The Turkish, Azerbaijani and Iranian foreign ministers are planning to meet on March 7 in the Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic in Azerbaijan as part of a series of meetings regularly held between the three states.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov and Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi are reportedly planning to discuss issues of common interest to all three states in a March 7 meeting in the Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic in Azerbaijan. The foreign ministers are aiming to implement joint projects for peace and prosperity in the region.

The discussions will follow a number of meetings between the foreign ministers to discuss regional issues, including the peaceful settlement of ongoing, explosive conflicts in the region and the need to build a favorable climate to achieve this.

Nakhichevan is a territory located at the intersection of four countries -- Turkey, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Iran. The Dilucu border gate, which provides access to Nakhichevan from Turkey, is particularly significant. Having paid a visit to the Dilucu border gate last year Davutoğlu highlighted the importance of the crossing, saying: "Achieving peace and stability in the Caucasus will make this gate [Dilucu] one of the most important places in Asia."

"Lasting peace in this land will bring blessings," Davutoglu said. "Regional stability will benefit Armenia as well. However, without solving the problem of the occupation of Azerbaijani lands by the Armenian armed forces this will be impossible."

Whether the ministers will visit the Dilucu Border Gate is not yet known.

During the meeting, the current situation in the South Caucasus is also expected to come to the fore. The three states are going to discuss ways to deepen cooperation over building prosperity through economic growth and sustainable development. Moreover, Turkey, Azerbaijan and Iran are willing to consolidate their cooperation in the fight against terrorism, organized crime and the trafficking of people, drugs and weapons.

Iran asks Azerbaijan to account for military purchase from Israel

The Iranian administration has summoned Cavanşir Ahundzade, the Azerbaijani ambassador to Iran, to provide clarification over Azerbaijan's recent $1.6 billion weapons purchase from Israel. During the meeting with Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Erakçı, Ahundzade said the aim is to liberate the occupied territories of Azerbaijan [Nagorno-Karabakh and seven adjacent territories], rather than use those arms against a third country, including Iran. Ahundzade also mentioned that Azerbaijan is committed to improving bilateral relations between Azerbaijan and Iran.

Turkey 'Ready to Share Pain' With Armenians

Turkey is ready to share the pain of Armenians as they prepare to mark the 100th anniversary of the 1915 killings, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said following a French court's rejection of a "genocide" denial bill.

"We want to share the pain of those who are ready to share it with us," Davutoğlu was quoted as saying by the Anatolia News Agency in an interview with state-run television TRT Haber late Wednesday, the Agence France-Presse reported.

Armenians claim up to 1.5 million of their forebears were killed in a 1915-16 events, while Turkey says 500,000 died and ascribes the toll to fighting and starvation during World War I.

"It is necessary to keep channels open in order to share history," Davutoğlu said.

Davutoğlu's remarks came after France's Constitutional Council struck down a government-backed law criminalizing denials of the 1915 events as genocide on the grounds that it contradicts the French constitution and violated freedom of expression; the council's rejection was quickly welcomed by Turkey.

Historical problems between Turkey and Armenia can be solved between the two states, President Abdullah Gül told reports following the council's decision.

"If third countries intervene into this issue, it will be a mistake; it will not help," he said, adding that the problem would only become deadlocked otherwise. Gül also reiterated Turkey's proposal for a joint history commission to investigate the 1915 incidents.

Parliamentary Speaker Cemil Çiçek said Wednesday that the Constitutional Council had given a clear message that history should not be written by parliaments.

"The decision of the council, which is based on the grounds of law, is compatible with France's tradition of democracy and experience as a state with the rule of law," Çiçek said in a statement. "Our expectation is for France to contribute to a solution of the historical problem between Turkey and Armenia through dialogue."

Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç said via his Twitter account late Tuesday that the Constitutional Council had given a legal lesson to the French politicians who had backed the "freakish" legislation.

Turkey's EU minister, Egemen Bağış, said France had averted a "historical mistake," while Davutoğlu called the decision "an important step that will legally avert future exploitations."

Rıfat Hisarcıklıoğlu, the chairman of the Turkish Union of Chambers and Exchange Commodities, or TOBB, a business organization that lobbied in France against the denial law, also said the council had averted a historical mistake.

In a written statement released Wednesday, Hisarcıklıoğlu thanked the French businessman who "stood by Turkey."

Turkey and Armenia have no diplomatic relations as Ankara closed its border with Yerevan in 1993 because of its war with Azerbaijan over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh. In 2009, Turkish and Armenian foreign ministers signed protocols to establish diplomatic ties and reopen their shared border. The protocols also called for a joint commission to examine the two countries' shared history. The normalization process, however, stalled after Turkey faced a backlash from its traditional ally, Azerbaijan, and opposition at home.

Ten Injured in Blast Near Akp Building in Istanbul, Police Chief Says

Istanbul Police Chief Hüseyin Çapkın said 10 people were injured in a blast caused by a bomb that was remotely detonated in Istanbul Wednesday morning.

