Cablegate: Ankara Media Reaction Report
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SUBJECT: ANKARA MEDIA REACTION REPORT
MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 17, 2007
In Today's Papers
AKP Finalizes Work on New Draft Constitution
All papers report that Turkey's ruling AK Party has received the
controversial new draft constitution prepared by academic experts.
The AKP commission discussing the new draft constitution concluded
its work in Sapanca near Istanbul over the weekend. The head of the
commission, AKP deputy chairman Dengir Mir Mehmet Firat said the
draft in its final form would be made public this week. Firat said
the "civilian" constitution drafted by the AKP gives priority to the
Papers say the draft envisages an overhaul of the judiciary and the
body overseeing higher education (YOK) grants positive
discrimination for women, elderly people and children, gives the
president only symbolic powers, and allows for legal action against
rulings of the High Military Council and the High Board of Judges
and Prosecutors. According to the draft, the chief of the General
Staff and the Parliament Speaker will be tried by the Supreme Court
in case they face accusations. The draft makes six alternative
proposals with regard to the lifting of the ban on headscarves in
universities. The draft also restricts parliamentary immunities by
enabling trials of members of parliament charged with bribery,
corruption and other offences. It also makes religious instruction
in schools optional. Papers expect the final decision on critical
issues such as wearing the headscarf in universities to be made by
Prime Minister Erdogan.
Burns Due to Visit Turkey
Papers over the weekend and today report US Under Secretary of State
for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns, addressing the Atlantic
Council, described Turkey as a "crucial and indispensable" partner
of the US. Burns expressed concern over the energy deal signed
between Turkey and Iran, and urged Turkey to cooperate with the US
in fighting Iranian ambitions. He noted he expected concrete moves
against the PKK in the next six months. Burns urged Turkey to
reopen Halki Orthodox Seminary in Istanbul, normalize ties with
Armenia, and scrap penal code Article 301 which restricts free
speech. Burns also added the US was working to launch a new UN
initiative in Cyprus.
Weekend papers report Burns stressed the strains between the US and
Turkey over the Turkish Parliament's refusal to allow US to open a
northern front through Turkey in Iraq was now "a thing of the past."
Mainstream Milliyet reports on Saturday under a front-page
headline, "US to Turkey: We Forgot the March 1 Decree," that Burns
said US wants to "renew and strengthen" its strategic partnership
with Turkey, stressing that US ties with Turkey, a neighbor to Iraq,
Syria and Iran, would be "very important" in 2008. Burns also
called for "Europe's full embrace of a reformed Turkey," says the
paper. Under the headline, "We have turned the juncture with
Turkey," mainstream Sabah also reports Burns said US-Turkey tension
over the March 1 decree was now over. Tabloid Aksam reports Burns,
prior to his visit to Ankara, called on Turkey to "participate more"
in the Middle East, and also said "I trust President Gul." The
pro-government, Islamist-oriented Yeni Safak reports Burns gave
"positive messages" on the eve of his visit to Turkey, in a report
under the headline "Burns Coming to Turkey to Repair Ties."
Reporting from Washington, Islamist-oriented Zaman says Burns
declined to make any concrete pledges for fighting against the PKK,
but demanded cooperation against Iran. The paper also reports Burns
said the US wanted to block Russia from controlling oil and natural
gas sources and the pipelines extending toward Western countries.
"I'm sure Turkey appreciates our huge support for alternate
pipelines," Burns is quoted as saying.
Editorial Commentary on Burns' Upcoming Turkey Visit
Ali Aslan comments in the Islamist-leaning daily Zaman: "U/S Burns'
remarks at the Atlantic Council reflected the Bush administration's
view on the current phase of Turkish-American relations. Burns
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stated that bilateral relations have entered a new era and called
for a revival of the strategic partnership. Yet observers question
the chance for a revival of bilateral ties especially because of the
fact that the words of the Strategic Vision Document have not been
converted into action over the last two years. Burns listed the
American administration's expectations from Turkey including full
commitment to sanctions against Iran and opening the
Turkish-Armenian border. However what Turkey would gain from the US
by doing this was not clear. It is not very realistic to expect
Turkey to act in full compliance with the US expectations before the
US takes action to fulfill Turkey's expectation regarding the PKK in
northern Iraq. Burns emphasized the unique influence of Turkey in
the region. But he did not seem to understand that Turkey gained
this unique influence by staying at a certain distance toward the
isolationist and [internationally] unpopular policies of the US.
