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x0x Turkish News for the week ending 01 August 2020

[This is a transcript of the news broadcast on 01 August 2020]

Courtesy of Turkish Radio Hour, producer of the

TURKISH CULTURAL PROGRAM, every Saturday from 2 P.M. to 4 P.M.

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★ U. S. lawmakers are advancing a bill that would compel the Trump administration to levy sanctions on Russia and Turkey for fueling an escalation in the civil war in Libya, as the Defense Department has warned about the deployment of foreign mercenaries into the war zone.

  The Libya Stabilization Act, which is expected to pass out of the House Foreign Affairs Committee this week, would impose mandatory sanctions on both countries within six months, giving the White House wide leeway to revoke U.S. visas or freeze funds in American banks, a bid to keep Russia in particular from establishing a bridgehead across the Mediterranean.

  Putin and Erdoğan "act when there's a stick involved," a House aide said.

  Read more >> here <<

★ Turkey's parliament has passed a law to control social media platforms, a move human rights groups say poses a severe threat to freedom of expression, BBC reported.

  The law requires social media firms with more than a million Turkish users to set up local offices and comply with requests to remove content.

  If companies refuse, they face fines and may have data speeds cut.

  Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube have not yet commented.

  President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has described social media sites as "immoral" and made no secret of his desire to see them tightly controlled.

  The bill was submitted by the ruling Justice and Development Party and its partner the Nationalist Action Party, which together have a majority in parliament, and passed on Wednesday morning.

  In the past Turkish authorities have temporarily cut internet bandwidth to stop citizens using social media, after terror attacks.

  Under the new law, social media platforms face cuts of up to 95% of bandwidth, rendering them unusable.

  The internet remains a crucial tool for dissent in the country and critics say the move will lead to more censorship. The hashtag #SansurYasasinaDurDe (Say Stop to the Censorship Law) has been trending on Twitter since Tuesday. Amnesty International describes it as "the latest, and perhaps most brazen attack on free expression in Turkey".

  "The internet law significantly increases the reach of the government to police and censor content online, exacerbating risks to those who are already ruthlessly targeted by the authorities simply for expressing dissenting opinions," said the human rights group's Turkey researcher Andrew Gardner.

  Presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin denied that the bill would lead to censorship, saying it was intended to establish commercial and legal ties with the social media platforms.

  Read more >> here <<


★ In an Op-Ed, Christian Mihr, the director of Reporters Without Borders Germany, said that Turkey is expanding its already strict regulation of social media sites. It is the latest move by President Erdoğan to silence those few remaining critical voices.

  Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is politically weakened, and has been roundly criticized on social media sites for his mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic, Mihr claimed.

  "Turkey boasts more than 37 million Facebook users, as well as 16 million on Twitter. Now Erdoğan is trying to silence his critics by forcing national controls on international social media platforms" Mihr said.

  He added that Erdoğan administration and trolls aligned with it are also harassing the online media outlets.

  Mr. Mihr concluded his Op-Ed by writing: "Reporters Without Borders rejects the expansion of Turkey's internet law. It is clear that the law aims to control social media platforms to smother growing political unrest."

  Read more >> here <<

★ Speaking of censorship, Deutsche Welle reports that rather than alter the script, Netflix decided to cancel a new series to be produced in Turkey.

  The series If Only (Simdiki Aklim Olsaydi) got canceled on the eve of its first production day -- after it had failed to acquire the necessary regulatory license from the Radio and Television Supreme Council of Turkey to start filming.

  Screenwriter Ece Yorenc told the popular Turkish film website Altyazi Fasikul that "permission to film the series was not granted because it includes a gay character." She added that the script included no scenes depicting or implying intimacy between gay characters, despite false reports in the Turkish press claiming same-sex scenes would be shown.

  Read more >> here <<

★ According to DPA, the opposition in Turkey is accusing President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of transferring his assets to the United States in the event of a loss of power.

  The Turkish opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, head of the social democratic Republican People's Party, said at his party's meeting that Erdoğan through proxy organizations "bought Muhammed Ali's farm in Michigan because they know they will all go to the U.S. if times change,"

  The opposition leader referred on the one hand to reports from the "Chicago Tribune" from the beginning of 2019, according to which the Erdoğan Family controlled Islamist foundation "Turken" in Michigan bought a 35-hectare property that the late boxer Muhammed Ali had. Purchase price: $ 2.9 million. The news had recently been picked up by the Turkish opposition media. Mr. Erdoğan's daughter Esra Albayrak sits on the board of the Turken Foundation.

  The DPA article adds that Mr. Erdoğan's approval ratings are sinking in Turkey.

