International report-logo

International report


RFI goes behind-the-scenes of one of the week's major stories.


Paris, France




RFI goes behind-the-scenes of one of the week's major stories.




Erdogan’s local election defeat reshapes Turkey’s political landscape

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's worst electoral defeat in nationwide municipal elections has changed Turkey's political landscape. However, the Opposition's victory came at an awkward time. Turkey's Western allies were looking to strengthen ties with the Turkish President. Turkey's main opposition CHP (Republican People’s Party) gains in nationwide local elections are a significant reversal of the party's fortunes after Erdogan's resounding reelection last May. "After the opposition's loss in the May elections, everybody thought the opposition was in a state of despair," explains Can Selcuki, head of Istanbul polling firm Economics Research. "But that doesn't seem to be the case, and it's a turning point for the Turkish political landscape. "It's the first time since 1977 that CHP has managed to come out number one in the popular vote." Threat of authoritarianism With much of the media under his control and the judiciary targeting dissent, critics claim Erdogan's grip on power is tightening. Addressing supporters on election night Ekrem Imamoglu, the re-elected CHP mayor for Istanbul who Erdogan personally tried to unseat, claimed his victory was a stand against the global threat of authoritarianism. "Today is a pivotal moment not only for Istanbul, but for democracy itself. As we celebrate our victory, we send a message that will reverberate worldwide,” Imamoglu told thousands of jubilant supporters. "Democracy's decline is now ending," continued the mayor, "Istanbul stands as a beacon of hope, a testament to the resilience of democratic values in the face of growing authoritarianism." Deepfake videos used in local elections in Turkey as Erdogan battles for IstanbulTurkey's embattled civil society fears worst as foreign funding dries uProsecutor seeks prison terms for alleged PKK members on trial in ParisMuted reactions Despite this,Turkey's Western allies' response to the CHP's resounding victory was muted. "There were no congratulations extended, even to Turkey's democracy, let alone to the opposition itself," Sezin Oney, a commentator for Turkey's Politikyol news portal, said. “[This] is a big contrast compared to the May elections because right after the May elections, the Western leaders, one after the other, extended their congratulations to Erdogan. "So there is a recognition that Erdogan is here to stay, and they don't want to make him cross. And given that there is the Ukraine war on one side and the Gaza war on the other, they want a stable Turkey.” Turkey's location, bordering the Middle East and Russia, makes Ankara a critical ally for Europe and the United States in international efforts to control migration and contain Russia. Ahead of the March polls, Erdogan had been engaged in rapprochement with his Western allies, with Washington even inviting the Turkish President for a summit in May. However, Erdogan could still pose a headache to his Western allies as he ramps up his nationalist rhetoric in the aftermath of his defeat. "We are determined to show that terrorism has no place in the future of Türkiye and the region," Erdogan said Thursday. "With the recent elections, this determination has been further strengthened." Massive military offensive Meanwhile, Erdogan has warned that his army is poised to launch a massive military offensive into Northern Iraq and Syria against the Kurdish group PKK, including affiliates that work with American forces in fighting the Islamic State. A crackdown on the PKK, analysts say, will play well with conservative nationalist voters. Those voters were the ones with which the opposition scored its biggest successes in Central Turkey – a region known as Anatolia - for the first time in a generation. "CHP has never been successful in those places before. These are places that are considered to be religiously conservative, or at least conservative," Istar Gozaydin, a Turkish religion and state relations expert at Istanbul's Istinye University,...


Turkey looks for regional help in its battle against Kurdish rebels in Iraq

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has vowed to end the threat posed by Kurdish rebel group the PKK, which has been fighting Turkey for decades. As Turkey prepares to launch a major military operation against the organisation in Iraq, it is looking to other governments in the region for support. Turkish forces have been carrying out military operations in northern Iraq for the last two years against bases of the PKK, which has been fighting for Kurdish minority rights in Turkey for decades. But Erdogan is now vowing to permanently end the threat posed by the PKK and its affiliates in neighbouring Syria. "We have preparations that will give new nightmares to those who think that they will bring Turkey to its knees with a 'Terroristan' along our southern borders," the Turkish president bellowed earlier this month. According to Mesut Casin, a presidential adviser and professor of international politics at Istanbul's Yeditepe University, the military operation is expected to take aim at PKK targets along the more than 300km border that Turkey shares with Iraq. "By securing the Iraq border, Turkey is expected to create a 40km new security corridor, similar to the one in Syria," he said. But Casin also stressed that, to end the PKK threat, Ankara is looking beyond military means to a new model of military and diplomatic cooperation with the leaders of Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan. Regional cooperation Ankara got a boost in its war against the PKK this month when Baghdad banned the Kurdish group. Erdogan is also developing close ties with the leadership of Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdistan regional government in Erbil. Such cooperation is seen as vital to Ankara's goal of eradicating the PKK threat. "Turkey will focus on the capacity of Iraqi security forces, together with the Kurdish regional government's Peshmerga [Iraqi Kurdish soldiers]," explained Murat Aslan, an analyst with Turkish think tank the Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research. "Turkey wants a full encirclement of all PKK members in Iraq and then to destroy them, neutralise them," Aslan said. New leverage In April, Erdogan is scheduled to visit both Erbil and Baghdad, where the PKK is expected to top the agenda. Enhanced bilateral trade and increasing international transit trade through Iraq to Turkey is seen as giving Erdogan new leverage with Baghdad. "The carrot is the new so-called 'Development Road', which will connect Basra port to to the Turkish border, to Habur or to a new border gate," said Aydin Selcen, a former senior Turkish diplomat who served in Iraq. "Perhaps it will have a railroad, then a parallel highway, which will bring billions of US dollars to Baghdad's coffers," continued Selcen, now a regional analyst for Turkey's Medyascope news portal. "For that project to be realistic, there should be stability and security in Iraq. So in a way, Ankara wishes to repackage the combat against PKK within that project." France becomes first EU country to open visa service in Mosul, IraqIran question However, analysts predict Iran's cooperation will also be needed, given that the PKK headquarters are located in the mountainous Qandil region. "Why is Iran important? Because the Qandil mountains are not only in Iraq. They are divided between Iran and Iraq," explained analyst Aslan. Four decades later, veterans of the Iran-Iraq war still can't forget"Whenever an operation is planned and implemented in the region, [the PKK] go to Iran, enjoy a safe haven, and come back," he said. "So this campaign should be complemented by Iranian efforts, but it's not guaranteed. We will see what happens." With the rivalry between Turkey and Iran increasing across the region, Tehran may be reluctant to accommodate Ankara's demands. That could add to ongoing bilateral tensions, giving the PKK room to escape the tightening Turkish grip.


