"The Withdrawal of the US troops from Syria Will Create a Power Vacuum" by Mustafa Enes Esen, The Institute for Diplomacy and Economy
Recent reports suggest that the United States is considering the withdrawal of its troops from Syria, where currently 900 soldiers are stationed. To empower the SDF and to contain ISIS, the US plans to engage the al-Assad government and has already asked for the input of the Erdoğan administration about the deliberations. Nonetheless, the U.S. should also consider the broader implications of such a withdrawal, such as Turkish incursions into northern Syria or an armed conflict between Damascus and the SDF in the eastern Euphrates.
Given Turkey's consistent expression of discontent over the presence of U.S. troops in Syria, Turkey is not a reliable alternative. While the U.S. is exploring scenarios where the SDF collaborates with al-Assad against ISIS, there is also an apparent effort to seek reassurances from Turkey that the SDF's position in the east Euphrates will not be undermined.
Such a withdrawal is also likely to ignite further conflict between Turkey and the SDF. Turkey's future retaliation to PKK attacks could manifest as invasions of parts of northern Syria, as Ankara does not make a clear distinction between the PKK and the YPG.
On the other hand, the presence of U.S. forces on the ground acts as a deterrent against al-Assad's military and its Iranian and Russian allies too, preventing them from advancing east of the Euphrates. With the withdrawal of the U.S. military from the region, there is a risk of a power vacuum that they might exploit. In such a situation, there's a heightened probability that the Syrian Democratic Forces may struggle to sustain a prolonged military campaign against these combined forces. This could potentially prompt Turkey to intervene, aiming to prevent eastern Syria from falling under the full control of al-Assad.
The U.S. presidential election this year adds a complicating factor. President Biden will work to provide assurances to local allies to prevent their collapse. In the event of a Trump victory in the elections, Erdoğan might find a more receptive ear in Washington, D.C., to bolster Turkey's arguments.
"Erdogan’s two-faced Palestine policy and the looming danger for Turkey" by Fatih Yurtsever, Turkish Minute
While the Turkish government, led by President Tayyip Erdogan, has publicly condemned Israel’s military actions in Gaza, its rhetoric suggests genocide. However, the Erdogan administration has not yet taken formal legal steps in this context.
As a member of the UN, Turkey is entitled to apply for intervention in cases at the ICJ. The procedure for such an intervention is outlined in Articles 62 and 63 of the ICJ Statute.
While the Turkish government, led by President Erdogan, has publicly condemned Israel’s military actions in Gaza, describing them in terms that suggest genocide, it has not yet taken any concrete steps. One of the concrete steps to be taken by the Erdogan government in this regard could be to become a party in favor of Palestine in the case filed by South Africa, similar to Germany’s application to the ICJ to become a party in favor of Israel.
However, the Erdogan administration’s main objective appears to be exploiting the sensitivity of Arab and Turkish public opinion on the Palestinian issue through political rhetoric. Taking concrete steps on this issue could worsen Turkey’s relations with Israel. Since the Israeli government is well aware of President Erdogan’s political style, it won’t take Erdogan’s genocide rhetoric seriously unless concrete steps are taken. This is why the volume of trade between Turkey and Israel continues to increase, and the fuel used by Israeli aircraft continues to be transported from Turkish ports to Israel.
The Turkish government’s persistent allegations of genocide against Israel, particularly in relation to military operations in Gaza, could potentially expose Turkey to similar accusations regarding its military activities in northern Syria. For instance, there is a hypothetical risk that Israel might bring a case against Turkey at the ICJ alleging genocide against the Kurdish population in that region.
"The Future of U.S.-Turkish Ties: A New Relationship, Not a Reset" by Soner Cagaptay, The Washington Institute
On January 23, Turkey’s parliament ratified Sweden’s accession to NATO, opening the path for Stockholm’s eventual membership in the alliance. The Biden administration attaches great importance to NATO expansion amid Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, and while the Swedish membership bid must still await a vote by Hungary’s parliament, Turkey’s decision is a major step forward.
A recent news story suggested that the U.S. government might also revise its policy toward the Syrian Kurdish People’s Defense Units (YPG). From Ankara’s perspective, this issue has hollowed out the bilateral relationship for years. Hence, even a suggestion that Washington might revisit its YPG policy could give Turkey sufficient reason to embrace a new era of ties with the United States.
