by instituDE, published on 3 July 2023


"Is the US blackmailing Turkey over Sweden?" by Mustafa Enes Esen, Institute for Diplomacy and Economy 

The US and Swedish authorities are currently investigating graft allegations involving Bilal Erdogan, the son of Turkey's President, according to a Reuters special report. These allegations have significant implications, as they could constitute a criminal offense under certain circumstances. However, as the report points out, there is a possibility that they may not even lead to formal charges. Interestingly, the Turkish side seems to have minimal interest in the substance of the allegations or its judicial implications. They genuinely believe that the accusations are politically motivated and serve as a means to blackmail Turkey into lifting its veto on Sweden's NATO membership. They hold the perspective that if an agreement is reached regarding Sweden, the allegations will wither away.

In the current case, even if the allegations are true and the prosecution can build a strong case, it will probably take many years before reaching a trial. This is why Ankara will evaluate these corruption allegations as a warning shot to change its stance.

While this investigation may not lead Turkey to change its course of behavior in the first place, it will undoubtedly prompt Erdogan to reconsider his stance on Sweden's accession to NATO, given that the focus of the investigation is his family.

"Special Report: US, Swedish prosecutors study graft complaint naming son of Turkey's Erdogan" by David Gauthier-Villars, Reuters

Anti-corruption authorities in the United States and Sweden are reviewing a complaint alleging that the Swedish affiliate of a US company pledged to pay tens of millions of dollars in kickbacks if a son of Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan helped it secure a dominant market position in the country.

The company's plan, according to the complaint, was for the administration of President Erdogan to pass regulations that would boost sales of Dignita's product: dashboard breathalyzers that lock a vehicle's ignition when the driver is inebriated.

In return for 10 years of commercial exclusivity selling its products, Dignita committed it would pay tens of millions of dollars in lobbying fees, via a shell company, to two institutions for which Bilal Erdogan is a board member, the complaint says.

Through a lawyer, Bilal Erdogan said allegations that he colluded with Dignita "are completely incorrect." It is a "web of lies," the lawyer added.

"Upon learning of potentially concerning conduct regarding future business opportunities in Turkey, we promptly investigated and took corrective action, including terminating the sole employee and the third-party consultants involved," the company said in a statement to Reuters. "As a result, we have not moved forward with doing business in Turkey."

"Turkey holds up NATO defense strategy over straits amid Sweden standoff" by Amberin Zaman, Al-Monitor

With two weeks left before NATO's forthcoming summit in Vilnius next month, Al-Monitor has learned Turkey is upping its demands for the alliance's defense strategy, requesting that critical waterways connecting the Black Sea to the Aegean be referred to as the "Turkish Straits" rather than the "Straits." 

Reuters reported on June 16 that NATO defense ministers had failed to reach agreement on the new plans, which outline how the alliance would respond to a Russian attack, and said that one unidentified diplomat blamed Turkey for blocking them. The diplomat told Reuters that Ankara had declined to approve the document "over the wording of geographical locations, including with regard to Cyprus."

Al-Monitor has learned that among other things, Turkey wants the text to refer to critical waterways connecting the Black Sea to the Aegean as the "Turkish Straits" rather than the "Straits." The 1936 Montreux Convention, which regulates maritime traffic through the Bosporus and Dardanelles straits and the Sea of Marmara that lies between them, refers to them simply as the "Straits." While it may seem like more petulance, commentators suggest that the use of the term "Turkish Straits" could have legal implications that would give Turkey greater control over the bodies of water than it currently enjoys under Montreux and in ways that could undermine Western interests.

Another Turkish quibble, the sources briefing Al-Monitor said, was over references to terrorists and terrorism in NATO's new strategy plan. Ankara wants the language to reflect the actions of groups that it labels as such.

"Migration money feud infiltrates EU summit" by Hans Von Der Burchard, Politico

EU countries are bickering over granting billions in new funds to deal with migration as asylum applications soar and backlogs pile up at the Continent's borders. 

