"Turkish-Made Killer Drones in Africa and Mounting Civilian Causalities" by Mustafa Enes Esen, Institute for Diplomacy and Economy
On the night of December 3rd, an army drone targeted a religious gathering in northwest Nigeria, killing at least 85 civilians and injuring 66 others during the observance of the Prophet Muhammad's birthday (Maulud). The Nigerian army has taken responsibility, clarifying that it was conducting a routine mission against bandits but inadvertently affected the civilian community. The Nigerian military probably employed Turkish-made armed drones, leading to this unintended outcome. Unfortunately, this is not the first time Turkish drones have been involved in civilian killings in Africa.
Another notable example was the Ethiopian Air Forces' TB2 deployment against Tigrayan rebels in January 2022. The Ethiopian Air Forces targeted an internally displaced people camp, resulting in the death of more than 60 civilians. There are also other instances where TB2s are suspected of causing civilian casualties in Africa.
Turkey typically displays utter indifference to the involvement of their drones in the killing of civilians in Africa, whether the incidents are allegedly accidental or intentional. As usual, there was not a word from the Turkish government on the latest strike in Nigeria. While Turkish media covered the incident, mostly through direct translation from the West, there was not even a single mention of a possible involvement of Turkish drones. Several Turkish media outlets, however, have celebrated that the Nigerian government was interested in procuring more arms from Turkey, including TB2 platforms.
As discussed in our report at instituDE on the proliferation of BayrAKtar TB2 Drones and their associated risks, the deployment of armed drones in military operations raises concerns about potential civilian casualties. Even with the best intentions, drone operators may be susceptible to mistakes. Therefore, it is crucial for Turkey to provide extensive and substantiated training for drone operators in Africa. More importantly, Turkey must refrain from exporting its arms to governments that may deploy them against civilians. Failure to do so will undoubtedly result in more civilian casualties, further tarnishing Turkey's perception across the continent.
"Turkey in 2023: Navigating Turbulence - Erdogan's Quest for Normalcy", by Hasim Tekines, Institute for Diplomacy and Economy
Turkey, under the leadership of President Erdogan, made attempts to address some of the shortcomings and turbulence in its policies following his electoral triumph in May 2023. Despite these efforts, the inherently authoritarian and corrupt nature of the regime impeded any genuine strides toward normalization.
Following the elections in May, a noteworthy development was Ankara's endeavor to improve ties with the West. Many observers viewed this as a rational choice for Turkey given its geopolitical rivalries with Russia and Iran. Moreover, the Turkish economy has needed to secure funds from Western countries. However, this optimistic phase was short-lived.
Despite reaping economic benefits from its dual engagement with Russia and Ukraine, this delicate balancing act did not translate into significant political gains.
President Erdogan's major corrective measures focused on the Turkish economy. International investors remain skeptical about the longevity of the new economic team and their policies, given Erdogan's history of changing economic strategies.
Another critical move was Erdogan's appointment to the Interior Ministry, initiating a campaign against some crime syndicates. The new Interior Minister, Ai Yerlikaya, sought to reverse the open-door policy for the criminal world implemented by the previous minister. However, some view this campaign as a continuation of Erdogan's strategy to balance factions within the bureaucracy rather than a genuine effort to establish the rule of law and accountability.
Erdogan's relentless pursuit of power, the establishment of a personal authoritarian regime, and adherence to populist policies have come at a considerable cost to Turkey's democracy, foreign policy, and economy. While he consolidated his rule with the latest electoral victory, Erdogan faces the challenging task of normalizing the country, stabilizing the economy, and curbing excesses. The authoritarian and corrupt characteristics of his regime, however, pose significant obstacles to a comprehensive recovery. Erdogan's policies have weakened institutions, politicized the courts, triggered brain drain, increased corruption, and eroded confidence in the Turkish state. Consequently, international counterparts, investors, and observers harbor doubts about the sustainability and sincerity of Erdogan's normalization initiatives.
"Turkey’s economy has improved, but its foreign policy is still messy", The Economist
Turkey’s new interior minister, Ali Yerlikaya, has launched a belated crackdown on organised crime. Awkwardly, this has exposed Turkey’s role as a magnet for crime syndicates from the Balkans to South America.
Turkish democracy shows no sign of improvement. Many of Mr. Erdogan’s political opponents still languish in prison, particularly Kurds, journalists and civil-society activists. But the economic reforms have won cautious plaudits abroad.
But the reformist current faces three big impediments: Mr. Erdogan’s strongman instincts, his pact with Turkey’s nationalists, and his government’s relationships with Russia and Hamas.
Relations with America, which had improved this summer after Turkey pledged to drop its veto of Sweden’s accession to NATO, are frosty again.
