Tag Archive | "Turkey"

Critical Analysis: Turmoil in Turkish Politics Could Tip Syrian War

The Turkish government under Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan remains in its worst political crisis since coming to power in 2003. On April 3, access to Twitter in the country was restored after the Constitutional Court ruled that a ban imposed by Erdogan on March 21 was illegal. The prime minister had announced he would “wipe out Twitter” after reports of corruption in the government were widely spread on the network. YouTube was also blocked after a recording was posted purportedly of top government officials discussing military intervention in Syria.

With recent reports of corruption and authoritarian tactics Turkish democracy may be eroding. Image Source: WorldPolicy.org

With recent reports of corruption and authoritarian tactics Turkish democracy may be eroding. Image Source: WorldPolicy.org

The bans follow a pattern of what critics consider increasing authoritarian tendencies displayed by Erdogan. In June 2013, police forcefully broke up protests in Istanbul after resistance to a park redevelopment escalated into a larger movement against Erdogan. Later in the year, the government removed police and prosecutors from their posts after more than 50 Erdogan allies were charged with corruption. Erdogan has portrayed the allegations as a conspiracy led by Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, a former supporter of the prime minister’s Justice and Development Party (“AK”). Gulen, who lives in the United States, leads the Hizmet movement, which fell out with the government after moves to shut down its network of private schools. Erdogan’s bombastic comments about foreign conspiracies are seen by critics as an indication that he will use further authoritarian tactics to suppress opposition.

So far, opposition parties in Turkey have not been able to capitalize on the government’s turmoil. Local elections on March 30 were handily won by the AK party. If Erdogan’s troubles and popular resistance to him increase, however, his days in power could be numbered. His own party’s rules currently prohibit him from running for a fourth term as prime minister in 2015, and his efforts to adopt a new constitution creating a more powerful presidency (which he would likely seek) have so far been unsuccessful. But if Erdogan’s departure would be a benefit to democracy in Turkey, it could have dangerous consequences across the border in Syria. Erdogan’s government has strongly supported the Syrian opposition throughout the war, though it has stopped short of direct intervention. Turkey’s main opposition, the Republican People’s Party (“CHP”), meanwhile, has openly sided with the Assad regime. CHP members of parliament have visited Syria to meet with Assad, while dismissing the regime’s crimes as “a lie just like…weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.” They have endorsed Assad’s war as “resistance…against imperialism.” Even Turkey’s President Abdullah Gul, an AK member, has made an ambiguous call for “re-calibrating” Turkey’s Syria policy

If the CHP were able to defeat the AK party in the next election, or Erdogan were forced out by his own party in favor of someone more inclined toward Gul’s view, it could have a decisive impact on the Syrian conflict, in favor of Assad. Ridding Turkey of a leader with an ego run amok might be positive, but would it be worth the cost of delivering victory to a regime involved in an internal conflict which has caused 150,000 deaths and refugees numbering in the millions?

Scott Petiya is a 3LE law student at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law and a staff editor for the Denver Journal of International Law & Policy.

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Critical Analysis: Turkey’s Failed Ban On Twitter

On March 20, 2014, Turkey blocked its citizens from the social media website, Twitter. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is the main culprit for this act. During a campaign rally, he stated “Now there is a court order. Twitter, mwitter, we will eradicate it all.” His purported reason behind the block: privacy concerns.

Prime Minister Erdoğan claimed that the block was a response to Twitter’s refusal to implement several court orders. The court orders stipulated that the social media platform “remove some links” per alleged complaints filed by Turkish citizens. Despite this, many people around the world believe that the prime minister wanted to remove tweets that included hyperlinks to incriminating audio of the prime minister and other top officials engaged in corruption. One such link contained audio of a male’s voice that closely resembled Prime Minister Erdoğan’s. The voice instructed another man to “dispose of large amounts of cash from a residence amid a police investigation.” Predictably, the prime minister denied any corruption. However, due to Turkey’s recent history of blocking social media websites, this looks more like an abuse of power to silence any opposition. Such drastic measures present two immediate concerns.

A woman protests the Twitter ban by writing a physical tweet. Image Source: Adem Altan/AFP/Getty Images.

A woman protests the Twitter ban by writing a physical tweet. Image Source: Adem Altan/AFP/Getty Images.