Despite the prospects for positive change, improving bilateral ties does not mean the U.S.-Turkey relationship is returning to its factory settings, nor that Ankara is coming back to the U.S. fold. The best way for U.S. officials to approach the new Turkey is to acknowledge that it is neither leaving nor embracing the West. Rather, Erdogan’s Turkey is a multi-aligned country that sits comfortably where it wishes on any given geopolitical issue, whether the Ukraine war, conflict in the South Caucasus, or instability in the Middle East. This posture enables Ankara to remain in the limelight and hedge against almost any actor even as it remains part of the NATO alliance. In Ukraine, for instance, it has supported Kyiv militarily during the war while maintaining economic ties with Russia.
After winning the 2023 presidential election, Erdogan no longer faces any significant domestic challenges, so he is entering the legacy-building phase of his career. Having revolutionized the country’s politics and reshaped its geopolitical identity, he now wants to leave behind a positive legacy for both Turkey (as a nation with good international standing) and himself (as a statesman rather than a polarizing politician).
Erdogan’s apparent shift presents the White House with an opportunity to engage with his new Turkey and leverage his regional and global influence in today’s era of growing great power competition. Either way, Washington should come to terms with the fact that the old Turkey is not coming back.
LEADERS ON THE MOVE
Good Party nominates Bugra Kavuncu as mayoral candidate for Istanbul
During a party meeting, the Good Party revealed its candidate for the mayoral position in Istanbul. Party leader Meral Aksener announced that Bugra Kavuncu, a 51-year-old lawmaker and former head of the party's provincial branch in Istanbul, will run in the upcoming local election scheduled for March 31. Aksener said Kavuncu expressed a strong desire to be nominated as the mayoral candidate for Istanbul and manage the city.
Aksener’s announcement poses a new challenge to the incumbent mayor from the main opposition party, which had the support of the Good Party in the 2019 election.
Aksener also announced Cengiz Topel Yildirim as the mayoral candidate for Ankara municipality. Yildirim, a former CHP member and chief advisor to ex-party chair Kemal Kilicdaroglu from 2016 to 2023, criticized the current administration in Ankara led by CHP mayor Mansur Yavaş during his speech at the party headquarters, describing it as "visionless and sub-par."
Imprisoned Demirtas' wife considers İstanbul mayoral candidacy
Başak Demirtas, the wife of jailed Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtas, expressed that she may consider running for mayor of Istanbul if the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Equality and Democracy Party (DEM Party) approves her candidacy, as reported by the Arti Gercek news website.
Demirtas stated that while the DEM Party has not yet decided on a mayoral candidate for Istanbul, she may consider the candidacy if it aligns with the people's wishes and the party's approval. Emphasizing that her candidacy would aim to foster democracy and peace, Demirtas said her candidacy would not be a strategic move to influence another candidate's success or failure but rather an independent effort to win the election herself.
These remarks followed a visit to her husband, Selahattin Demirtas, who has been imprisoned on alleged terrorism charges since November 2016. Speculations have arisen regarding Basak Demirtas' potential mayoral candidacy, with claims suggesting a strategy to secure her husband's release in exchange for supporting the AKP in winning back Istanbul by dividing the opposition vote.
The consideration of Basak Demirtas' candidacy comes amid perceptions among Kurds that there is insufficient support from the CHP for their rights in return for their support, especially after the May presidential election.
Negotiations between AKP and far-right ally YRP fail ahead of local elections
In the negotiations between the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its far-right ally, the New Welfare Party (YRP), for collaboration in Turkey’s upcoming local elections on March 31, the latest meeting on Jan. 22 ended without a positive outcome.
YRP Deputy Chair Mehmet Altunoz stated on January 23 to the daily Sozcu that "There is nothing left for the AKP to offer. We will field our candidate for Istanbul and İzmir mayorships.” Altunoz also mentioned that the AKP had already declared its candidates in every district and had only offered them municipal council membership in Istanbul, Ankara, and İzmir.
The YRP had requested AKP's support for its candidates in specific district mayorships in exchange for supporting AKP in three metropolitan cities.
AKP's Istanbul mayoral candidate unveils his plans for city's future
On January 25, the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) Istanbul mayoral candidate, Murat Kurum, unveiled his plans for the city in the upcoming local elections on March 31, 2024. Kurum criticized the current administration, alleging a period of stagnation under Mayor Ekrem Imamoğlu from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP).
