by Institude, pusblished on 18 March 2024


"Turkey is about to get the consent of the Iraqi Government for a military operation" by Mustafa Enes Esen, Institute for Diplomacy and Economy

Turkey is preparing to launch another incursion into northern Iraq, aiming to establish a 30-40 km deep buffer zone to counter the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). To rally support for its operation, Turkish officials have engaged in shuttle diplomacy with local stakeholders in Iraq. They have held several meetings with Kurdish leaders in Erbil, the Iranian-backed Popular Mobilization Forces or Al-Hashd al-Shaabi, and most recently, with Iraqi officials in Baghdad.

If Turkey can secure the backing of the Iraqi central government in Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government in Erbil; opposition to a military operation from Western countries such as the USA, France, and Germany will be mostly muted. Besides, within the international context of the war in Ukraine and Gaza, Western governments do not have much luxury of antagonizing Turkey in an operation carried out with the consent of a sovereign government.

The key difference between these past operations and the upcoming one is that previously, Turkish troops entered Iraqi territory to pursue the PKK and then retreated to Turkish territory after hitting their targets. This time, Turkey will establish permanent bases and more outposts deep within Iraq. This strategic shift signals a more enduring commitment to combatting the PKK and securing its borders.

Iraq seeks comprehensive agreements covering oil, water, and developmental initiatives in exchange for its consent. It appears that Turkey is prepared to make concessions on these significant issues to Baghdad.

This military operation will represent a continuation of Turkey's persistent efforts to create a buffer zone within Syria and Iraq since 2016. Turkey's current approach to launching a military operation in Syria and Iraq appears to be strategically motivated rather than for domestic political consumption. To this end, Ankara is prioritizing diplomatic efforts to get support from local and international stakeholders. This deliberate and patient approach indicates a more calculated and long-term strategy in combating the PKK insurgency. However, it is essential to recognize that while the use of force may provide short-term security solutions, addressing the socio-economic root causes of the conflict is crucial for sustainable peace. Without addressing these underlying issues, complications are likely to arise in the future.

"Political Symbols and Decoding Turkey's S-400 Decision" by Hasim Tekines, Institute for Diplomacy and Economy

Turkey's purchase of S-400 air defense systems from Russia continues puzzling political scientists even after years. In many ways, it had been to contrary to Ankara's rational calculations. S-400 systems were not interoperable with NATO's defense and radar systems. It does not serve to Turkey's strategic needs. Besides, Ankara has not even activated the system for years. Then what does explain this politically, economically, and strategically costly decision that has not brought any added value to Turkey's military power or defense?

In their article, titled 'Symbolic Amplification and Suboptimal Weapons Procurement: Explaining Turkey's S-400 Program,' Lisel Hintz and David E. Banks argues that S-400s, thanks to the government propaganda, have turned into a political symbol of defiance against the US and strategic autonomy so much that President Erdogan could not retract his S-400 decision. Hintz and Banks find the explanations that international theories prove insufficient to solve the S-400 puzzle.

The authors suggest that President Erdogan and his government have become a victim of their own political symbol. Erdogan and AKP leaders promoted S-400s as the icon of national cause. Ambiguity and polysemy of the symbol allowed President Erdogan to consolidate his rule and control by establishing a coalition with a wide spectrum of groups from right to left and from Islamists to seculars.

Hintz and Banks offer a sound theoretical ground and coherent explanation for Turkey's decision to buy S-400s. It well explains the instrumentality of S-400s for Erdogan in domestic politics and how Erdogan's domestic concerns shape his foreign policy decisions. It also explains how he mobilized such a broad coalition under his leadership through a symbol.   

"If Turkey's Opposition Loses the Kurds, It Will Never Win" by Halil Karaveli, Foreign Policy

The upcoming local elections in Turkey on March 31 offer Turkey's progressives—the social democratic main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) and the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Equality and Democracy (DEM) Party—the opportunity to challenge the hegemony of the ruling conservative Justice and Development Party (AKP). A win would also bolster the chances of Istanbul's incumbent CHP mayor, Ekrem Imamoglu, to succeed President Recep Tayyip Erdogan when his term expires in 2028, provided that they display a unity of purpose.

But the polls predict that the race between Imamoglu and his challenger from the AKP, Murat Kurum, is going to be close—and a loss would undermine Imamoglu's future presidential prospects. Some analysts suggest that the incumbent could be facing defeat, given the loss of support from a key constituency, the Kurds. This time, the pro-Kurdish DEM Party has fielded its own, co-mayoral candidates, Meral Danis Bestas and Murat Cepni.