With Somalia naval deal, Turkey steers into strategic but volatile region

A naval agreement between Turkey and Somalia positions the Turkish navy in a strategically vital region, underlining Ankara's growing ambitions at sea. But analysts warn that the deal threatens to escalate tensions with Somalia's neighbour, Ethiopia. Under a ten-year defence agreement ratified earlier this month, the Turkish navy will help protect Somalia's territorial waters and facilitate training and equipment for the Somali navy. The deal is just the latest step in Ankara's deepening relationship with Mogadishu. "Not only is this the location of Turkey's largest international military base, it's also the location of Turkey's largest embassy in the world," explains Norman Ricklefs, chair of multinational consultancy group Namea. "This shows the importance Turkey has placed on Somalia, and rebuilding Somalia as a major state in the Horn of Africa, and making Somalia's future success part of Turkey's broader strategic goals in eastern Africa in the Red Sea region," he says. Turkey also signed an energy exploration deal with Somalia this month. The East African country is believed to have major oil and gas reserves both on land and within its territorial waters. Blue-water navy Experts see the deepening of ties with Somalia as part of growing international competition for influence in this strategically vital region. "This will provide Turkey an opportunity to increase its influence in the Horn of Africa," says Elem Eyrice-Tepeciklioglu, an associate professor of African studies at Ankara's Social Sciences University. "Because all those external countries – Gulf countries, Western countries... even Japan – have bases in Djibouti, they are all vying to increase their development in the region, especially for economic purposes. So this is also an opportunity for Turkey," she says. The Somali deal comes as Ankara rapidly expands its navy's so-called "blue-water" capabilities – the ability to operate on the open oceans, far from the country's home ports. Turkey has built up a fleet of energy research ships and a growing navy. "[Naval expansion] focuses on the projection of Turkish military capacity in the maritime domain – both in protecting its own exclusive economic zones and waters, while also helping its allies and partners to do the same," explains Sine Ozkarasahin, an independent defence analyst. "And Somalia has been facing an increased threat of piracy." Tensions with Ethiopia Turkey's deepening military ties with Somalia come as the Horn of Africa nation faces tension with its neighbour, Ethiopia. In January, Ethiopia infuriated Somalia by signing an agreement with the breakaway region of Somaliland, giving Addis Ababa long-desired sea access. But Mehmet Ozkan of the Turkish National Defence University says Ankara is well placed to contain any fallout, given its ties with Ethiopia. "Military cooperation, personal cooperation, the personal relationship between the leaders – I think relations are pretty good," he says. "Because in the region everybody is looking for security cooperation, and it's same for Ethiopia... Turkey is a security provider for Ethiopia as well." Turkey and Italy consider teaming up to seek new influence in Africa'Drone diplomacy' With Turkish-made military drones widely used by both the Ethiopian and Somali militaries in their wars against insurgencies, Ankara's so-called "drone diplomacy" has been instrumental in balancing its relations with rivals. "Turkey has also probably supplied some drones to Somalia – which are operated by Turkish operators, not Somalis – but they've been useful in the conflict against Al-Shabaab," explains analyst Ricklefs. "I know Turkey has a good relationship with Ethiopia. It has a good relationship with Somalia. So its presence in Somalia is more likely than not – given Turkey's broader strategic aims in the region – to have a stabilising effect rather than a destabilising effect," he argues. Newly reconciled, Turkey and Egypt could be a force...


Deepfake videos used in local elections in Turkey as Erdogan battles for Istanbul

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is leading a battle to regain control of Istanbul in hotly contested local elections this month. However, opposition media is warning about deepfake videos in campaign ads, while international rights groups are voicing alarm over social media companies' willingness to comply with Turkish censorship ahead of the critical polls. Polls show the elections are going to be a tight contest. But as Erdogan's AK Party steps up efforts to regain control of Istanbul, an artificial intelligence-generated video of incumbent mayor Ekrem Imamoglu praising Erdogan for his achievements in Istanbul has been circulating on social media. Independent media warn of the threat of fake news, as mainstream media, which is mostly under government control, are not verifying the authenticity of the videos. Deepfake videos "Deepfake videos are usually not posted on news sites, but they reach millions of people as advertisements. These stick to the candidate." explains Hikmet Adal , social media editor at Bianet, an independent news portal. "The voting segment in Turkey is 40 million. When you ask people if Ekrem Imamoglu actually said this, they will say 'he did' because they only follow the mainstream media," added Adal. During last year's presidential elections, Erdogan used a video falsely showing his opponent Kemal Kilicdaroglu with leaders of the Kurdish separatist group the PKK, which is fighting the Turkish government. Yaman Akdeniz of Turkey's Freedom of Expression Association fears more fake news videos will appear as election day draws closer. "We will witness more of these leading into the local elections, which is of course a major concern," warns Akdeniz, "And there were some examples of that prior to the May 2023 general elections. A photo of the opposition leader came out with PKK leaders. Even the president of Turkey commented , saying that he knows that it is fake, but they still used it." Turkey's small independent media sector, which is crucial to the exposing of fake news is facing increasing pressure from Turkish authorities. Much of their news is blocked on social media. "What we've seen is that very, very often material, mainly news on social media, is removed and blocked online," explains Emma Sinclair-Webb senior Turkey researcher of Human Rights Watch. Call for action Human Rights Watch was among 22 international rights groups calling on social media companies to stand up to Turkish authorities' demands for removal of postings. "It's very concerning to see that authorities are willing to clamp down on free speech, but social media companies themselves are not robust enough to stand up to this pressure," added Sinclair-Webb, "We want them to be more transparent and to work together in raising concerns about requests by Turkey to block content that is clearly within the boundaries of freedom of expression and also to contest others in court in Turkey. " Turkey's presidential challenger faces uphill battle to unite oppositionVolunteer army of election monitors prepare to protect Turkey's voteA growing number of prosecutions of independent media under a new disinformation law adds to the pressures they face. Many Turks are now turning to international news platforms. But Turkish authorities are blocking internet access to foreign news sources which broadcast in Turkish like Deutsche Welle and Voice of America. These portals are only accessible by a virtual private network, or VPN, which circumvents the ban. But now, some of the most widely used VPNs also face restrictions. Attack on football referee exposes anti-elite resentment in divided Turkey "Restricting access to the internet has become a sort of playbook for regimes and authoritarian governments. And so we see across the world an increase in VPN usage, especially in countries like this, like Turkey," said Antonio Cesarano of Proton, a VPN provider. "It's a cat-and-mouse game. We will try our best to keep fighting and...


Turkey and Italy consider teaming up to seek new influence in Africa

Turkey and Italy are finding common ground as they seek to expand their economic and diplomatic influence in Africa. The two nations are eyeing opportunities to cooperate on security, energy and migration as France's traditional influence on the continent wanes. This month, Somalia's parliament ratified an agreement with Turkey to provide naval protection and assistance in building a Somali navy, another step in Turkey's efforts to expand its African presence. "With this pact, Turkey will protect the Somali coast from pirates, terrorists – anyone that violates our maritime borders, like Ethiopia," declared Abdifatah Kasim, Somalia's deputy defence minister. The defence deal was followed by a bilateral agreement on energy exploration in Somalia. Ankara's growing influence in the region was underscored by a strong African presence at Turkey's annual Antalya Diplomacy Forum, with seven African heads of state, seven prime ministers and 25 foreign ministers in attendance. In January, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni hosted African leaders at a summit in Rome, where she unveiled plans to expand Italy's influence on the continent. "Our future inevitably depends on the future of the African continent. We are aware of this, and we want to do our part," Meloni declared. "That's why we have decided to launch an ambitious programme of interventions that can help the continent grow and prosper, starting from its immense resources." Italy targets energy, migration with 'non-predatory' plan for AfricaCommon ground in Libya Analysts say both countries are considering cooperating as a means of achieving their Africa goals. "Italy is trying to fulfil a position that Western countries in some way left over the last decades, while Turkey has already been in Africa and in sub-Saharan Africa," observes Alessia Chiriatti of the Institute of International Affairs, an Italian think tank. "The main issues for confrontation or cooperation – we will see – will be migration, energy issues, and, of course, the economic development of these countries," she says. Also in January, Meloni met Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul. The meeting included talks on Africa, with a focus on cooperation in Libya – a country where experts say Ankara has considerable influence, including a military base. The North African nation is a main transit route for migrants seeking to enter Europe, mainly through Italy. Tunisia brush-off augurs badly for EU push for African migration dealsItaly, France and other European countries see that as a "huge threat", according to Elem Eyrice-Tepeciklioglu of the African Studies Department at Ankara's Social Sciences University. "So there is room to cooperate in this area and to prevent the illegal flow of migrants, and cooperate in the security area as well." On Tuesday, the Italian and Turkish defence ministers held talks in Ankara. Exploiting Libya's vast energy reserves is also potential common ground. France on the outs Meanwhile the recent ousting of regimes sympathetic to France in Niger, Mali and Gabon – and with it, the withdrawal of French forces – has severely weakened France's historical political and economic influence in West Africa. That offers an opportunity to Italy and Turkey. "Italy could have an important cooperation with Turkey in order to take advantage of the position left aside by some countries like France, like Germany, like the other Western countries in Africa," says analyst Chiriatti. "But it will also depend on the bilateral agenda and bilateral interests expressed by Turkey and Italy," she adds. "That's not always the same. So in this sense, we need to see what will happen in the future step by step." Newly reconciled, Turkey and Egypt could be a force for stability in AfricaBusiness opportunities Chiriatti warns that cooperation can easily turn into rivalry in business. But Africa's vast economic potential is seen as offering plenty of room for partnership. "There...


