Obama, Erdogan Seek Common Ground on Middle East

September 22, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Matt Spetalnick and Laura MacInnis

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U.S. President Barack Obama (R) and Turkey’s Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan shake hands in New York September 20, 2011. World leaders have gathered in New York for the United Nations General Assembly.  

REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

NEW YORK (Reuters) – President Barack Obama and Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan sought common ground on counterterrorism and Middle East policy on Tuesday even as Washington pressed Ankara to ease tensions with close U.S. ally Israel.

Their talks on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly came as a showdown loomed this week over Palestinian statehood at the world body, another source of rising tensions in a region in political upheaval.

Washington has watched with concern as NATO ally Turkey’s once-friendly ties with Israel have deteriorated rapidly over Israel’s 2010 killing of Turkish activists in a Gaza-bound aid convoy. The crisis has underscored Israel’s growing isolation and the new limits of U.S. influence in the Middle East.

“The president underscored his interest in seeing a resolution of that issue between those two countries and encouraged continuing work toward that end,” White House adviser Liz Sherwood-Randall told reporters after the meeting, saying Obama also emphasized the need to calm tensions throughout the region.

White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said Obama would make the same points to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when he meets him on Wednesday.

The two leaders also discussed Syria, where President Bashar al-Assad’s unrelenting crackdown on anti-government protests has alarmed neighboring Turkey and led to U.S. calls he step aside.

Obama and Erdogan agreed on the need to increase pressure on Assad and agreed to consult on possible further steps that “could include sanctions, political pressure, other measures,” Rhodes said.

Obama and Erdogan, in their public comments to reporters, focused on deadly attacks in Turkey on Tuesday that they agreed underscored the need for cooperation on counterterrorism.

“This reminds us that terrorism exists in many parts of the world, and Turkey and the United States are going to be strong partners in preventing terrorism,” Obama said.

An explosion from a suspected car bomb ripped through a street in the Turkish capital, Ankara, near a neighborhood housing government buildings, killing three people.

Also on Tuesday, Kurdish guerrillas attacked a police college in southeastern Turkey, killing four people in a passing vehicle, broadcaster CNN Turk reported on its website.

NEED ‘TO WORK TOGETHER’

Erdogan said the United States and Turkey needed to “work together in planning, use technology so that we can continue to take more steps in trying to fight against terrorism.”

Turkey is in talks with the United States to provide a base for a fleet of U.S. Predator drones now stationed in Iraq. It is reported to want surveillance drones to carry out operations against Kurdish separatist rebels based in northern Iraq.

The Obama administration is seeking to preserve close ties with Turkey, an increasingly assertive economic and military power in the region that has become a champion of democracy movements roiling the Arab world.

Ankara backed efforts that led to the ouster of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and aids U.S. forces fighting in Afghanistan, and plays a crucial role in neighboring Iraq.

Obama praised Erdogan for “great leadership” in promoting democracy in the region. But problems remain.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged Turkey on Monday not to do anything to worsen its relationship with Israel.

Israeli-Turkish relations have spiraled downward in recent weeks with the release of a U.N. report on the 2010 flotilla raid, in which Israeli commandos raid killed nine Turkish activists, and Israel’s refusal to apologize to Ankara.

Erdogan’s government has expelled Israel’s envoy, frozen military cooperation and warned that the Turkish navy could escort future aid flotillas — raising the prospect of confrontation between Turkey and the Jewish state.

Erdogan has also kept up a stream of harsh rhetoric against Israel, using a tour of Arab states last week to support a Palestinian bid for statehood at the United Nations and chide Israel as a spoiled client of the West.

(Editing by Mohammad Zargham and Peter Cooney)

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Erdoğan Offers ‘Arab Spring’ Neo-Laicism

September 22, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Daily News

TUNIS

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Turkey’s Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan (L) and Chairman of Libya’s National Transitional Council Mustafa Abdel Jalil wave to people during a rally at Martyrs’ Square in Tripoli September 16, 2011. 

REUTERS/Suhaib Salem

Following criticism in Egypt, the Turkish PM repeats his support for secular governments where he says all religious groups are treated equally

Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan (L) draws intense interest during his visit to a covered bazaar in the Tunisian capital, Tunis. AA photo Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Thursday repeated his controversial call for uprising-hit Arab countries to adopt “secular states,” following Turkey’s model.