A blast shook Istanbul's Sütlüce district, injuring at least five police officers, according to news agencies. The blast took place near a minibus carrying police officers, on the İmrahor Street in a district near the Golden Horn.

The location is also very near the Istanbul district office of the governing Justice and Development Party, and the headquarters of the Independent Industrialists and Businessmen's Association, or MÜSİAD.

Alevi Citizens Concerned by Mark on Doors

The doors of a number of houses belonging to members of the Alevi community in the eastern province of Adıyaman were marked with crosses by unknown people, Republican People's Party, or CHP, Deputy Hüseyin Aygün announced on his Facebook account Wednesday.

Ramazan Sodan, the governor of Adıyaman, also confirmed the claims and said the doors of the home of some Alevi citizens in the province had also been marked with numbers and letters; Sodan said police are searching for those responsible for drawing the crosses.

"This district is a center for Alevis, and such incidents have never happened here before. Security forces are investigating it carefully," Sodan said.

Residents of Adıyaman's Karapınar district noticed the signs on the doors of Alevi community members, and informed the police, according to the reports. Mahmut Gürsu, the headman of the district, also confirmed that the signs appeared only on the doors of the homes of Alevis, not Sunni community members.

The same method was used to mark the houses of Alevis prior to the Maraş Massacre of 1978, in which 105 people were killed.

Jailed Kurdish Deputy Risks Seat in Parliament

Independent Deputy Kemal Aktaş, elected from prison on the ticket of a bloc backed by the Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, risks losing his parliamentary seat after being handed down a two-year jail sentence for "disseminating terrorist propaganda."
Parliament has not yet received a formal notification of the ruling, Parliament's Secretary-General İrfan Neziroğlu told the Hürriyet Daily News. The sentence may strip Aktaş of his parliamentary seat as it makes him ineligible for deputyship; he would lose his seat as soon as the ruling is read out in the General Assembly.

"Parliament cannot afford such a development. The announcement of the ruling should have been postponed to the end of this Parliament's term," BDP Deputy Group Chair Hasip Kaplan said.

He argued that there was no legal obstruction to Aktaş's election at the time of the polls and that he could not now be stripped of his seat. Under Article 83 of the Constitution, the execution of sentences against parliamentary members is suspended until their deputyship comes to an end.

BDP-backed independent lawmaker Levent Tüzel also argued that the implementation of the ruling against Aktaş should be suspended until the end of the legislative term and urged Parliament to lift restrictions on free speech.

Aktaş was elected from prison as an independent from Van in last year's elections. He is awaiting trial for involvement in the Kurdistan Communities' Union, or KCK, the alleged urban wing of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK. Due to a previous conviction, he is banned from being a member of any political party until 2014.

A Diyarbakır court recently sentenced him for spreading propaganda for the PKK, over a speech he made at a 2006 Nevruz festival. The Appeals Court upheld the sentence. Even though Aktaş had gained judicial immunity as a parliamentary deputy, his trial continued because the charges pertained to "crimes against the state," which are exempt from parliamentarian privileges. The court has to send the ruling to Parliament via the Justice Ministry and then the Prime Minister's Office.

In a separate development Wednesday, squabbles erupted in Parliament after BDP Deputy Altan Tan described the single-party rule in the early years of the Republic as a "Kemalist dictatorship."

Deputies of both the Republican People's Party, or CHP, and Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, were infuriated. Tan refused to apologize, saying he did not insult any historic person but made a "political assessment" about the time.

NGO Seeks Gender Segregation in Education Reform Bill

The sub-panel of Parliament's Education Commission discussed proposals submitted by civic groups and trade unions on the much-criticized education reform bill Wednesday.

The most controversial proposal came from the Association of Imam-Hatip Graduates, which said boys and girls should be segregated. Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ defended the bill as a move to boost vocational schools and provide a well-trained work force for the industry.

"While students in vocational schools make up 65 to 70 percent in other countries, in Turkey it's just the opposite. This shows that something is wrong," Bozdağ said on Kanal 24 television.

He explained the reform would enable parents to send children to vocational schools after a four-year basic education, but would allow them to change their choices afterward. Bozdağ also defended a planned provision to allow students to opt out of school in favor of home study after eight years as "suitable to Turkey's realities."

The draft bill has come under fire on grounds that it would allow conservative parents to take girls from school and encourage child labor. The sub-commission was still assessing the proposals it had collected when the Hürriyet Daily News went to print Wednesday. It was scheduled to write a report and send the draft to the Education Commission for possible revisions.

Most of the proposals suggested that pre-school be added to the compulsory education system, but the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, is unlikely to heed this call. In another possible change, the school starting age could be reduced from seven to six.

In the most striking suggestion, the Association of Imam-Hatip Graduates said boys and girls should be segregated for a more efficient education. Their paper included sections titled "differences in the brain due to gender" and "differences in learning due to gender."

"Segregated education produces positive results for both sexes. It could be considered as a freedom of learning. For instance, boys studying in segregated schools can choose subjects that better suit their abilities, free from gender pressure. Gender pressure discourages boys from choosing art-related subjects such music, painting or acting," said the paper, which otherwise lent full support to the bill.