He pledged to solve the traffic problem, increase rail system share, and relocate bus stations. Kurum promised to urgently transform earthquake-risk buildings, build 300,000 new buildings, establish disaster coordination centers, and enhance family-focused initiatives such as open kindergartens, discounted student transportation, and increased scholarships. He also emphasized creating new water dams and public parks and positioning Istanbul as a city of festivals.
Homeland Party rejects alliance with CHP in local elections
Homeland Party (MP) Chair Muharrem Ince announced on January 26 that they would not collaborate with the main opposition, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), in the upcoming local elections on March 31, 2024. Ince cited differences in political stances, specifically mentioning the CHP's support for Sweden's NATO membership and collaboration with the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Equality and Democracy (DEM) Party. He also announced that they are considering three candidates for the Istanbul mayoral position and will reveal the chosen candidate in the coming week.
In response, CHP Spokesperson Deniz Yucel said the Homeland Party had requested specific municipal council memberships and the mayorship of a metropolitan district in İzmir during negotiations, which eventually reached an impasse. Yucel added that Ince's statements and criticisms arose after the talks ended inconclusively.
Interior Minister Yerlikaya blames predecessor Soylu for exclusion from AKP's Istanbul mayoral candidacy
Journalist Nuray Babacan, reporting for Gazete Pencere on January 26, claimed that Turkish Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya was attributing his failure as the Istanbul mayoral candidate for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) to his predecessor Süleyman Soylu and his team.
Babacan stated in her column that Yerlikaya's Kemalist rhetoric failed to resonate with the ultra-conservative base, and he blamed AKP trolls for creating a negative image against him, alleging that the Suleyman Soylu team was responsible. She emphasized that the main reason for not naming Yerlikaya, who initially declined the nomination and later entered the race, was his 'potential to act independently.”
Ruling party secures top spot on ballot for local elections
Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) secured the top position on the ballot paper for the local elections scheduled for March 31, 2024. The Supreme Election Council (YSK) drew the positions for parties on the ballot paper order on January 27, with 35 political parties qualified to participate.
YSK President Ahmet Yener announced that the AKP will hold the first spot, while its ally, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), will appear 31st out of the 35 parties. The main opposition, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), will be in the 18th position, the Good Party in the second, and the Peoples’ Equality and Democracy (DEM) Party in the ninth.
Erdogan criticizes rumors targeting Central Bank
On January 24, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan denounced efforts to spread "rumors" aimed at undermining economic progress. This statement appeared to support Central Bank Governor Hafize Gaye Erkan, who had recently criticized a press report about her family.
Without specifying the rumors or directly referencing Erkan, Erdogan expressed his frustration, stating that when the central bank's reserves reached a record-breaking $145.5 billion, certain actions were taken to disrupt the climate of confidence and stability in the economy with unfounded rumors.
Turkey's Central Bank concludes aggressive tightening cycle with 250 basis point rate hike
On January 25, Turkey's central bank concluded its assertive tightening cycle with an expected 250 basis point interest rate hike, bringing the rate to 45%. The bank, under the leadership of Governor Hafize Gaye Erkan, appointed by President Tayyip Erdogan in June, has raised the one-week repo rate by 3,650 basis points so far.
The central bank expressed its commitment to maintaining the current interest rate levels "as long as needed" to achieve the desired disinflation. "The policy setting has been effective in establishing disinflation and will only reassess its stance if there are "notable and persistent risks" to the inflation outlook," the bank said
"The current policy rate will be sustained until there is a substantial decline in the underlying trend of monthly inflation, and inflation expectations align with the projected forecast range," it added.
Turkish citizens perceive inflation twice as high as officially reported
The Turkish Statistical Institute (TurkStat) reported that citizens perceive inflation as twice as high as the officially calculated rate. According to TurkStat's figures, while consumer inflation in 2023 stood at 64.7 percent, citizens feel it to be around 129.4 percent. The calculation of perceived inflation is based on responses gathered in the Consumer Tendency Survey conducted over the years.
TUIK has mainly associated the higher perceived inflation rate than the measured inflation rate with consumption habits and spending patterns.
In response to TurkStat's statements, ENAG issued a statement asserting that in economic literature, there is no distinction between 'perceived inflation' and 'measured inflation.'
ENAG argued that TurkStat's price data no longer aligns with people's income levels, leading to increased poverty. Additionally, ENAG contended that when adjusted with price data, economic growth rates fail to accurately reflect reality, resulting in distorted income distribution.