Yet while the defection of Turkish nationalists can prove as costly, the Kurdish defection from Imamoglu has a deeper significance beyond electoral politics. It bespeaks—the CHP's leftward turn on social and economic issues notwithstanding—the impasse of progressive politics in Turkey.

Demirtas no longer proposes that the party join a left bloc with social democrats and socialists. Instead, he recommends that the DEM Party position itself as a third force, equidistant to the AKP and the CHP, and urges it to engage in talks with the AKP to solve the Kurdish issue and to democratize Turkey.

It's reasonable to assume that Demirtas's shift is prompted by a recognition that the AKP seems to be entrenched in power and that the Kurds consequently have no alternative but to seek an understanding with Erdogan. It may also be that the deal that Kilicdaroglu struck with the far right last year convinced Demirtas that the CHP cannot be trusted.

"Kurdish groups gripped by fear as they brace for a US pullout from northeast Syria" by Sean Mathews, Middle East Eye

Battered by Turkish air strikes and stalked by fears of a US military withdrawal, Washington's Kurdish-led allies in northeast Syria are increasingly concerned they will be ditched as "collateral damage" of the war in Gaza.

A rare visit last week to northeast Syria by General Erik Kurilla, the top US military commander in the Middle East, did little to boost confidence in the Kurdish-led autonomous region, officials there told MEE; neither has an extended reduction in attacks by Iran-backed groups on US targets in the region.

"The whole region is on fire and nobody will respond to Turkey's aggression against us when everyone is busy with Gaza. We have asked the US to rein in Turkey, but they have brushed us off," Mahmoud Meslat, co-chair of the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC), the political wing of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), told MEE.

"The Americans told us Turkey would not use the jets against their allies [the SDF]," Meslat, told MEE. "But we think Turkey will do what it wants."

Experts say the deteriorating security conditions in northeast Syria reflect how Ankara is taking the opportunity of better ties with Washington to push its objective of degrading the SDF.

Northeast Syria is home to 95 percent of Syria's oil and gas reserves. In a press conference last month, Mazloum Abdi, commander of the SDF, said Turkey's strikes on commercial sites and infrastructure had cost the cash-strapped SDF 50 percent of its budget."


Justice minister leaves door open for Erdogan's possible re-election

Justice Minister Yılmaz Tunc said President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan could re-run for the Presidency if Parliament calls early elections. Tunc's comments came after Erdoğan stated that the upcoming local elections on March 31 would be his last as per the law. Tunc told reporters on March 12 that if Parliament decides on early elections, it would allow the President to run for a third term.

Erdoğan's remarks sparked speculation that he might seek re-election if the law is amended. Under Turkey's constitution, the President can only serve for a renewable five-year term if elections proceed as scheduled.

Turkish opposition leader to meet Palestinian President in April

During a Ramadan fast-breaking dinner in İzmir on March 12, the leader of Turkey's main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), Özgür Özel, announced his plans to visit the Palestinian de facto capital city of Ramallah on April 15.

He stated that he would meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas during the visit while making it clear that he would not meet with any representatives from the militant group Hamas. Ozel emphasized his decision not to engage with Hamas members due to his belief that their attack on Israel on October 7, resulting in approximately 1,200 casualties, constituted an act of terrorism.

Over a million first-time voters to participate in local elections

The state-run Anadolu news agency reported that on March 15, more than a million people in Turkey aged 18 and above will be casting their votes for the first time in the upcoming local elections on March 31.

The data from Turkey's Supreme Board of Elections (YSK) revealed that out of the 61.4 million registered voters, 50.59 percent are women, and 49.41 percent are men. In the presidential runoff held on May 28, 2023, there were 60,771,236 registered voters.


Turkish Central Bank orders lenders to increase Lira reserves

Turkey's central bank issued a directive on March 15 instructing lenders to allocate portions of their lira-required reserves into blocked accounts, as outlined in a document sent on March 13. This measure is expected to tighten liquidity and increase deposit rates. Following the Reuters report, bank stocks experienced a nearly 5% decline.

According to the central bank document revealed by Reuters, banks with asset sizes exceeding 100 billion liras ($3.11 billion) are required to block 15% of their lira-required reserves starting Friday. Similarly, banks with assets surpassing 500 billion liras ($15.57 billion) must block 25% of their lira-required reserves.