First, blocking Twitter debilitates some Turkish citizens’ hopes of ascension into the European Union (“EU”). Stefan Fule, the EU’s commissioner for enlargement, recently stated that blocking Twitter “raises grave concerns and casts doubt on Turkey’s stated commitment to European values and standards.” This shows that Prime Minister Erdoğan only has his own political interests in mind, not the interests of Turkish citizens.

Second, social media platforms like Twitter empower people because it gives them a way to speak out against an authoritarian regime. This is especially important given Prime Minister Erdoğan’s recent restrictions on the flow of information through traditional media, such as newspapers and television news. Sadly, Twitter is the only remaining avenue for the Turkish citizens. It is clear that the Internet has become the “last preserve of freedom of information in Turkey.” Thus, without Twitter, the prime minister hoped to silence the Turkish people.

Objectively, Turkey’s block on Twitter was predictable. Many countries before Turkey have clung to such efforts in a last ditch effort to silence any opposition. However, the fact Turkish citizens have found ways around the restrictions showed that such oppressive measures are as draconian as the authoritarian regimes that instituted the blocks. As has been the case with other situations around the world, Turkey is the latest example of an undeniable truth: countries cannot block Twitter. Because of this, historically oppressive countries are losing their ability to deny a fundamental human right: the freedom of expression.

Casey Smartt is a 2L and a Staff Editor on the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy

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Critical Analysis: Syrian Passenger Plane Forced Down by Turkey

People speak on the aircraft steps of a Syrian passenger plane that was forced by Turkish jets to land in Ankara, Turkey. (USA Today)

Turkish fighter jets forced a Syrian passenger plane to land in Ankara, the Turkish capital, on October 10.  The plane was suspected of carrying weapons from Russia.  The airliner was traveling from Moscow to Damascus with only thirty-five passengers and two crew members, even though the plane’s maximum capacity is one hundred eighty passengers.  Turkish intelligence had reportedly received information that the Syrian plane could be carrying “non-civilian cargo.” The plane was forced to land and then held at Ankara’s Esenboga airport for several hours before authorities finally allowed it to take off again for Damascus.  In conjunction with the forced take down, Turkey declared Syria’s airspace unsafe and ordered its civilian planes to avoid it.

Turkish authorities have declined to announce what they found on the Syrian airliner.  However, reports have surfaced that parts of a missile were confiscated along with materials that should have been reported, but were not, before the flight.  Other reports have surfaced that the Turkish government seized ten containers on board that held radio receivers, antennas, and other equipment “thought to be missile parts.” The forced take-down comes amid growing tensions between the two neighboring countries as reports from the border reveal there has been Syrian mortar and machine-gun fire heard on the Turkish side of the border.  While it is unclear whether the firing from Syria was aimed at Turkey or errant Syrian rebel-government fire, the audible firing has heightened tensions on the border. Tensions have grown with Syria’s bordering neighbors since the Syrian civil war began nineteen months ago. Turkey, specifically, has been a safe haven for roughly 100,000 Syrian refugees, many of whom crossed the Orontes River, which separates Turkey from Syria.

In response to the forced take down, Syria has alleged its continued innocence, calling Turkey’s actions piracy and claiming that nothing illegal was onboard.  The general manager of the Syrian Civil Aviation Agency called Turkey’s actions “contrary to regulations and aviation norms.”  Russia has also been outspoken about its concern for the seventeen Russian passengers onboard. Reportedly, they were not allowed off the plane and denied medical treatment and food for eight hours, and Russia is demanding a reason for Turkey’s treatment of them.  The Moscow airport also denied that there was any prohibited cargo on the Syrian plane.  Vnukovo Airport spokeswoman Yelena Krylova stated that “[n]o objects whose transportation would have been forbidden under aviation regulations were on board.”  All documentation concerning that cargo was also in order and completed as necessary.

Turkey’s action plays a role in the much larger foreign relations with the Middle East and Russia.  Currently, Russia is one of Syria’s closest remaining allies and, along with China, has repeatedly blocked U.N. resolutions against the Syrian capital.  The Syrian civil war continues to grow as battles have spilled over into the neighboring counties of Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey.  NATO has said that it would also get involved if Syria strikes because Turkey is a member of the organization.  NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said that there are plans in place to defend Turkey militarily if such a situation arises.

As more countries begin to take actions against the Syrian government, it will be forced to acquiesce to global pressure and end its violence against the rebels.  The death toll in the Syrian civil war has reached upwards of 20,000 even as global sanctions continue to pour on Syria and President Bashar al-Assad.  Turkey is only the latest country to take action against Syria and, certainly, will not be the last.  If Syria continues to ignore global pressure to end its violence, then military action from outside its borders may be the only resolution to end the internal violence within Syria.

