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Turkey Live Coverage (9 April): Strong Language and Diplomacy Over Syria, Iran, and Kurdistan

1840 GMT: Co-chairman of Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), Selahattin Demirtas says:

If Prime Minister wants to talk about the Kurdish problem, he can talk anything with BDP, including education in mother language, the new constitution, constitutional citizenship and legal amendments. 

However, Prime Minister's problem has nothing to with Kurdish people's rights and freedom. Prime Minister always wants to talk about the armed conflict. The problem in his head is only the problem of arms.

1825 GMT: Turkey's famous columnist Nuray Mert writes about Ankara's plans on the Kurdish issue within the context of the Syrian crisis. Mert agrees with our snap analysis so far, arguing that Ankara is paying attention to the structure of the Syrian opposition due to its fear of facing a stronger Kurdish presence in Syria.

Therefore, it is stated that the Erdogan government is allying with Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) leader Massoud Barzani's soft power. Mert says:

The basic concern is what possible political gains the Kurds can get out of the Syrian crisis. It is obvious that Turkey will be bothered by the Syrian Kurds if al-Assad stays, since al-Assad is thought to be supporting the PKK against Turkey. However, Turkey will also be bothered if al-Assad goes, since the Kurds will have a say in the new democratic Syria.

But it would be a nightmare for Turkey if the Kurds get some sort of autonomy in the new Syria. Turkey is overeager to organize “the Syrian opposition” so as to ensure that it avoids such an outcome.

On one hand, Turkey seems to be inclined to support the moderate Kurdish actors in the region who are considered to be friends of Turkey, namely the Kurdish authority in northern Iraq and its leader, Masoud Barzani. On the other hand, Turkey insists on denying the new realities of the region. Barzani is expected to play the role of moderator in the disarmament of the PKK and strengthening moderate Kurds in Syria against radicals. It means that Turkey is very demanding in its friendships, especially in its friendship with Kurds.

1810 GMT: The Turkish Foreign Ministry issued a statement condemning the shooting of six people in a Turkish refugee camp. 

The statement said that Turkey would take "necessary measures" if the shooting incident repeated. The full transcript of the statement:

Two Syrian nationals who took shelter in the Kilis Container Town and two Turkish citizens working there have been injured as a result of gun fires from Syria in the morning hours of 9 April. 

Syrian citizens who took refuge in our country from the brutality of the current regime in Syria are under Turkey’s full protection. We will certainly take necessary measures if such incidents reoccur. 

These have been communicated through definitive and strong expressions by Ambassador Feridun Sinirlioğlu, Undersecretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to the Syrian Chargé d’Affaires in Ankara who was summoned today to the Ministry. 

It is being observed that the regime forces have recently shifted their attacks on people to areas close to our common border. Twenty one wounded Syrian citizens who have been fleeing these attacks entered our country on the same day while two of them lost their lives shortly after their arrival. 
It is a reality that the Syrian regime attempts to exploit certain initiatives proposed in good faith by the international community in order to intensify its violence against its own people. 

We strongly condemn this abominable incident which occurred at a time when the armed forces were supposed to withdraw in accordance with the mission of H.E. Mr.Kofi Annan. 

The Syrian regime must at once stop the violence against the civilian population and the international community must act immediately to ensure this.

1800 GMT: President Abdullah Gul had a meeting with Republican Senator John McCain and Senator Joe Lieberman for 70 minutes. No public statement released after the meeting.

1620 GMT: Turkey's Today's Zaman says that the Adana agreement signed between Ankara and Damascus in 1998 gives the former to have the legal ground to intervene as the crackdown on the Syrian opposition can be classified as a threat to the “security and stability of Turkey.” Article 1 says:

Syria, on the basis of the principle of reciprocity, will not permit any activity that emanates from its territory aimed at jeopardizing the security and stability of Turkey.

The Adana agreement came into fruition thanks to Iranian and Egyptian diplomatic efforts while Ankara was suffering from the outlawed PKK camps based in Syria.

1555 GMT: In Beijing, agreements signed in the fields of media, publishing, investment and culture. More importantly, a letter of intent was signed between China's National Energy Administration and the Turkish energy ministry for further nuclear cooperation.

The mutual trade has soared from just $1 billion in 2000 to $19.5 billion in 2010.

1515 GMT: Iraq's Sunni Vice President Tariq Al-Hashimi has been welcomed by Turkish officials, following his northern Iraq (Kurdistan), Qatar and S. Arabia visits. Hashimi is expected to talk to Prime Minister Erdogan after his return from China and to leave Turkey in less than a week. 

1500 GMT: In the wake of Interior Minister Idris Naim Sahin's latest statement that gas bombs are not dangerous to human health, the Turkish Medical Association (TTB) issued a counter-statement today, saying that "gas bombs are weapons, dangerous to health and can kill. It causes serious eye problems, asthma, pulmonary edema, hypertension, heart failure and celebral hemorrhage."

1425 GMT: A remote controlled bomb exploded while a military vehicle was passing in the Amasya province. One solder was killed and another six were wounded.

1345 GMT: Kurdistan Communities Union operations are continuing. 10 suspects accused of taking roles in the urban structures of the separatist/terrorist PKK organisation were taken into custody simultaneously in four cities this morning.

1300 GMT: Ahead of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's meeting with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said that although two countries do not share a complete agreement on Syria, they "should play a constructive role" as "the final resolution needs all sides to sit down and talk."

1100 GMT: Syrian forces fired across the border at protesters at a refugee camp in Turkey's Kilis province, wounding a Turkish translator and at least two Syrian refugees. 