Let's hope that this time, when he visits Turkey, he keeps his ears
open as to what Turkey is saying, unlike before the Iraq war when
all of Turkey's views were just ignored. And the US should also
think in the gain-gain spirit in its bilateral ties with Turkey."
Murat Yetkin writes in the liberal-intellectual daily Radikal:
"Prior to his upcoming trip to Turkey, U/S Burns expressed three
expectations from Ankara: The ruling AKP, after its elections
victory, should extend a hand to Armenia. Burns repeated
Washington's opposition to an Armenian resolution and also did not
hide that by saying 'extending a hand,' he meant opening the border
with Armenia; the AKP should lift Article 301 in Penal Code; and the
AKP should re-open the Greek Orthodox Halki Seminary. These
expectations came at a time when both the government and the public
have given up their hopes for seeing concrete action from the US
regarding PKK, and they will put both President Gul and PM Erdogan
in a difficult position. The only consolation is the fact that
Burns did not yet express their military expectations from Turkey.
The most significant change in Ankara as far as the US is concerned
is the fact that the AKP has gained more political ground and a full
harmony between the government and presidency can be expected. This
does not necessarily mean that military relations will be minimized.
On the contrary, Afghanistan is likely the area of more military
talks [between the US and Turkey]."
PKK Members Detained over Foiled Car Bomb Attack in Ankara
All papers report seven suspected members of the PKK terror
organization have been taken into custody in Baskale, Van, for
possible involvement in a bomb-laden minivan attack averted in
Ankara last week. On September 11, police seized 300 kg TNT and
sodium nitrate and 280 kg of bomb-making material in a stolen
minivan in a parking lot in a crowded neighborhood in downtown
Ankara. Papers say the explosives found inside the minivan match
those seized in an operation against the PKK on May 5 last year.
The US "International Religious Freedom Report"
Sabah, Milliyet, and others: The US State Department "International
Religious Freedom Report" draws attention to the social pressure on
non-Muslims in Turkey. The report noted that the ban on religious
attire continues and that non-Muslims cannot be promoted to high
state offices and that Alevis are obliged to attend classes where
Sunni Islam is taught. The report also stressed that there haven't
been any developments on religious freedom in Turkey and the
missionaries continue to be targets of harassment.
Retired US Ambassador Peter Galbraith Comments on the PKK
Mainstream Sabah and Milliyet report that in an interview with
Newsweek magazine, retired US Ambassador and former advisor for the
Kurdish Leaders in Northern Iraq Peter Galbraith said that if Turkey
declares a general amnesty the PKK problem would be resolved.
Galbraith claimed that the PKK had become a moderate organization
and left behind its claims of separatism.
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- The new school year kicks off with 14 million students and 600,000
teachers on Monday. President Abdullah Gul says modern education
policies would be pursued with determination.
- Turkey's elite business forum TUSIAD chairwoman Arzuhan Yalcindag
has sent a letter to US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi expressing
concern regarding efforts to recognize Armenian genocide claims.
- Religious affairs (Diyanet) director Professor Ali Bardakoglu
hosted in Istanbul a Ramadan fast-breaking dinner in honor of
non-Muslim religious leaders including Greek Orthodox and Armenian
Patriarchs, Bartholomew I and Mesrob Mutafyan.
- Two PKK terrorists have been killed by security forces in the
southeastern province of Batman.
- Greece's ruling conservatives led by PM Karamanlis won a second
mandate in elections on Sunday despite public anger over the
government's handling of deadly forest fires.
- French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said on Sunday his
country must prepare for a possible war against Iran, but that he
did not believe any such action was imminent.
- Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Jarida claims Turkey provided Israel with
intelligence on Syria prior to last week's alleged IAF flyover into
- On Saturday, the Iraqi parliament bloc loyal to influential cleric
Muqtada al- Sadr walked out of Iraq's ruling Shiite coalition.