by Institude, published on 25 March 2024


"Why the PUK remains entangled in alleged PKK ties", Renwar Najm, Amwaj.media

Despite efforts to improve relations, tensions persist between Turkey and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), the second largest party in Iraq’s Kurdistan region.

Erdogan described the PUK’s alleged support for the PKK as “utterly reprehensible” and warned that Ankara would take “all necessary measures” to protect itself. Erdogan’s remarks followed a series of other recent warnings by Turkish figures including Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan and National Defense Minister Yaşar Güler.

The Turkish measures are in part an attempt to force Sulaimaniyah to act more in line with its Kurdish rival in Erbil. Kamal Chomani, a political analyst and PhD candidate at Leipzig University, told Amwaj.media that Ankara hopes the PUK will emulate the KDP's complete ban on any pro-PKK activities in the Duhok and Erbil Governorates.

Looking ahead, both Ankara and Sulaimaniyah are cautiously maneuvering to ease tensions—though without compromising too much. The PUK faces a delicate situation. Conceding to Ankara’s demands and Baghdad’s ban on the PKK could alleviate Turkish pressures, from military operation s to the flight ban. But this risks undermining the PUK’s position and credibility. The Sulaimaniyah-based party may see an opportunity to gain political advantage by maintaining its current stance—using links to the PKK as well as strains with Turkey to set it apart from its rival [KDP] in Erbil.

"Has the PKK acquired kamikaze drones to hit Turkish aircraft?" by Ragip Soylu and Levent Kemal, Middle East Eye

The Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) says that it has acquired the capability to shoot down Turkish armed drones operating in Turkey, Iraq, and Syria.

In a statement on Wednesday, accompanied by a video of falling aerial objects, the Kurdish armed group claimed that it has taken down 13 Turkish drones in northern Iraq since 13 February 2023.

Yahya Bostan, a Turkish columnist with access to the government, wrote on Friday that the PKK had acquired "kamikaze" suicide drone technology to try to target Turkish drones.

"The terror group accessed this tech through Bafel Talabani," he said in an article that appeared on government-aligned Yeni Safak daily, referencing the leader of one of the two major Iraqi Kurdish political parties.

Separate sources, who spoke to MEE on condition of anonymity, said that the PKK had acquired Iranian-made Meraj anti-drone kamikaze systems and that these systems were sent to the group through two channels linked to Tehran.

Sources said that the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) that appeared in the PKK's footage displayed no traces of any explosion and seemed to have crashed due to technical problems.

"Alleged concert hall attacker says he traveled to Russia from Turkey" by Bunyamin Tekin, Turkish Minute

A person identified as one of the gunmen in an attack on a Moscow concert hall that left at least 133 dead and injured 120 others said he traveled to Russia from Turkey on March 4, according to a video of the suspect's interrogation published by the Russian state-run RT news outlet.

The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) claimed responsibility for the attack, with the group's Telegram channel sharing photos of the attackers posing in front of an ISIL flag.

In the recorded interrogation, one of the suspects, who spoke in Russian, confessed to firing the shots at the people in the concert hall "for money" and claimed he had received half a million rubles ($5,400). He said he had been recruited for the attack in Turkey by an assistant to a preacher.

Kerim Has, a political scientist and a Russia analyst, suggested that the attack may have been orchestrated by state actors aiming to destabilize Russia amid its war effort and potentially sow discord within Russia's diverse ethnic and religious landscape.

"Turkey is being used as a breeding ground for such militants, where you have access to proxies over the counter," Has said.


Former footballer's mayoral candidacy withdrawn amid bribery allegations

The Workers Party of Turkey (TİP) has withdrawn the mayoral candidacy of former footballer Gökhan Zan for Hatay province following bribery allegations involving his name.

The announcement came after claims surfaced suggesting that Zan, 42, was offered $3 million by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) to remain in the race, allegedly in favor of the AKP candidate. Zan reportedly countered with a request for $5 million and the opportunity to work as a football commentator on state-run Turkish Radio and Television (TRT) after the March 31 elections.