Islamic State attack on Istanbul church raises fear of further terror

Heavily armed police are protecting churches across Istanbul day and night after an Islamic State attack on a Catholic church in Istanbul. The terrorist group has warned of further attacks against Christians and Jews. Turkish security forces have detained hundreds of suspects in the aftermath of January's deadly attack on Santa Maria Catholic Church in the Sariyer district, which killed one person. The death toll could have been considerably higher if the gunmen's automatic weapons had not jammed. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility in a statement that warned it was targeting Jews and Christians in Turkey. Istanbul's small Christian community, although fearful, remains defiant. "It's not necessary to be a member of the congregation to be frightened. It's something that would terrify anyone," declared Ilhan Guzelis after attending his local church service. "We're scared, but believe me, we've never hesitated to come to our church, to worship here, and to pray to God." Game of cat and mouse Two men, a Russian and a Tajik national, have been arrested for carrying out the attack, while over a hundred others have been detained across the country. Experts say Turkish security forces are now engaged in a deadly cat-and-mouse game with the terror group also known as Isis or Daesh. "This is a mutual competition between the security forces and terrorist cells," Murat Aslan of the Ankara-based Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research (Seta) told RFI. "Both sides will try to identify or deceive each other. And in this case, I believe the Daesh terrorists were skilful, at least to bypass the security measures." Aslan warns the job is becoming harder for Turkey's security forces as the face of Islamic State evolves. He cites changes to assailants' personal appearance, for example: recent attackers have worn regular clothes and shaved their beards, which helps them blend into a crowd. "They are regular citizens. So it's not that much easier to distinguish exactly who is radical or not, for instance. In the latest incident in the church, the individuals were like regular citizens," he said. Turkish targets Adding to security woes is the proximity of Turkey to Syrian territory once held by Islamic State and other radical jihadist groups. "There are armed groups in Turkey. They still have baggage in Turkey, the remnants of the armed groups inside Turkey, even Isis remnants back from the Syrian war," claims Sezin Oney of the Politikyol news portal. The last time Islamic State successfully carried out a major attack in Turkey was in 2017, when a gunman went on the rampage during New Year celebrations, killing 39 people at an Istanbul nightclub. But Aslan warns that Turkey offers numerous targets. "The church attack was really significant in terms of the potential of Daesh," he says. "Turkey hosts a lot of churches and Jewish holy sites. Once [terrorists] enjoy a presence here and set up hidden cells, they can easily select a target." Fears for tourist season With Turkey's lucrative tourism season only a month or so away, bringing with it further potential targets for Islamic State, the government security crackdown is predicted to intensify. Christians like Guzelis have mixed feelings over the presence of such patrols around the city's churches. "After such an incident, it is good for us that [the police] come here to protect us here again, even as a presence; we are grateful for this," he says. "I wish that there would be no such matters, that everyone would live together here as brothers and sisters. But we are sorry for what happened; it creates a bitterness in us." Read also: As Turkey bombards Kurdish forces in Syria, is the US preparing to pull out?With spy raids, Turkey warns Israel not to seek Hamas revenge on Turkish soil


Will Turkey ditch Russian missiles for US military jets?

As Turkey's rapprochement with the United States gathers pace, the future of Turkish-purchased Russian S-400 missiles is increasingly in question. The missile deal is a potent symbol of Ankara's close ties with Moscow, but Washington is offering to sell Turkey its advanced F35 military jet for the removal of the Russian weapons. Ankara was kicked out of the jet program after it purchased Russian S-400 anti-aircraft missiles, which Washington said compromised the F-35's stealth technology. Now Turkey's purchase of the advanced F-35 military jet could be back on the agenda. Acting deputy of Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, during a visit to Istanbul last month, offered to revive the jet sale if the Russian missiles were removed. Along with the $2.5 billion (€2.3 billion) price tag for the Russian missiles, Ankara paid a heavy price militarily and economically by being expelled from the F-35 program. Founding partner Turkey was one of the founding partners of the jet program, with Turkish companies building numerous parts for the plane. Diplomatically the missile sale created a deep divide between Turkey and its NATO partners, raising questions over its allegiance to the Western military alliance. "After the purchase of the anti-aircraft missiles, which was unprecedented, some people in [President] Erdogan's cabinet also admitted this was a big mistake," says Onur Isci, a Russian affairs expert at Istanbul's Kadir Has University told RFI. "Turkey's purchase of the S-400s was a very costly endeavor." The escaping Russians finding a better life in TurkeyThe S-400 missile sale was a powerful symbol of deepening Russian Turkish ties and deteriorating relations with Washington. The sale came in the aftermath of Ankara's accusations of Washington's involvement in the 2016 failed coup attempt against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Russian President Vladimir Putin was among the first leaders to offer Erdogan support during the attempted putsch. Important symbol While the Russian missiles sit in a warehouse undeployed, they remain an important symbol of Erdogan's close ties to Putin, making their removal difficult for the Turkish president. "The buying of the S-400 air defence system from Russia was a diplomatic catastrophe of historical magnitude," says former senior Turkish diplomat Aydin Selcen, now a regional analyst. "Unfortunately, it is not possible. I am led to believe that Erdogan will walk back from that mistake ... It was an unforced error. It was an own goal, whichever metaphor you like." Turkey's bid to join EU back on the table at upcoming summitHowever, US-Turkish ties are improving with Ankara's ratification of Sweden's NATO membership and Washington's reciprocating by allowing the sale of F16 jets to Turkey. But the F16 is inferior to the F35, which neighbor and rival Greece is set to purchase as part of its military modernisation, causing alarm in Ankara. "When you read Turkey's hawks, everybody is afraid that the air force balance over the Aegean is not tilting or is going to be tilting in favor of Greece," warns Soli Ozel, who teaches international relations at Istanbul's Kadir Has University. Waiting game Whether Ankara takes up Washington's offer of F-35 jets in exchange for removing the Russian-made missiles – possibly to a Turkish ally like Azerbaijan, Qatar, or even Libya – depends on the progress of improving relations with the United States. "It's very important if we see any more moves from Washington," says Yoruk Isik, a geopolitical analyst in Istanbul with the Washington-based Middle East Institute. "The F35 was the first signal in years that that was a really positive signal from Washington. Ankara is waiting to hear the continuation of that message." Erdogan's close ties with Putin have benefited Turkey in deferments on energy payments for Russian energy. The Turkish leader is predicted to be looking to Washington to pay a high price to remove the Russian...


