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Syrian Operation Overshadowed Domestic Political Aims of Erdogan

Most of the Western military analysts are not successful in understanding the real reasons of Turkey’s recent military operations in Syria, by the reason that not truly comprehends the true extent of the Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s authoritarian tendency.

FATİH YURTSEVEN

Since 2010, Recep Tayyip Erdogan has gradually accumulated all governmental and administrative power by cunningly eliminating his political opponents such as Suleyman Soylu (former leader of Democrat Party and current Minister of Internal Affairs) and Numan Kurtulmus (former leader of People’s Voice Party and current vice president of Central Executive Committee of AKP), who had heavily criticized the President, by inviting them to his party. Within 17 years, Erdogan has also managed to control the vast majority of the media, which normally has a critical role in enlightening and influencing Turkish society with respect to the appropriateness of the Turkish military operations in Syria. Today, every segment of Turkish society is under the heavy influence of the government-led media, which professionally shapes the public perception regarding the “victories and enemies” of the “leader of the century”. In March 2016, President acquired the sufficient power to dismiss the elected Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu without stating any legitimate reason. The western-minded military cadre was the only remained obstacle in front of Erdogan to force the Turkish army to enter into the territory of Syria behind the Free Syrian Army, which includes brutal fighters. The fake coup attempt on July 15, 2016 was “the gift of God” for the President to get rid of the top officers such as Akın Ozturk, former Commander of Turkish Air Force, who strictly rejected any kind of Turkish military involvement in Syria.  The first major military operation, Operation Euphrates Shield, started on August 24, 2016, only one month after the dismissal of nearly half of the top officers in the wake of July 15, 2016. According to a joke, Napoleon Bonaparte envied the President’s media and said that if I had had such a proponent media, I would have foisted Waterloo as a big victory to France public.

The President lost his chance to continue his political life within the parliamentary democracy due to his family’s involvement in the corruption allegations. In a normal democratic country, independent courts would question the illegal actions of both the government and its members. The president decided long ago to ruin the parliamentary democracy in Turkey and establish a one-man rule both to passivize his enemies and rule the country based on his wills like a private company. For this reason, President had to make up a series of military victories in a foreign country to create a strong image similar to Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. The President called July 15 fake coup attempt as the new independence war of Turkey. According to polls before July 15, most of the Turkish citizens were not willing to support the new tailor-made presidential system, which would give superpowers to the elected President. After July 15, the supports for Turkish-style presidential system significantly increased. But it was not enough for the President. Because this support should have continued during the long and challenging constitutional amendment process. During a military operation in a foreign country, it is natural to observe the increase in the nationalistic sentiments. Operation Euphrates Shield gave the desired opportunity to divert the Turkish public attention away from the debates about the details of the new presidential system. This operation was also extremely functional for the President to maintain the public support for the new presidential system at a required level. Before the constitutional referendum on April 16 for the ratification of new presidential system, the President reached one of the “brightest” victory in Syria with the help of Operation Euphrates Shield.

The emergency state in Turkey was in force more than one year before the start of Operation Olive Branch. After a controversial referendum for new presidential system in 2017, nearly %51 of Turkish population accepted the AKP’s proposal for new administration system. The other major Turkish military operation was Operation Olive Branch, which started in January 2018. What a coincidence, this operation ended on March 18, 2018, which is the anniversary of the Canakkale (Gallipoli) Victory.  Normally, Turkey would elect its new president in November 2019. On the other hand, on 18 April 2018, President Erdogan stated that “Our preference has been to try to hold out till the date in November 2019. However, whether it be the cross-border operation in Syria or the historic developments in Iraq and Syria has made it so that it is paramount for Turkey to overcome uncertainty”. As it is seen from the statement of Erdogan, the military operation in Syria became the main reason for the snap presidential election in Turkey. Turkish media had to apply self-censorship due to the heavy atmosphere in Turkish political environment. Just one month after the start of the operation, 786 people were detained due to their social media messages about criticizing the Turkish military operation in Syria. Moreover, more than 1500 crew of Turkish Armed Forces (including jet pilots and controllers) who have attended operation Olive Branch was seperated from their uniform just a few days after the end of the operation due to have been in a relationship with Gulen movement. Of course, people who were poisoned by government-led media couldn’t dare to ask “If this crew were betrayer, why did they participate such an important operation? If they are not betrayer why were they removed from Army?” With the help of rising nationalism, Recep Tayyip Erdogan was elected as the first president of new system on 24 June 2018. Nevertheless, Erdogan could not live happily after ever as the strong president of Turkey. Because the Turkish economy heavily deteriorated due to the populist policies of Erdogan to become the first president of Turkey.