ENAG insisted that the rate of perceived inflation, despite not being part of the literature, essentially mirrors the change in the general price index in today's Turkey. ENAG concluded that TurkStat's announcement of this rate is a full confession and may have legal consequences.
TurkStat says arms exports to Israel are 'non-military'
In response to reports claiming Turkey exported arms to Israel amid the conflict in Gaza, the Turkish Statistical Institute (TurkStat) said with a written statement that the weapons components and firearms sent in 2023 were "non-military." TurkStat's statement follows a 10Haber news report on Turkey's firearm exports to Israel during heightened tensions in Gaza.
According to TurkStat, exports to Israel under "Chapter 93" amounted to $902,702 from January to November 2023, with $80,000 in November alone. Chapter 93 categorizes arms and ammunition under the Harmonized Commodity Description and Coding System.
TurkStat specified that the exports fall under headings 9303, referred to as "non-military firearms," along with 9305 and 9307. TurkStat also claimed that the products exported in this category are not weapons of war or ammunition but rather personal-use items like sports and hunting weapons, along with their components and parts.
Turkey tops ECtHR's pending cases with over 23,000 applications
As of 2023, Turkey has the highest number of pending applications before the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), with approximately 23,400 cases, according to court statistics. ECtHR President Síofra O’Leary presented these figures during a press conference on January 25, providing an overview of the court’s activities in 2023.
The statistics revealed that while there were 74,650 pending applications at the close of 2022, this number decreased by 8 percent to approximately 68,450 by the end of 2023. Turkey leads the list of countries with cases awaiting judgment, accounting for 23,397 applications or 34.2 percent of the total.
Turkey maintained its position as the highest case-count country in 2023, taking over from Russia, which was excluded from the Council of Europe in March 2022 due to its war on Ukraine.
At least one violation was found in 72 out of 78 adjudicated cases from Turkey. These violations included 17 cases of the right to a fair trial, 16 cases of the right to liberty and security, 16 cases of the right to freedom of assembly and association, 15 cases of the right to respect for private and family life, and 10 cases of the right to freedom of expression.
PACE addresses concerns over alleged increase in torture reports in Turkey
On January 24, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) adopted a resolution addressing the increase in allegations of torture and ill-treatment in places of detention across Europe, particularly noting a rise in reported incidents from Turkey in recent years. Despite the government's "zero tolerance" message, PACE expressed concern that these allegations overshadowed Turkey's previous progress in this area.
The resolution specifically mentioned Turkey, along with Azerbaijan and Russia, as countries where credible reports suggest that torture and ill-treatment tend to be systematic and/or widespread. PACE welcomed recent decisions by Turkey's Constitutional Court, which found violations of the prohibition of ill-treatment and ordered new investigations into complaints.
Freedom House report reveals alarming rise in political imprisonment and 'civil death' in Turkey
A recent report from Freedom House sheds light on the concerning reality of political imprisonment and the concept of "civil death" in Turkey, revealing the country's shift towards authoritarianism. Titled "Visible and Invisible Bars: Political Imprisonment, Civil Death, and the Consequences of Democratic Erosion," the report highlights the systematic use of political imprisonment by autocrats to punish and silence opponents during periods of democratic decline.
The report points out that political repression in Turkey intensified notably after the 2013 Gezi Park protests. Following the failed coup in 2016, President Erdogan implemented constitutional reforms that centralized power and allowed widespread detention of perceived threats, including journalists, opposition figures, and academics. The mass dismissal of over 100,000 civil servants accused of affiliations with the Gülen movement is also discussed in the report.
A crucial aspect highlighted in the report is the role of a compliant judiciary, enabling political imprisonment and civil death. The independence of Turkey's judiciary was significantly compromised, particularly after the 2016 coup and the 2017 constitutional referendum, granting Erdogan greater control over judge appointments, the report added.
The report also highlights rulings like the ECtHR's orders to release Osman Kavala and Selahattin Demirtas, which Turkish courts disregarded, violating international legal standards. The report urges democratic governments, donors, and civil society organizations to actively address political imprisonment and "civil death."
Turkey's Parliament ratifies Sweden's NATO membership
On January 23, Turkey's parliament ratified Sweden's NATO membership bid, marking a significant step in expanding the Western military alliance after a 20-month delay. The general assembly, where President Erdogan's ruling alliance has a majority, voted 287-55 to approve Sweden's application made in 2022 for increased security following Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Turkey had endorsed Finland's membership in April last year but, along with Hungary, had delayed Sweden's approval.