Kilis Governor Yusuf Odabasi said that vehicles are not allowed to cross the Syrian border from the Turkish side yet people are still coming from the Syrian border. He added that 13 wounded Syrians brought to Kilis hospital and 3 of them could not be saved. In less than an hour, it was reported that the number of wounded Syrians increased to 17 and 3 of those were dead. 

Ankara immediately protested the incident to the Syrian charge d'affaires. Turkey's Deputy Foreign Minister Naci Koru was quoted as saying by broadcaster NTV that an April 10 deadline for Syria to pull back its troops under the terms of a UN peace plan was void and that a new stage would begin on Tuesday.    

1030 GMT: The total number of Syrian refugees exceeded 25,000.

The UN special envoy Kofi Annan will be visiting the refugee camps in Hatay province of Turkey on Tuesday before going to Tehran. Annan said on Sunday that an “unacceptable” escalation in violence in Syria violated guarantees made to him and called on the government to keep its promises to end the bloodshed

Turkish-Chinese ‘Strategic Partnership’

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan landed in Urumqi, the capital of China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. He was welcomed by thousands of Uyghur Turks celebrating the first visit of a Turkish leader to Urumqi. 

Erdogan is accompanied by a large delegation of businessmen, bureaucrats, academics, and journalists. On Monday, his next stop is Beijing where he will meet his Chinese counterpart Wen Jiabao. On Tuesday, Erdogan is scheduled to meet with Chinese President Hu Jintao and Vice President Xi Jinping. Before leaving the country on the same day, Erdogan’s last stop will be Shangai where he is expected to call on Chinese businessmen to invest in Turkey. 

Before leaving for China, Erdogan said on Saturday that Syria will be at the top of their agenda

The two countries are expected to sign several agreements, particularly on coal mining and on cooperation over nuclear energy.

The Syrian Front

Before his visit to China, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan toughened his language against Syrian President Bashar Assad:

Kofi Annan [the joint UN-Arab League envoy] has to watch closely to see if the deadline he gave of April 10 is followed by the Syrian regime. We are following this process patiently. We will take our own steps after April 10.

Speaking generally of "measures", Defense Minister İsmet Yılmaz continued, "The state should think through all the possibilities and make itself ready for all situations, but this is does not mean [we are making] war preparations."

The Turkish media is speculating that the government has more forceful steps, including a buffer zone and/or a humanitarian corridor, in hand if/when the Syrian regime fails to begin withdrawal of its forces tomorrow.

However, the main problem for the government is the lack of an international consensus. Without a U- turn from Moscow, it is impossible for Ankara to lead a policy which may not be achieved without combat between Turkish and Syrian forces. 

Finally a Turkish-Iranian Deal?

Iranian and Turkish officials exchanged statements last week accusing each other of being "not trustworthy". After Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s criticized Tehran for changing the venue of the nuclear talks at  the last minute, Esmail Kowsari, deputy head of the Iranian Parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Commission, replied: “Turkish officials are not honest enough, because they do not speak with their own words. Ankara has become a sort of subcontractor and instrument of US imperialism in the region. They cannot decide for themselves; they are acting on the orders of global powers.”

At the end of the week, Iran’s Fars news agency said the sides had agreed to hold a second round of talks in the Iraqi capital Baghdad if they made progress in Turkey. It was also claimed by the same source that Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu "apologised" in a Thursday night call to Saeed Jalili, the Secretary of Iran's National Security Council, begging Tehran to attend the nuclear talks in Istanbul. (See also Sunday's Iran Live Coverage on EA.)

The Turkish side says they have not received an official confirmation yet the very same news has come from the Western powers (Permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany) that the nuclear talks will begin in Istanbul on Saturday. A spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said on Sunday: “We have agreed to launch talks in İstanbul on April 14.”

Turkey’s Grand Kurdish Problem

Speaking at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, following talks with President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) leader Massoud Barzani targeted Iraq’s Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s “dictatorship.” Barzani also warned that the Kurdish leadership could go to the people for a final decision since the status quo was not sustainable.

Barzani may be seeing eye-to-eye both with Ankara and Washington now. Erdogan and Barzani do not want a Maliki-led Shia-dominated system backed by Tehran. Nor does Washington. At the same, Barzani’s manoeuvres to organize and bring Kurds together against the current Syrian regime are vital. 

Barzani welcomed Turkey’s non-violent steps for the solution of the Kurdish problem and said that both Ankara and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) must lay down arms and talk. Washington took a similar approach, with Turkey’s anti-terror package of dialogue with legitimate, non-violent Kurdish political elements welcomed by State of Secretary Hillary Clinton ---  even though both sides know very well that there can be no solution without the involvement of the imprisoned leader of PKK, Abdullah Ocalan. (Turkey's pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) has made it crystal clear that solution to the Kurdish problem goes through Imrali, the island where Ocalan is detained.)

Put bluntly, Ankara is trying to put off the Kurdish problem by drawing all the attention to its supposed initiative and blaming BDP for "supporting terrorism". As spring is coming, which means that PKK insurgents will be more active, Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP) is planning to get Barzani’s full support against the PKK --- that would force the insurgents to retreat deeper into the Iraqi mountainous areas and/or to compromise with demands on the political process.

However, even if PKK cannot move freely, the pro-Kurdish BDP will keep the movement fresh in the southeastern part of Turkey through meeting sand demonstrations. AKP surely knows this but wants to get its bonus points from exploitation of the Syrian and Iraqi issues, in the guise of a "new strategy" for Kurdistan.

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