Turkey and Egypt turn page on decade of friction with show of friendship

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's visit to Cairo this week formally ended more than a decade of animosity with his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, with the two leaders committing their countries to a new era of cooperation. A military band and gun salute welcomed Erdogan when he arrived in Cairo on Wednesday, as Sisi rolled out the red carpet for his Turkish counterpart. Not long ago, the two leaders were more used to exchanging angry barbs. But now the talk is about cooperation to prevent Israel's looming military offensive against Hamas in the southern Gaza Strip and the growing humanitarian crisis there. "We will continue the cooperation and solidarity with our Egyptian brothers for the bloodshed in Gaza to stop," Erdogan declared at a joint press conference with Sisi. "In the medium term, we are ready to work with Egypt for Gaza to recover and be rebuilt." Decade-long rift Bilateral relations plunged into a deep freeze after Sisi ousted Erdogan's close ally, Mohamed Morsi, in a 2013 coup. Erdogan's visit to Cairo resulted from intense and ultimately successful diplomatic efforts to end years of antagonism between the leaders. "Reconciliation, an official visit by the Turkish president to Egypt, a meeting there is in and of itself significant," observes international relations expert Soli Ozel, a lecturer at Istanbul's Kadir Has University. "Given what transpired in the past, obviously, this is a major move on the part of both President Erdogan and President Sisi." Clampdown on critical media For years, groups affiliated with Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood and critical of Sisi broadcast from Istanbul – further stoking tensions between Turkey and Egypt. "These Political Islam-inspired narratives across the whole region are obviously something that is considered corrosive by the Egyptian government," says political scientist Jalel Harchaoui, of the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies in London. Harchaoui claims moves by Ankara to curtail opposition TV broadcasting in recent years facilitated the rapprochement with Cairo. "It has always found a home in terms of being able to get broadcast across the region in Istanbul. But Erdogan was able to reduce these freedoms as part of his conversation with Cairo," Harchaoui says. Regional realignment Turkey's deployment of troops in the Middle East and North Africa is also a point of tension with Cairo. Turkey and Egypt backed rival sides in the Libyan civil war. But Erdogan, speaking to the media with Sisi, pledged a new era of cooperation. "We had the opportunity to evaluate the issues in Libya, Sudan and Somalia," the Turkish president said. "We give full support to the unity, togetherness, territorial integrity and peace of these three brotherly countries." What are Turkish troops and Syrian militia fighters doing in Libya?During his Cairo visit, Erdogan underlined that rapprochement with Sisi was part of a more comprehensive policy of repairing ties across the region. "We never want to see conflict, tension, or crises in Africa, the Middle East or other places in our geography," Erdogan said. "With this aim, we are determined to increase our contacts with Egypt at every level for the establishment of peace and stability in our region." Libya breakthrough? Turkey and Egypt are two of the region's powerhouses, and rivalry between the countries has only exacerbated conflicts in the region, particularly in Libya, argues Libyan security analyst Aya Burweila. "In general, I think this is good," she said of their rapprochement. "I think it's helpful for Libya as well because both sides support different factions in Libya. And the stalemate has gone on for such a long time. "It's about time that the existing powers figure out something that everybody can agree on, and there is a deal to be had." Newly reconciled, Turkey and Egypt could be a force for stability in AfricaBurweila believes Erdogan's rapprochement with Sisi...


As Turkey bombards Kurdish forces in Syria, is the US preparing to pull out?

Turkish military forces are carrying out an air assault on US-backed Kurdish forces in Syria, and Ankara has warned that a land operation may follow. The crackdown comes amid reports that Washington may pull its forces out of Syria and Iraq. Turkey's government accuses Kurdish forces in north-eastern Syria of being linked to attacks on its army. Turkish drone strikes are bombarding oil refineries and electricity production in the Syrian border region controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a coalition of ethnic militias and rebel groups. "The targets are energy infrastructure and that sort of stuff. Obviously, the goal is to make that area not sustainable, as a sustainable haven for the SDF," says Aydin Selcen, a former senior Turkish diplomat and now regional analyst for the Medyascope news portal. The SDF's ranks include the Kurdish People's Defence Units (YPG) and Women's Protection Units (YPJ), which Ankara accuses of being affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK. The armed movement is considered a terrorist organisation by both Ankara and Washington. "The end game as defined by the Turkish authorities is to prevent a terrorist statelet [being created] beyond Turkish borders," explains Selcen. "This means allowing the PKK or its Syrian affiliates, the YPG and YPJ, to establish a local administration in that area. War on terror is perhaps the number one priority for this government." Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan last month threatened a new land invasion into Syria. Turkish forces already control a large swathe of Syrian territory from previous operations against Syrian Kurdish forces. Possible US withdrawal The SDF is backed by a US military force of around 900 soldiers in the war against the so-called Islamic State group, raising the possibility of a conflict between NATO and its allies. Ankara's ongoing assault comes amid reports that Washington is considering pulling its forces out of Syria and Iraq. "Washington may be preparing to hand off SDF as a partner to the Syrian regime and saying: 'you guys sort yourselves out, we are actually going to leave'," said Turkey analyst Sinan Ciddi of the US-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies. "The administration is apparently toying with the idea that it's no longer worth keeping US troops there because they are in harm's way," he said. At least some in the US administration want to explore, if they pulled their troops from northern Syria, "the extent to which Turkey could sort out its problems with the Kurds via engaging with the Syrian regime", Ciddi added. US-Turkey reset A US withdrawal from Syria would relieve years of tension between NATO allies Turkey and the United States. "Unfortunately, this relationship with the United States and YPG creates a barrier between Turkey and the United States," said Bilgehan Alagoz, a professor of international relations at Istanbul's Marmara University. "A NATO ally should not act against other allies' national concerns," she said. "That's the main reason why Turkey perceives US policy in Syria as a national security concern." Sweden deal unlikely to resolve bitter dispute between NATO and TurkeyWith Ankara last month lifting its veto on Sweden's NATO membership and the White House reciprocating by green-lighting the sale of military jets to Turkey, the NATO allies appear to be seeking to reset ties. Analyst Selcen warns time may be running out for the SDF. "If the Americans leave, it will be very difficult for the SDF to survive unless they cut a deal with Damascus," Selcen said. "But the timing is of the essence, of course – they cannot get the same terms that they will get once the Americans leave." Damascus compromise But Selcen suggests if the SDF moves quickly, it could secure a deal with Damascus that ensures its survival – at least in the short term, given the weakness of the Syrian security forces. "At the end of the day, they will have to come up with some kind of...


Sweden deal unlikely to resolve bitter dispute between NATO and Turkey

Ankara's ratification of Sweden's NATO membership after a 10-month delay has spurred hopes of a reset in relations between Turkey and the alliance, but tensions still run deep. French President Emmanuel Macron's recent state visit to Sweden focused heavily on defence amid Russia's ongoing war in Ukraine. While its NATO membership was seen as critical amid persisting concerns over border security, Turkey refused to ratify Sweden’s entry until a long list of demands from its partners were met. Sweden's accession saw a lifting of restrictions by NATO countries on military hardware sales to Turkey, says Aydin Selcen, a former senior Turkish diplomat who is now a regional analyst for Mediyacope, a Turkish news portal. "F-16s are being bought [from the US]. This will keep the Turkish air force up in the air for some time... Deals like this one will keep the relationship afloat," he told RFI. F-16 deal For years, US President Joe Biden blocked the sale of American F-16 fighter jets amid concerns over rising tensions between Turkey and its neighbours over territorial disputes. With Ankara ratifying NATO's expansion, the White House has authorised the sale, and Congress is expected to ratify the deal. However it may not be the diplomatic victory Ankara claims. "The last I heard was the State Department was drawing up a letter demanding the transfer of F-16s as a kind of a certification program," says Turkey specialist Sinan Ciddi, of the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies. "They could halt transfers if the Turks , for example, continue to antagonise Greek airspace or overflights." Erdogan's advantage? Erdogan may retain an advantage, though. Hungary has yet to ratify Sweden's membership and Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Oban is a close ally of the Turkish leader. Last week, acting US Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland held two days of talks in Ankara. The talks were focused on enabling better cooperation between the US and Turkey. Analyst Selcen says Turkey's is still as strategically important to NATO as it was when it joined in 1952 at the height of the Cold War. "The same geopolitical reasons to keep Turkey as a strong military ally remain valid," said Selcen. "On the one hand against the north, Russia, and on the other Iran and other terrorist threats." The war against the Islamic State jihadists remains a point of tension because of Washington's support for Syrian Kurdish fighters. These include the YPG, which is affiliated with the PKK, and which has been fighting Turkey for decades and is designated by both the European Union and the US as a terrorist group. "The US relationship with YPG poisons almost all the potential collaborations," political scientist Bilgehan Alagoz of Istanbul's Marmara University says. So first [the] United States should check its policy towards the YPG, and then Turkey and the United States can start talking about other issues." Erdogan, Alagoz adds, is holding NATO hostage to extract concessions over Sweden's membership. Along with his close relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin and his refusal to impose sanctions against Moscow, this is raising questions over Ankara's loyalties. With the threat posed by Russia expected to grow, and the danger of contagion from the Israel-Hamas conflict, resolving the trust deficit between Turkey and its NATO partners has never been more important. French president urges Turkey to support Sweden's bid to join NATO


