by instituDE, published on 1 APRIL 2024


"Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan suffers an electoral disaster", The Economist

Turkey's opposition scored a spectacular upset in local elections on March 31st, winning control of the country's biggest cities, surging past the ruling Justice and Development (AK) party nationwide, and handing Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the country's president, a stinging rebuke. 

Only ten months after a poor showing in Turkey's general elections, in which it squandered a golden opportunity to unseat Mr Erdogan, the country's main opposition party managed to redraw its political map. The result is the veteran CHP’s best showing in any election, local or general, since the late 1970s. For the first time in decades, the opposition also made major inroads in small towns and villages, traditionally the source of the AK's core support. 

The election seems sure to reshape national politics. A victory for AK would have made it easier for Mr Erdogan to push ahead with introducing a new constitution, probably designed to give him at least another term. The scale of AK's losses in Istanbul and elsewhere means his appetite for such changes, which would have to be put to a referendum, may now be diminished or gone altogether. 

Already the opposition's most recognisable politician [Imamoglu], the 52-year-old now has a clear path to the CHP's leadership and a run in the 2028 presidential elections. Meanwhile Mr Erdogan is in a pickle. "He may even have to contemplate an early election or a transition back to a parliamentary system," says Mr Esen. Turkey's leader knows that if he or his successor were to lose to Mr Imamoglu, AK would be left powerless, he says. "For him that's a nightmare scenario."

"Moscow concert attack: Suspects travelled to Turkey to renew Russian visa" by Ragip Soylu, Middle East Eye

Two men accused of carrying out the 22 March attack on Moscow's Crocus City concert hall travelled to Turkey in February to renew their visa-free stay in Russia, according to Turkish authorities. 

Saidakrami Murodali Rachabalizoda and Shamsidin Fariduni, both Tajik nationals, entered Turkey from Russia in February, a Turkish official told Middle East Eye. "As there were no alerts against them, they could freely travel back and forth between Turkey and Russia with their passports."

Both men were reported to have returned to Moscow on the same flight on 2 March. "We believe that these individuals were radicalised in Russia, as the brief duration of their stay is insufficient for such a process of radicalisation," the Turkish official said.

"Ecevit's Last Words: Turkey's Strategic Autonomy" by Hasim Tekines, The Institute for Diplomacy and Economy

The way the AKP has changed Turkey's foreign policy is a contentious issue. Its ideology, a combination of populist Islamism and Turkish nationalism, comes to the forefront as the principal driving force of this policy (or policies) in the literature. Bülent Ecevit, a leading leftist politician in Turkey's modern history, had a Turkey vision that was not much different from AKP's in terms of these three key tenets of Turkish foreign policy although he would oppose Erdogan's instrumentalization of religion and hot-tempered populism.

Mehmet Cetingulec's interviews with Ecevit in his last years provides a rich perspective to the memories of a veteran politician. Ecevit'in Anıları: 12 Yıl Saklı Tutulan "Veda" Sohbetleri (Ecevit's Memories: "Farewell" conversations which were kept hidden for 12 years) constitutes those interviews.

Foreign policy issues, particularly Turkey's relationship with the United States and European countries, constitute a significant part in the interviews. Ecevit strongly favors a Turkey that pursues a multifaceted foreign policy that cultivates relations with the Middle Eastern and Central Asian countries. 

Ecevit would probably oppose Erdogan's Islamism in foreign policy. He would also criticize him for his hot-tempered and populist diplomacy. However, Ecevit's memories are useful to understand contemporary CHP's support for Erdogan's military operations in Syria and Iraq or anti-American stance. It shows that strategic autonomy in foreign policy, military expansionism, and transactionalism in Turkish-American relations have an appeal across ideologies in Turkey's political landscape.


Ruling party suffers setback as opposition gains ground in local elections

Turkish President Erdogan and his party faced electoral setbacks in nationwide local elections on March 31, reaffirming the opposition's political influence and solidifying Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu as Erdogan's primary rival.

Imamoglu held a nearly 10-point lead in the Istanbul mayoral race, while the Republican People's Party (CHP) retained control of Ankara and secured nine additional mayorships in major cities across Turkey. In Ankara, thousands of CHP supporters celebrated as Mayor Mansur Yavas delivered a victory speech after defeating his AKP opponent.

Republican People's Party (CHP) leader Ozgur Ozel addressed the audience at the CHP headquarters in Ankara province, highlighting the reciprocated relationship between CHP and various segments of society, including retirees, young individuals, unappointed teachers, internship victims, and others who feel overlooked. "As pledged, the CHP has surpassed the 25 percent barrier," Ozel said.