 Dan Warhola is a 3L at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law and the Executive Editor of the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy.

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International Water Law and the Euphrates Conundrum

Most conversations about Syria and Turkey currently revolve around the Syrian uprising, the regime’s repression of it, and a certain Turkish warplane shot down recently near the Syrian-Turkish border. However, a pre-existing, lower-level dispute between the two countries regarding the waters of the Euphrates river existed long before the uprising began, and will certainly continue afterwards, undoubtedly complicated by the events unfolding now.

Where will the future of the Euphrates lead?

The Euphrates rises in the mountains of southern Turkey, flows through Syria and Iraq, and then into the Persian Gulf. Estimates of the Euphrates’ flow generated within Turkey range from 88% to 98%, although they are very out of date.South-eastern Anatolia Project. Again, estimates vary, but by 2025 per capita water withdrawals in Syria and Iraq are expected to be 16% and 27%, respectively, of their 1990 levels due to population growth and decreased river flows.2

The ‘negotiation’ process between the three riparians to reach an agreement over the use of the Euphrates waters has been drawn-out, sporadic, and largely unsuccessful. Bilateral and trilateral talks began to take place every several years starting in 1965, were briefly derailed in 1975 by a ‘flashpoint’ over low flows, and stopped in 1993 when the escalation of tensions between Turkey and Syria over the PKK (Parti Karkerani Kurdistan) issue made talks over water unfeasible.3 The closest thing to an allocation treaty among the riparians is actually two different bilateral agreements, one between Turkey and Syria in 1987 and another between Syria and Iraq in 1990. Due to the lack of both accurate monitoring and international access to water-related data, it is unclear to what extent either of these agreements are being upheld.  However, the period from the year 2000 until very recently showed signals of mutual rapprochement between Syria and Turkey over water issues and tripartite cooperation at the scholarly and technical level.4

The situation has continued unresolved for several decades now, and despite predictions of ‘water wars’ it appears that the stalemate of incomplete cooperation and muted conflict is fairly stable thanks to Turkey’s superior riparian position and military and political strength.UN Convention on the Law of Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses provides a relatively weak institutional context for tackling the issue of allocation in situations of increasing scarcity. It espouses the principle of ‘equitable and reasonable utilization’ and outlines factors for determining said utilization that include: the contribution of water by each basin state, past utilization, existing utilization, economic and social needs, and an overall obligation not to cause significant harm. Yet, it fails to provide a framework for determining which of those factors takes priority in a situation of scarcity. In addition, there is doubt as to what extent the convention actually codifies existing international law. While it passed with a vote in the General Assembly of 103-3 with 26 abstentions, the negative comments of states who eventually voted for it, and the slow pace of ratification indicate its questionable effect as a statement of customary international law.6

In an age of increasing water scarcity, political and hydrological research in international river basins, along with the progressive development of international watercourse law, must be a priority for international organizations, academics, and policymakers. Otherwise, outcomes range from the occurrence of ‘water wars’ to continued disharmony and severe shortages for populations along the course of the dwindling rivers.

Joely Denkinger is a recent graduate of the University of St. Andrews, Scotland. She graduated with an M.A. Joint Honours in Arabic and International Relations after spending one of her semesters at the University of Damascus, Syria, and writing a dissertation entitled, “Hydro-politics in the Euphrates River Basin: Perspective, International Law, and Negotiation Theory.” Her academic interests include Water Law, International Law, and Arabic language and culture.

  1. Beschorner, N., “Water and Instability in the Middle East,” Adelphi Papers: 273, London: International Institute for Strategic Studies, 1992, p. 29. See also: Naff, T. and R. Matson (eds.), Water in the Middle East: Conflict or Cooperation, Boulder: Westview Press, 1984, p. 84.
  2. Elhance, A. P., Hydro-Politics in the 3rd World: Conflict and Cooperation in International River Basins, Washington DC: United States Institute of Peace, 1999, p. 134.
  3. See Daoudy, M., “Asymmetric Power: Negotiating Water in the Euphrates and Tigris,” International Negotiation, 14, 2009, p. 359- 389, and Kut, G., “Burning Waters: The Hydropolitics of the Euphrates and Tigris,” New Perspectives on Turkey, 9, 1993, p.1-17.
  4. See Kibaroglu, A., “The Role of Epistemic Communities in Offering New Cooperation Frameworks in the Euphrates- Tigris Rivers System,” Journal of International Affairs, 61(2), 2008.
  5. See Zeitoun, M. and J. Warner, “Hydro-hegemony – A framework for the analysis of trans-boundary water conflicts,” Water Policy, 8, 2006, 435- 460.
  6. See Schwabach, A., “The United Nations Convention on the Law of Non-navigational Uses of International Watercourses, Customary International Law, and the Interests of Developing Upper Riparians,” Texas International Law Journal, 33, 1998, 257-279.