Germany, which received a quarter of all EU asylum applications in 2022, specifically wants to "revitalize" the EU's ties with neighboring Turkey, according to a senior German official — a nod to the last time the bloc faced such levels of migration. 

Now, there is a push to authorize up to €10.5 billion in new money for not just Turkey, but also countries like Libya or Tunisia, hoping it would help them prevent people from entering the EU without permission. 

On one side, Berlin wants to renew the EU's relationship with Turkey, hoping it can take in more asylum seekers and help cut down on unauthorized border crossings. In return, the Germans want the EU to improve trade ties with the country. 

One idea could be an update of the EU's trade rules with Turkey — a thorny issue, though, as talks between Brussels and Ankara have failed to make progress on modernizing the so-called EU-Turkey customs union for several years.

The latest draft conclusions from Wednesday evening ask Borrell and the Commission "submit a report" on EU-Turkey relations "with a view to proceeding in a strategic and forward-looking manner."

Turkey Emerges as Key Hub for Drug Trafficking, UN Reports Reveal

According to the United Nations (UN) International Narcotics Control Board's (INCB) 2022 report, Turkey has become a crucial transit point for drug trafficking, connecting continents and facilitating the movement of drugs to markets in the Middle East and Europe.

The report highlights that the amount of cocaine seized in Turkey in 2022 reached a record high of 2.8 tons, showing a significant increase of 42 percent compared to the previous year. This data supports the Turkish Anti-Narcotic Crimes Directorate's statement that a new route from South America to Turkey was established in 2021.

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime's (UNODC) Global Report on Cocaine further reveals that the amount of cocaine seized in Turkey has increased sevenfold between 2014 and 2021. However, considering the drugs intercepted before reaching Turkey, the situation becomes even more alarming.

In recent years, there has been a significant rise in the amount of cocaine seized in countries such as Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Panama, and Brazil while en route to Turkey, highlighting the country's growing role in drug trafficking.


HDP to run mayoral candidates in metropolitan cities for 2024 local elections

On June 30, co-chair of the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), Pervin Buldan, stated that the party plans to nominate mayoral candidates in metropolitan cities for the upcoming local elections scheduled for March 31, 2024.

During Eid visits in the eastern Van province, Buldan highlighted that the government had utilized various means, including state media, financial assets, the judiciary, and the military, to their advantage in the 2023 elections.

Buldan added that the party's congress in September will mark the start of a new election process, after which they will actively nominate candidates.

Court blocks access to websites due to Reuters Special Report about Erdogan's son

The Istanbul Anatolian 5th Criminal Court of Peace ruled to block access to 93 websites and Twitter accounts due to Reuters Special Report about Erdogan's son. The reason behind this action is the alleged violation of personal rights for publishing a report by Reuters.

The court stated that distortions of truth and content that lack verification and goodwill could exceed the boundaries of acceptable criticism. Based on these grounds, the court accepted the applicant's request to block the content that violated the individual's personality rights.


Minimum wage erodes by $45 in one week due to exchange rate fluctuations

The minimum wage in Turkey experienced a significant erosion of approximately $45 within just one week, attributed to fluctuations in the exchange rate. Although the raise is set to take effect after July 1, no one has received the increased payment yet.

The government announced on June 20 that the minimum wage would be raised by 34 percent to 11,402 Turkish Liras (TL), equivalent to $482 based on the exchange rate of 23.60 dollars/TL.

Despite the Central Bank's decision on June 22 to increase the interest rate by 6.5 points to 15 percent, the market deemed this increment insufficient, leading to a sharp rise in exchange rates over the past week. On June 26, the dollar/TL reached a record high of 26. The new minimum wage is approximately $437 according to the latest rates.

