by Institude, published on 4 March 2024


"Suicides reveal deep-rooted problems in Turkey's diplomatic corps" by Bunyamin Tekin, Turkish Minute

Allegations that two Turkish Foreign Ministry employees died by suicide in January due to intense pressure at work have put the spotlight on workplace bullying in Turkey's diplomatic service.

Namik Tan, a lawmaker from the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) and former ambassador to the United States, brought the allegations to the attention of parliament and directed a series of questions to Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan about the incidents.

According to a report by the Medyascope news website, which cites anonymous sources within the ministry, bullying is a long-standing problem. At least two ambassadors have been removed from their positions in the last decade due to complaints.

"I think the ministry's organizational culture has always been plagued by toxicity. You even saw it in the anecdotes told from years before the AKP took over as the ruling party," Ali Dincer, a former ministry employee, tells Turkish Minute.

"Of course, you can lodge formal complaints about your superiors, but it's unlikely to yield positive outcomes and is generally frowned upon in the ministry culture," Dincer says.

Indeed, what Dincer says points to a deep-rooted culture that predates the AKP, Turkey's Islamist-leaning ruling party.

In a post on X, former Turkish diplomat Omer Guler criticized attempts to portray the bullying problem within the ministry as a problem unique to the AKP era.

Guler argued that bullying is not a new phenomenon introduced by the AKP, but rather a long-standing element of the institution's culture perpetuated by Turkey's secular old guard at the foreign ministry.

"Report: The Mounting Damage of Flawed Elections and Armed Conflict" by Yana Gorokhovskaia and Cathryn Grothe, Freedom House

In Cambodia, Guatemala, Poland, Turkey, and Zimbabwe, incumbents tried to control electoral competition, hinder their political opponents, or prevent them from taking power after election day.

The manipulation of elections was among the leading causes of global erosion in freedom. In Cambodia, Guatemala, Poland, Turkey, and Zimbabwe, incumbents took steps to prevent the political opposition from competing on an even playing field.

Antidemocratic tactics that target free and fair elections are not always successful in stamping out genuine electoral competition. But long-term manipulation that substantially skews the playing field, particularly by leveraging state resources and media assets, can lead to a situation in which opposition losses reinforce the perceived dominance of an increasingly authoritarian incumbent. This is the pattern that has unfolded in Turkey.

Turkey's elections have long featured harassment, arrests, and criminal prosecutions of opposition leaders and journalists, as well as media dominance and abuse of state resources by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). In 2023, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has been in power since 2003, secured another term in office by winning the presidential runoff vote. Despite the fact that the election had to go to a second round and Erdogan won only by a narrow margin, attention during and after the campaign was focused on the opposition's shortcomings rather than the country's many democratic deficits. Ultimately, the failure of opposition forces to win an unfair contest eclipsed major systemic abuses like restrictions on freedom of expression and the criminal prosecution of political opponents that are commonly employed by the government.


Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas is expected to visit the Turkish capital, Ankara, on March 5 at the invitation of President Erdogan for talks about the war in Gaza and reconciliation efforts between Palestinian factions.


Cabinet changes expected in Ankara after the elections

According to journalist Erdal Saglam from the Haber10 website, there's speculation about potential cabinet changes as the elections draw nearer. Saglam mentioned that while Ankara is focused on election predictions, discussions about ministerial changes have begun to surface.

Rumors suggest that three or four ministers might be replaced. Saglam expects these rumors to become more frequent as the election date approaches.

Saglam noted that ministers who align with Şimşek's policies are likely to be appointed after the election, replacing those who do not collaborate well. He also mentioned that political and foreign policy decisions will play a significant role in the cabinet reshuffle.

Furthermore, Saglam stated that Minister of Commerce Ömer Bolat is one of the names who are certain to leave his position.

Erdogan's government seeks to limit top court's influence

President Tayyip Erdogan's administration is exploring ways to reduce the power of Turkey's Constitutional Court, a senior official and two legislators in the governing alliance said.

This move follows the court's decisions to release opposition lawmaker Can Atalay. According to these sources, Erdogan and his allies are concerned about the court's authority, particularly its frequent use of "individual applications."

The sources who spoke on condition of anonymity, expressed unease about the court's influence, which they believe has created a "unique sphere of power." To address this, the government is weighing options, including the establishment of a "Turkish Human Rights Court" dedicated to handling individual applications separately, the senior official said. While the Constitutional Court and the individual application system will still exist in some capacity, the official emphasized the need for new regulations.

Erdogan hints at service disruptions in Istanbul if Kurum not elected

During the inauguration of a new train line attended by AKP mayoral candidate Murat Kurum, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan hinted at potential disruptions in municipal services if his party's candidate is not elected in the local election scheduled for March 31.