Mr. Erdogan and his Justice and Development (AK) party may eventually realise they have nothing to gain by keeping Sweden on ice, and put accession to a vote, possibly before Christmas. But they may also decide to keep moving the goalposts, further eroding Turkey’s standing in NATO and with America.
A vote in parliament on Sweden’s membership could expose cracks in Turkey’s governing coalition. Mr. Erdogan can count on his own party to vote as instructed. But he has no such control over his main ally, the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), which opposes ratification.
Tensions between AK and the MHP have already begun to come to the surface. Insiders say the government’s war on organised crime has ruffled feathers in the MHP, which has links to some notorious mob bosses. Mr. Erdogan does not want a public spat over Sweden, with municipal elections coming next spring.
The EU and America are also increasingly worried about Turkey’s business dealings with Russia. Western officials have pleaded with Turkey to stop turning a blind eye to companies selling Russia “dual-use” goods, which can be used to produce weapons.
Turkey’s economy is not yet out of the woods, but it is on the right track. After a long hiatus, foreign portfolio investors are starting to trickle back. But long-term investors will not return as long as Mr. Erdogan courts new problems with the West. Politics in Turkey need to follow the economy’s lead.
LEADERS ON THE MOVE
CHP renominates Istanbul and Ankara Mayors for upcoming local election
The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) in Turkey decided to renominate the current mayors of Istanbul and Ankara, Ekrem Imamoglu and Mansur Yavas, respectively, for the upcoming local elections on March 31.
The CHP unveiled its list of mayoral candidates for various municipalities, provinces, towns, and districts on December 14, and the party council approved the list. Additional candidate names will be disclosed gradually based on opinion surveys and reports from lawmakers.
Both mayors had ended the long-standing rule of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in these cities during the 2019 vote.
Homeland Party announces support for Imamoglu in local election
Muharrem Ince, the leader of the Homeland Party, declared that his party will back Ekrem Imamoglu for the position of İstanbul mayor in the upcoming local elections on March 31. Imamoglu, a member of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), seeks re-election after ending the Justice and Development Party (AKP) rule in İstanbul with opposition support in 2019. Ince stated that supporting Imamoglu is crucial to preventing the AKP from securing more municipalities.
This announcement comes as some parties, previously part of an opposition bloc, are opting out of alliances and planning to field their own candidates.
Turkish opposition lawmaker passes away after heart attack in Parliament
A Turkish opposition lawmaker, Hasan Bitmez, passed away on December 14, two days after suffering a heart attack and collapsing in parliament. Bitmez collapsed on December 12 just after delivering a speech critical of Israel and the Turkish ruling party's ties with the country. Health Minister Fahrettin Koca announced Bitmez's death at Ankara City Hospital.
The 53-year-old member of parliament from the Islamist Felicity Party had accused the AKP government in his final speech of maintaining trade relations with Israel despite being one of its outspoken critics.
HEDEP adopts new abbreviation 'DEM' following Supreme Court's rejection
The Peoples’ Equality and Democracy Party changed its acronym from HEDEP to "DEM" after the Supreme Court of Appeals rejected its name change request last month, citing similarities to a party closed down in 2003. The decision was made during a party meeting over the weekend, and the new name was announced on Twitter on December 11. The party claimed that the court's refusal to approve the former acronym was an attempt to disrupt its activities ahead of the March 31 local elections.
Turkey's unemployment rate hits 8.5%, lowest since November 2012
Turkey's unemployment rate reached 8.5 percent in October, marking the lowest level since November 2012 (8.4 percent), as per data released by the Turkish Statistical Institute (TurkStat) on December 11. The unemployment rate saw a 0.5 percentage point drop compared to the previous month. The number of unemployed individuals aged 15 or older decreased by 163,000 to 2.96 million compared to the same period last year.
Ziraat Bank secures €1.75 billion loan from Deutsche Bank
On December 14, Ziraat Bank, a state lender, announced the signing of a 1.75 billion euro ($1.9 billion) loan agreement with Deutsche Bank for a term of up to five years. Ziraat, Turkey's largest lender in terms of both assets and loans, highlighted that this deal signifies the positive trajectory of the Turkish economy. The bank stated that the agreement would enable it to sustain its support for exporters and other key sectors prioritized for economic development.
Presidential decree allows construction on forested land in 11 provinces
In a recent presidential decree, Turkish President Erdogan approved the removal of specific land in 11 provinces from the boundaries of forested areas, allowing construction in these areas. The decree, effective since its publication in the Official Gazette on December 13, has raised concerns about potential deforestation.