★ According to Deutsche Welle, a Munich court handed out prison sentences to all members of a banned Turkish communist group who stood trial.

  The court found the nine men and one woman had collected money to support the Communist Party of Turkey/Marxist-Leninist (TKP/ML). They were also charged with organizing meetings and recruiting members, reported regional public service broadcaster Bayerischer Rundfunk.

  Protesters had consistently turned up to demonstrate against the trial. They see the members as freedom fighters, not terrorists. A final demonstration took place outside the courthouse on Tuesday. The defense and supporters of the group members argue that the German justice system was conducting a trial on behalf of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

  The TKP/ML was founded in Turkey in the 1970s and actively fights against the government, sometimes with the use of violence.

★ Beijing has forced Turkey to close the door to us, says Uighur exile, reports Hannah Lucinda Smith, The Times correspondent in Istanbul.

  Activists in Istanbul and elsewhere are being hounded by the Erdoğan regime, she adds.

  Ms. Smith then goes on to tell the story of Abdurehim Parac, who fled China in 2013. Mr. Parac found out later when he wanted to bring his family to Turkey that they were all arrested and his kids were taken away from their mother. Chinese authorities also arrested his father and five younger brothers. He later on found out that his wife died in prison.

  Ms. Smith writes that About 30,000 Uighurs live in Turkey, mostly in Istanbul and the Anatolian city of Kayseri. Some have been here for decades, drawn by linguistic and cultural ties, but most, like Mr. Parac, arrived after 2013, as the Chinese state began escalating its crackdown in Xinjiang province.

  "Turkey initially took a supportive stance towards the Uighurs, accepting 173 escapees who had been imprisoned in Thailand in July 2015. On the eve of a visit to China in the same month President Erdoğan said that he was raising concerns about the treatment of the Uighurs 'at the highest level'.

  "But since 2017 China has offered a series of lifelines to the struggling Turkish economy, including large investments in infrastructure projects and the extension of a $400 million credit swap last month. Emine Erdoğan, the president's wife, embraces traditional Chinese medicine and has hosted a conference on the subject in Istanbul. In March, China shipped an unspecified Covid-19 drug to the Turkish health ministry.

  "As relations have warmed Mr. Erdoğan has stopped talking about the Uighurs' plight, and many living in exile in Turkey have been arrested and threatened with deportation.

  "Mr. Parac was detained for a time in November 2017, two months after he published a book of poetry. Like many others, he is now unable to renew his Turkish residency and is living without documents, in fear of being stopped again by the police. Having spent three years in prison in the late 1990s, he knows what fate awaits him back in Xinjiang.

  "If I go back and it is just death waiting for me it is no problem. But the thing is the torture, it is unimaginable," he said. "For people like us, without papers, deportation is easy. All the time I am in fear."

★ Hannah Lucinda Smith wrote in another article that it is not only China that influences the Turkish officials. She wrote on July 21 that the Iranian government gets his way with Mr. Erdoğan's regime to deport Iranian asylum seekers back to Iran.

  At least seven Iranian dissidents who have been deported from Turkey since 2017, potentially in breach of the international law that prohibits states from returning individuals to countries where they will face persecution or torture. All are now in prison back in Iran.

  A further five are detained in Turkey and awaiting deportation. They include Abdollah Bozorgzadeh, an activist from Iran's Baloch minority who came to Turkey in May 2019 after being arrested and tortured for his part in protests in Iranshar. He has since been sentenced in absentia to 11 years in prison and was arrested last month in the Turkish capital Ankara.

  Although he has been released from detention, he is still fighting the deportation order.

  "The Turkish intelligence has made false accusations against me, claiming that I am a threat to Turkey's national security even though all my activities are related to the rights of Baloch people and criticism of the dictatorship of the Islamic Republic of Iran," Mr. Bozorgzadeh said.

  While Turkey has been a place of exile for decades for Iranians, it has never been a true safe haven. There have been assassinations of Iranian dissidents on Turkish soil stretching back to the 1990s, and two have been murdered in broad daylight on Istanbul streets in the past three years. Masoud Molavi Vardanjani, a former Iranian intelligence officer, was shot dead in the center of the city on November 13, 2019. Reports in Turkey's pro-government press, based on a leaked witness statement, accuse agents from the Iranian consulate in the city of organizing the hit and helping the assassin escape to Iran afterward.

  Most remain in Turkey, where they apply to the UN for protection. There are currently 3,558 Iranian asylum seekers there.

★ Nick Danforth wrote in the Foreign Affairs magazine that Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is using cultural heritage sites in its widening culture war.

  He gives as examples of the conversion of the Hagia Sophia Museum back to a mosque, and the flooding of the medieval town of Hasankeyf by a dam.