Rising inflation and unemployment are the waking call for the Turkish society about the future damages of the new presidential system. In the local election on March 31, 2019, Turkish citizens gave a strong warning to Erdogan, who lost the major cities of Turkey including Istanbul. However, Erdogan had entered a dead-end-street long before and did not have the chance to improve the economic and political conditions of Turkey. Because of the wrong foreign policy preferences, nearly 4 million Syrian refugees have come to Turkey. Turkey’s inactivity against ISIS after 2012 and participation of foreign fighters to ISIS via to Turkish border strengthened the position of YPG in Syria as a legitimate actor, which wants to establish a Kurdish state in the North of Syria. The insufficient Turkish military cadre, which appointed after July 15, 2016, does not have sufficient level of courage to explain the negative consequences of the military operations in Syria by using the members of Free Syrian Army. Today, the main problem for Turkish citizens is the catastrophic consequences of the long-lasting economic crisis in Turkey. Nearly every one out of four adults in Turkey is unemployed. Almost half of employed people are working for minimum wage designated by government. The government has imposed new taxes to close the huge budgetary deficit. In such a political environment, Erdogan clearly knows that he will lose the supports of Turkish citizens. The “Operation Peace Spring” started in such an adverse political atmosphere and temporarily gave Erdogan the kiss of life. Einstein stated that “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”. It is the insanity of Erdogan to force Turkish military forces in the wrong direction for the sake of preserving his power. And, it is time for the military analysts in Western countries to predict the future detrimental consequences of Erdogan’s usage of Turkish military in an uncontrolled way.

Human Rights

Jailed cadet’s mother stands up against oppression, conquers fear

Melek Çetinkaya is the mother of a jailed 19 years-old former cadet. A campaign led by her broke the spell cast by the Erdogan regime’s reign of terror. She gets detained by police whenever she steps outside her home. However, she has no intention to remain silent.

Lives of millions in Turkey turned upside down on July 15, 2016, with the coup attempt Erdogan labeled as “a gift from God.”

Cadets, many 18-19 years of age, were among those arrested on the night of the coup bid. Çetinkaya’s 19 years old son was one of those students.

Her mom kept telling during post-coup trails that former cadets, including her son, did not involve in any illegal activities on the coup night and highlighted that they were taken to different locations at the behest of their superiors, without touching any weapon. And forensic reports confirmed her claims.

Lawyers of the Presidency were present in the courtroom when 256 former cadets were sentenced to life in prison. Çetinkaya’s son, Furkan, was one of them receiving a sentence of life imprisonment.

Melek Çetinkaya tried hard to have her voice heard on social media. She has taken her struggle a step further by staging protests in favor of jailed cadets in Ankara’s crowded streets.

Her fight also brought other mothers together. Cadets’ mothers got detained whenever they cried out for the plight of cadets sentenced to life in prison.

Çetinkaya has been taking to the streets for three months to draw public attention, and she was taken into police custody for hours in each attempt.

Çetinkaya, trying to reach out to the public through her Youtube channel, has announced her plan to start a “March for Justice” from Ankara to Istanbul.

She said she would hold the March for Justice for cadets sentenced to life in prison, jailed pregnant women, children in prison, and dismissed public servants.

March for Justice, which kicked off on January 19 in Ankara’s Guven Park, met a police intervention which saw the arrest of Çetinkaya along with 66 people.

Police encircled Guven Park and surrounded the protestors. It was a clear message saying that police would not allow a march of 450 km between Ankara and Istanbul.

Çetinkaya was detained right after stepping out of the metro, before making to Guven Park where the march would start.

“I am an aggrieved mom. You gave life sentences to 19 years-old cadets. We have been silent for three and a half years, but you will no longer be able to silence us. Justice will be served in this country,” Çetinkaya said while being dragged away by police.

Pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) MP Omer Faruk Gergerlioglu was among the protestors when police waded in to disperse the group. Gergerlioglu confirmed the police intervention on his twitter account, saying, “Police violently suppressed Çetinkaya’s march for justice.” He also noted that the police physically assaulted him along with other protestors.