Even with Turkish approval, Sweden's wait to join NATO may not be over yet

Sweden's bid to join NATO got a major boost when the Turkish parliament finally ratified its membership application this week. Yet with the Turkish president's signature still needed, Sweden's wait to join the military alliance may not be over. After ten long months, the Turkish parliament on Tuesday evening overwhelmingly voted to approve Sweden's Nato membership. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been holding up the ratification with a long list of demands from his allies, and the vote came after intensive diplomatic lobbying led by Washington. At the heart of the delay was Ankara's demand that the US Congress approve the sale of American F-16 fighter jets to replace Turkey's ageing airforce. "Neither the United States nor Turkey trust each other on any level," said Asli Aydintasbas, an analyst with Washington-based think tank the Brookings Institution. "There is also no trust here in Washington vis-a-vis the actions of the Turkish government," she continued. "They don't want to find themselves in a situation where they deliver on their end and the other side doesn't." Mutual mistrust That distrust was exacerbated by the apparent lack of personal chemistry between Erdogan and US President Joe Biden, who in the past has described the Turkish leader as a bully. But the impasse was broken by a rare phone call between the two leaders last month. Biden reportedly convinced Erdogan that he could only persuade Congress to allow the jet sale to Turkey if the Turkish parliament ratified Sweden's NATO membership – a deal that goes back to last year, according to Sinan Ulgen of Edam, an Istanbul-based think tank. "There is an agreement that was essentially struck during the last NATO summit in Vilnius whereby the US side would essentially start the formal notification of the F-16 package once the Turkish parliament ratifies the accession of Sweden to NATO," Ulgen said. But behind Turkey's lengthy delay lies scepticism in Ankara whether Biden can deliver Congress. Lame duck? Hostility towards Erdogan over his authoritarianism and threats to neighbours, including Greece, is a rare issue that bridges the deep divide between US Democrats and Republicans. Erdogan's strong backing of Hamas, which he calls a "liberation movement", has only added to that hostility. Meanwhile, Biden is increasingly seen as a lame-duck president as 2024 elections approach. "Now [Donald] Trump is marching on the way to triumph once more, maybe, probably. Biden cannot be exerting pressure over the Senate and House of Representatives for the sake of Turkey," predicts Sezin Oney, a commentator with Turkish news portal Duvar. Oney points out Biden's failure to get Congress to sign off on funding for Ukraine can only add to Ankara's unease. "I mean, he couldn't do it in the case of Ukraine; he's struggling with that. So how can he do it on behalf of Turkey, which doesn't deliver anything and, on top of it, supports Hamas?" she questioned. Turkey under fire after declaring Hamas a 'liberation' groupErdogan weighs benefits of friendlier ties with Turkey's Western alliesFrom Turkey to Hungary Such concerns could yet further delay Sweden's membership. While the Turkish parliament ratified NATO's expansion, Erdogan has to sign off on the legislation and send the document to the US State Department as per the military alliance's rules. But political momentum is behind the deal. "Congressional approvals really rely on key party spokespeople on the committees," said analyst Aydintasbas. "There is still overwhelming approval for the deal – enough numbers to make it past foreign relations committees in both houses, because it is so important for transatlantic unity, not because the US Congress approves of Turkey's foreign policy direction." But even if the hurdle of Turkey is finally overcome, Hungary is yet to ratify – and Prime Minister Viktor Orban, after 20 months, is now demanding unspecified concessions from Sweden. With Erdogan a close...


Turkey agrees deal to clear Black Sea of mines that threaten Ukrainian exports

Turkey is joining forces with Bulgaria and Romania to clear mines from the Black Sea, which have posed a danger to cargo ships since the start of Russia's war in Ukraine. But Ankara, the gatekeeper to the crucial waterway, insists that it won't allow any other Nato countries to send warships to assist. In a ceremony in Istanbul earlier this month, Turkey, Bulgaria, and Romania signed an agreement to clear mines that the war in Ukraine has left in the Black Sea. "With the start of the war, the threat of floating mines in the Black Sea has arisen," said Turkish Defence Minister Yasar Guler, announcing that Ankara had formed a mine task force with its Bulgarian and Romanian allies. Guler said the tripartite agreement was the fruit of months of diplomacy. With several cargo ships already hit by mines, they are an increasing menace to one of the world's most important waterways for exporting grain and energy. "These sea mines are floating on the water. They are not stationary, and there is no telling when or where they might strike a vessel," explains Tayfun Ozberk, a former Turkish naval officer and now a defence analyst. "This is a serious problem in terms of navigational safety, because the merchant ships can't detect these mines as they are semi-submerged in the water," he says. "And when they do detect them, it might be too late for them to save themselves." Black Sea grain deal Analysts say removing the threat of mines will significantly boost Ukraine's efforts to export grain to world markets after the collapse of a deal with Russia brokered by Turkey and the United Nations. "Mine clearing is very supportive of maritime safety and navigation. I hope it is very beneficial for the Ukraine side in order to export their grain," says Mesut Casin, a professor of international relations at Istanbul's Yeditepe University and adviser to the Turkish president. Moscow is widely seen as threatening Ukrainian exports, saying it can't guarantee the safety of ships carrying them. But Ankara hopes increasing security for Ukrainian vessels could provide an impetus for Moscow to return to the grain deal with Ukraine. Casin believes mine clearing could push Moscow to rethink its stance. "Perhaps Russia may come again to the table," he suggests. France slams Russia's suspension of Black Sea grain deal as 'blackmail'Turkey may be key to salvaging Ukraine's Black Sea grain exportsTurkey as gatekeeper Three mine-hunting ships from each of the coastal countries and one command ship will be assigned to the new task force, according to the Turkish defence ministry. While the Turkish navy has modern mine-clearing capabilities, which Romania and Bulgaria will support, experts say the challenge facing the Nato allies is considerable. "The locations and numbers of the sea mines are unknown, and you have to detect them first; you have to seek and destroy, and this will take time," warns naval analyst Ozberk. How one man's ship-spotting hobby is helping thwart Russian sanction-bustingWith the Black Sea a key trade route, the United Kingdom also offered Ukraine two mine-clearing ships – but Ankara denied them permission to transit its waters. "There is some pressure by the Nato allies, such as the UK, to assist Ukraine militarily. But in accordance with the Montreux Convention, Turkey did not give permission," explains presidential adviser Casin. Turkey has controlled access to the Black Sea since 1936 under the international convention and has been blocking entry to all warships since the start of the war in Ukraine. Casin says that stance won't change, given its importance in containing the conflict. "If you give this permission to British or American allies, then Russia will compete, saying, 'I am part of the Montreux regime, I will send new battleships'," he argues. "And this is the beginning of warfare in the Black Sea between Nato and Russian ships." While Turkey is a member of Nato, analysts say it is seeking to perform a...