Turkish lira stabilizes after hitting record low, Central Bank reserves increase

The Turkish lira remained steady on June 27, recovering slightly after reaching a new all-time low of 26.10. Bankers reported that the central bank's net reserves saw the largest weekly increase on record as it ceased utilizing reserves to support the currency.

According to four bankers' calculations, the central bank's net forex reserves surged by approximately $8.5 billion last week, reaching around $9 billion. This rise marks the largest weekly increase ever recorded.

Additionally, the bank's total reserves were expected to have risen by about $4.5 billion, reaching approximately $107.5 billion as of June 23.

World Bank approves $1 billion financing for reconstruction efforts

On June 27, the World Bank approved $1 billion in financing to aid Turkey's earthquake reconstruction efforts. The funding will focus on restoring rural housing and essential public services in affected regions. 

The project aims to rebuild damaged infrastructure and healthcare services in 11 severely impacted provinces, benefiting millions of residents. This financing marks the largest-ever support the World Bank gave Turkey for earthquake reconstruction in a single instance.

Additionally, the World Bank allocated $450 million to support micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) affected by the earthquakes, aiming to preserve employment and facilitate their sustainable growth.

The Small and Medium Enterprises Development Organization (KOSGEB) will implement the project to assist MSMEs by addressing liquidity challenges and supporting the recovery of their operations. The goal is to gradually restore employment to pre-earthquake levels by re-hiring workers or filling vacant positions in the affected regions.


"Media freedom and journalists groups call on the EU to prioritise media freedom reforms and human rights in relations with Turkey following the May elections", PEN International

As the country went to the polls on May 14, at least 47 journalists were imprisoned in Turkey, including 31 Kurdish journalists arrested since June 2022 alone. 

Journalists face physical assaults, troll attacks by politicians and their supporters, and smear campaigns from government-aligned media. The police routinely arrest journalists at demonstrations and prevent them from reporting. According to the Mapping Media Freedom database, which documents media freedom violations across EU member states and candidate countries, since July 2022, 173 alerts, almost one in five of the total, have been located in Turkey. 

Meanwhile, studies have shown that algorithmic bias, already in place, channels over 80% of news searchers on Google to pro-government media forcing independent media to exist in a restricted news bubble. 

As the European Union assesses the results of the elections, we urge European governments and policy makers to ensure that the improvement of media freedoms and fundamental rights are placed at the heart of future relations with Turkey. Failure to do so would be a betrayal both of the Turkish public and of the European Union's values.

Turkish journalist arrested for criticizing Ocalan's isolation

Turkish authorities arrested journalist Merdan Yanardag on June 27 for criticizing the government's decision to isolate Kurdish militant leader Abdullah Ocalan. Yanardag was detained by the police on June 26, following which the Istanbul court issued an arrest warrant. Yanardag said before his arrest that he did not praise any terrorist organization and its leader.

The journalist faced backlash from pro-government circles who accused him of praising Ocalan. He was charged with terror propaganda by a Turkish prosecutor, although he argued that his statements were distorted. 

Human Rights Watch's Europe and Central Asia associate director, Emma Sinclair-Webb, condemned Yanardag's arrest and called for his immediate release, stating that it was part of a broader campaign to silence media.

CHP lawmaker Sezgin Tanrikulu criticized some "so-called" opposition figures for allegedly assisting in the arrest of journalist Merdan Yanardağ. During a live Tele1 broadcast on July 1, he accused them of engaging in politics within the boundaries of the ruling AKP party and emphasized the need for a stronger and unified opposition.

The PEN Writers Association also expressed its opposition to the recent arrest of journalist and writer Merdan Yanardag. In a written statement, the association voiced concern over the swift arrest and emphasized that Yanardag's claims of his words being manipulated and taken out of context should be considered. They called for justice and urged his immediate release, stating that the arrest could not be justified.

ITUC: Turkey is among top 10 worst countries for workers

According to the International Trade Union Confederation's (ITUC) 2023 Global Rights Index, Turkey has been ranked among the ten worst countries in the world for workers. 