Sarkozy Party Says No New Genocide Law before June

French President Nicolas Sarkozy's UMP party said Wednesday that a new bill to punish denial of the Armenian genocide would not be put forward before June after a top court struck down a previous draft.

"The problem is that unfortunately Parliament's work has finished and we can't put this bill on the agenda," party leader Francois Cope told journalists after Sarkozy vowed to draw up a new draft. "We will have to wait for the next Pparliament," after elections in June.

France's Constitutional Council on Tuesday ruled that the bill to punish denial of the 1915 Armenian genocide was unconstitutional as it infringed on the right to freedom of expression.

Sarkozy is facing a tough re-election battle in a two-round April-May presidential vote ahead of June's parliamentary polls. He has been accused of seeking the vote of France's large Armenian community with the genocide bill.

Turkey's Catholics Likely to Join New Charter Talks

Parliament's constitution-making commission is likely to invite Catholic representatives to express their views on the new charter following criticism that the tiny community is being disregarded.

Turkey's ambassador to the Vatican, Kenan Gürsoy, recently said the Catholic community was "disappointed" at being snubbed and asked the Constitution Conciliation Commission to listen to their representatives "to avoid any misunderstanding."

The commission has not made a final decision yet, but members are largely in favor of extending such an invitation, the Hürriyet Daily News has learned. The commission has previously met with leaders of Turkey's Orthodox, Jewish and Armenian minorities to hear their demands concerning the new constitution.

Separately, the panel met this week with representatives of several major Syriac associations in Turkey and Europe that demanded their community be granted a minority status similar to the one that Jews, Greeks and Armenians enjoy under the 1924 Lausanne Treaty.

Noting that they constitute one of Anatolia's most ancient communities, the Syriac representatives requested measures to resolve the longstanding problems that Syriacs returning from Europe encounter in reclaiming their properties, as well as constitutional guarantees for their religion and language. According to figures they gave to the commission, the community today numbers 25,000 people in Turkey, with the majority based in Istanbul, while more than 300,000 Syriacs live in Europe.

In a separate presentation to the commission this week, Diyarbakır Mayor Osman Baydemir suggested the new constitution should define "cultural and ethnic genocide and torture" and the use of weapons of mass destruction as crimes against humanity that would be exempt from the statute of limitations.

Speaking in his capacity as head of the Union of Southeast Anatolian Municipalities, Baydemir also requested the introduction of autonomous regional administrations and education in mother languages, proposals that were extensively outlined in a written presentation the union sent to the commission previously.

Greek Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew made a landmark presentation at Parliament's constitution-making commission last week, 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. A new Turkey is being born. We are leaving the meeting with hope and are extremely grateful," the patriarch told reporters after the meeting.

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.

More Arab Banks En Route to Turkey

Bank Audi, which is set to launch its Turkey unit, may be followed by more Arab banks, says Fattouh, Arab banking union head. Turkey is 'one of the best places' for banks to operate as crisis holds on in US and EU, he adds.

Bank Audi, the Lebanon-based lender that has become the first foreign lender to receive a Turkish license in 11 years, will be followed by other Arab banks eyeing entrance into the local market, said Secretary General of Union of Arab Banks, or UAB, Wissam H. Fattouh, speaking to the Hürriyet Daily News on the sidelines of the Arab-Turkish Banking and Financial Forum in Istanbul.

"I assume there will be more banks looking for chances in Turkish market. Some Arab banks have shown great interest in the Turkish banking sector," he said, noting that lenders have been encouraged by the license granted to Bank Audi last year. "Turkey ranks as one of the best places to operate, especially after the crisis in the United States and Europe."

Cooperating with Turkish banks, Arab lenders can also invest in third countries, particularly in Africa, according to Elhadi Chaibainou, an executive committee member of UAB, which represents Morrocan banks; Moroccan banks are ready for such partnerships with Turkish lenders, he told the audience at the event.

Turkey's trade volume with Arab countries has peaked at $34 billion in five years, from $5 billion, said Hüseyin Aydın, chairman of The Banks Association of Turkey, noting that seven Arab banks were operating in Turkey today, with a total asset volume of $24 billion.

"I believe trade and banking bonds will strengthen through credits and bilateral investments," he added.

Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan said peace was the key to welfare and justice in the region, and called for stronger cooperation between the political leaders and bankers of the Arab states and Turkey.

Commenting on Bank Audi's process of starting operations in Turkey, Fredie Baz, the group chief financial officer and strategy director said his bank had "done its homework."

"We have completed almost all our preparations, such as choosing a Turkish name and deciding on the general manager," Baz told the Daily News.

The bank will open its first branch on September as planned, he said.

According to Baz, Turkey is one of the top competitive markets, and Audi will soon introduce new banking products to Turkish customers.

"You will be soon able to open a bank account and receive debit and credit cards from ATMs," he said. Audi will bring in almost $6 billion to the local sector, he added, noting that some other Arab banks would also provide liquidity for Turkey's financial institutions.

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