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Turkey Live Coverage (26 March): Has Assad Solved Erdogan's Kurdish Problem?

;1845 GMT: According to a survey conducted by the Ankara-based MetroPOLL Strategic and Social Research Center, 61.7 percent of respondents said they supported children's receiving education in their mother tongue on the condition that they learn Turkish.

1825 GMT: In order to increase the cooperation against the PKK-Syria camp, the Iraqi Kurdistan regional government Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani will make his first diplomatic visit to Ankara. 

1740 GMT: Ahead of the 'Friends of Syria' meeting on April 1, Ankara heeds the two-day meeting of Syrian opposition groups in İstanbul. Out of 200 representatives of the country, the only group left out of the two-day meeting is the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) because of its affiliation with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

"This is by far the most significant meeting as far as the Syrian opposition is concerned,” a Turkish official told journalists.

1630 GMT: Following criticisms regarding the broadcasting of a shampoo commercial on Turkish channels in which Adolf Hitler making a speech dubbed in Turkish with German subtitles, Haber Turk news channel reportedly stopped broadcasting the commercial anymore.

In the commercial, Hitler says: "If you are not wearing female clothes, do not use shampoo for women. Here it is. If you are a man, you have to use this shampoo. Real men use it."

On Sunday, the Chief Rabbinate of Turkey issued a press statement, saying "this is beyond all ethics, as well as a huge insult to human rights."

1545 GMT: 4th Commandos Brigade and the provincial gendarmerie command have sent armored vehicles and specially trained troops to rural districts of the eastern province of Tunceli. It has been reported for two days that there are mobilized PKK groups getting ready for operations. 

1525 GMT: According to the Turkish General Staff, the initial findings suggest the helicopter went down in Afghanistan was due to a technical failure. On March 16, a Sikorsky helicopter crashed in Kabul, leaving 12 Turkish soldiers on board and 4 Afghan civilians on the ground dead. 

1510 GMT: In Seoul, Prime Minister Erdogan and the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon discussed Syria and Cyprus issues. 

1355 GMT: Turkish forces found two shellters used by PKK militants in the Catak district of Van province. Foods and materials used in bomb-making found and destroyed immediately. 

1320 GMT: Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with South Korea's President Lee Myung-bak and signed the first free-trade agreement ever with a far-eastern country. According to this agreement, the exportation of industrial products from Turkey to S.Korea with zero-tariff will take place in seven years; while it will take only seven years to export from S.Korea to Turkey. 

1310 GMT: Syria's Muslim Brotherhood met in Istanbul. Its leader Mohammad Riad Al Shaqfa said that the group would share power and respect democracy if President Bashar al-Assad was toppled. He continued:

The regime is trying to show that the Muslim brotherhood are trying to control Syria alone. We want a democratic Syria and we do not want to control the country alone. 

The second man, Farouk Monir Khalid, added:

We assure that we will accept the result of free elections. We assure that the rights of all Syrians will be guaranteed, of all groups and beliefs. We are looking for a non-centralised administration in Syria.

1225 GMT: A 5.0-magnitude earthquake hit the southern province of Mus. No property damage or injuries reported yet. 

1200 GMT: Turkish armed forces exchanged fire with Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) militia in the Cukurca district of Hakkari province for almost an hour. No injuries or death reported. Turkish forces along with extensive air support are searching the area.

1120 GMT: Ankara temporarily closes its embassy in Damascus and recalls its ambassador Ömer Önhon and all diplomatic staff.

1040 GMT: Turkey is seeking to bolster defense industry ties with Oman and the United Arab Emirates by exporting gun boats, missiles, ammunition and armored vehicles.

It is stated that Turkey’s defense exports amounted to 250 million dollars seven years ago and surpassed the 1 billion figure a year for the first time in 2010.

The Kurdish Front: 

Last week, speculation circulated that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) had launched a new initiative on the Kurdish problem, sidelining negotiations with the imprisoned leader Abdullah Ocalan of Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) while making an appeal to Turkish public opinion.

A clear response came from the pro-Kurdish opposition Peace and Democracy Party (BDP). Co-chairpersons Selahattin Demirtas and Gulten Kisanak, along with Ahmet Turk, the head of the Democratic Society Congress (DTK) -- an umbrella organization of Kurdish political groups -- set out proposals to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. These included a halt to military and political operations, creating the conditions for negotiations with Ocalan; establishment of a peace councilm consisting of politicians and civilians and authorized by Parliament; and dissolution of special courts on counter-terrorism to enable free speech. 

Kisanak said that there would be no solution without Ocalan: 

The Kurdish politics has no addressee problem. The very first actor is Ocalan. None of us accept any solution sidelining Mr. Ocalan. Because we do not see any solution there. Attempts to divide the Kurdish politics, to discredit BDP are in vain. On one hand, you arrest, lynch on streets and put restrictions on people who want to celebrate their new year [newroz]. On the other hand, you talk about negotiations. Who are you going to negotiate with?

What could the Government, given that Erdogan's Cabinet has made it clear that dialogue with BDP was unsustainable without the latter’s cutting its organic relations with PKK?

According to Turkish daily Hurriyet, one limited step is abolition of the reservations on almost all articles of the Council of Europe’s Charter of Local Self-Government. The charter, signed in 1988, could be free of reservations with a simple cabinet decree, opening a path to regional autonomy --- the DTK had set out that plan in Diyarbakir last July. 

Meanwhile, military operations continued. After seven PKK militants were slain in Sirnak last week, another 15 were killed in Siirt at the weekend. The BDP’s Altan Tan responded quickly

There are three ways left to solve the Kurdish problem completely. These are: Finishing Kurds, getting rid of Kurds or searching for a solution together. We say that we shall construct together cause it is an opportunity. We, as BDP, Imrali [where Ocalan is held in prison] and Kandil [PKK’s military base], are rady for negotiations.  

The Syrian Front

Ankara has been calling on Western countries to act collectively to find a humanitarian solution if diplomatic channels are blocked; yet, Turkey has never made clear that it would intervene unilaterally in the absence of such a consensus. A third Turkish truck driver was killed on Sunday.  

Turkish officials reportedly have been setting up new refugee camps near Hatay province, especially in Sanliurfa and Kilis provinces. On Sunday, the Azaz village of Aleppo, located just 7 kilometres outside Kilis, was bombed by Syrian helicopters and tanks. 

Meanwhile, President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Erdogan discussed the situation before the international nuclear security summit in South Korea. Obama said the two countries were “very much in agreement” and that a transition to a legitimate government in Syria is needed. Erdogan added, “As people with consciences, we cannot remain spectators and we must do something [about Syria] via international law.” (See also the summary in our Syria and Beyond Live Coverage.)

The two men then went behind closed doors to consider "Friends of Syria" meeting in Istanbul on 1 April. The context is not only humanitarian concerns; Erdogan may also  have raised the reported "alliance" between the Kurdish PKK and the Assad regime.

Widely debated in the Turkish media last week, the success of that alliance depends on the extent to which it causes a domestic problem for Ankara. If ambushes leave tens of dead soldiers, the Turkish public could press both for a restrained approach to Syria and a solution of the Kurdish problem. However, if Ankara plays its cards carefully (for instance, using its close relationship with the Kurdish Regional Administration in northern Iraq) and maneouvres with the international community, it could claim a "coalition of the willing" to convince the Turkish opposition that its approach is working.

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