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Turkey’s State of Emergency Decrees: A Matter of Life and Death for Erdogan or for Turkish Democracy?

Ahmet S. Yayla, Ph.D.

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Turkey has been ruled by a declared State of Emergency since the July 2016 coup attempt, allowing President Erdogan to consolidate additional powers and target not just those responsible for the coup, but allegedly also those who hold or express opposing political views.

The Turkish Government has been using State of Emergency Decrees to fire people, close media outlets, and swiftly pass regulations and laws they deem necessary without going through parliament and the normal checks and balances – regulations and laws which would be expected to face harsh criticism and opposition under normal circumstances. Since the coup, over 135,000 people have lost their jobs, 85,000 have been detained, and almost 45,000 arrested in a wide-ranging purge from different segments of the state and society, including the military, judiciary, national police, academics, doctors, teachers and low skilled workers. In addition, over 180 journalists have been arrested and hundreds of businesses, NGOs, and associations were closed. Amid unconfirmed allegations of torture and killing during detentions and inside prisons, many people have felt the need to escape Turkey and go into hiding abroad to save themselves from an unknown and potentially deadly future.

Erdogan appears to be using State of Emergency Decree powers to shape the future of Turkey and to guarantee his own safety and fate. Two recent batches of the State of Emergency Decrees (SED) signed by Erdogan include critical rulings that will shape Turkey’s short and long-term governing future. These decrees are essentially turning Turkey into a de facto dictatorship and harming Turkish society in a way that will not be easily undone. One decree on January 6, 2017 has a special impact. The decree fires 1699 Ministry of Justice personnel. This is significant because a large portion of the forensic doctors who were working for the Medical Forensic Examination Divisions were fired. These doctors are the forensic examiners who issue reports regarding detainees, arrestees, and inmates to ensure they were not mishandled and tortured and who examine bodies to reveal the cause of death. According to media reports, after the coup attempt over 40 prisoners were reported dead through “suicide” in Turkish prisons, along with hundreds of torture allegations. This decree opens the door to ensure torture and deaths are not going to be reported, that torturers who support Erdogan will feel freer to engage in such activities, and that there will be an increase in so-called “suicides” in prison. This risks moving Turkey towards a Police State.

The new decrees are also reshaping and restructuring the Turkish military. Erdogan has seen the military as a rival since the beginning of his rule. The coup attempt, which he called “a gift from God”, has enabled him to act against the military, firing and arresting thousands of officers, over half of the generals, and more than 2/3 of military pilots, most of whom did not have direct ties with the coup attempt. Many positions after this extensive purge were filled with generals and high-level military officers known to have ties to Dogu Perincek and considered to be pro-Russian or Shanghai-Five. Perincek is a former Maoist and communist terrorist leader from the 1970s who turned into an ultra-leftist nationalist political leader with his Vatan Party. Several retired generals aligned themselves with Perincek after they left the military, receiving high level positions in his party, still others writing as columnists in his media. In the interests of transparency, I myself arrested Perincek in 1998 while I was working for the Ankara Counter-terrorism and Operations Division, due to his ties to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). I was very surprised to find copies of Top Secret Turkish Supreme Military Council (YAŞ) decisions in his safe at his office, the highest secrecy level documents in Turkey. Finding copies of Top Secret documents in his office prompted to me look further into Perincek’s background in the archives. I discovered he had been sentenced to prison after the March 1971 coup in Turkey as the leader of a Revolutionary Youth (Dev-Genç) terrorist movement. More surprising is that even though several of the suspects in the main Dev-Genç case were military academy students or young military officers, they were not fired and by 1998 they were on active duty, mostly as colonels, a high rank.

