Turkish security forces captured five encryption specialists from the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, during a cross-border raid about 10 kilometers over the border with northern Iraq on March 11.
Turkish forces tracked the militants for nearly six months before catching them inside a cave in northern Iraq, in an operation assisted by Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). The militants initially fired back at the troops, but later surrendered, according to reports.
Militants Azat E., Adil E., Ayhan E., Neçirvan B. and Rojbin T. have confessed to being the organization's encryption experts and to relaying encoded messages from Mount Kandil in northern Iraq to militants in the countryside and urban cells inside Turkey. The militants were also involved two separate incidents in which they relayed commands from Mount Kandil during PKK raids in southeastern Turkey.
The first raid, in Diyarbakır's Silvan district on July 14, resulted in the deaths of 13 Turkish troops, and the second attack killed 14 troops in Hakkari's Çukurca district on Aug. 17. The operation also marks the first time that special operations police units have crossed the border into northern Iraq.
Journalists Handed Over to Syrian Intel
Two Turkish journalists missing in Syria have been handed over to Syrian intelligence by pro-regime militia, Deputy Foreign Minister Bülent Arınç told reporters Thursday.
"We have learned that they are alive and in the hands of Syrian officials. The Foreign Ministry will handle their return," Arınç said.
Syrian intelligence units moved the journalists from the village of Al-Fua near the rebel stronghold of Idlib in two armored vehicles, the Anatolia News Agency reported, adding that their whereabouts are now unknown.
Cameraman Hamit Coşkun was injured and may have been tortured, Anatolia quoted local sources as saying. Coşkun and Adem Özköse, from the Milat newspaper, traveled to the northwestern Syrian city of Idlib near the Turkish border earlier this month, to cover the regime's repression of the uprising there. They have been missing for five days.
"There is no official information yet on the missing journalists," a Foreign Ministry spokesperson told reporters.
In an attempt to discover the whereabouts and guarantee the safe return of the journalists, Turkey has asked Iran for help. Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu had a phone conversation with Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi on Wednesday and raised the issue, a Turkish official told the Hürriyet Daily News.
Turkey had previously mediated with Syria for the release of kidnapped Iranian pilgrims, resulting in the Free Syrian Army's release of 11 Iranians. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will visit Iran on March 27, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Selçuk Ünal told reporters.
Erdogan Slams Greediness, Wild Capitalism
Wild capitalism and the rapacious drive for profits that is driven merely by personal interests and material gains is not a sustainable economic model, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Thursday.
"I find it helpful to relate here that famous Native Indian proverb: 'Only when the last tree has died, the last river has been poisoned and the last fish been caught will the white men realize we cannot eat money.' This is the case [now]," Erdoğan said during a speech at the Competition Authority's 15th anniversary in Ankara. "Before the world becomes an uninhabitable place, all of humanity should understand that money is not edible and take measures accordingly and implement them urgently."
Erdoğan and his party, however, have been roundly criticized for their aggressive privatization of public institutions and drive to build hydroelectric plants despite local opposition.
"Today's world is not sustainable," he said. "The world cannot keep up with such greed, such endless insanity of consumption. What we face today is the early signs [of such an end. Such shockwaves are being felt in Greece, Spain, Portugal, Italy and the United States."
Freedom, justice, the equality of opportunity and law are not concepts belonging to the West, Erdoğan said.
"These are concepts that belong to us and, today, we have to protect them. We have to improve, grow and rise without oppressing the week, violating the poor, stepping on each other and by keeping the eye on the truth.
"When you exactly copy the institutions, lifestyles and systems of the modern world and impose them on the country, success cannot be achieved and [so it was in Turkey]. … Lasting changes are realized where external and domestic dynamics intersect and as much as a society accepts and are in accord with them," the prime minister said.
Turkey is a nation that values gratefulness, protecting the poor and other traits, he said, adding: "We are members of a civilization that does not separate the economy and morals but places morality in the foundation of economy."
Turkish Government Mulling Buffer Zone at Syrian Border
Amid a new wave of refugees from Syria, Turkey is mulling whether to set up a buffer zone on its southern border to handle the influx.
The Turkish government is making preparations for a further exodus from Syria, as the number of people fleeing to Turkey has risen sharply due to Syrian army rampages in the restive neighborhood of Baba Amr in Homs and in the rebel stronghold Idlib. The number of Syrians currently staying in Turkey rose to 14,700 Thursday.
According to the course of developments, the establishment of a buffer zone at the border could be considered, Deputy Prime Minister Beşir Atalay said in a televised interview.
Asked if Turkey was considering a corridor or buffer zone at the Turkish-Syrian border, Atalay said the issue was a common problem across the region, recalling that there had also been an influx of Syrian refugees into Lebanon. Considering the efforts of the international community, including the Arab League, Turkey was studying its strategy with all dimensions, Atalay said, adding that the Syrian army was militarily interfering in any attempt by the Syrian people trying to flee the unrest.
"The Syrian administration has been planting mines, taking measures not to allow refugees to flee to the other side of the border," he said. Around 1,000 Syrian refugees, including a general, have fled to Turkey in the last 24 hours, the Turkish Foreign Ministry has estimated.
"The number of Syrians currently staying in Turkey climbed to 14,700 today," spokesperson Selçuk Ünal told reporters Thursday. Some 14,200 of those Syrian refugees are staying in camps in Hatay province, and the 500 Syrian refugees sheltering in Reyhanlı are being taken to a new camp in Gaziantep.
A defecting general is also among the latest wave of Syrian refugees, Ünal said.