  Although both draw international criticism and condemnation, Mr. Danforth writes that president Erdoğan welcomes it.

  "He draws strength from his constant sparring with domestic and foreign foes, and the battles over Hasankeyf and Hagia Sophia fuel his posture of indignation and grievance" Mr. Danforth adds.

  "Erdoğan presented the reconversion of Hagia Sophia not simply as an act of piety or the rectification of a historic injustice but as a defense of Turkey's sovereignty. In the case of Hasankeyf, Erdoğan has suggested that critics oppose dam building not out of concern for cultural heritage or the environment but because they do not want Turkey to prosper."

  With the economy faltering, prices are rising and its currency weakening, Mr. Danforth suggests that all these fights may not be enough for Mr. Erdoğan to hold onto power. He writes "then they [voters] will have to decide whether these fights are the source of or the solution to their problems."

  Read more >> here <<

★ "Let's not pretend that Turkey wants to be a Western nation with Western values" wrote William Smith in the British weekly Spectator.

  Citing Turkey's actions that Mr. Smith considers against the West and NATO, he asks "Shouldn't it be obvious that Turkey is angling for the leadership of Islamic civilization and that NATO's priorities are probably not that important to it? "

  "The age of a supposedly secular Turkey has ended, and that nation is now firmly Islamic in character and culture. Given this development, we should tip our hats to the Turkish people, thank them for their support against Soviet communism during the Cold War, and start easing them out of NATO."

  William S. Smith is senior research fellow and managing director of the Center for the Study of Statesmanship at the Catholic University of America.

  Read more >> here <<

★ One of the reasons why the Turkish president wanted to convert Hagia Sophia back to a mosque was to get more votes from the people.

  However, recent polls indicate that his approval rating keeps sliding, writes the daily Cumhuriyet.

  A pollster found that almost 47% of the respondents said that they won't vote for Mr. Erdoğan, as opposed to 39% saying that they would.

  Moreover most of the respondents said that converting Hagia Sophia back to a mosque did not influence their political choices. Responding to what important problems Turkey faces, economic problems was up at the top with 72%, unemployment with 65%, inflation and increasing price hikes with 30%.


★ According to Al-Monitor, a media site based in Washington DC providing reporting and analysis from and about the Middle East, despite state bank efforts to bolster Turkey's currency, the lira fell to its lowest point since May against the dollar this week, prompting fears of a renewed currency crisis.

  In the meantime, Turkish Central Bank raised its inflation forecast.

  Read more >> here <<


★ The New York Times correspondent Jack Ewing wrote the following on the subject July 28:

  "Turkey was headed toward a currency crisis Tuesday as the value of the lira fell and the country's central bank appeared to be running out of ammunition to stop its decline toward record lows."

  He adds that Mr. Erdoğan's policies have fueled fears of a credit bubble, prompting investors to sell Turkish assets, driving down the lira's value against other currencies.

  Mr. Erdoğan survived currency crises in 2014 and 2018, defying predictions of economic collapse that would threaten his hold on power. But the stresses of the pandemic have made it more difficult for him to strong-arm the Turkish economy as he has done in the past.

★ According to Bloomberg, U.S. government ordered 600 million doses of Covid Vaccine jointly developed by Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech.

  Later in the week Japan also ordered 120 million doses of the vaccine.

  A husband and wife Turkish immigrants established the German company BioNTech.

★ In the Middle East Review Dimitar Bechev wrote that Turkey is diversifying its natural gas imports to rely less on Russia.

  In 2017 52% of Turkish gas imports came from Russia, in 2019 it dropped to 33%. To achieve this, Turkey started purchasing liquified natural gas from Nigeria, Qatar, Algeria and even from the U.S.

  With the renewal of contracts with Russia coming up, Turkey is also trying to leverage its inexpensive purchases from other countries to draw up a better contract for the future.

  Read more >> here <<


★ Google doodle celebrated on the 51st anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing by commemorating the scientific legacy of Turkish astrophysicist Dilhan Eryurt.

  Eryurt lived from 1926 to 2012, studied in Turkey, and worked at, among other institutions, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland and the University of California.

  Eryurt's research focused on stellar astrophysics, in particular of main-sequence stars like our sun.

  In the Google Doodle, Eryurt is shown looking out on a sky full of stars, as well as a few planetary bodies, including the moon, and a Saturn V rocket, a nod to her time at NASA during the Apollo program.

  In the late 1970s, she was also one of a group of scientists who encouraged the Turkish government to establish a national observatory, according to a paper recounting the history of astronomy in Turkey. The project broke ground in 1991 and made its first observations in 1997.

  Read more >> here <<


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