Tag Archive | "Turkey"

Time to Rethink the Continuing State of Emergency in Turkey

Photo Credit: Daily Sabah

Photo Credit: Daily Sabah

After a failed military coup in Turkey on July 15, 2016, the Turkish government decided to declare a state of emergency to take required measures in the fight against the putschists, and return to normalcy as soon as possible. Considering the extension of the state of emergency to six months, and all measures taken in this period, this post brings up the controversial question of the legality of the continuing state of emergency and continuing accusations across the country.

 

Background and the Growing Process

On July 15, 2016, a group in Turkey’s armed forces attempted a military coup to seize control of the government. On July 21, 2016, after the coup failed, Turkish government declared a state of emergency for a period of ninety days pursuant to Article 120 of the Turkish Constitution of 1982, which provides:

“In the event of serious indications of widespread acts of violence aimed at the destruction of the free democratic order established by the Constitution or of fundamental rights and freedoms, or serious deterioration of public order because of acts of violence, the Council of Ministers, meeting under the chairpersonship of the President of the Republic, after consultation with the National Security Council, may declare a state of emergency in one or more regions or throughout the country for a period not exceeding six months”.

Following the failed coup, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan clarified that, “the state of emergency had been declared in Turkey … for a duration of [three] months with an aim to totally and swiftly eliminate the FETÖ/PDY (Gulenist Terrorist Organization/Parallel State Structure) terrorist organization, which attempted a coup, and all of its elements”. On October 19, 2016, Turkey’s parliament ratified a planned extension of the state of emergency for three additional months to crack down on everyone suspected to be followers of the putschists. On January 19 2017, the state of emergency was extended second time, and most recently extended a third time scheduled to end on July 19, 2017. According to Article 121 of the Constitution 1982:

“The [Grand National] Assembly [of Turkey] may alter the duration of the state of emergency, may extend the period for a maximum of four months each time at the request of the Council of Ministers, or may lift the state of emergency”.

With an emphasis on the necessity of a determinative and quick reaction to any acts of violence aimed at threatening or abolishing democracy in states, the contentious counter-measures taken by Turkish authorities after the failed coup require a discussion in the context of human rights considerations.

 

Assessing under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)

After the failed military coup, the government started to arrest, imprison, and fire anyone connected with the putschists. However, detentions and firing of thousands of journalists and academics as a massive political purge under the state of emergency gave a different dimension to the government’s unbounded counter-measures.

Nonetheless, it’s incontrovertible that all enforcements of slander laws to members of opposing groups and critics, attacks on the independence of the judiciary, using media and other state resources in favor of the government, and censoring the internet websites, are employed as policies against putschists to return normalcy to the country cannot be conceded as justifications for fighting against putschists contrary to the international human rights considerations.

Relevantly, on September 23, 2003, Turkey ratified the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) as an attempt to ensure the protection of civil and political rights. With regard to the state of emergency, the ICCPR reads in Article 4(1):

“In time of public emergency which threatens the life of the nation and the existence of which is officially proclaimed, the States Parties to the present Covenant may take measures derogating from their obligations under the present Covenant to the extent strictly required by the exigencies of the situation, provided that such measures are not inconsistent with their other obligations under international law and do not involve discrimination solely on the ground of race, colour, sex, language, religion or social origin”.

Clearly, a state of emergency is an extraordinary situation in which human rights and freedoms could be suspended temporarily. During the state of emergency, governments have the right to detain and hold suspects without charge. Nonetheless, there are some other fundamental rights and freedoms stated in Article 4(2) of the ICCPR which could not be suspended under any conditions including the right to freedom of thought, freedom from arbitrarily being deprived of liberties, and freedom from torture and inhuman treatment or punishment. From this point of view, holding a large population of the Turkish society, including pro-Kurdish and main opposition Republican People’s Party members of parliament, academics, journalists, and ordinary citizens just because of opposing and criticizing the government’s policies –especially, its quest for constitutional amendments that will be voted on in the referendum on April 2017 on switching to a presidential system– and also infringing media freedom in the country could be considered as violation of Article 4(2) of the ICCPR and that could not be justified under any condition even if done as counter-coup measures. Furthermore, using the failed coup attempt as a cover-up to eliminate and a crackdown on any government opponents and critics regardless of the scope and objective of the coup leaders is a violation of freedom of expression and thought which cannot be derogated under any distressed situations such as the state of emergency. During the continuing state of emergency in Turkey, dismissing about 7,316 academics by the first half of January 2017 from their professions who criticized the government’s national policies or signed peace declaration criticizing curfews declared in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish Southeastern districts in 2015 cannot be justified under any circumstances. In this sense, the mentioned counter-measures taken by the Turkish government against the society is clearly refusing the rule of law and fundamental rules of the ICCPR on a large scale.

 

Accusations Through the Broad Definition of Terrorism

According to the European Court of Human Rights, more than 5,000 cases were filed by Turkish nationals against Turkey relating to the post-coup purge. In the wake of the failed military coup in Turkey, the government launched a purge against alleged supporters of the coup leader Fethullah Gulen, including military officers, academics, and journalists.