With spy raids, Turkey warns Israel not to seek Hamas revenge on Turkish soil

Turkish security forces this month detained dozens of people across the country accused of spying for Israel. The highly publicised raids are seen as a warning to Israel not to target Palestinians on Turkish soil, after Ankara insisted it would itself reign in anyone suspected of involvement in the 7 October Hamas attacks. At the beginning of January, homes across Turkey were raided in a major operation against alleged spy rings working for Israel's Mossad intelligence service. A Turkish court formally charged 15 people with espionage offences, while eight others were deported. In an address to Turkey's MIT intelligence agency, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan boasted: "Our intelligence service, which unearthed the spy network for Israel in our country, has given the best response to those threatening us." He also warned Israel of more to come. "This has surprised Israel. But wait ... this is only the first step. You will get to know Turkey. You don't yet, but you will have to," Erdogan said. The arrests follow the Turkish president's warning of "serious consequences" if Israel sought to hunt down members of Hamas on Turkish territory. "It's very clear from the threats of Israelis that Turkey [has been] selected as a venue for attacks on Hamas," according to Murat Aslan, a senior security analyst for the Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research, an Ankara-based think tank. "In this case, Turkish intelligence at the very first instance – and by the words of the president – warned Israeli intelligence in Ankara that there must be no action," Aslan said. "But right after this warning – a political warning – [Turkey's] intelligence organisation identified activated cells of Mossad in Turkey." Israel eyes Turkey as Hamas haven Israel has not commented on the arrests, but Israeli military leaders and government ministers are vowing to track down those involved in Hamas's 7 October attack on Israel. "We are inflicting severe damage on Hamas, damaging the leadership of Hamas, targeting the commanders, targeting the terrorists, destroying Hamas' infrastructure in Gaza," claimed Israel's army chief Herzi Halevi. "We are also constantly ready for other areas. We know how to reach Hamas anywhere in the Middle East," he said. Erdogan frequently organises rallies in support of Hamas, which he calls a "liberation movement". According to Gallia Lindenstrauss, an analyst with the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, Turkey is viewed as a likely location for Israel's hunt for those involved in the October attacks. "When we see the massacres of 7 October, how they occurred and how well they were planned, obviously there was a lot of assistance from the outside ... A lot of things were coming from outside of Gaza into Gaza," Lindenstrauss argued. "Some of this obviously came through Turkey – not by the Turkish government, but by Turkish security authorities not paying enough attention what was happening. "Turkey is not happy when foreign countries try to undermine these [militant] activities in ways that might harm its sovereignty. But as long as Turkey allows all this activity on its soil, there are ramifications," she said. Turkey, Iran put rivalries aside as Gaza conflict provides common groundTurkey determined to avoid spillover It's not the first time Turkey's MIT intelligence agency has clashed with Israel's Mossad. But these two formidable intelligence services have also worked together in recent years. "We definitely did see good cooperation between Mossad and MIT," said Lindenstrauss. "And there was the foiling of a supposedly imminent attack against Israelis on Turkish soil in 2022. So these organisations are also known to cooperate. I think they have great respect for each other." Last month, Turkish authorities arrested alleged Islamic State members accused of planning attacks on synagogues. Turkey talks tough on Israel but resists calls to cut off oilAs the war in Gaza continues,...


Attack on football referee exposes anti-elite resentment in divided Turkey

The assault of a referee at a Turkish professional football match has drawn international condemnation and the unprecedented suspension of all league games. But it's also brought into focus the wider spectre of violence against public officials in Turkish society, which some blame on the polarising politics of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. After a week-long suspension, Turkish football supporters returned to the stadiums a few days ago. Play had been suspended for a week after a referee was punched and then kicked on the ground by senior club officials of a major league team. Halil Umut Meler, who often referees international games, was hospitalised in the incident, which drew worldwide condemnation. But the assault also brought into focus the growing violence faced by many public professionals in Turkey. Turkish football plunges into crisis after referee attackIn a video circulating on social media, doctors ask why they are the target of assaults, a problem medical professionals say is increasingly urgent. The Turkish Physicians' Association claims there has been a 600 percent rise in violent attacks over the past decade. Healthcare staff have been protesting for more than a year over rising casualties within their profession and what they claim is government indifference. "Lots of doctors are dying. Also, lots of nurses are dying in our country," said Berkay Unlu, a doctor at a state hospital in Izmir. "No one cares about that," he said, exasperated. "It's so important; we are doctors, we are just working for our public." Political gulf According to unions, schools are also witnessing a similar surge in violence against staff. Some analysts say it's symptomatic of a growing gulf in Turkish society, fuelled by years of populist politics driven by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his AK Party, whose voting base is poor and religiously conservative. Erdogan often accuses the elite of undermining his rule – most recently, academics drew his fire. "What Erdogan and the AK Party are propagating is that they're representing the real people. So they're coming from the grassroots, and they're representing the true native culture of Turkey," explains Sezin Oney , a commentator for the PolitikYol news portal. "Then you have the opposition, who are the traitors, the elite, the people who are to be castigated – and this polarisation always works because that gives the idea that they are the majority," she says. "And you have a minority which can be just bashed, stepped upon." Turkey's Pride struggling to survive amid LGBTQ+ crackdownScapegoats Erdogan's government rejects such claims, insisting it has introduced increased legal protection for doctors and other professionals. But critics say such measures aren't being enforced. With the country facing growing economic woes that are impacting services, professionals claim they are becoming the scapegoats for growing public anger. "They don't see the real reasons for their problems and target the health professionals instead of the system, so violence escalated," warns Doctor Sebnem Korur Fincanci, chair of the Turkish Medical Association and a renowned human rights activist, who has herself faced legal woes under Erdogan. "The frustration, unfortunately, was just reflected towards health professionals instead of the government." Brain drain The growing violence is leading to an exodus of professionals from Turkey. "I think it's a big problem because it's first leading to brain drain – these are highly educated individuals who have a certain expertise and a certain profession that they can practice elsewhere," says analyst Oney. 'Lost hope': Inflation, abuse force doctors to quit Turkey"When you have a deficit of health workers, doctors and teachers, there is deterioration in the health system. There is deterioration in the education system," she says, warning that Turkey is facing a vicious circle. "This is, of course, causing social crisis after social...


Sweden's Nato bid languishes as Turkey holds out in standoff with US

Swedish hopes of early Nato membership are fading as Turkey continues to hold up Sweden's bid as part of a standoff with the United States. In July, Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson declared he had secured Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's support for Sweden's membership bid at the Nato summit in Vilnius and that ratification would follow shortly. But hopes of Sweden joining the military alliance by the end of this year have turned to dust, with ratification still not even on the Turkish parliament's agenda. Whether Turkey signs off on Sweden's membership depends on Erdogan's relationship with US President Joseph Biden. "In July, at the Nato summit in Vilnius, President Biden and Erdogan agreed to reset their relations – a sequence of events, a deal and a handshake that would start with Turkey ratifying Sweden's EU accession in the parliament," explains Asli Aydintasbas of the Washington-based Brookings Institution. For Ankara, the sale of American F-16 fighter jets to Turkey is at the centre of the rapprochement with Washington. The deal has been held up over ongoing US-Turkish tensions. Washington says it has green-lit the sale, but the purchase also needs to be ratified by Congress. Continuing lack of trust between the Nato allies has led to the ongoing impasse. "It's become like a chicken-and-egg story about who should act first," suggests Ozgur Unluhisarcikli of the German Marshall Fund. "Now the United States is concerned that they could actually give the F-16s, and Turkey can still not ratify. And Ankara is concerned that Turkey could drop its only remaining card, and the United States may still not respond," says Unluhisarcikli. "That's the problem." Sticking points Erdogan said this month that Turkey will only ratify Sweden's bid if Congress votes to sanction the F-16 sale, calling for the votes to be held simultaneously. However, there is strong bipartisan opposition to the arms sales in Congress over Erdogan's aggressive stance towards neighbour Greece. Erdogan has reached out to Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, holding a summit this month in Athens at which both leaders pledged to improve relations. Ankara is banking on rapprochement with Greece quelling opposition in Congress. But as one diplomatic fire was put out, another erupted. Erdogan's backing for Hamas after its attacks on Israel appears to have scuppered any hopes of a breakthrough in Congress. Turkey under fire after declaring Hamas a 'liberation' groupTrump card? But the impasse may suit Erdogan's agenda. Given the importance of securing Sweden's Nato membership to Washington and its European allies, the need for Turkey's green light gives Erdogan powerful leverage. "I think one of the reasons why that ratification has not happened is because Erdogan and the Turkish government want to maximise the return on that card because this is something that you can only play once," says Sinan Ulgen of the Istanbul-based Edam think tank. "What sort of leverage this card is going to give to Ankara is not a simple question to answer," says Ulgen. "It may be that, for instance, that Ankara believes that the fact that it still holds the card protects it against some of the harsh rhetoric that Turkey's partners in the West may have on Turkey's policy towards Hamas – the pressure that these governments may want to bring on Ankara regarding the current rhetoric on Hamas. "So indeed, that may be the reason Turkey is holding on to that card." Erdogan weighs benefits of friendlier ties with Turkey's Western alliesWith Congress yet to schedule a vote on sanctioning the military sale to Turkey and the Turkish parliament yet to put ratification of Sweden's Nato membership on its agenda, there is no end in sight to the impasse. Analyst Aydintasbas suggests Ankara could be already eyeing American presidential elections next year and looking to the return of Donald Trump, with whom Erdogan had good relations. "It was Erdogan who started...