“Turkey is a democratic, secular and social state of law. As for secularism, a secular state has an equal distance to all religious groups, including Muslim, Christian, Jewish and atheist people,”
Erdoğan said during a visit to Tunis, the place where the wave of pro-democracy revolts sweeping the Middle East and North Africa began late last year.

“Tunisia will prove to the whole world that Islam and democracy can co-exist. Turkey with its predominantly Muslim population has achieved it,” Erdoğan said. His administration is seen by many as a model for post-revolution Arab countries, though Islamic groups in Egypt were split over his pro-secularism remarks there.

“On the subject of secularism, this is not secularism in the Anglo-Saxon or Western sense; a person is not secular, the state is secular,” Erdoğan said, describing Turkey as democratic and secular. “A Muslim can govern a secular state in a successful way. In Turkey, 99 percent of the population is Muslim, and it did not pose any problem.

You can do the same here.”

Erdoğan traveled to Tunisia following a rapturous welcome in Cairo and issued the kind of trademark warning to Israel that has earned him hero status on his “Arab Spring tour.”

“Israel will no longer be able to do what it wants in the Mediterranean and you’ll be seeing Turkish warships in this sea,” the Turkish prime minister said after meeting with his Tunisian counterpart, Beji Caid Essebsi, on the third day of his visit to North Africa.

Erdoğan reiterated his insistence on an Israeli apology for last year’s raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla that left nine Turkish pro-Palestinian activists dead.

“Relations with Israel cannot normalize if Israel does not apologize for the flotilla raid, compensate the martyrs’ families and lift the blockade on Gaza,” Erdoğan said, adding that Turkey would assure protection for Turkish vessels bound for Gaza or elsewhere in international waters. “Israel cannot do whatever it wants in the eastern Mediterranean. It will see our determination. Our frigates, our assault boats will be there.”

Erdoğan’s visit marks “the willingness to strengthen brotherly relations and cooperation between Tunisia and Turkey,” the Tunisian Foreign Ministry said in a statement. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu was one of the first top foreign officials to visit Tunisia in February and is also among the Turkish ministers accompanying Erdoğan on his visit. Davutoğlu signed a friendship and cooperation agreement with his Tunisian counterpart, Mouldi Kefi, in Tunisia on Thursday.

Accompanied by a delegation of ministers and businessmen, Erdoğan arrived late Wednesday at the Tunis international airport, where he was welcomed by Prime Minister Essebsi.

Around 4,000 people waving Turkish and Palestinian flags had also gathered at the airport under heavy security to show their support for the man who has become one of the region’s most popular leaders.

Erdoğan is due in Libya on Friday for the final leg of his tour. The transitional administration there has also said that Islam would be the main source of legislation in the new Libya.

* Compiled from AFP, AP, Reuters and AA stories by the Daily News staff.a

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OIC Pledges $350 Million to Somalia at Turkey Summit

August 18, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Ibon Villelabeitia

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – ISTANBUL, Aug 17 (Reuters) – The Organization of the Islamic Cooperation (OIC) countries have pledged $350 million in aid to fight famine in Somalia at an emergency summit in Istanbul, OIC Secretary General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu said Wednesday.

With some 3.7 million Somalis at risk of starvation in the Horn of Africa country, Ihsanoglu said he hoped the aid would soon reach $500 million and urged donors to improve drought-stricken Somalia’s long-term food security by helping it rebuild infrastructure and agriculture.

“All in all we have secured $350 million in pledges. We hope to raise the commitments to $500 million in a very short time,” he told a news conference after the summit, held in Turkey’s commercial capital during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan appealed for aid for Somalia, criticizing millionaires who drive luxury cars and the “Western world’s” arrogance for ignoring the plight of the poor.

In a speech sprinkled with references to Islamic piety and criticism of Western capitalism, Erdogan said the Somali famine was “a litmus test” not only for Muslims but for all humanity.

“If you ride a luxury car you should be generous enough to people who are struggling with hunger,” he told foreign ministers from the 57-nation OIC at an emergency summit in Istanbul to galvanize support for Somalia and neighboring regions also hit by drought.

“I hope the efforts (of the OIC) will mobilize the sleeping consciences. We hope the Western world, which likes to boast about its per capita income, shows its support for Somalia.”

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said last week her country would give an extra $17 million to combat famine in the Horn of Africa, including $12 million to help Somalis — bringing total U.S. humanitarian aid to the region to more than $580 million this year.

The OIC recently changed its name from Organization of the Islamic Conference to Organization of Islamic Cooperation.