In November 2016, Erdogan signed an SED which opened a path back into the military for officers who were previously fired from the military (mainly before 2010) due to their connections with different Islamist groups. As a secular institution, the Turkish military has always deemed officers who had any ties with Islamist groups in Turkey as an essential threat to its existence, firing them if the connections are discovered. Through the SED, Erdogan has basically invited back over 8000 officers who were fired in the past. Those officers are also expected to start work within the military at the ranks they would be if they had not been fired. The result is that all of a sudden Erdogan now has numerous high-level military officers that are supportive of him. Several of those are also affiliated with a private company named “SADAT International Defense Consulting”, led by another previously-fired general, Adnan Tanriverdi, who serves as chief military advisor to Erdogan. New SEDs signed on January 6, 2017 put into place further measures to strengthen Erdogan’s position. Among the most critical ones are the fact that the Supreme Military Council (YAŞ) was sidelined. This commission used to decide on the future and critical assignments of the military, such as the commanders of the military branches and other critical commanders. Now, with the decree, the Defense Ministry will simply offer the names of the proposed commanders and they will be appointed by the Prime Minister’s signature and President’s approval. In addition, the mandatory service time for different branches and the age of retirement for the top commanders was amended, enabling Erdogan to keep the generals he likes and force others into retirement.

The new SEDs have also canceled the requirement of having advanced degrees to become military corporals and sergeants, decreasing the education requirement to the completion of elementary school, which in Turkey is only four years of education. There are several reasons behind this significant change. The first is that SADAT has been having difficulties finding suitable candidates to recruit due to the previous higher education requirements. Similarly, several other Islamist groups who were working with Erdogan had the same problem: not being able to find suitable candidates to recruit for the military, including the AKP’s known and assigned Islamist teacher, Nurettin Yıldız. With this change in education requirement, SADAT and Erdogan’s close circles will be able to hire anyone they want, as they have claimed that educated people were not good for them because they would think and not carry out orders. Now they will have elementary school graduates who will more readily follow orders without question. In addition to the changes in the military, another essential SED was granting permission to private security guards to carry weapons. In the past, only specifically trained guards working for specific industries, like state banks, could receive such special permission. Now all will be armed. Another important SED concerns the revocation of citizenship of those alleged to be part of the July coup attempt. The government has decreed it will cancel the citizenship of any suspects being tried due to alleged ties to the coup attempt and/or are living abroad if they do not go back to Turkey within three months. According to this decree, all suspects fleeing Turkey will be stripped of their citizenship, in most cases rendering the person stateless. In addition to rendering many Turks stateless, the decree also appears to be contrary to International Law.

The SEDs continue to give additional powers to the government. For example, the police were given the authority to determine who owns which internet IP addresses throughout the country, an authority previously only available through a court warrant to a limited number of specific IPs. The police were also given the authority to obtain any internet traffic they want, without a court order, with just the signature of a police chief, a power that again in the past was only available for limited IPs and for certain times through court warrants. In addition, the government now has the authority to shut down any media establishment they want if the media does not comply with the press bans which are increasingly issued by courts as a means of controlling the population.

These new regulations are in effect as of January 6, 2017, resulting in a Turkey that is more anti-democratic, dangerous and becoming close to a lawless state, to a real dictatorship. Time will soon tell who will win one of the most dangerous and bloody chess games in the region: who will be leading Turkey in the coming years and, more importantly, what kind of political system will it be and will rule of law still be known there?

Ahmet S. Yayla is an assistant professor at the DeSales University Homeland Security Department and faculty member at Georgetown University School of Continuing Studies. He is also a research fellow at the Program on Extremism at the George Washington University. Dr. Yayla previously served as a full professor and the chair of the Department of Sociology at Harran University in Turkey. Dr. Yayla is a 20-year veteran of the counterterrorism and operations department in the Turkish National Police and served as the chief of counterterrorism in Sanliurfa, Turkey between 2010 and 2013.

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Middle East

China-Iran Deal and its implication for the region

Ashish Dangwal

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From the past few years, the increasing partnership between China and Iran has raised major concerns among many countries. Sinking economy and the recent COVID crisis pushed Iran into the corner and China timely manifested itself as a perfect partner for Iran. The diplomatic ties between these two countries were established in 1971 and over the years China’s demand for energy and Iran’s isolation from the international community brings them together. The recent investment and security pact covered almost every sector from Telecom, banking, ports, railways and dozens of other projects. Though the secret details of the pact were leaked but soon rejected by Iranian officials.

In 2016, Xi Jinping made a state visit to Iran and then laid the structure of this deal. Soon after in 2019, China announced its plan to invest $ 400 billion. Iran’s economy is suffering greatly because of the U.S.A sanctions and needs a lifeline to revive their domestic market. Where one side, most of the companies from different nations pulled out their businesses from Iran, On the other hand, Chinese investment can play a significant role in Iran’s survival. This partnership between these two nations directly challenges U.S.A efforts to cut off Iran from the international market arena. China’s ever-growing aspirations to increase its involvement in the Middle East perfectly sync with the geostrategic location of Tehran. However, Iran’s ambition to become a regional power needs huge investment in its domestic market. That’s where both countries see themselves as an emerging partner. 