Turkey's bid to join EU back on the table at upcoming summit

Turkey's decades-long bid to join the European Union will be back on the agenda as EU leaders meet at a summit later this month. They are also expected to focus on Ukrainian membership as part of an eastward drive. "It's going to be an historic summit in itself for the EU, where decisions on possible openings towards Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia as well are going to be decided," Sinan Ulgen of the Istanbul-based Edam think tank told RFI. But such a significant and expensive eastward drive raises questions over Turkey, whose application to join the European bloc is at a standstill amid concerns over democratic governance and human rights. "The EU leaders will also need to answer the question about what they are willing to do with Turkey. How willing are they to engage with Turkey when they are making this historic opening towards potential new members in the east?" Ulgen asked. Brussels recommends opening EU membership talks with Ukraine'Democratic backsliding' Turkey's bid to join the EU has remained in the deep freeze over Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's increasingly authoritarian rule. Strengthened by a new electoral mandate in May, Erdogan is continuing his crackdown on dissent and tightening his grip on power. However, the Turkish leader is expected to bring with him a list of demands when he attends the EU summit, including visa liberalisation and calls for a new trade deal. European leaders may be looking for compromise rather than confrontation, given that Erdogan is set to remain in power for the foreseeable future. “Especially after the elections in Turkey, the EU is looking for new ways of having a more constructive and less acrimonious relationship with Turkey," predicts Berktay Mandirci, a senior analyst with the International Crisis Group. The modernisation of the customs union, for example is in the interest of both the EU and Turkey, he says. But Mandirci warns that the realities of Turkey can't be ignored: "The human rights situation in Turkey and the democratic backsliding in Turkey always come up in discussions within the EU." Turkey's embattled civil society fears worst as foreign funding dries upStrategic location There are significant obstacles to Erdogan's EU demands – such as the reticence of European far-right parties, most recently in the Netherlands, who are deeply opposed to visa liberalisation with Turkey. Meanwhile, a new customs trade deal with the EU has a human rights requirement. But Erdogan retains powerful leverage given Turkey's strategic location, bordering the Middle East and sharing the Black Sea with Ukraine and Russia, which means the EU can ill afford to alienate Ankara. "The repercussions will be more in terms of the opportunity lost," says Ulgen. "It might have turned into a closer diplomatic partnership to address some of the regional crises. It might also mean working together for the construction and reconstruction of Ukraine. "But all of these opportunities will be lost if this estrangement between Turkey and the EU continues." Can Turkey tip the balance of power in the Caucasus conflict?Difficult discussion Erdogan is expected to remind EU leaders of Turkey's role as gatekeeper to migrants seeking to enter Europe. At the same time, Ankara has yet to agree to allow Sweden to join Nato. For the European Union, the seemingly endless conundrum about what to do with Turkey will be the elephant in the room at the Brussels summit. "There is no realistic perspective for EU membership in light of the democratic backsliding and all the developments that have been taking place in the country in the last few years," says Ioannis Grigoriadis at the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy. Grigoriadis believes that reassessing the future of Ankara's bid is long overdue, especially as the EU considers a new wave of accession, but warns such a conversation is likely to be uncomfortable, if it goes ahead at all. Like in previous EU summits, the...


Turkey's embattled civil society fears worst as foreign funding dries up

Civil society groups in Turkey say their future hangs in the balance as more and more international donors pull out or cut back their support. Overseas funding is drying up as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan steps up his crackdown against critical voices. Buoyed by his re-election in May, Erdogan is continuing to make life difficult for elements of Turkey's civil society that he accuses of threatening democracy. Now organisations like Spod, an LGBTQ+ advocacy group in Istanbul, are also facing a financial battle for survival. Since the elections, fewer of the group's applications for international funding are being accepted, claims Spod's general coordinator Ogulcan Yediveren. "It is the data, it's not an evaluation," he says. "It is almost impossible to continue do all these activities based on volunteering. So this funding is important for organisations to survive." Yediveren warns the shortfall in funding will inevitably impact the group's activities, which include providing telephone helplines and legal and psychological support for LGBTQ+ people. International funding is Spod's only source of income, he explains. "We don't have any other financial resource. So as long as we receive these international funds, we can continue our activities." Shifting priorities The crackdown is adding to international donors' concerns over how effective Turkish civil society organisations really are. "I heard and I was told that donors do not see the output, the impact of such things – the outcome, effectively, for the money that they invest in Turkey," says Sinan Gokcen, head of the Turkish branch of the Sweden-based Civil Rights Defenders group. "They are thinking: 'Well, we've been supporting civil society organisations for several years but we don't see any change.'" Gokcen believes there has been a decline in international funding as a result. "This has been intensified, especially after the election period," he says. "And finally, for some big donors, the war in Ukraine took their money – they prioritised supporting civil society organisations within Ukraine." The earthquakes in southern Turkey in February also saw donors switch support away from civil society organisations and towards humanitarian relief. Far from Turkey's earthquake zone, volunteers seek ways to helpExodus The list of major donors withdrawing their support continues to grow. Open Society Foundations, founded by Hungarian-American philanthropist George Soros, was once a significant supporter of Turkey's civil society – until it pulled out in 2018, blaming government pressure. "Open Society is no longer funding in Turkey – I think it was around 2 million dollars for civil society and an extra 2 million funding for refugee organisations," says Ekrem Murat Celikkan, co-director of Hafiza Merkezi, an association working to support human rights and justice. "The Chrest Foundation from the US also stopped funding because it was targeted by the pro-government press severely," he adds, recounting that both the family that runs the foundation and the groups they supported were subjected to hostile coverage. The Chrest Foundation confirmed in an email it was ending its financial support of civil society in Turkey, citing unspecified reasons. But the foundation said some groups may be eligible for support in the future. Philanthropist jailed Domestic financial support is also drying up after Turkish philanthropist Osman Kavala was given a life sentence for seeking to overthrow the government. Kavala was imprisoned for supposedly backing the 2013 Gezi Park protests against Erdogan's rule – a decision condemned by both Washington and the European Court of Human Rights. But Erdogan robustly defends the verdict. "There is a person who financed the terrorists in the Gezi events. Now he is behind bars," Erdogan bellowed in a 2018 speech, referring to Kavala without naming him. "And who is behind him? The famous Hungarian Jew Soros. This person sends...


Iran leader to visit Turkey as rapprochement continues over Gaza war

The Iranian president's visit to Turkey this week comes amid deeply strained bilateral tensions as a result of regional rivalries. However, Israel's assault on Gaza stands to alleviate those problems as Tehran and Ankara find common ground in condemning Israel, with Turkey also seeking to position itself as a mediator in the conflict. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's withering verbal attacks on Israel have put him on the same page as his Iranian counterpart Ebrahim Raisi, who is due to visit Turkey on Tuesday. But Ankara is also concerned about contagion as the Gaza war draws in countries such as Iran and threatens to destabilise the region. 'Demoinising' Iran "Turkey does not approve of demonising Iran. It can still have a dialog, and Turkey has the capacity to cooperate with Iran," says Bilgehan Alagoz, of the Centre for Iranian Studies, a Turkish thinktank. Alagoz suggests Erdogan is well placed in his talks with Raisi to keep Iran out of the war: "Turkey also has a dialog with Israel. While there are problems with Israel, we still can talk with Israel and with others, including the United States and European countries." Turkey, Iran put rivalries aside as Gaza conflict provides common groundKeeping Iran and its proxies out of the conflict is a priority for Israel and Turkey's Western allies. Iran has a major role in arming Hamas, says Gallia Lindenstrauss, an analyst with the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv. "It is difficult for Israel to concentrate on the Gaza front because the northern front in Israel, the front with Lebanon, is very also very tense," Lindenstrauss says, adding that, "of course, the northern front is all orchestrated by Iran". Raisi in Turkey Erdogan's talks with Raisi aren't expected to be confined to the war in Gaza. Until the Hamas attack on Israel on 7 October, Turkish-Iranian tensions had been rising amid growing regional rivalry, in particular in the Caucasus. Tehran is alarmed at the military successes of Azerbaijan's forces against ethnic Armenians in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh enclave. Iran is a strong ally of Armenia and sees Azerbaijan as an increasing threat to its regional influence. However, much to Iran's annoyance, Turkey strongly backs Azerbaijan with a military alliance. "The recent rhetoric adopted by Iran towards Turkey has created some sensitivity, especially regarding the South Caucasus," says Alagoz. "Since the beginning of Azerbaijan's liberation activities for the occupied territory in the South Caucasus, Iran has started to adopt anti-Turkey rhetoric." France announces sale of defensive weapons to Armenia as Turkey plays wargames with AzerbaijanBattle of influence Analysts also suggest that Tehran is worried Ankara is seeking to limit Iran's influence across the region. These fears have been stoked by deepening cooperation between Azerbaijan and Israel. Turkey's expanding its influence into central Asia is adding to Iran's concerns. "Turkey's connection to central Asia is still a very serious problem because it's going to increase Turkey's influence here in the region, which Iran is not happy with," says Ilhan Uzgel, a political analyst with the Turkish news portal Kisa Dalga. Tehran's advancing nuclear energy programme is also fuelling bilateral tensions. Turkey is worried that Iran is moving closer to developing a nuclear bomb and triggering a regional nuclear arms race. But at least for now, the Middle East war and fears that it will spread are bringing the two countries closer.