Police held Çetinkaya in detention for hours before releasing her late in the evening. And she was detained each day when she attempted to attend the march. Police went even further by apprehending Çetinkaya right after she left her home on January 21.

Anti-Terror Police took the stage this time. Çetinkaya was taken to Ankara’s Counter-Terrorism department. She had to endure waiting for hours while facing the wall and with her hands cuffed.

Police mocked her height and questioned her about how she learned to use social media. They did not provide her with a bed or mattress, and she had to sleep on the concrete ground.

Some people recorded videos on metros and buses to raise awareness about Çetinkaya’s situation. Those who recorded videos became the target of Erdogan’s fanatics.

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Politics

Erdogan publicly acknowledges giving instructions to judiciary

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan slammed the judges who  acquitted a former Turkish general and, for the first time, publicly admitted that he had given instructions to the judiciary.

Turkey has seen the dismissal of more than 30,000 Turkish military personnel from the army and the detention of thousands of former soldiers since the still-controversial failed coup attempt on 15 July 2016. The imprisoned military officers have received jail times ranging between 6 years and a life sentence in prison.

While the discussions about whether Erdogan used the coup attempt to re-design the Turkish army is still going on, Erdogan admitted his instructions to the judiciary to punish Turkish soldiers.

Acquittal of Turkish general angered Erdogan

Lieutenant General Metin İyidil was detained pending trial for three years and sentenced to life in prison over his alleged involvement in the coup attempt. However, the appeal court quashed the lower court’s ruling upon İyidil’s appeal and ruled acquittal and release of İyidil.

Metin İyidil

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP)’s arguments concerning the coup attempt have grown more controversial following the acquittal of a military general.

Any attempt to question the failed coup attempt is viewed as a taboo in Turkey. Prosecutors launch investigations right away into any claim towards the questioning of the trueness of the 15 July coup. The acquittal of İyidil has rekindled discussions on the coup, and the Turkish judiciary whose impartiality is disputed has taken action soon and ordered the re-arrest of İyidil.

Erdogan made some remarks in a press conference about İyidil’s case before flying off to Berlin for a conference on Libya’s civil war.

“It is a very upsetting development for the (Turkish) judiciary, it is not (even) understandable. How could a court take such kind of action? We have given the necessary orders”, Erdogan said in the press conference.

He further noted in his statement, “How could a court acquit or release a man previously sentenced to life in prison? Thanks to efforts of the Ministry of Justice and our prosecutors, he was apprehended soon later in a joint operation with the Ministry of Internal Affairs. He is now in prison and has started serving his sentence”.

Problem of judicial impartiality in Turkey

Erdogan’s regime purged about 5,000 judges and prosecutors over the past three years, and some 2,500 of them were put behind bars. The two members of the country’s top court (Constitutional Court) remain in prison. Erdogan has acquired the power with the new presidential system to appoint members of Turkey’s high courts, such as the Constitutional Court, the Court of Cassation, and Conseil d’Etat.

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Politics

No access to basic rights for decree-law victims 

A sizeable number of Turkish citizens do not have access to fundamental rights. Erdogan regime labels them in three letters: “KHK,” which is the Turkish abbreviation for decrees that have the force of law enacted by emergency powers, also known as decree-laws.

The social security numbers of these people are flagged with certain numbers for all employers and institutions to recognize that they are blacklisted by the government.

They are barred from civil service, they are not permitted to have a passport, banks do not give loans them, in some cases they don’t even open accounts, and it is near-impossible for these people to find a job in the private sector.

Thousands of these people, most of whom are college graduates, are in prison.

Many decree-laws were issued after the state of emergency that was declared after the controversial July 15, 2016 coup attempt in Turkey. KHK is the abbreviation for Decree-Laws.

With these so-called temporary measures, about 150 thousand public employees were dismissed. The majority of them are Gulen Movement affiliates. Some of them are pro-Kurdish and leftist activists.

The government defends the dismissal of thousands of people, pointing at the aftermath of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Presidential Spokesman Ibrahim Kalin defends the actions of the Erdogan administration with the following words; “after the merger, 500 thousand public employees in East Germany were dismissed.” However, in Germany, these people were paid compensation and benefited from the welfare state rights.