China-Iran Economic Relationship

As a growing economy, China dependence on Iran’s oil is quite reasonable. Though this relationship is not just based on the energy, but even on the many different aspects. After 2016, China and Iran were agreed to increase their trading relations to $600 billion in the upcoming 10 years. The agreement was concordant with One Belt, One Road framework. A total of 17 agreements were signed, including one which relates to the Iran nuclear programme. The Chinese will help connect Tehran with Mashhad via their high-speed rail technology.  After the sanctions levied by the USA and other western countrieson Iran, its dependence on China increased in recent years. The trading relationship is not only limit to purchase of crude oil but even China’s involvement inIran’s upstream and downstream production processes through major investments.From 2005, both countries signed seven upstream production agreement with each other. All these agreements involve the state-owned Chinese companies, which shows the significant presence of China in Iran.

China-Iran-Syria Nexus

In December 2019, Syrian president while giving an interview to a Chinese media expressed his willingness to join the BRI project and projected Syria as a perfect partner for the Chinese investment. Syria suffered a lot because of the decades of war and wanted to start the reconstruction activities in their country. Iran and China identified themselves as the ally of Syria and they even wanted to make a strategic nexus between these countries. For the reconstruction process, China is helping Syria from Port of Tripoli by setting up it as a logistic base for the reconstruction process. China wanted to link this port with Syria’s “Four sea strategy” and connect the BRI project to the eastern Mediterranean area. This whole economic bloc could challenge the American hegemony in the region. Iran and Syria are already strategic allies in this region and by adding China in this situation, it would promote the autocratic rule in the region to counter America.

The implication for the Region

Trump administration’s ‘maximum pressure’ policy towards Iran pushed many countries like India and Japan to cut off the trading ties with Tehran. This was seen as the major diplomatic blunder made by the U.S.A because of the one very simple reason that these countries could play a major role to find the middle ground for the talks between Iran and the west.As claimed by the reports, China will increase its partnership to build the ports too, getting a port in the Persian Gulf will provide the major boost to Chinese strategic plans. If China successfully expands its presence in Iran then it will lead to the major conflict between the U.S.A and China. Though China has already invested heavily on the Gwadar port, it will not hesitate to gain an upper hand in the Persian Gulf. From where Beijing can keep its eye on U.S.A movements in the region. India’s investment progress in Iran was slow and that’s the reason recently Iran started the railway track construction work on its own.

The growing instability in the region will further escalate, as the partnership will grow between these countries. China’s ambitions to expand its BRI projects and Syria’s “Four seas strategy” can become a foundation for future projects in the whole region. Syrian President Bashar Assad has promoted this four seas strategy since 2009 that would transform the Damascus into a major trading hub. Syria wanted to form an economic space between Iran, Iraq, Turkey and Syria that will shape a new bloc of nations in the region. This plan includes the four seas of the region from the Mediterranean, Caspian, Black Sea, and the Persian Gulf, which makes easy for these nations from investment to transportation. 

The expanding partnership will lead to the architecture of a security structure between these three countries and will directly undermine the U.S.A presence in the region. The gradual consolidation of powers based on Anti-American and Anti-west sentiments can even form a proper security alliance where the inclusion of Turkey would be a possible scenario shortly. All these countries kind of having the same political regime one way or another, so for them it will be a great strategy to stop America’s presence from their domestic issues. If U.S.A wants to stop China’s involvement in the region, it needs to involve its key Asian partner, so that there will be some major power players in the region to maintain stability. 

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Middle East

Are The U.S. And Its Partners Losing The Grip On Syria’s North East?

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The oil-rich province of Deir Ezzor located in Eastern Syria has witnessed another escalation between the local Arab populace and the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Unexpectedly for the SDF and the U.S. military, the protesters have established control over a number of towns, and it seems they are willing to go further.