Zan denied the allegations, stating that the recordings were manipulated and that he was facing blackmail and threats regarding his candidacy. While TİP did not directly address the bribery allegations, they cited concerns about Zan's involvement in relationships not approved by the party.

Despite TİP's statement, Zan affirmed his intention to remain in the race and stay with the party. He claimed the voice recordings were created using deepfake technology and stated he had taken legal action against those responsible and had been threatened by associates of current Hatay Mayor Lütfü Savaş.

Turkish far-right leader urges Erdogan to stay in politics

The leader of Turkey's far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), an ally of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, objected to the idea of Erdogan retiring from politics, stating that the Turkish nation still needs him.

Devlet Bahçeli, speaking at a party congress in Ankara where he was re-elected as MHP leader, responded to Erdogan's recent remarks about retiring after the March 31 local elections. Bahçeli urged Erdogan not to leave, emphasizing the support of the Public Alliance and expressing a desire to see him continue leading the nation into the new century.

Court denies stay of proceedings for deputy parliament speaker

The Ankara 22nd High Criminal Court rejected a request to halt legal proceedings for Peoples' Equality and Democracy (DEM) Party lawmaker and deputy parliament speaker Sirri Sureyya Onder in the Kobane case, as reported by online news outlet Medyascope. Onder, elected as a lawmaker in the 2023 general elections, enjoys parliamentary immunity.

The court also rejected a request to lift the international travel ban on Onder, which was imposed as part of the Kobane case, with a majority vote. This decision aligns with a previous ruling allowing Onder to travel abroad "within the scope of parliamentary work."

Erbakan criticizes Erdogan's leadership at its party's "Great Istanbul Rally"

The New Welfare Party organized its "Great Istanbul Rally" in Istanbul's Zeytinburnu district on March 24. During the rally, party leader Fatih Erbakan criticized AKP Chairman and President Erdogan for pinning a badge on Istanbul MP Suat Pamukçu, who resigned from the Welfare Party.

Erbakan said, "Some people are pinning badges on those who have lost their way. While you gave a badge to one person who lost his way, we gave badges to 260 thousand sons of the country in six months."

He also responded to Erdogan's remarks, "They want to make us lose (in the local elections)." Erbakan said, "We're not making you lose; it's your trade with Israel, your rent-seeking municipalism, and the economic hardships you've imposed on pensioners, laborers, and low-income earners for 22 years that are making you lose."

On March 18, Temel Karamollaoglu, leader of the Islamist Felicity Party (SP), also tweeted a message quoting Erdogan's tweet, urging him to halt trade with Israel.


Foreign exchange reserves decline, gold reserves increase

The Central Bank announced its weekly money and banking statistics. Gold reserves increased by $258 million from $52.748 billion to $53 billion. The Central Bank's total reserves decreased by $2.636 billion in the week of March 15 compared to the previous week, from $130.5 billion to $128 billion. Net reserves also fell from $20.8 billion to $19.6 billion.

Central Bank raises interest rates amidst soaring inflation

Turkey's central bank increased its key interest rate on March 21, restarting its tightening cycle due to a rise in inflation rates last month. The bank's monetary policy committee decided to raise the policy rate from 45 percent to 50 percent, citing "the deterioration in the inflation outlook."

Despite declaring in January that their hike would be the last, as the level was deemed enough to address the cost-of-living crisis, annual inflation climbed again in February, reaching 67.1 percent.

Turkey and GCC agree to begin FTA negotiations

Turkey and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) signed a deal to kick off formal negotiations for a free trade agreement, announced Turkish Trade Minister Omer Bolat on March 21. The GCC includes Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.

The agreement to initiate talks was signed in Ankara on March 21 between Bolat and GCC Secretary General Jasem Mohamed Al Budaiwi.

Bolat stated on the X platform that the deal will establish one of the world's largest free trade areas, valued at $2.4 trillion, expressing confidence that negotiations will swiftly progress.

