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Turkish Press Roundup

Turkish reporting on foreign affairs this week centered on the heavily anticipated visit of Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping. A guest of President Abdullah Gül, Xi received head-of-state honors to recognize his coming ascension to the presidency of China, with the press uniformly reveling in the significance of his choice to include Turkey in his tour. Before departing, the Vice-President met with government and business leaders, signed 28 bilateral agreements (including commercial collaboration totaling some USD 4.3 billion), and participated in a celebration of 40 years of established Chinese-Turkish relations.

Ahead of an informal G20 meeting in Mexico, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu alluded to the yet unfulfilled Turkish proposal regarding Syria by suggesting the G20 could serve as a broad international platform for debating global security concerns outside the UN Security Council. Reports emerged this week that over 40 Turkish intelligence officers have been captured by the Syrian army, and that their release remains contingent on the Turkish government returning certain Syrian defectors to the Assad regime. Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi announced that P5+1 talks on Iran’s nuclear program were set to be held in Istanbul. Selahattin Demirtaş, leader of Turkey’s Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), and Ahmet Türk, President of the Democratic Society Congress announced a final arrangement to hold their repeatedly postponed Kurdish national conference, though presumed high-profile participants are still divided over including the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

After Turkey withdrew its support for the famed Europa Race sailing competition, citing the recently enacted French law criminalizing the denial of Armenian genocide claims, the EU Commission’s new representative in Turkey, Jean-Maurice Rupert, stated in an interview that he was optimistic about EU-Turkish relations in 2012, provided that Turkey implements ambitious reforms, especially in press and media freedom. The EU Parliament’s Turkey rapporteur Ria Oomen-Ruijten condemned attacks on European offices of the Turkish daily newspaper Zaman. In a rare public debate about Turkish foreign aid, politicians bickered about the aims of ongoing aid to Somalia, with secular- and Islamist-leaning leaders hurling accusations that past aid has furthered their opponents’ agenda. German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s apology for the killing of eight Turkish men by Neo-Nazis received positive coverage in several major Turkish dailies.

Last week’s whispers became this week’s front-page news as commentators criticized the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) with fresh speculation about the ideological and political undercurrents shaping the recent investigation of Turkey’s intelligence service (MIT). The dispute over the prosecution of MIT officials responsible for the penetration of the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK, the alleged urban wing of the outlawed PKK) has previously been cast as a struggle between the AKP and its once strong, if indirect political ally, the Fethullah Gülen movement, which maintains enormous influence over Turkey’s police force and elements of its legal community. The angles taken on this story are too numerous to recount, but two dominant strands of speculation suggest (1) that the investigation was engineered by Gülenists to reassert their political influence, and (2) that the investigation is a bureaucratic manifestation of the long-standing disagreement between the leadership of the AKP and the Gülen movement over how to approach Kurdish issues.

A survey published this week in the pro-government Sabah newspaper indicated increased public approval for the AKP and lessening public support for the Republican People’s Party (CHP), Turkey’s main opposition party. A 650-page report issued by Turkey’s State Inspection Board regarding the assassination of Armenian journalist Hrant Dink blamed the failed subsequent investigation on disengagement between the police and gendarmerie—the limited actionable findings of the report prompted criticism from Milliyet columnist Fikret Bila. BDP vice-president Gültan Kışanak and several deputies from his party undertook a two-day hunger strike to protest the detainment of colleagues in their party.  The AKP proposed legislation to allow children to choose distance education over traditional classroom courses after their first four years of elementary school. The plan allows girls who intend to wear Islamic-style headscarves to begin doing so at an early age, generating significant criticism that non-headscarf wearing girls would be ostracized from schools in rural areas, and that students would be indirectly encouraged to attend Imam Hatip schools, which train government employed Imams. Turkey’s influential conservative Industrialists’ and Businessmen’s Association opposed the draft legislation after initially supporting the AKP’s proposal for education reform. Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan announced a new state goal for Turkey to build three nuclear power plants by 2023. The pro-government television station ATV received condemnation for its supposed “gaffe” this week, in which a prostitute in the channel’s most popular show was given the same name as a deputy from the CHP, Nur Serter.

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  • Kris

    Ever since Via Meadia decided on a Turkey beat, I have been hoping for a post on the relationship between the AKP, the Gülen movement, and their ilk.

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