Turkey is to open a new refugee camp near the southern town of Kilis next month to host a further 10,000 Syrians. Work has also begun on a camp near the eastern end of the border at Ceylanpınar for 20,000 people. That would bring the total capacity in Turkey for Syrian refugees to 45,000.
Turkey has not yet sent the invitations for the "Friends of Syria" group meeting that will take place in İstanbul, Ünal said, adding that an invitation for France was still being considered. Despite the strain between Turkey and France, the gathering would be a multi-party meeting, the spokesperson said.
On the other hand, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has said that a "neutral actor" should take over responsibility for security in Syria to open the door for a settlement.
"By saying 'neutral' I don't mean someone from abroad, but someone who would have the people's trust," Davutoğlu said on TGRT television. He played down the May general elections, saying it was already too late for the al-Assad regime.
President Says Light Yet to be Shed on Sivas Massacre
President Abdullah Gül has added his voice to a recent wave of outrage over a court decision to drop the Sivas case, which concerns the deaths of 33 intellectuals as well as two assailants and two hotel workers in a hotel fire set by an angry mob, complaining that light has not yet been shed on the incident.
"This is one of the most tragic incidents in our political history. Light has not been shed on this incident. Light should be shed on this case and all its aspects," Gül said on Thursday during a joint press conference in Ankara with visiting Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa Delgado. He added that the trial has not yet been completed, referring to the ongoing appeals process.
Thirty-seven people were killed on July 2, 1993, at the Madımak Hotel in Sivas, when an angry mob set the building on fire. Seven of the suspects are still at large, and two of them, Cafer Erçakmak and Yılmaz Bağ, have been confirmed dead. Another five walked free on Tuesday when the Ankara 11th High Criminal Court decided to drop the case on the grounds that too much time had passed, triggering national condemnation.
Opposition Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, leader Devlet Bahçeli also released a written a statement on Thursday, voicing strong criticism of the case being dropped due to the statute of limitations, saying, "values of humanity were trampled" with the court's decision.
"Regardless of the court decision, the bloody hands involved in this chaos have been convicted in the hearts of the people," Bahçeli said.
The MHP leader warned against provocations in the wake of the decision and called for common sense.
"Any moves that could harm social peace by taking advantage of the court decision and spreading separatist feelings of animosity would not benefit anyone. In the past, Turkey has been shaken by many similar unfortunate and dangerous incidents and lost its way in the deep waters of polarization," Bahçeli warned.
Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ responded to questions from the press on Thursday regarding a judicial reform package concerning the removal of statutes of limitations in some cases, saying any changes will be non-retroactive.
Armenian Patriarchate Files Suit in Turkey for Property Return
The Armenian Patriarchate has filed a landmark suit in Ankara for the return of the historical Sansaryan School in the eastern province of Erzurum that was the site of the 1919 Erzurum Congress, an assembly by modern Turkey's founder, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.
"Some other foundations belong to [minority] communities, but the Sansaryan Foundation was granted to the patriarchate by philanthropist Mıgırdiç Sansaryan in the 1800s. The administration and management of the Sansaryan Foundation legally belongs to the patriarchate," lawyer Ali Elbeyoğlu, who represents the Turkish-Armenian Patriarchate in court, told the Hürriyet Daily News Thursday.
The patriarchate also demanded the return of other properties in the Central Anatolian province of Sivas, formerly owned by the Sansaryan Foundation in the lawsuit it filed March 14.
"We are not going to content ourselves with the mere return of historical buildings. We are also going to demand compensation from the Foundations General Directorate for all material losses incurred by the patriarchate since 1936," Elbeyoğlu said.
Upon the government's request, Turkey's minority groups in 1936 gave the government declarations detailing their real property. Over the years, however, many of these properties did not remain registered under the minority foundations' names, and some were even sold to third parties.
Turkey's Foundations General Directorate expropriated the Sansaryan Foundation citing the 1936 Declaration, according to Elbeyoğlu. The Turkish-Armenian Patriarchate also filed another suit against the Foundations Directorate General in recent months demanding that the Sansaryan Shopping Center in Istanbul's Eminönü district be returned to the patriarchate. However, the head of Turkey's Foundations Directorate General has said it will not be returned, despite a ruling by an Istanbul court to impose an interim injunction over the building.
"This runs counter to all international legal [norms], as well as the Treaty of Lausanne. The Patriarchate is still in possession of the title deed," Elbeyoğlu said.
The Armenian community currently owns three small foundations across the whole of Anatolia. If the patriarchate wins its lawsuit, it will mark the first time that Turkey's Armenian community has regained control of a foundation in Anatolia.
"If the Armenian community had not hesitated for various reasons, they could have filed this suit in 1936, as they are legally in the right. There is a case dated to 1936, and its files indicate that the patriarchate officially owns Sansaryan. Our research shows that the best-preserved archival documents are located at the Land Registry Cadastre," Elbeyoğlu said.
Elbeyoğlu also dismissed suggestions indicating a link between the lawsuit and the Foundations Law that recently came into effect. The Turkish government enacted a measure that went into effect on Aug. 27, 2011, to return properties seized from minority foundations through the 1936 Declaration.
The Foundations Directorate General still classifies Sansaryan as a property left without a manager and whose ownership consequently passed onto the Foundation Directorate General, but for that definition to hold up in court, it would require there to be no citizens of Armenian descent in Turkey, according to Elbeyoğlu.
The Sansaryan Foundation was established by Mıgırdiç Sansaryan, a Russian-Armenian philanthropist. The police used the Sansaryan Shopping Center in Istanbul for a long period during which torture was widespread.