. " President Bashar al-Assad's regime, which is massacring its own people, is currently trying to absolve itself of its sins and keep power by claiming it will initiate democratic change, but it's too late."
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov got a promise from Assad on Feb. 7, days after a brutal massacre in Homs claimed hundreds of lives, that the regime would immediately stop the violence in the country, but the Syrian army's shelling of Homs continued in February.
The diplomat repeated remarks that Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu made on Saturday en route from Tunisia to Turkey.
"The Syrian regime wants first to destroy the opposition, then to hold elections. This line of thinking is senseless and disingenuous," Davutoğlu said about the Syrian crisis.
Despite a military onslaught against regime opponents that has lasted for 11 months, Assad organized a referendum on Sunday on the making of a new constitution.
"Turkey is not concerned about promises made to one segment of Syrian society. The Syrian regime has conducted a crackdown on a plural opposition affecting many different groups," claimed the diplomat," Davutoğlu said. "We hope they [the Syrian regime] would not dare to use the PKK [terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party] as a trump card against Turkey."
On Monday, Turkey's National Security Council, or MGK, said it is important to protect the Syrian people and deliver humanitarian aid in the face of increasingly growing violence and bloodshed in its southern neighbor; calling on the international community not to remain indifferent to what it said is a "mass slaughter" in Syria.
MGK, in a statement it released following a five-hour meeting on Monday, said the council had reviewed the conclusions of the international conference in Tunisia on Friday and welcomed other initiatives condemning Syrian violence, including the UN General Assembly's decision on Feb. 16.
The UN General Assembly condemned the Assad-led Syrian regime and called on him to step down in a decision supported by an overwhelming majority on Feb. 16, after the Security Council was rendered unable to make such a call with the double veto of Russia and China.
The MGK members also asked the international community not to turn a blind eye to the killings in Syria, in a veiled message to Russia and China. Russia and China both vetoed a UN Security Council resolution backing an Arab plan calling on Assad to step aside and quell violence in the conflict-stricken country. Activist groups said on Monday the death toll for the 11-month-old uprising in Syria had surpassed 8,000. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told the Associated Press that more than 5,800 of the dead were civilians and that the rest were either members of the military or army defectors.
Damascus criticized Turkey on Monday for its calls for a humanitarian aid campaign for the Syrian people.
"Establishing humanitarian corridors in Syria would be no different than an open military intervention because humanitarian corridors would also be guarded by foreign military," Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem said on Monday at a press conference in Damascus, the Turkish media reported. "What could Turkey gain from a military intervention? Is Turkey without its foreign enemies? I suggest Davutoğlu worry about Turkey's own affairs and not risk losing Syria forever."
Prime Minister Fine-Tunes Draft of Education Reform
Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his party have fine-tuned a controversial draft education bill following opposition anger, agreeing to present students with homeschooling options after eight compulsory years in school, rather than four.
With the government under fire over the bill, Erdoğan announced that students would be required to attend classes at school for eight years before being able to choose home study in the last four years of what the government is describing as 12 years of compulsory education.
The prime minister, however, said students would still be allowed to choose vocational schools after four years of basic education, another point that has been harshly criticized.
In remarks to a closed session of the Justice and Development Party's, or AKP, parliamentary group meeting, Education Minister Ömer Dinçer said the change did not amount to a step back since it was already among the alternatives they had considered, sources told the Hürriyet Daily News.
Erdoğan singled out the Turkish Industry & Business Association, or TÜSİAD, as his main target in lashing out at opponents of the bill. He rejected accusations that the planned reform would undermine the schooling of girls, pointing at the incentives his government had so far provided to boost their education.
"Mind your own business and don't raise barriers for the education of Anatolia's children," Erdoğan said, addressing TÜSİAD.
Critics have said the homeschooling option would allow conservative parents to confine girls at home or send them instead to Quranic courses. They also argue that 10- or 11-year-olds are too young to be directed toward vocational schools, adding that the measure would encourage child labor.
The bill would allow students to begin attending imam-hatip religious schools, which fall under the vocational category, at a younger age. Such schools currently have a high school status, the legacy of the so-called "Feb. 28 process" of 1997, when the military forced out Turkey's first Islamist-led government and brought in measures curbing Islamic education.
The new system would make up for the "heavy damage" caused by the eight-year uninterrupted schooling introduced by the Feb. 28 process and provide a well-trained work force for industry, Erdoğan said.
The draft was on the agenda of a sub-panel of Parliament's Education Commission Tuesday as lawmakers listened to the views of civic groups and trade unions. TÜSİAD was not invited and instead sent a two-page written opinion, in which it chided the AKP for failing to ensure "an inclusive and comprehensive debate" on the issue. It reiterated concerns over the schooling of girls, and added that students in Western countries were asked to choose vocational programs no earlier than the age of 16. The Eğitim-İş union of teachers also argued that compulsory education should span 13 years, including pre-school.