Sinan Ulgen, a former Turkish diplomat and senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace think tank, said that despite the announcement, Turkey and the GCC cannot finalize and enforce a free trade agreement unless the EU and the GCC have already reached a similar deal. As Turkey is in the customs union with the EU and a condition of its membership, it cannot have its own separate set of free trade agreements with third countries, Ulgen added.

"A year after Iraq-Turkey pipeline halt, no progress to resume flows" by Natalie Grover, Reuters

A year after the closure of the Iraq-Turkey oil pipeline, the conduit that once handled about 0.5% of global oil supply is still stuck in limbo as legal and financial hurdles impede the resumption of flows, three sources told Reuters.

A restart is not being discussed at the moment, one of the sources with knowledge of the matter told Reuters.

Meanwhile, Iraq owes Turkey minimum payments as long as the pipeline is technically operational - estimated by consultancy Wood Mackenzie at around $25 million per month - as part of the treaty, in theory providing an incentive to restart flows.

But with Iraq deepening oil export cuts as part of OPEC+'s broader mission to support oil prices, a resumption of northern flows is not on the agenda, two sources told Reuters.


ECtHR rules Turkey violated rights of journalist Aysenur Parildak

On March 19, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruled that Turkey violated the rights of Ayşenur Parıldak, a former court reporter for the closed Zaman daily. She was detained following the controversial coup attempt in 2016. The ECtHR stated that Turkey breached Parıldak's rights to liberty, security, and freedom of expression. They ordered the Turkish government to compensate her with 22,000 euros. The court also found her detention unlawful, as there were no valid reasons to suspect her involvement with a terrorist organization.

75-year-old woman taken to prison on stretcher for sending money to jailed daughter

MP Omer Faruk Gergerlioglu revealed on March 23 that 75-year-old Hatice Yıldız, who was sentenced to four years in prison for "financing a terrorist organization" by sending money to her jailed daughter and her cellmate, was taken to an Istanbul prison on a stretcher. Yıldız, suffering from various health issues, including high blood pressure and eye problems, was sent to jail following the Supreme Court of Appeals' confirmation of the verdict.

Her son, Alper Yıldız, said that his mother only sent money to prisoners, which is not considered a crime under Turkish law. He emphasized that the transfers were made through official postal services, now deemed illegal.

The family plans to appeal to the Constitutional Court to seek justice and overturn what they view as an unjust decision.


Erdogan congratulates Putin on re-election, offers mediation with Ukraine

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan congratulated Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on his re-election and proposed to mediate between Moscow and Ukraine.

In a phone call on March 18, the Turkish presidency announced that Erdogan expressed confidence in the ongoing improvement of relations between Turkey and Russia and offered Turkey's readiness to facilitate a return to negotiations with Ukraine.

US sanctions five Turkish companies for supporting Iran's defense programs

On March 20, the US Department of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions on three procurement networks, including five Turkey-based companies and two Turkish citizens, for their support of Iran's ballistic missile, nuclear, and defense programs.

The sanctioned Turkish companies, spanning logistics, foreign trade, mining, petroleum, and chemicals sectors, include Tit Uluslararasi Nakliyat Deri Tekstil Gida Sanayi Ve Ticaret Limited Sirketi, Gokler Dis Ticaret Limited Sirketi, Mahmut Gok Skies Petroleum Dis Ticaret DM Gold Kiymetli Madenler Anonim Sirketi, and Klas Kimyasal Urunler Ticaret Limited Sirketi.

These companies are accused of acting as fronts to facilitate procurements for Iranian defense end-users, including the IRGC ASF SSJO. Turkish citizens sanctioned are Mahmut Gök and Hidayet Kanoğlu.

Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, Brian E. Nelson stated that Iran seeks to supply weapons systems to rogue actors worldwide through complex covert procurement networks.

Turkey proposes joint operation center with Iraq to combat PKK

A Turkish defense ministry official announced on March 21 that Turkey proposed establishing a "joint operation center" with Iraq to combat the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), and Baghdad responded positively to the suggestion during a meeting last week.

The official said that Iraq also sees the PKK as a threat and welcomed the offer to cooperate in fighting terrorism.