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Critical Analysis: Tensions Continue After Syrians Down Turkish Warplane

Following the warplane incident on June 22, when Syrian forces shot down a Turkish warplane, Turkish and Syrian relations have become further stressed by additional military response. Yesterday, Turkey responded by scrambling six fighter jets near the Syrian-Turkish border. Turkish officials claim this is a response, not only to the June 22 incident, but three additional incidents which occurred last Saturday, including Syria sending helicopters near the border.  This is not the first action issued by Turkey in regards to this incident. On Friday, Turkey began deploying rocket launchers and anti-aircraft missiles along the border. According to the AP news agency, Syrian helicopters have flown within 6.5km (4 miles) of the Turkish border.

At this time, there appears to be continued confusion amongst nations as to whether the Turkish warplane, involved in the June 22 incident, crossed over into Syrian airspace. While U.S. news source CNN, has reported that “Both Syria and Turkey acknowledged the plane strayed into Syrian airspace, but Turkey said the incursion was accidental and quickly corrected,” Turkish Prime Minister Recept Tayyip Erdogan insists that the warplane was international airspace, not over Syria, stating that the Wall Street Journal (which cited an unnamed military source within Turkey) had “unfortunately published a story which was not true.

Regardless, Syrian and Turkish relations appear to be continuously worsening with the threat of increased military action on both sides. Turkish Prime Minister Recept Tayyip Erdogan stated that Turkey was changing its military rules of engagement, any hostile border movement will be “treated as a military target” and “will be dealt with accordingly.

Brad Bossenbroek is a rising third year law student at the University of Denver and a Publishing Editor for The View From Above.

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Critical Analysis: Syria Downs Turkish Warplane

On June 22nd, Syrian armed forces shot down a Turkish F-4 Phantom Warplane, which burst into flames and crashed into Syrian territorial waters.  Syrian authorities assert that the aircraft entered its airspace at low altitude and high speed, and that its defense forces acted legally in taking it down. “There was no hostile act against Turkey whatsoever. It was just an act of defense for our sovereignty,” said Syrian foreign ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi.

Turkish F-4 Phantom (The Aviationist)

Turkish authorities, however, are singing a different tune over the downing of its fighter jet, whose two pilots remain missing.  Turkey asserts that the plane was shot down over international waters after only very briefly straying into Syrian airspace.  While it plans to wait for further details to emerge before deciding on an official response, Turkish President Abdullah Gül has announced that “necessary steps will be taken,” and that “the consequences could be quite serious.”

In the immediate aftermath of the attack, the Turkish government requested an emergency meeting with its NATO allies, pursuant to Article 4 of NATO’s founding Washington Treaty, which allows any NATO ally to request a consultation.  NATO Secretary General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, speaking for the alliance after the meeting, condemned the Syrian attack as “unacceptable.”

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was harsher in her criticism, calling Syria’s action an “open and grave violation of international law.”

Others, however, are more skeptical of Turkey’s portrayal of the situation.  Some NATO members, including the United States, have privately expressed concerns that the Turkish jet was engaged in more than training exercises, as Turkey claims, and could possibly have been on a spy mission.  Turkey has admitted that the plane was equipped with surveillance equipment, but vehemently denies that it was spying.  And even the doubters note that regardless of the nature of the Turkish mission, Syria’s response was not proper. “When this happens between neighboring countries, you give a warning and then send up interceptors. You don’t just shoot down the plane,” said one source.

The Syrian attack comes at a time of great general instability in Syria and dissatisfaction with Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad.  Turkey in particular has been a harsh critic of Syria’s treatment of its own citizens, and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s personal relationship with Assad is reportedly very cold.  With Turkey already an apparent safe haven for rebels intent on overthrowing Assad, the Syrian attack on the Turkish jet will only diminish an already contentious relationship.

Thomas Scott is a rising third year law student at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law and a Senior Staff Editor of The View From Above

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