The affected provinces include Antalya, Balikesir, Istanbul, Izmir, Kutahya, Manisa, Mugla, Mersin, Sivas, Trabzon, and Yozgat. According to the decree, the Ministry of Environment is mandated to transfer at least twice the amount of the denoted land to the General Directorate of Forestry to plant new trees as compensation for the loss of forestland.
Turkish Airlines expands fleet with 220 new Airbus planes
Turkish Airlines revealed on December 15 its plans to grow its aircraft fleet by ordering 220 new planes from Airbus. The order includes 150 narrow-body A321 Neo aircraft and 50 wide-body A350-900 jets, along with 15 A350-1000 planes and five A350F cargo aircraft.
The airline will also receive engine maintenance services and spare engines for the A350 from Rolls-Royce. With this latest order, Turkish Airlines' total plane order now stands at 504, with 212 planes already delivered, according to Airbus.
Abu Dhabi nears deal to invest in Turkish port
UAE plans to acquire a stake in a crucial Turkish port, marking a significant step towards reconciliation between the once-hostile geopolitical adversaries. According to four informed sources, the deal involves a potential investment by the state-controlled AD Ports Group in an entity to be created by the Turkey Wealth Fund, which would oversee the operations of the Izmir port on the Aegean coast. The sources, requesting anonymity due to the deal's ongoing nature, did not disclose the exact stake size, but one source estimated the deal's value at around $500 million.
Turkey dominates ECtHR caseload with over 33% of pending cases
The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) recently released statistics revealing that Turkey constitutes 33.2 percent of the court's total caseload. With 23,750 pending cases out of 71,450, Turkey ranks ahead of other countries under the court's jurisdiction, surpassing Russia with 12,900 cases and Ukraine with 8,850, according to data from the Strasbourg court.
Biden and Erdogan discuss Gaza conflict, Sweden's NATO bid in phone call
U.S. President Joe Biden and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan had a phone call on December 14 to discuss the Gaza conflict and Sweden's application to join NATO. Erdogan conveyed to Biden that the U.S. bears a historic responsibility to secure a lasting ceasefire in Gaza, suggesting it could be achieved if the U.S. reduced its unconditional support for Israel.
The White House, however, stated that Biden reiterated support for Israel's right to self-defense and emphasized the need for a political solution for the Palestinian people.
As per Erdogan's office, the leaders also touched on various aspects of Turkish-U.S. relations, including F-16 fighter jet sales to Turkey. White House said the leaders discussed the importance of welcoming Sweden as a NATO ally and enhancing Turkey's interoperability with the alliance.
Germany and Turkey reach agreement to train imams locally
On December 14, Germany and Turkey reached an agreement to phase out the deployment of Turkish state-employed imams in Germany and instead train imams within Germany to serve the Turkish immigrant community.
German authorities have long aimed to increase the number of domestically educated imams to reduce foreign influence on Muslim communities. As part of the joint initiative, starting next year, 100 imams will be trained annually in Germany, while the number of imams sent from Turkey will gradually decrease by the same amount.
German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser hailed the agreement as "an important milestone for the integration and participation of Muslim communities in Germany."
The Turkish government has long faced criticism for exerting influence on the immigrant community in Germany through the deployment of Muslim religious leaders.
Justice minister: Somali President's son to face trial in Turkey for fatal Istanbul crash
Turkey's justice minister announced on December 14 that the son of Somalia's president will return to Turkey soon to face trial for a fatal highway crash in Istanbul. The incident involved the car driven by Mohammed Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, the president's son, which struck and killed 38-year-old motorcycle courier Yunus EMr.e Gocer. Gocer passed away in a hospital six days after the crash on December 6.
Following the incident, Turkish authorities issued an arrest warrant for Mohamud and imposed travel restrictions, but reports suggest he had already left the country. Turkey launched an investigation into officials who initially handled the case and allegedly allowed Mohamud to leave without facing charges.
On December 12, Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud denied that his 40-year-old son fled Turkey, stating that he advised him to return and appear in court. President Mohamud said his son remained at the crash scene and stayed in Istanbul for several days after the incident.
Turkey, Romania, and Bulgaria to form joint force to clear mines in Black Sea
Turkey, Romania, and Bulgaria are set to form a joint force to clear mines that have drifted into their Black Sea areas, stemming from the aftermath of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Bloomberg reported. The agreement, expected to be signed next month, marks the first major collective effort among Black Sea nations since the onset of President Vladimir Putin's war on Ukraine in February 2022.
Turkish Defense Minister Yasar Guler announced on December 16 that the three countries' defense ministers plan to hold a signing ceremony in Istanbul on Jan. 11. Guler noted an increasing number of Ukrainian and Russian mines drifting toward the Turkish straits, prompting the need for joint action.