In Turkey, on the other hand, health insurance and social assistance card that is called “green card” is not given to the people dismissed by decree-laws. One hundred fifty thousand people dismissed by decree-laws were not paid compensation too.

Even withdrawing money from banks is a problem

Teacher Suzan Uzpak’s brother sent money to her from abroad. The bank officer said that she couldn’t pay the amount that was sent by a Vakıfbank transaction. Uzpak was told that it was due to her dismissal by a decree-law. “The system gave a ‘banned’ warning, and similar occasions occurred previously too,” bank officials said.

Another victim of the decree-laws announced on Twitter that Garanti Bank resisted not to open a bank account on his name. Upon public pressure, Garanti Bank had to backtrack. However, the memo sent by the bank read, “We are just opening an account; you do not have the right to use loans, EFT, wire transfer, and internet banking.” The Spanish BBVA owns Garanti Bank. This practice became the subject of a heated debate in Turkey as many questioned the possibility of such demands being made by a bank operating in an EU member country elsewhere in Europe.

Insurance Company did not make the due payment

What H.B. experienced is more striking. His wife had a car accident. Doğa Insurance did not pay the 20,000 Liras damage citing the ownership of the vehicle, for it belonged to a person dismissed by a decree-law.

In Turkey, the banks and insurance companies are monitored by the Banking Regulation and Supervision Board (BDDK), which regulates the financial sector. Board sent an official letter and a blacklist to banks warning them not to make any transaction for the people dismissed by decree-laws.

Social services denied

Teachers make up the majority of people dismissed by decree-laws; almost all of them are university graduates and well-educated people. However, they cannot find jobs due to the decree-law codes that appear on their social security records. Teacher Cemil Özen is one of them. He says they were left to starvation for three years. His application for the Green Card that is obtainable for the poorest group of people in Turkey was rejected because he was one of the people dismissed by a decree-law.

Leaving the country is also forbidden

People dismissed by decree-laws are sentenced to civil death in Turkey, and they are likewise not allowed to go abroad. Seher Kılıç, one of the most qualified people who could find work abroad, tells her experiences as follows: “I haven’t been able to get a passport for three and a half years. I asked why I couldn’t obtain a passport with an application letter. They said there is annotation next to my identity number ‘Banned, Passport cannot be given.’ My credit cards were canceled, I can’t get new ones. I have problems withdrawing the money sent by my family who lives in abroad.”

Mehmet Alkan, who was expelled from the Turkish Armed Forces, is a graduate of the Faculty of Law. However, he cannot work because his lawyer’s certificate has been canceled: Being one of a decree-law dismissed people means you are socially banned. You have no rights at all.”

Ayşe Düzkan, the interim editor of the Özgür Gündem daily which was shut down through a decree-law, tells about the actions of the HSCB, an international bank: “After I got out of prison, HSCB didn’t want to provide service to me. No calls were made to notify me. One day I couldn’t withdraw money from the ATM. I called the bank and found out that they blocked my accounts. I got my money from the office, and my cards were canceled.”

Working for private companies is no option

The reason why thousands of people who were dismissed by decree-laws such as doctors, teachers, police, and engineers cannot find a career in the private sector is the “Banned” annotation that appears next to their social security numbers. Authorities issue separate codes for those who were dismissed from the civil service, those who graduated from schools that were shut down by decree-laws or who are subscribed to newspapers that were shut down similarly.

For instance, some people have the annotation “36” inscribed next to their social security number. When they apply for a job, employers who do not want to draw the ire of the government or tax officers see that annotation and do not employ them.

Thousands of well-educated citizens of Turkey, they can neither go abroad because of travel bans nor find a job in Turkey. Some of these people, who are exposed to civil death, lost their lives while attempting to flee Turkey illegally.

English teacher Uğur Abdurrezzak and his wife Ayşe Abdurezzak, a Turkish-language teacher, were among them. They were both dismissed by a decree-law over their affiliations with the Gulen Movement. The whole family perished along with their children, eleven, and three years old. Their boat capsized as they tried to cross the border with Greece through the Maritza river.

The people dismissed by decree-laws in Turkey established a Youtube channel called KHKTV, as they try to have their voice heard. The decree-law platforms, which they founded in various provinces, are constantly under pressure from the government, and the authorities frequently ban the meetings they want to hold.

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