As stated by Jonathan Cooper in his manual prepared for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), “[A]n overly broad definition of terrorism can be used [only] to shut down non-violent dissent and undermine democratic society”. There is a similar tendency in Turkey. The counter-measures taken by Turkish authorities in the fight against putschists coup leaders, connected alleged suspects through a broad definition of terrorism.

The overly-broad definition of terrorism, and measures taken to fight against it, are very dangerous because it will impact a large layer of the society, especially ethnic and religious minority groups, peaceful critics, and opponents, by sabotaging their fundamental human rights and liberties, including the right to freedom of expression. Although the Turkish President has said that the main objective of the state of emergency is the total elimination of the “Gulenist Terrorist Organization” and its elements that attempted a military coup. thousands of Turkish scholars were arrested during the state of emergency on a charge related to supporting the terrorist organization, including statements that do not clearly provoke or incite any act of violence. Relevantly, interpretation and application of laws by sabotaging non-derogable fundamental human rights including freedom of expression, freedom of thought, and freedom from being arbitrarily deprived of liberties are all the steps taken to broaden the scope of terrorism.

To be clear, Turkish authorities do not consciously separate terrorist actions from general criticism, or political and ethnic dissents in the country. Therefore all measures were taken under the state of emergency, and within the limits of the international obligations have prepared the grounds to suppress the right to freedom of thought and expression in violation of the rule of law. In simple words, in order to prevent legitimate exercise of the fundamental and non-suspendable human rights, Turkish authorities criminalize not only the acts that are properly accepted as terrorist actions in nature, but also any lawful statements, criticism, demonstrations, meetings, and any other attitudes that do not fall within the scope of terrorism under any circumstances.

It is very clear that Turkish authorities, by defining “criticizing the government’s policies” and “clarification of the opposing views” as terrorist actions have moved away from the main objective of the continuing state of emergency in Turkey. By contrast, all of these attitudes of Turkish authorities towards a large number of the society, mainly academics and journalists, are the significant steps in the direction of restricting democracy and freedom of expression and thought.

 

Saeed Bagheri is a faculty member at Akdeniz University in Turkey with a Ph. D in Public law and a Master’s of Human Rights Law.

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EU-Turkey Agreement: What’s the Deal?

Photo Credit: AmnestyUSA

Photo Credit: AmnestyUSA

On March 8, 2016, the European Union (EU) and Turkey reached an agreement aimed at resolving the migrant crisis, which has grown exponentially over the past several years.

Since the beginning of the conflict, a total of 9 million migrants, have fled war-torn areas such as Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq. In search of safety, most of these refugees have found a new home in neighboring countries like Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt. More than 1 million migrants have relocated to southern Europe, primarily Greece and Italy.

During the September 2015 meeting, EU members pledged to resettle 160,000 refugees in need of immediate protection. However, as of March 15, 2016, only 937 asylum applicants were relocated from Greece and Italy to other EU Member States.

Refugees typically arrive in Europe after crossing the Mediterranean Sea by boat. The journey that the migrants take is incredibly dangerous and has already claimed thousands of lives. Despite the difficulties, an average of 2,000 to 3,000 refugees continue to arrive in Greece every day.

The EU-Turkey deal is an attempt to find a mutual solution to the crisis.

According to the agreement, which came into effect on March 20, 2016, migrants arriving in Greece after March 20, 2016 would be sent back to Turkey if they do not apply for asylum or if their application is denied. In exchange for every returned Syrian, one legally registered Syrian refugee from Turkey may be resettled in Europe, and only up to a maximum of 72,000 refugees.  This so called “one-for-one” deal does not extend to illegal migrants. Further still, the agreement does not extend to the non-Syrian refugees who have fled the brutal violence in Afghanistan and Iraq. For these people, the route to Europe is now closed, and if they arrive in Europe illegally, they will be quickly expelled to Turkey.

Under the pact, the EU agreed to allocate €3 billion to Turkey to help finance readmission and resettlement of refugees arriving from Greece. These funds are also intended to help Turkey cope with almost 3 million Syrian refugees currently sheltered within its borders. In addition, by the end of June 2016, the EU has promised to grant Turkish citizens the right to visa-free travel within the EU’s Schengen zone. Turkey also asked the EU to reconsider its application to become an EU member state.

Even though the EU and Turkey are taking steps to ensure that the return of refugees and migrants is legal under international law norms, the United Nation High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), as well as many humanitarian organizations, are gravely concerned about the blanket application of the terms of the agreement to all individuals seeking asylum. According to the UNHCR, the terms of the agreement violate the main principles of European and international law. Specifically, refugee advocates argue that international law requires that States assess each refugee case on an individual basis. Put another way, no automatic returns are allowed.

While the details of the agreement continue to be worked out, more than 50, 000 men, women and children remain stranded at the border between Macedonia and Greece awaiting their fate to be handed down by leaders of the EU and Turkey.

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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.1 The issue of water resource management has become securitized in the Middle East and water-related data has become politically sensitive; thus, figures are disputed and not independently verifiable to a satisfactory extent. All three riparians have implemented various projects along the river for flood control, irrigation, and hydroelectricity, the most ambitious of which is Turkey’s GAP, or 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.5 Additionally, the International Law of Trans-boundary Water Resources is not sufficiently developed to provide a clear solution, perpetuating a situation in which each riparian believes they occupy the international legal high-ground. The 1997 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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