This action is the latest attempt by authorities to address inflation concerns, which reached 67% last month, prompting expectations for further monetary tightening.

Turkish Central Bank reserves drop by $6.2 billion in January

According to Turkey's January balance of payments report, the Turkish Central Bank's reserves decreased by $6.2 billion. Ali Hakan Kara, a former chief economist at the bank, noted that the bank had been conducting "record sales" in the past three weeks to stabilize the exchange rate, which has reached historic lows against the US dollar.

High inflation data in January and February led to panic buying of foreign currency by locals. Some analysts express concerns about whether President Erdogan will maintain his orthodox monetary policy if he loses the Istanbul elections.

Britain and Turkey to begin negotiations on expanded free trade agreement

On March 14, Britain and Turkey announced plans to start negotiations for a new Free Trade Agreement (FTA), aiming to incorporate goods and services into the deal.

British Trade Secretary Kemi Badenoch stated that a modernized trade deal would strengthen a robust trade relationship between the two countries. She highlighted the potential of a new agreement to give Britain's services sector a competitive advantage and create job opportunities across the UK.

Turkey's trade ministry confirmed that negotiations, scheduled to begin on June 10 in London, will focus on expanding the FTA to encompass services, investments, agricultural incentives, and comprehensive rules. The ministry emphasized that the updated FTA will establish a stronger legal foundation for businesses in both countries, fostering economic cooperation and growth across various sectors.

Turkey leads Europe in income inequality, ranks 28th globally

According to the Gini coefficient, Turkey holds the highest rank for income inequality among European countries and stands 28th globally out of 130 nations. The Gini coefficient measures income distribution within a society, with a value of "0" indicating perfect equality and "1" indicating complete inequality.

In recent years, Turkey has witnessed a widening wealth gap, with the poor facing increasing hardship while the rich accumulate wealth rapidly. Furthermore, the share of national income allocated to workers has declined while that of corporations has risen.

Eurostat's latest data for Turkey in 2021 reveals a Gini coefficient of 42.6, placing Turkey at the forefront among 36 European countries for income inequality. Surprisingly, several African and Asian nations, including Djibouti, Iran, Malaysia, Tanzania, Kenya, Senegal, Mali, and Nigeria, fare better than Turkey regarding income equality.

Turkey's GDP per capita reaches $13,110 in 2023

According to TurkStat, Turkey's gross domestic product (GDP) per capita hit $13,110 in 2023, marking the first time it has reached this level. The increased GDP represents a 52% increase from the GDP per capita of $8,600 in 2020. Despite this rise, Turkey's global ranking remains at 69th place, the same as in 2003.

Economists claim that when factoring in refugees and dollar inflation, the actual GDP per capita in dollar terms has declined by over 20% in the past decade. Economist Mahfi Egilmez attributes this discrepancy to the exclusion of millions of migrants from the population count used to calculate per capita income, resulting in an overstated income for Turkish citizens.

"Egypt's Pound Plunge Gives Turkey Textile-Makers a New Sanctuary" by Taylan Bilgic, Bloomberg

Turkish textile manufacturers are weighing a shift in manufacturing investments to Egypt due to the North African country's weaker currency and promises of reforms. Producers in Turkey — the seventh-biggest exporter of apparel globally — are weighed down by the combination of a higher minimum wage than their peers and a currency they say is too strong.

Egypt has emerged as an alternative manufacturing base, Turkish businesses said, citing a nearly 40% decline in its currency last week and lower energy costs. Egypt's shift toward "rational" policies makes it a formidable rival on Turkey's doorstep and companies with investments there are already weighing possible expansions of their facilities, according to Seref Fayat, head of the apparel division at Turkey's Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges of Turkey. Advantages include a free trade agreement with the US and labor costs at about 30% of those in Turkey.


President Erdogan urges truth at rally amidst rising prosecutions for insulting Presidency

During his party's rally in İzmir Gundogdu Square on March 10, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan urged people to speak truthfully to him, stating, "Don't hesitate, shout the truth to our faces. Shout so that we can see our mistakes and correct ourselves."

However, data from the Ministry of Justice reveals a concerning trend: over 52,000 people have been prosecuted for 'insulting the presidency' in the past four years. In 2019 alone, 13,731 people faced judicial proceedings for insulting the President or government, with the numbers increasing in subsequent years: 9,560 in 2020, 12,304 in 2021, and 16,753 in 2022.