During the debate, Fuat Oktay, head of the parliament's foreign affairs commission and a member of the ruling AK Party, expressed support for NATO enlargement. He emphasized the hope that Finland and Sweden's stance against terrorism would serve as an example to other allies.
U.S. Ambassador Jeff Flake praised the Turkish Parliament's decision to approve Sweden's entry into NATO, and Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom said he looked forward to President Erdogan signing the ratification document.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg also welcomed Turkey's move and urged Hungary to complete its national ratification as soon as possible.
On January 24, one day after Parliament's approval, U.S. President Joe Biden informed key Capitol Hill committees of his intention to initiate the formal notification process for the sale of Lockheed Martin. According to a U.S. official, in a letter to Senate Foreign Relations and House Foreign Affairs committees, Biden urged Congress to promptly approve the sale.
Simultaneously, the U.S. State Department called on Ankara to complete the formalization of Sweden's NATO ratification, requiring President Erdogan to sign the legislation.
A day after U.S. President Joe Biden’s letter urging the Congress, on January 25, Turkey's President Erdogan approved Sweden's NATO membership bid. The official gazette revealed that Erdogan approved the bid following the ratification by the Turkish parliament on January 23.
As per NATO rules, Turkey must deposit the final ratification document at the U.S. State Department archives to conclude its ratification of Sweden.
Erdogan and Raisi agree on Middle East's stability amid disagreement over trade with Israel
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi met with Turkish President Erdogan on January 24, where they discussed the Israel-Hamas conflict. Following the meeting, Erdogan stated that both leaders agreed on the necessity of preventing the war from spreading across the Middle East. They also emphasized the importance of containing the violence in Gaza and intensifying the fight against terrorism.
However, Raisi called for all countries to cease trade with Israel, highlighting tensions with Turkey's stance, as Ankara has consistently refused to do so. Raisi stressed the significance of nations limiting their relationships with the "Zionist regime."
During the visit, the two sides signed 10 agreements and memorandums of understanding, aiming to increase annual trade to $30 billion.
Biden Administration advances $23 Billion F-16 sale to Turkey following Sweden's NATO ratification
On January 26, the Biden administration formally notified Congress of its intention to proceed with the $23 billion sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey, marking a significant move toward finalizing a long-delayed process that had strained relations with Ankara. The State Department sent the notification for the sale of 40 Lockheed Martin F-16s and nearly 80 modernization kits.
The State Department's notification followed Turkish President Erdogan's final approval of Sweden's ratification and after the instrument of accession was delivered to Washington.
Simultaneously, the Biden administration also advanced the sale of 20 Lockheed F-35 stealth fighter jets to Greece, a fellow NATO ally. This $8.6-billion deal was progressed as part of an effort to balance relations between two alliance members with a history of tense interactions.
Canada and Turkey strike deal on drone parts export after Sweeden's NATO bid approval
Canada and Turkey have struck a deal to resume Canadian drone parts exports, with the condition of increased transparency on their usage, according to two Reuters sources familiar with the matter. The agreement, finalized in early January after extended negotiations, is set to take effect following Ankara's completion of the ratification process for Sweden's NATO bid,
Under the terms, Ankara will share information with Ottawa regarding the end-users of Canadian-manufactured equipment, especially if it is re-exported to non-NATO members. This "notification process" covers Wescam sensors used in Turkey's Bayraktar TB2 drones and other items related to dual-use goods and arms exports.
Canada halted the sale of drone technology to Turkey in 2020, citing concerns that Azerbaijan had utilized optical equipment attached to Turkish-made drones in the conflict with ethnic Armenian forces in Nagorno Karabakh.
Erdogan welcomes UN Court's decision against Israel
On January 26, Turkish President Erdogan expressed hope that a UN court ruling requiring Israel to prevent acts of genocide in Gaza would put a stop to what he called "inhumane" attacks against civilians.
In a social media statement, Erdogan welcomed the interim injunction decision by the International Court of Justice regarding the attacks in Gaza. He stated, "We hope that Israel’s attacks against women, children, and the elderly will come to an end."
Earlier, he mentioned that Turkey was providing documents to support South Africa's "genocide" case against Israel at the UN court.