Turkey talks tough on Israel but resists calls to cut off oil

With Israeli forces stepping up their assault on the Gaza Strip and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan continuing to ramp up his rhetoric against the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Ankara is nonetheless resisting calls to cut off vital oil deliveries to Israel. Supertankers continue to deliver oil to Israel from the Turkish port of Ceyhan. Oil pipelines from Azerbaijan and Iraqi Kurdistan terminate at the Mediterranean harbour, making Turkey a key oil supplier for Israel. "The bulk of Israeli oil needs come from either Azerbaijan or Iraqi Kurdistan," says analyst Mehmet Ogutcu of the London Energy Club. "I think the latest figures show Azerbaijan provides around 40 percent of Israel's oil needs. It comes all the way to Ceyhan, and from Ceyhan, it's sent to an Israeli port where it's moved to one of the refineries," Ogutcu explains. But with the death toll mounting from Israel's invasion of Gaza, calls for Turkey to cut off oil deliveries are growing. Iran's foreign minister Hossein Amirabdollahian, speaking with his Turkish counterpart Hakan Fidan in Ankara earlier this month, urged countries delivering oil to Israel to cut their supplies, a call Fidan ignored. Turkey, Iran put rivalries aside as Gaza conflict provides common groundDespite Erdogan ramping up his rhetoric against Israel, oil deliveries from Turkey to Israel continue to flow. And questions remain about how effective any embargo by Turkey would be. "I don't think that Israel will suffer in any way because oil is plentiful in the world markets," points out Ogutcu. Even if Turkey were to cut off Israel's supply, "they can bring it from Brazil or Canada or from some of the African countries where they have good relations", he says. "Israeli consumption, if I'm not mistaken, is around 225,000 barrels per day. That's not a significant amount. It can be easily secured either through long-term contracts or on the spot market," he adds. Talking tough But Turkey has other ways of harming Israel if it wants to strike a blow. "Turkey could stop the working of the Kurecik radar station in Malatya in Turkey, which is crucial to the Nato missile defense system, and as far we know, it also protects the airspace of Israel," says Ilhan Uzgel, an international relations expert and columnist for Turkey's Kisa Dalga news portal. So far Erdogan has not taken any of these options. "What he has to do is please his audience, so he makes tough statements," says Uzel. "It's not hurting anybody; in the end, it's just words." Turkey under fire after declaring Hamas a 'liberation' groupErdogan is continuing with his rhetoric against Israel, even describing Hamas as a liberation movement while personally attacking Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But the Turkish leader's actions remain more measured. Announcing the recall of Turkey's ambassador from Israel for consultations this month, Erdogan stressed that diplomatic relations with Israel would remain open and that Turkish efforts were continuing to seek the release of hostages held by Hamas. "The rhetoric is harsh, but the concrete actions are not that harsh, at least in terms of the bilateral relationship," observes Galip Dalay, an associate fellow at Chatham House in London. "I think the idea is that if you burn bridges, you will not be able to play the diplomatic role as much as you hope to." Attempts at diplomacy On Monday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Ankara for the first time since the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war. In a tacit acknowledgment of Turkey's efforts, Blinken said third-party countries were playing a role in securing the release of the hostages. Erdogan is expected to join Arab leaders for a summit in Riyadh to discuss the crisis. But Dalay warns there may be limits to Ankara's nuanced approach toward Israel. Links to Hamas complicate Turkey's rapprochement with Israel"If Turkey is convinced that actually the diplomatic track is not working and if other...


Turkey, Iran put rivalries aside as Gaza conflict provides common ground

Iran's Foreign Minister visited the Turkish capital this week amid growing regional rivalry as Ankara seeks to expand its influence from the Caucasus to Central Asia. But the conflict in the Middle East is, for now, providing some common ground. At a press conference in Ankara on Wednesday, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian and his Turkish counterpart, Hakan Fidan, jointly condemned Israel for its ongoing assault on Gaza. They also called for a regional conference to end the fighting. The Israel-Hamas conflict provides a shared interest as Ankara increasingly challenges Iran's regional influence. "Turkey is trying to connect itself with Central Asia ... it's not a secret. So there is a simmering tension between Turkey and Iran," explains Ilhan Uzgel, an international relations analyst for the Kisa Dalga news portal. "It's kind of postponed because the attention moved to the Middle East again. But we are going to see it more and more in the years ahead." Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is working to strengthen relations with energy-rich Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan. On Friday, he visited the Kazakh capital, Astana, meeting with Central Asian leaders at a Turkic nations summit. The visit follows French President Emmanuel Macron's visit to Astana on Wednesday as competition heats up for influence and lucrative contracts. The Turkish leader also recently mended ties with Saudi Arabia, which is Iran's arch rival. France's Macron visits Uzbekistan to expand EU footprint in Central AsiaThe Azerbaijan situation All moves will likely stoke Iranian fears of being encircled by Turkey. Still, it's Turkey's deepening military ties with Azerbaijan – which has close relations with Israel – that is causing the biggest concern. "In Azerbaijan ... Israel has a very strong influence now in Baku," says Mehmet Ogutcu of the London Energy Club. "They [Israel] think that this is part of the Israeli containment strategy, which is not wrong. And therefore, I think Turkey and Iran are not on good terms." In September, Azerbaijan – backed militarily by Turkey – ousted ethnic Armenians from the contested Nagorno-Karabakh enclave. Tehran strongly supports Yerevan, but ahead of Baku's attack, Turkish Foreign Minister Fidan warned Iran to stay out of any conflict. France announces sale of defensive weapons to Armenia as Turkey plays wargames with AzerbaijanAzerbaijan's victory is widely seen not only as a loss for Yerevan but also for Tehran, weakening its influence while boosting Israel's foothold in the region. "Israelis have been cooperating with Azerbaijan to do lots of things in Iran, which has made Tehran furious," explains Soli Ozel of Istanbul's Kadir Has University. Ozel warns that Azeri President Ilham Aliyev's victory is also stoking Iranian fears about its Azerbaijani minority. "Iran does have a significant Azeri population ... I am sure they do have nationalist tendencies, and Aliyev today appears as a hero because the Azeris for once won the war," Ozel said. "I think the Iranians are concerned that the appeal of what Azerbaijani nationalists call northern Azerbaijan may be increasing for their own population, who are unhappy living under their Islamic republic, probably for economic and social reasons." Common ground ... For now During last year's nationwide Iranian protests, Aliyev – in a televised address – vowed to protect Azeris both in Azerbaijan and Iran. Azerbaijan and Iran have recently held military exercises close to their shared border. Two years ago, Ankara signed an alliance with Baku, committing it to defending Azerbaijan in the event of war. Pointing to a map of the Caucasus, Mesut Casin, a presidential advisor at Istanbul's Yeditepe University declared: "Iran fought with the Turks more than 16 times." "The Iranians, if challenged or use force against Azerbaijan, Turkey is ready to support Azerbaijan against Iran. This is absolutely 100 percent determination of Turkey," Casin told...