Somali President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed said his country was unable to raise enough food and cattle, and faced militant attacks. The worst-hit areas are controlled by al Shabaab militants, who have prevented aid from getting to people.

The rebels, who have waged a four-year insurgency against Somalia’s Western-backed government, withdrew from Mogadishu earlier this month, opening the way for life-saving food aid but also raising the risk of insurgency attacks.

TURKEY IN AFRICA

Muslim Turkey, a rapidly growing economy and multi-party democracy that has applied to join the European Union, is widely regarded as a model for Muslim and other developing countries.

The OIC summit offered Turkey a chance to showcase its commitment to Africa when other emerging powers are scrambling for trade and investments in the resource-rich continent.

Erdogan, a pious Muslim who fasts during Ramadan, used his 30-minute speech to burnish his image as a hero among many Muslims, a status he has gained for his criticism of Israel and his support for Palestinian statehood.

“What can we say to people on the other side, making trillions of dollars, capitalizing on others? What kind of civilization is this?” he said, raising his voice at times.

“We come from the community of the Prophet, who says you cannot sleep peacefully if your neighbor is hungry. The Somali people are looking at us. Can we turn our gaze away?”

Erdogan will travel to Somalia Thursday with his family. He plans to visit relief camps and will be joined by Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and his family.

Visits by foreign dignitaries are extremely rare in Somalia, plagued by war and anarchy for the last two decades.

Turkey lags other emerging powerhouses such as China, Brazil and India in the race for new markets in Africa, but under Erdogan’s AK Party government, Turkey has boosted trade with the continent and opened several new embassies there.

Davutoglu later heads to South Africa and Ethiopia as part of an African tour aimed at raising Turkey’s diplomatic presence in the continent and expanding business ties.

Erdogan said Turkey would open six field hospitals in Somalia and send 20 tonnes of medication and 10 tonnes of food.

(Writing by Ibon Villelabeitia; Editing by Alistair Lyon)

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Michiganders React to Turkey’s Kurdish Incursion

February 28, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

By Adil James, MMNS

Farmington—February 27—“Let it be over quickly”—that is the prayer of all concerned except perhaps the PKK themselves.

“This is the fourth day of this ground operation, and there have been some determined targets, and the operation is going as planned,” explained Mr. Fatih Yildiz of the Turkish Embassy in Washington. “Our sole target is the PKK terrorists—we are taking the utmost care so no civilians are hurt, we made it very sure from the very beginning.”

He explains the Turkish government’s perspective, that Turkey had made its will known very clearly but without results—“Had the Iraqi authorities taken the necessary measures against the PKK during the five years…[since the Iraq War began] there would be no need for these operations… We tried other ways, trilateral talks… Not only with the Americans, but bilaterally also.” Perhaps the Turkish government’s demands were beyond the willingness of the other parties to abide with—they demand, in Mr. Yildiz’s words, “the extradition of PKK leaders, whose names are on Interpol bulletins, the closure of PKK camps in the north of the country.”

In November of 2007, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan came to Washington, DC to meet with President Bush, and there was a general understanding that this was to lay the groundwork for a Turkish military response to PKK killings of many Turkish soldiers.

Turkey estimates that the PKK had about 3,000 fighters in northern Iraq at the beginning of the incursion. Turkish incursion forces, whose numbers are not published by the Turkish government, but are estimated at between 1,000 and 10,000 under air support, invaded the Kandil mountain range in northern Iraq, following five bombing campaigns. Since the incursion, the Turkish military has inflicted some losses on the PKK, which has in turn claimed to have killed Turkish soldiers as well.

The residents of Iraq, whether they be Arabs, Kurds, or Chaldeans, have grave concerns over the potential for disturbance of the peace that rested until now on the shoulders of the Kurds of northern Iraq. And this concern is reflected in the voices of those in Michigan who come from the affected areas.

The underlying grievances are long-standing, consisting of repression against Turkish Kurds and a long-standing military feud. “These people (the Kurds) asked for some freedom inside Turkey,” says Umid Gaff, an ethnic Kurd who now lives in Michigan. “They are not allowed to talk their own language,” and [the Turkish government] calls them ‘Mountain Turks’ rather than Kurds. You can’t speak your language, can’t do school by your language, can’t have a Kurdish [political] party.”