On February 26, Erdogan implied that if the AKP candidate is not elected, residents of Istanbul may experience interruptions in municipal services. He emphasized the ruling party's authority in Ankara and indicated coordination between the government and Murat Kurum to ensure uninterrupted services.

Additionally, Erdogan criticized İmamoğlu, the incumbent mayor, accusing him of failing to effectively address key issues such as traffic congestion and garbage collection during his five-year tenure in Istanbul.


Halkbank faces doubt in U.S. Appeals Court over Iran sanctions case

Turkey's Halkbank, a state-owned Turkish lender, faced skepticism from a U.S. appeals court panel on February 28 as it sought to avoid criminal charges related to allegedly aiding Iran in bypassing American sanctions.

During arguments before the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan, a lawyer for Halkbank argued that the bank should be immune from prosecution under long-standing common law principles. However, a Department of Justice lawyer countered that the decision to bring charges should be consistent with U.S. foreign policy, ultimately resting with the White House.

Circuit Judge Joseph Bianco agreed with the government's stance, suggesting that courts typically defer to the executive branch on matters concerning foreign relations. He questioned the potential consequences of courts intervening in cases that impact U.S. interests and national security.

The Justice Department lawyer emphasized Halkbank's alleged involvement in a significant scheme to evade sanctions, stating that such conduct, especially by a state-owned bank, should not be overlooked.

The appeals court did not provide a timeline for its decision on the case.

President Erdogan hails economic growth despite rising living costs

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan praised Turkey's economic growth, which reached 4.5 percent in 2023, according to the Turkish Statistical Institute (TurkStat), surpassing expectations despite setbacks like a devastating earthquake.

While this growth exceeded forecasts and indicated progress from the pandemic year of 2020, where growth was only 1.9 percent, it marked a slowdown from previous years with higher rates like 11.5 percent in 2021 and 5.6 percent in 2022.

Speaking at a rally in Kutahya on February 29, Erdogan hailed the achievement, although many Turks are grappling with financial difficulties due to soaring living costs. According to official data, annual inflation in Turkey stood at 64.86 percent in January.

Turkey plans to allow international companies to transfer customer data abroad

Turkey is preparing to revise its data protection regulations, allowing international companies to transfer data concerning local customers out of the country, Bloomberg reported. The proposed bill, currently under discussion in the general assembly, is expected to be passed with the support of President Erdogan's ruling Ak Party and its nationalist ally, the MHP.

The bill aims to enable companies to centralize data processing outside of Turkey, potentially reducing operational expenses. Industries such as telecommunications, I.T., retail, and aviation are expected to benefit from this change. According to an impact analysis conducted by the Istanbul-based International Investors Association (Yased), the amendment could attract significant foreign direct investment (FDI) to Turkey, estimated at up to $18.6 billion.

Investigative journalist reports Turkish goods sent to Israel despite Erdogan's criticism

An investigative journalist revealed that more than 100 tons of goods have been shipped from Turkish ports to Israel in the past three days, despite Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's strong condemnation of Israel's military actions in Gaza.

Metin Cihan, the journalist, stated that the shipments included various items such as steel, cement, and food, with Turkish companies serving as the primary suppliers. Interestingly, Israeli state-owned companies are directly involved in this trade.

Despite the ongoing conflict, Eren Holding, a pro-government company highlighted by Cihan, has continued its deliveries without interruption, providing Israel over 200,000 tons of materials, including cement and construction supplies.


E.U. sees 18% rise in asylum applications; Turkey leads surge

Asylum applications in the European Union increased by 18 percent to 1.14 million in 2023, according to data released by the European Union Asylum Agency (EUAA) on February 28.

The most significant increase came from Turkish nationals, who submitted approximately 100,870 asylum applications, marking an 82 percent surge compared to 2022.

Of these, 96,147 were evaluated as first-time applications, 37,841 were decided, while 83,964 applications are still under evaluation. Ten thousand four hundred fifty-seven applications were withdrawn, and ninety-four applications were redirected from the country of destination to another country. Germany received the highest number of applications, followed by France and Austria.

The report highlights a consistent decline in the acceptance rates of asylum applications from Turkey over the past four years. The application acceptance rate, which stood at 54 percent in 2019, declined to 25 percent in 2023.

HRW report accuses Turkey of abuses in northern Syria

Human Rights Watch released a report on February 29, stating that Turkey holds responsibility for serious abuses and potential war crimes committed by its forces and local armed groups in Turkish-occupied areas of northern Syria.

The 74-page report, titled "Everything is by the Power of the Weapon: Abuses and Impunity in Turkish-Occupied Northern Syria," documents various violations such as abductions, arbitrary arrests, unlawful detention, sexual violence, and torture by factions of the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army (SNA) and the Military Police.