Unofficial results revealed that the AKP and its main ally lost ten major cities, including Bursa and Balikesir in the northwest.

AKP Chairman and President Erdogan addressed his party's headquarters. Erdogan congratulated the newly elected mayors and affirmed, 'As the government, we remain committed to supporting all local administrators elected by our nation, empowering them in their endeavours for the betterment of their cities." 

Furthermore, Erdogan underscored the importance of critically assessing the outcomes of the March 31st Local Elections, stating, "We will engage in self-critique with courage, examining the reasons behind any setbacks. We will take necessary corrective actions wherever we have encountered losses or fallen short."

The pro-Kurdish party, which supported Imamoglu in 2019, ran its own candidate in Istanbul under the DEM banner. However, many Kurds set aside party allegiance and voted for Imamoglu again. 

The DEM party maintained its strength in the predominantly Kurdish southeast, winning 10 provinces. 

The most unexpected outcome of the elections was the rise of the New Welfare Party, securing third place and capturing 2 provinces from the AKP.

The unofficial results are as follows: CHP 37.74%, AKP 35.49%, New Welfare Party 6.19%, DEM 5.68%, MHP 4.98%, Victory Party 1.73%, Saadet 1.09%. 

AKP's mayoral candidate accused of importing Israeli waste 

Investigative journalist Metin Cihan revealed that despite Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's criticism of Israel's military actions in Gaza, a company owned by a mayoral candidate from Erdogan's ruling party is importing Israeli waste into Turkey. 

Cihan pointed out that Akbulut Plastik, owned by Mustafa Akbulut, a candidate for mayor of Adana's Seyhan district from Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP), is engaged in importing and disposing of waste from Israel. 

Cihan's findings, supported by publicly available data and images showing plastic waste with Hebrew text in Adana, suggest that Turkish companies, including Akbulut Plastik, recycle some of the waste while the remainder is either incinerated in cement factories or, worse, directly disposed of into the environment.


Former Central Bank economist: Recent interest rate hike due to reserve loss

Hakan Kara, former chief economist of the Central Bank, stated on his social media account that the recent interest rate decision by the Central Bank was not aimed at curbing inflation, contrary to popular belief. Kara claimed that the decision to raise interest rates was made due to a loss of foreign reserves.

According to Kara, the Central Bank has sold approximately $25 billion from its reserves in the last 5 weeks. Kara cited the $3.2 billion increase in the banking sector's foreign currency deposits during the week of March 15-22 as evidence for his claim.

Central Bank reserves decline for 10 consecutive weeks

For 10 consecutive weeks, the Central Bank's reserves have been on a decline. As of March 22, according to weekly money and banking statistics, the Central Bank's gross foreign exchange reserves dropped by $4.21 billion to $70.68 billion, a decrease from $74.89 billion on March 15.

The total reserves of the Central Bank also decreased by $4.053 billion in the week of March 22 compared to the previous week, falling from $127.897 billion to $123.844 billion. The Central Bank's net reserves decreased from $19.6 billion to $15.2 billion compared to the previous week.

Net reserves excluding swaps declined by $5.4 billion compared to the previous week, dropping from minus $59.7 billion to minus $65.1 billion, marking a historic low.

Erdogan acknowledges inflation concerns, but expresses confidence in finance minister

Turkish President Erdogan acknowledged that recent increases in the minimum wage and pension payments have not kept up with the rapid rise in inflation.

Speaking at a campaign rally in Aksaray province on March 26, Erdogan admitted that the increases in minimum wage and pensions are insufficient to offset the inflationary pressures.

Erdogan emphasized that tackling inflation is a top priority for his government, stating that they have a plan in place to bring it under control. 

Erdogan also expressed his full confidence in Finance Minister Mehmet Şimşek, dismissing widespread speculation about an impending shakeup of the country's economic team. 

Addressing a rally in the eastern city of Batman, Erdogan acknowledged Turkey's inflation challenges but affirmed a commitment to the government's existing economic policies. 

He highlighted his confidence in Mehmet Şimşek regarding economic matters, emphasizing that positive outcomes from the government's economic program are expected in the second half of the year.

Turkey secures €500 million EBRD support for earthquake-affected regions

The Treasury and Finance Ministry and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on March 26 for financial aid worth 500 million euros (nearly $543 million) to help regions affected by last year's earthquakes.

A delegation led by EBRD First Vice President Jürgen Rigterink met with Treasury and Finance Minister Mehmet Şimşek, and during the visit, a memorandum of understanding was signed for the financing package. 

This funding will be channelled to municipalities through the Iller Bank to support projects in water, drinking water, sewage, solid waste, and transportation sectors. Financial aid is expected to be provided in 2024 and 2025.