Republican People's Party, or CHP, leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu congratulated TÜSİAD for its "courage" in speaking out and urged mothers to mobilize against the bill.
"The future of your children is being stolen," he said.
Selahattin Demirtaş, the co-chair of the Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, said misgivings over religious education and the schooling of girls was only one side of the problem. "They are planning to raise educated modern slaves, a cheap labor force," he said.
Meanwhile, Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, leader Devlet Bahçeli said the AKP had turned the education system into a "scratch pad."
Turkish Prime Minister Vows No Forgiveness for 'Post-Modern Coup'
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said the masterminds and supporters of the "February 28 process," or the so-called "post-modern coup," would never be forgiven, as Turkey marked the 15th anniversary of the momentous event Tuesday.
Erdoğan described the episode as "a black stain" on the record of Turkish democracy.
"Even if a thousand years go by, history will not forgive its architects, or the NGOs and media who were their sub-contractors," he told his Justice and Development Party's, or AKP, parliamentary group meeting "We, the victims of February 28, are proudly standing up here today. Many of our brothers and sisters who were victimized have had their rights returned."
Erdoğan was referring the turbulent process which took its name from the Feb. 28, 1997 meeting of the National Security Council, or MGK. In the process, Turkey's then-omnipotent military imposed a series of tough rulings on Islamist Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan, aimed mainly at curbing religious schools and Islamic education, in the face of what was perceived at the time as a growing threat to Turkey's secular system. Erbakan, under pressure from the army and bureaucracy, as well as from much of the mainstream media, resigned in June. His Welfare Party, or RP, was outlawed several months later.
The mayor of Istanbul and an RP member at the time, Erdoğan was sentenced for religious sedition after reciting a poem with Islamist connotations, for which he spent four months in jail. Erbakan's reformist-minded disciples, including Erdoğan and President Abdullah Gül, formed the AKP in 2001. Opposition parties, however, claim the AKP was the "product" of the "February 28 process" and that the AKP never paid a price.
"The post-modern coup was against Erbakan. But [it was] Erdoğan [who] stabbed him in the back. February 28 was a maneuver to make Erdoğan prime minister, we are sure of that," the leader of the main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, said. "The late Erbakan had a nationalist mindset and defended his country's interest. But Erdoğan is marketing his country."
Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, Co-Chair Selahattin Demirtaş said the main objective of the "February 28 process" was not only to overthrow Erbakan, but also to bring Turkey in line with neo-liberal policies.
"The AKP has served to eliminate [Erbakan's] National View movement. It has implemented neo-liberal economic policies in accordance with the purpose of the February 28 process," he said.
In similar remarks, Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, leader Devlet Bahçeli also branded the AKP a "product" of the turmoil, as he slammed the government for pursuing repressive policies against the opposition.
Minority Newspapers to be Able to Publish Official Announcements
A new law published in the Official Gazette in Turkey makes it possible for "minority" newspapers to accept official announcements and publish them.
"Minority" newspapers have to file a written request in order to be able to publish official announcements. Part of the new law went into effect on Feb. 28 while others will go into effect on March 1 and April 1.
French Court Cancels 'Genocide' Denial Bill
In a move that looks set to ward off a deepening crisis in Turkish-French ties, France's Constitutional Council has struck down a government-backed law criminalizing denials of the 1915 events as genocide on the grounds that it contradicts the French constitution.
Ankara expressed its satisfaction with the law and said this would remove hurdles standing in the way of the improvement of relations between the two countries. The council's decision was posted on the official Web site late Tuesday, after a month-long examination of the much discussed law.
"The council considered the law unconstitutional," read the press statement made by the council, which based its verdict on the relevant articles of the "1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen," the fundamental document of the French Revolution. It said the law was not in line with the declaration's 6th and 11the articles, which highlight freedom of expression and thought, one of the main pillars of the democracy.
"Therefore the Constitutional Council has declared the unconstitutionality of Article 1 of the law and consequently Article 2, which is not separable," it said.
There were comments that the court's decision would also put the validity of a 2001 law recognizing Armenian genocide claims into a legal discussion. The council's decision, however, said this did not affect the 2001 law, as it was not asked to make an assessment on that legislation.
"We hope those who want to make politics over history will have a lesson from this verdict," Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu told reporters in a statement after the release of the verdict. "This is a very positive decision. I thank the members of the council for the respectful decision. It will set a precedent as well. This will be exemplary. It is an important step regarding [the prevention] of small calculations gaining legal ground. We hope that those who seek political aims over the histories of societies get a legal lesson."
The law, introduced by French President Nicolas Sarkozy's party, was first approved by Parliament on Dec. 22, and then by the French Senate on Jan. 23. The measure set a punishment of up to one year in prison and a fine of 45,000 euros for those who deny or outrageously minimize the killings.