Sources close to the SDF initially reported that the protesters limited their demands by requesting a solution to a number of minor issues, but soon enough it became evident that it was not the case and the issue – and a major one – was the presence of SDF in the area. The demonstrators were quick to turn from chanting slogans to taking control of towns: in a single day they captured all of Shuhayl, Al-Hawayej, Diban and forced the SDF members to leave before blocking the roads.

The protests were sparked by a series of assassinations of influential leaders of Al-Aqidat and Al-Baqara tribes. Three Deir Ezzor sheikhs were killed in less than a week: Sheikh Suleiman Khalaf al-Kassar from Al-Aqidat was shot in Busayra village July 30. The next day Sheikh Suleiman Al-Weis who belonged to Al-Baqara was shot in the head by two gunmen on a motorcycle in Al-Dahla. Finally, Sheikh Muttshar al-Hamoud al-Hifl was shot in the outskirts of Al-Hawayej on Sunday, August 2. His relative Sheikh Ibrahim al-Hifl was also wounded in the incident but survived.

In a peculiar coincidence, a few weeks before the assassinations the tribal leaders were invited to a meeting with the SDF Commander Mazloum Abdi with the U.S. servicemen also present. The agenda reportedly included co-operation between the tribes and the SDF. It was reported that at least one of the victims, Muttshar al-Hifti, declined to participate and to engage with the Americans.

An insight into the details of these meetings can be gained through the reports about an oil deal allegedly struck by the SDF and a little known American oil developer Delta Crescent LLC. Delta Crescent was granted exclusive rights for production, refinement and export of the oil from Deir Ezzor fields potentially bringing the participants annual profit of hundreds of millions dollars, according to statements made by U.S. officials. The deal was met with harsh response from the Syrian government who labeled it a “deal between thieves”.

According to sources on the ground, the implication is that those who fell victim to the assassinations shared this view and opposed the deal. Their removal, however, has clearly failed to deliver the results intended by the masterminds behind their deaths, yet another time when the Kurds were thrown to the wolves by the U.S. who is accustomed to making their allies bear the consequences of the reckless pursuit of the American interests.

Meanwhile the SDF started to amass forces in the vicinity of the areas shaken by the unrest. The reinforcements sent from Al-Shadadi, Al-Sousa and Baghuz are gathering at the US military base near Al-Omar oil field. Moreover, two US Apache attack helicopters were spotted patrolling the area. These developments combined with lack of report on any negotiations between the protesters and the SDF leadership paint a grim picture, indicating that the SDF likely intends to use force to disperse the protests.

It is not the first time the SDF resorts to the use of force when faced with the discontent of the local populace in north-eastern Syria, although this approach had never brought the desired result. All areas affected by the protests have been subjected to dozens of raids of the SDF and the US special forces. Reports on these operations unfailingly mentioned arrests of ISIS terrorists. They failed to mention, however, what the Pentagon files under the category of “collateral damage” – deaths of civilians killed in the result of the actions of the US military and their allies.

The upheaval in Deir Ezzor is yet another evidence that the SDF, initially an independent movement, has degraded to a tool or a lever of American influence in Syria, and now finds itself fighting consequences instead of locating the root cause of the unrest – widespread corruption among the officials of the Kurdish administration and dramatic deterioration of the living conditions.

The regional turbulence created by Washington’s constantly shifting stance – or rather a lack of stance – on Syria has grown so strong it finally turned against the American interests. The latest escalation in Deir Ezzor should be considered nothing but a byproduct of this ill-designed policy and, perhaps, marks a beginning of the end of the US and SDF hegemony in Syria’s North East.

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Middle East

The Looming Disaster of the Safer Oil Tanker Moored off the Coast of Yemen

Amb. Sahar Ghanem

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Amidst the raging conflict in Yemen, the challenge of the Safer Oil Tanker emerges as one of the most hazardous risks to the environment safety in the Red Sea as a result of the potential oil spillage in the Red Sea at any moment.

Following expressing deep alarm, the United Nations Security Council called on 29 June,2020, to immediately grant unconditional access for the United Nations technical experts to assess the tanker’s condition without overdue to prevent growing risk of possible rupture, explosion or even spillage.

The threat of the floating Oil Tanker, moored off the coast of Yemen, does not only impose challenges to the geopolitical and strategic importance of the Red Sea, but it rather represents a huge challenge that threatens the environment safety, leading to one of the largest environmental hazards in the world, after the unforgettable 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill disaster in Siberia – Russia.