"Gold Smuggling Spikes in Turkey on Growing Gap With World Market" by Patrick Sykes and Firat Kozok, Bloomberg

Turkey is facing a surge in gold smuggling as people seek to profit from the country's growing premium to international markets due to a cap on imports. Security forces have seized about 350 kilograms of smuggled gold at border crossings so far this year, already more than 60% of what they found in the whole of 2023. 

Demand grew so much that last August the government announced a quota system for bullion imports, in a bid to narrow the current account deficit.

Organized criminals – or even just opportunistic holidaymakers – who make it to Turkey can sell their gold at a premium of around 7% above international markets, or $5,000 per kilogram, according to Bloomberg calculations based on prices at Istanbul's 15th-century Grand Bazaar.

Travelers are legally allowed to bring gold or jewelery worth up to $15,000 each into the country for "non-commercial" use without declaring it, according to the Trade Ministry's website.


Turkish authorities detain 70 allegedly linked to Gulen movement

On March 29th, Turkish Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya announced that 70 people were detained across 20 provinces for their alleged ties to the Gülen movement. 

Yerlikaya stated that among those detained were individuals suspected of being involved in the movement's infiltration of the police force, as well as those accused of using the ByLock messaging app to communicate secretly with others within the movement. Some detainees had their sentences upheld by the Supreme Court of Appeals and were still at large. 

Some university libraries lack even one book per student

Several university libraries in Turkey lack sufficient books, with some having less than one book per student, according to the daily Milliyet.

The average number of printed books per student in universities is 6.98. 33 universities have 10 or more printed books per student, while 8 universities have over 20 books. Surprisingly, 4 universities have less than one book per student.

The university with the highest number of printed books per student is Istanbul 29 Mayıs University, with 45.58 books, followed by İhsan Doğramacı Bilkent University and Galatasaray University.


Turkey's dual role: key role in Ukrainian and Russian ammunition supply chain

Bloomberg claimed that the US is in discussions to increase its procurement of explosives from Turkey to enhance the production of artillery shells as allies rush to provide much-needed ammunition to Ukraine.

In late February, the Pentagon announced that it had awarded General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems a contract to establish three 155 mm projectile metal parts lines in Texas, with involvement from Turkish subcontractors. General Dynamics stated that the plant in Mesquite, Texas, is set to begin production in June.

Sources indicate that Repkon, a Turkish defense firm, is anticipated to manufacture approximately 30% of all US-made 155mm artillery shells by 2025. Additionally, the Defense Department has secured the purchase of 116,000 rounds of battle-ready ammunition from Turkey's Arca Defense for delivery this year, with plans for further acquisitions expected for next year.

Bloomberg also highlights that the US collaboration with Turkey in ammunition procurement underscores a difference in strategy compared to the EU. Despite the EU's aim to supply Ukraine with 1 million shells by March, it faced delays due to production issues and resistance from France, Greece, and Cyprus, which hindered the utilization of funds for purchases from Turkey.

On the other hand, Turkey's role in the conflict extends beyond supplying Ukraine, as it also plays a significant part in Russia's ammunition supply chain. Turkey alone provides half of the nitrocellulose required by Russia for artillery shell production, sourcing it from the West and selling it to Russia despite the embargo.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Russian imports of nitrocellulose surged 70% in 2022, and one small company in Turkey is responsible for nearly half of Russia's imports of nitrocellulose.

Erdogan: Turkey to back NATO Chief candidate based on its expectations

The Turkish presidency announced that President Tayyip Erdogan told Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte during a phone call on March 31 that Ankara would support a candidate for NATO's new chief based on its expectations and requirements.

Erdogan conveyed to Rutte that Turkey expects the new leader of the security alliance to address the allies' needs and interests regarding counter-terrorism and consider the concerns of non-European Union member allies.

Biden in May to host Erdogan in first bilateral visit to Washington 

U.S. President Joe Biden is preparing to host Tayyip Erdogan at the White House on May 9, marking Erdogan's first bilateral visit to Washington, according to US and Turkish officials on March 29 speaking to Reuters.

A US official stated that Washington views the meeting as an opportunity for Erdogan to agree to a complete ban on the shipment of dual-use goods through Turkey, which the US claims Russia utilizes in its conflict in Ukraine.

One of the Turkish officials confirming the May visit described it as occurring during "a window of opportunity" for bilateral relations. The official added, "We hope the visit will also allow for deeper cooperation in various areas and strengthen the spirit of alliance, particularly in counter-terrorism efforts." 

During the visit, the Biden administration aims to secure Ankara's commitment to imposing a ban on designated "dual-use" goods, such as chemicals and microchips, to Russia and other countries acting as entry points, the US official added.