With the high court decision, the law is null and void and the entire legislative process will have to begin from the very beginning. The adoption of the law in Parliament and the Senate drew Ankara's strong reactions with a package of sanctions against France. Its eight-article sanctions were focused on banning French military using Turkish airspace and territorial waters, cutting some political ties with indirect threats to boycott French goods.
Apart from diplomatic initiatives, Turkey also mobilized large French companies, which had significant investments in Turkey to urge French lawmakers to take the law to the council. A sum of 142 lawmakers and senators appealed to the court in late January after the Senate approved it. In a move to give time for collecting signatures for taking the law to court, Sarkozy did not rush to sign the law that would have put the law into effect.
Turkey Says Iran Nuclear Talks May Resume in April
Moribund talks between Iran and world powers over the Islamic republic's controversial nuclear program may resume in April at the latest, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said.
"I have the belief that the negotiations might take place in a month's time, in April at the latest," Davutoğlu was quoted as saying by the Anatolia news agency, citing an interview with state-run TRT Haber late Tuesday. "If they prefer Turkey, we always host them and do our best."
Davutoğlu noted that he would meet with his Iranian counterpart, Ali Akbar Salehi, next week.
The last round of talks between Iran and the so-called P5+1 group – United Nations Security Council permanent members Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States, plus Germany -- collapsed in Istanbul in January 2011.
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.
Turkey has repeatedly said it is only bound by UN Security Council sanctions against Tehran and favours a diplomatic solution to the dispute.
Turkey Mulls Kosovo-Like Plan for Syria
Turkey is entertaining the possibility of working with the international community to establish a humanitarian corridor into Syria without a United Nations Security Council directive, as it did in Kosovo in 1999.
Establishing corridors needs a UN Security Council mandate, but Russia and China, who both have veto power, have said they would not allow the passage of any resolution they see as unbalanced.
If Russia and China keep blocking attempts for UN Security Council measures against the Syrian regime, the international community could seek alternative legitimate ways to create a humanitarian corridor into Syria, a Turkish official told the Hürriyet Daily News.
The international community may enforce a humanitarian aid corridor into Syria without a UN Security Council resolution, as was implemented in Kosovo over a decade ago, if the country's humanitarian problems reach unbearable dimensions, according to a Turkish official.
In the case of Kosovo, the international community, including the United States and NATO, established humanitarian corridors into the region in 1999 ahead of a U.N. Security Council decision after ethnic conflict erupted in the former Yugoslavia.
According to assessments in Ankara, Moscow may change its position after upcoming elections in Russia and follow a path closer to the majority of the international community on the Syrian crisis.
Meanwhile, Turkish Parliamentary Speaker Cemil Çiçek has criticized those who have been pushing Turkey to find a solution to the Syrian crisis.
"Don't egg us on this issue," he said during a visit to Riyadh. "Some ruse circles just follow what is happening [in Syria] as if they were watching a football game and then say, 'Turkey should handle this.'"
Turkey has pulled its weight on the Syrian crisis, Çiçek said, adding that everyone had a responsibility in disputes in the Middle East and that Turkey was following a realistic policy.
"Those who do not have borders with Syria should not be content with mere remarks. I hope Muslim countries with Arab roots will do more than they have done up until now. They haven't done enough," he said.
Turkey will host a meeting on Syria, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said, adding in an address to his deputies that Turkey has been part of every step in the Friends of Syria meeting.
Elsewhere, the National Security Council, or MGK, gathered Monday and said in a written statement that the international community should not remain indifferent to the violence and "mass massacres" in Syria. The council highlighted the importance of protecting the Syrian people and extending humanitarian aid.
Turkey denied claims that it had turned a blind eye to Syria's usage of Turkish territory as a route to obtain weapons; Britain's The Times had reported that Syria was using Turkey as a route to bypass sanctions and obtain material and equipment for its weapons industry while Turkey turned a blind eye.
Abbas to Discuss Palestinian Peace Process in Turkey
Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas is expected to arrive in Turkey late Tuesday to discuss the Middle East peace process with senior officials, the Anatolia news agency reported.
Abbas' three-day visit comes after he and rival Hamas leader, Khaled Meshaal, on Thursday postponed talks on forming a unified government, in a further delay to ending an almost five-year rift.
"Abbas is going to discuss developments in the Middle East, as well as the peace process in the region and political consensus within Palestinian bodies," diplomats told AFP.
He is to meet Turkish President Abdullah Gül and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Wednesday, after talks with Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu on Tuesday evening.
On Thursday, Abbas' secular Fatah party and Islamist Hamas postponed talks on reconciliation, adding another pause to a long-delayed peace process. Fatah and Hamas signed a reconciliation deal in Egypt in May, calling for an interim government and general elections to be held within a year to end their division after Hamas violently routed Fatah from Gaza in 2007.
It remains unclear when the final government line-up will be announced and elections held.
Turkey, for years, has tried its hand at mediating between the two Palestinian parties, and acts as a frequent host to officials from both sides.