On 18 July 2019, the United Nations Humanitarian Affairs Coordinator Mr. Mark Lowcock informed the UN Security Council of the growing threats of the deserted Safar Oil Tanker, warning of possible explosion or leakage of its loads [1.14 M barrels of crude oil]. In his briefing on the humanitarian situation in Yemen, he pointed out that such an incident would result to a disastrous crisis to the marine life in the Red Sea and maritime in the straits of Bab-Al Madeb and Suez Canal which are two significant water corridors to the world.

It is known that the Red Sea is home for some scarce invertebrates such as corals and 600 species of fish. Unless preventative measures are taken now and immediately to prevent oil spill or possible tanker explosion, we will concretely witness a disastrous incident leading to severe effect on the Red Sea marine environment, and on both biodiversity and livelihoods starting from Yemen and extending north to Suez Canal through Jobal strait and the Gulf of Suez and south through Bab-Al Madeb strait reaching even Hormoz strait through the Arabian sea.

Environment experts’ projections expect that 115 islands are vulnerable to the risk of oil pollution; 126,000 fishermen will lose their source of income, among them 76,000 fishmen are in Al Hodeidah governorate; 850 tons of fish stocks will be exposed to the danger of contamination and death in Yemen, in the Red Sea and in Bab Al-Mandam; more than 500 fish species are at high risk of disappearing; and 300 corals will certainly disappear as a result.

The problem emerged following the takeover of the Capital Sanaa on 21 September 2014, when Houthi militias implemented unilateral actions inter alia dissolving parliament and taking over Yemen’s government institutions, which have seriously escalated the situation, leading to illegitimate seizure of power “coup d’etat”, and eventually leading to current conflict in Yemen.

The floating storage and its connected offloading terminals have not been inspected or maintained since 2015 after Houthis militias took control of the area including port of Ras Isa to which the floating tanker is connected by terminals extending 9km off the coast of Yemen.

Yemen’s internationally-recognized government has warned in many letters of evident corrosion and lack of maintenance, creating the conditions for serious environmental disaster. The Yemeni government made an urgent call for the UN to send inspection team to scale the risks.

Unfortunately, the UN inspection team was denied access to the floating tanker by the Houthi militias many times. The UN inspection team is tasked with the mission to provide the necessary inspection and put recommendations for the needed maintenance and continuing to create obstacles will refrain the team from reaching the tanker and delivering the urgent inspection.

Lately, the Government of the Republic of Yemen repeated asserting the urgent emergency of the imminent catastrophe of the floating “Safer Oil Tanker”. The government confirmed that “given the critical nature of the aging floating tanker’s situation, on 27 May 2020 leaks have been reported in the tanker causing water leaked into the tanker’s operational machineries raising the possibilities of the tanker rupturing, sinking or even exploding.

Despite urgent fixing of leaking occurred, the deteriorating situation of the tanker threatens continuing eroding. As a result, on 15 July 2020, the UNSC held a session to debate latest urgent developments and called for urgent response to be taken by the Houthi militias as required by the inspection team. It is worth mentioning that the Houthis always show willingness to accept the inspection team just like the assurances made by the Houthis in August 2019 only to be withdrawn right before the inspection team was due to board the tanker.

The Yemeni government has always approved all relevant initiatives recommended by the UN to allow addressing the serious matter and proposing necessary urgent solutions to the Safer oil tanker, as part of the responsibility to the humanitarian and economic measures proposed by the office of the UN Special Envoy Mr. Martin Griffiths and as part of its responsibility to building and sustaining environment safety; however, the Houthi militias continue refusing to allow permissions to the UN inspection team to visit the oil tanker, noting that the situation of the Safer oil tanker is becoming extremely critical more than ever, causing increasing threats of possible oil spillage, tanker sinking and explosion at any moment.

In conclusion, the Safer Oil Tanker is a floating time-bomb and allowing inspection and maintains is the only possible means that will stop a serious catastrophe from happening. If incidents of explosion or even oil spill occur, that will lead to one of the worst man-made environmental disasters in the Red Sea. Action must be taken immediately while we have in hand an opportunity to protect the environments and spare the lives of millions of people in Yemen and the region from a looming tragedy.

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