Ankara aims to include the joint operation center in a broader strategic document that President Erdogan plans to sign during his upcoming visit, expected after the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, ending in April, the official added.

Belgian PM's attendance at Gulen Movement-linked event sparks Turkish government's anger

Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo's attendance at an iftar dinner in Antwerp on March 11, hosted by an association linked to the Gülen movement, caused backlash from the Turkish government, according to Belgian newspaper Het Laatste Nieuws (HLN).

The event, sponsored by the Belgium-based Turkish association Fedactio, aimed to celebrate Ramadan's first fast-breaking with hundreds of attendees. The event also observed a moment of silence for those unjustly imprisoned in Turkey, shedding light on ongoing human rights issues.

De Croo and other notable figures praised the event for promoting dialogue among diverse cultures.

However, his participation stirred controversy in Turkey, with Turkish media reporting on it and leading to the summoning of the Belgian ambassador. De Croo's spokesperson clarified that his attendance had no political motives.

Israel summons Turkish diplomat amid increasing trade relations

Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz tweeted on March 22 that he directed ministry officials to summon the Turkish deputy ambassador to Israel for a serious reprimand. The move follows Turkish President Erdogan's recent comments, which included a verbal attack on Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu.

In his tweet, Katz criticized Erdogan for supporting Hamas and accused him of hypocrisy for speaking about God while endorsing atrocities committed by Hamas.

Erdogan's remarks referred to Netanyahu, saying, "We entrust the person known as Netanyahu to our Lord by the glorious name of Qahhar [The Vanquisher, The Subduer, one of the names of God in Islam]. May our Lord destroy and annihilate him."

However, the Karar Daily reported on March 22 that Turkey's support for Palestinians contrasts sharply with trade activities, primarily driven by companies associated with the Independent Industrialists and Businessmen's Association (MUSİAD), known for backing President Erdogan.

Most Turkish companies exporting to Israel are reportedly MUSİAD members, according to Karar, citing official data. The report lists companies like Evyap Holding, İÇDAŞ, Pamukkale Kablo, Eren Holding, and Tosyalı involved in various sectors, including textiles, energy, construction materials, and defense-related products.

Recent data also indicates that trade volumes are approaching pre-violence levels.

German President to make first official visit to Turkey in 10 years

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier will visit Turkey in late April, marking his first visit since he was elected President in 2017, according to Deutsche Welle. This will also be the first official visit by a German president to Turkey in a decade. Despite previous invitations from President Erdogan, Steinmeier has chosen to wait until now.

Yaşar Aydın from the Centre for Applied Turkey Studies (CATS) at the Berlin-based German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) stated that problems in bilateral relations between Turkey and Germany are one reason for the delay in Steinmeier's visit. Aydın mentioned that increasing authoritarianism in Turkey, particularly with the country's transition to a presidential system giving Erdogan extensive powers, has led Steinmeier to take a "wait and see" approach regarding developments in Turkey.

Turkish Intelligence Chief's convoy intercepted by protesters in Northern Syria

Protesters intercepted a convoy carrying İbrahim Kalın, the head of Turkey's National Intelligence Organization (MİT), and a delegation near the northern Syrian city of Azez on March 17. The incident happened as the group was returning from an iftar meal organized by opposition groups against the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

Investigative journalist Fehim Taştekin reported that the convoy, intending to return to Turkey via the Öncüpınar-Bab al-Salam border crossing, had to change its route to al-Bab due to the protests. Turkish-backed Syrian National Army (SMO) forces, along with Turkish special forces, were deployed to the area after the incident.

Turkish forces in the convoy fired into the air to disperse the crowd, which refused to leave, prompting the convoy to change course. The delegation successfully returned to Turkey after the detour.

The protesters, reportedly from the El Shahba group, initially claimed they were unaware of the presence of Turkish officials in the convoy. Sources revealed that the demonstrators withdrew when they realized their mistake, stating they intended to protest the interim government ruling the region, not the Turkish delegation.

Further details indicate that the convoy included high-ranking members of the Syrian opposition and a high-ranking Qatari delegation.