According to the report, Turkish Armed Forces and intelligence agencies were involved in overseeing these abuses, with Turkish officials sometimes directly participating in torture and ill-treatment of detainees.

The report concludes that neither the SNA's military courts nor Turkey, as the occupying power and primary supporter of the SNA, have adequately addressed these serious crimes in Turkish-occupied territories.

NGOs urge Greek Government to reject extradition request for Ali Yesildag

A coalition of NGOs called on the Greek government to refuse Ankara's extradition request for a Turkish asylum seeker named Ali Yesildag, who had accused President Erdogan of corruption.

The Hellenic League for Human Rights and four other refugee rights organizations stated that Yesildag's life is at risk in Turkey, where he could face a life sentence for allegedly participating in an armed extremist organization.

The group called on the Greek justice minister to safeguard Yesildag's life in accordance with legal guarantees and international law and to decline the extradition request from the Turkish state.

Yesildag had applied for political asylum in Greece after being arrested by Greek police near Turkey's border. Despite his asylum application, Greece's Supreme Court ruled in favor of his extradition.

In May 2023, Yesildag publicly accused Erdogan of corruption during the Turkish leader's presidential campaign. He claimed that Erdogan had accepted a bribe related to a tender for the operation of an airport in southern Turkey.

İstanbul Court sentences former journalist Erdem Gul to five years in retrial

A court in Istanbul sentenced former journalist Erdem Gül to five years in prison on February 28 in a retrial related to a report on National Intelligence Organization (MİT) trucks allegedly transporting weapons to rebels in Syria in 2014, as reported by the P24 platform.

Gül, who served as the Ankara representative of Cumhuriyet daily at the time of the report's publication in May 2015, was convicted on charges of aiding and abetting a terrorist organization despite not being a member.

Fikret İlkiz, one of Gül's lawyers, said convicting someone of aiding and abetting a terrorist organization without being a member contradicts the constitution, referring to a Constitutional Court ruling in December that invalidated Article 220 § 6 of the Turkish Penal Code.

Gul currently holds the position of mayor in the Adalar district of Istanbul for the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP).


Turkey ranks third in Global Diplomacy Index

According to the latest Global Diplomacy Index, Turkey has emerged as the world's third-largest diplomatic player, trailing only behind China and the United States.

With 252 diplomatic posts, Turkey has surpassed traditional heavyweights like Japan and France. The country's diplomatic network has expanded significantly, adding 24 posts since 2017 and 11 since the previous index in 2021.

The expansion of Turkey's diplomatic network, particularly in the Middle East and Africa, reflects Ankara's strategic interests in these regions. Despite this growth, the index highlights that Turkey's diplomatic network remains predominantly focused on Europe, with 40 percent of its total foreign representations in this region.

Turkey receives draft letters from U.S. for F-16 fighter jets deal

On February 29, Turkey's defense ministry spokesperson announced that the United States had sent draft letters of offer and acceptance for the sale of Block-70 F-16 fighter jets and modernization kits. The spokesperson stated that Turkey had begun evaluating the draft letters. Once Turkey completes its review, officials from both countries will meet to finalize the deal.

On the same day, the U.S. Senate voted against a resolution to stop the sale of F-16 fighter jets and modernization kits to Turkey.

Frontex to triple officers in Bulgaria to combat border crossings

On February 29, the European Union's border agency, Frontex, announced its plans to triple the number of its officers in Bulgaria starting next month. This decision aims to reduce the number of people crossing into the E.U. from Turkey. Frontex chief Hans Leijtens mentioned that this staffing boost will bring the number of officers to between 500 and 600.

The increase in staffing comes as Bulgaria gets ready to partially join the Schengen Zone, which means passport checks will be eliminated for air and sea travel between Bulgaria and the Schengen area starting March 31. However, land travel will still require border checks.

Turkey calls for ceasefire talks in Ukraine

Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan expressed hope for the start of ceasefire talks in Ukraine soon following a diplomatic forum in Antalya. During the event, Fidan met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on March 1 and discussed various issues, including Ukraine.

Fidan informed Lavrov during their meeting that Turkey was prepared to make every effort to facilitate the resumption of dialogue between Russia and Ukraine, according to a Turkish diplomatic source speaking to AFP.

The source added that Lavrov acknowledged Ankara's efforts but maintained that the conditions which led to the conflict "remained unchanged."

Fidan also told reporters on March 3 that both sides in the conflict have reached the limits of what can be achieved through warfare and emphasized the need for dialogue to initiate a ceasefire. He clarified that advocating for dialogue doesn't equate to recognizing Russia's occupation of certain territories. Fidan urged all parties to embrace the idea of dialogue to end the conflict.