Among the 148 countries evaluated in the index, Turkey's name appears alongside Bangladesh, Belarus, Ecuador, Egypt, Eswatini, Guatemala, Myanmar, Tunisia, and the Philippines in the list of the ten worst countries for workers' rights.

The report sheds light on the concerning state of affairs for workers in Turkey, with their freedoms and rights facing an ongoing assault. This distressing situation includes the forceful suppression of protests, arbitrary arrests of trade union leaders, and troubling efforts by employers to undermine unions.

Turkey witnesses 227 cases of femicide and suspicious women's deaths in 5 months

The We Will Stop Femicides Platform reported that in 2022, Turkey witnessed 334 cases of femicide, where men killed women, and 245 cases of women found dead under suspicious circumstances. The trend has continued into 2023, with 126 femicides and 101 suspicious deaths of women in the first five months alone, according to the platform.

The platform's General Secretary, Fidan Ataselim, expressed concern over the increasing number of suspicious women's deaths, stating that while femicides continue, the cases of suspicious deaths are rising even more. Ataselim suggested that a significant number of femicides may be concealed within the data of suspicious deaths.

ECHR rules a 300-Day waiting period for Turkish women to remarry as gender discrimination

The ECHR ruled that the 300-day waiting period imposed on Turkish women to remarry after divorce constitutes gender discrimination. The court stated that this practice violates the European Convention on Human Rights, emphasizing the right to respect for private life. 

Turkish laws require women to wait for 300 days or provide a medical document proving they are not pregnant to remarry. The ECHR found these requirements unjustifiable.

Turkey commemorates 30th anniversary of Sivas massacre

Thousands of people gathered on July 2 to remember the victims of the Sivas Massacre, which occurred 30 years ago. The attendees marched to the Madimak Hotel in Sivas province, where 33 intellectuals and two hotel personnel were tragically burned to death by a radical group. 

Relatives of the victims, opposition party representatives, rights groups, and Alevi and Bektashi organizations were present at the ceremony. The participants carried photographs of the deceased and chanted their names, emphasizing the importance of remembering the tragedy.


Erdogan and Mitsotakis to Meet at NATO Summit in July

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis are set to hold a meeting during the upcoming NATO summit in Vilnius next month. This announcement came from Mitsotakis' office on June 26, a day after his clear victory in the national election.

Erdogan, who recently secured his third term as president, conveyed his congratulations to Mitsotakis during a phone call, as stated by the Turkish Presidency on June 26.

Recent Quran burning protest in Sweden strains relations with Turkey

Tensions between Sweden and Turkey escalated after a protest on June 28 involving burning a Quran in Stockholm's central mosque, drawing strong criticism from Ankara. The incident follows scheduled talks to persuade Turkey to allow Sweden into NATO. The protest took place on Eid al-Adha, an important Muslim holiday.

Turkey's Foreign Minister, Hakan Fidan, denounced the Swedish authorities' decision to allow the Quran burning, stating that ignoring such acts is complicity in crime. Akif Cagtay Kilic, the chief foreign policy advisor to the Turkish President, also condemned the incident and those who permitted it.

In the past, Swedish authorities had blocked similar protests to prevent further tensions, but a recent ruling by the Supreme Court of Sweden deemed the blocking unlawful, leading to renewed protests.

In a daily press briefing, State Department spokesperson Matt Miller expressed the US condemnation of the burning of a Koran outside a mosque in Sweden. However, Miller emphasized that issuing the permit for the demonstration was in support of freedom of expression and not an endorsement of the act itself.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan responded to the incident on June 29, criticizing Sweden and affirming that Turkey would not yield to provocation or threats. During a party gathering on the Muslim holiday of Eid Al-Adha, Erdogan stated that insulting the sacred values of Muslims is not considered freedom of expression. He vowed that Turkey would respond strongly to what he referred to as a despicable protest.