Mr. Yildiz, on the other hand, emphasizes that Kurds in Turkey do have rights, and are represented in the political process there, some of them reaching very high ranks in the government. “In fact Kurds can speak their language, first of all,” he says. And he explains that over the past half decade there have been a number of democratization programs aimed at gaining Turkish admission into the EU that have benefitted all Turks, including the Kurdish people of Turkey.

The view expressed by some Kurds is that an unwanted conflict between their wayward countrymen and the Turkish authorities is spinning out of control—and they fear the repercussions. Umid Gaff explains that “We are not responsible for what happens between [the Turks] and PKK. The PKK does not get approval. Inside Iraq they are without any power from us—we do not support them. The area they are in is mountains, not under Kurdish government control—between Iraqi Kurdistan and Turkey, far from control.”

Mr. Gaff comes, as he explains, from the “Southeast of Kurdistan—Sulaymaniyya.” Sulaymaniyya is in a more developed region of Kurdistan than where the PKK is conducting its guerrilla war. Mr. Gaff’s perspective is perhaps more nuanced because of his experience of the Kandil Mountains—he explains that “Most of this area is mountains that don’t have any people—the problem to us,” he explains, is that the Turkish military is damaging the infrastructure by “attacking some villages and some bridges.”

“In 1993 we had a war with the PKK, supported by the Turkish government.” Despite looking in the Kandil mountains for the PKK, “we don’t do anything—lost a lot of peshmerga in Iraqi Kurdistan.”

“Tomorrow the PKK goes to a different place—can’t find him.”

Another perspective is that of Iraqi bystanders, who seem universally startled and outraged by the Turkish attack. This is summed up in the words of Kamal Yaldo, who describes himself as an Iraqi activist. “When the Turkish military crossed the border, it was a violation of the mutual interests of both countries. Everyone is seeing what’s happening in Iraq now, now on top of this an intervention, an invasion from a foreign military—I mean how much Iraq can take? How much?”

Mr. Yaldo is a Chaldean, born in Baghdad but who has lived in the United States for long enough that only a moderate echo of his original accent lingers in his voice. He explains, “There are 150,000 to 180,000 Chaldeans in the metro Detroit area.” This small community is perhaps equal to the number of Chaldeans left in Iraq, as he explains that perhaps half of the original 800,000 Iraqi Chaldeans left Iraq as refugees in the wake of the war and the following instability—during which they and other non-Muslims are often targeted by extremists.

He explains that there is from Iraq also “a small Arabic community living mostly in Dearborn—they are mostly Shi’a, conservatively 15,000 to 20,000.”

Also hailing from Baghdad is Michigander Nabil Roumayah—he is the president of the Iraqi Democratic Union. He explains in impassioned terms that the conflict “will lead to further destabilization of the region and Iraq and the whole area. What’s happening, it should be resolved by political means—military solutions as we have seen do not produce results, only short-term results.”

Says Mr. Roumayah, “There is a genuine problem for Kurds in Turkey. They are discriminated against—this has to be solved politically. The problem of a Kurdish minority in four countries—has to be solved politically… Nobody is asking for a state, but they need an economy, like everyone else in the world.”

The ghost of reconciliation is the silver lining in this cloud of war. Says Mr. Gaff, “We don’t like to fix the problem by the gun. We don’t like the gun—don’t like to shoot, don’t like to kill anyone. We don’t have any problem with the PKK, but don’t support them in that.”

“We want good relations with the Turkey government, they help us after 1991,” explains Mr. Gaff, referring to Turkish government support for the Iraqi Kurds who suffered reprisal attacks from Saddam Hussein after the Gulf War.

Gaff’s sincere appreciation of the support from Turkey for Iraqi Kurds is a reflection of Turkish feelings of support for the Kurds. “In the economic trade sense,” explains Mr. Yildiz, “Turkey is the primary counterpart of the recovery process in the north of the country. Most of the commodies transported there are from us. Turkish businessmen are quite active in the region in rebuilding that area. Any kind of instability in the region or in Iraq will not be in the interests of Turkey—it is fair to say that the presence of a terrorist organization in the north is a key element of instability.”

All of the voices of Iraq seem to resonate on one point, the desire for a quick end to the fighting. Fatih Yildiz, speaking for the Turkish Embassy in Washington, explained that “As soon as the planned objectives of the operation is achieved, our troops will be leaving northern Iraq.”

Mr. Gaff echoes in a few well-chosen words the underlying fear of all of the others—“That’s the point, we are scared, don’t want these people [the Turkish military] to stay a long time. We are scared they may pass these people [the PKK] and attack the villages.”

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