The numbers indicate a notable increase in cases over the years despite President Erdogan's call for openness and criticism.

CoE declares Turkey in "serious breach" of Human Rights Convention

The Council of Europe's Committee of Ministers declared Turkey in "serious breach" of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and rule of law principles due to the prolonged detention of Osman Kavala.

The declaration followed a review of Turkey's compliance with European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) judgments on the cases of Kavala and Kurdish leader Selahattin Demirtas during their recent meeting on March 12-14. The committee expressed deep concern over Kavala's nearly six-and-a-half years of detention despite the ECtHR's calls for his immediate release.

However, the committee opted for a path focused on dialogue and cooperation rather than taking immediate punitive actions despite Turkey's failure to comply with ECtHR rulings. This approach has sparked concerns among observers about the effectiveness of the council's strategy in holding member states accountable for human rights violations and upholding the rule of law.

Dozens of DEM Party officials detained across Turkey ahead of local elections

In the past three months, a total of 266 people, including executives, workers, and volunteers of the Peoples' Equality and Democracy Party (DEM Party), have been detained across Turkey ahead of the upcoming local elections. Among those detained are 93 people, including municipality council members, youth council members, provincial and district co-chairs, and activists associated with other organizations.

Sevda Celik Ozbingol, Co-Spokesperson of the DEM Party Legal Commission, said that such detentions occur regularly during election periods. Ozbingol highlighted organized attacks in various provinces, especially Istanbul, Izmir, Ankara, Urfa, Mersin, and Diyarbakır.

Ozbingol condemned these actions as unjust attacks and expressed confidence that voters would respond at the ballot box.

Turkish security forces detain soldiers and cadets over alleged Gulen links

Police and gendarmerie forces conducted early house raids on March 12 in seven provinces to detain soldiers and former military cadets with alleged ties to the Gulen movement. The raids were part of an İzmir-based investigation, resulting in detention warrants for 23 people, including nine soldiers, six on active duty, and 14 former cadets. Eighteen people were detained during the raids.

The detainees were targeted based on witness testimonies accusing them of Gülen affiliation and alleged phone communications.

Turkish Parliament amends controversial law without altering its essence

The Turkish Parliament made revisions to a contentious law after the country's Constitutional Court declared the original version unconstitutional due to its vague wording and potential for arbitrary enforcement. The amendments, published in the Official Gazette, specifically address Article 220 § 6 of the Turkish Penal Code.

This article penalized people for committing crimes on behalf of an organization without being its members. The revisions specify that such acts are punishable by a prison sentence ranging from two-and-a-half to six years, with potential reductions for certain offenses.

Despite the court's ruling urging Parliament to revise the law, the recent amendment primarily changes the wording without altering its essence, retaining the framework deemed unconstitutional by the Constitutional Court. The critics see this decision by the legislature as a pattern of disregarding judicial rulings.


Greek Prime Minister plans to visit Ankara in May

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis revealed on March 12 his plans to visit Ankara in May, marking another milestone in the ongoing diplomatic reconciliation between Greece and Turkey. This thaw in relations follows Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan's visit to Greece in December. Mitsotakis expressed optimism about the potential for both countries to overcome their differences and prevent further tensions.

President Erdogan to visit Iraq by end of April, says Deputy Foreign Minister

Deputy Foreign Minister Ahmet Yıldız announced on March 13 that President Erdoğan will visit Iraq before April ends. Yıldız stated that based on planning and preparations, the visit is scheduled to take place within this timeframe.

During Yıldız's recent trip to Baghdad, he held talks with Ambassador Muhammad Hussein Muhammad Bahr Al Ulum, Iraq's Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs. Yildiz said both sides discussed key bilateral issues and exchanged perspectives on significant regional developments.

President Erdogan's last visit to Iraq was in 2012 when he served as Prime Minister.

Turkish and Iraqi officials hold talks on security measures against PKK

Senior officials from Turkey and Iraq met in Baghdad on March 14 to discuss security issues, including potential measures against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in Iraq, according to a statement from the Iraqi foreign ministry. The Turkish delegation, comprising Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan, Defence Minister Yasar Guler, and intelligence chief Ibrahim Kalin, met with Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein and top security officials.

Turkey expressed appreciation for Iraq's consideration of the PKK as a "banned organization" within its borders. The statement said that discussions also focused on preparations for President Tayyip Erdogan's planned visit to Baghdad, scheduled for after Ramadan.