ANKARA: A further visit by Turkey’s Defense Minister, Hulusi Akar, and senior military officials to troops along the Syrian border, along with plans to hold meetings with commanders, have raised fears of a new Turkish military operation. The Chief of General Staff, Gen. Yasar Guler, accompanied the high-profile visit, while President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also attended some meetings via telephone. Turkey has conducted three cross-border operations in Syria against Daesh and the Kurdish YPG militia since 2016. Navar Saban, a military analyst at the Omran Center for Strategic Studies in Istanbul, said an imminent operation is unlikely, due to the increasing cost of a military move. “Logistically speaking, it doesn’t make sense to launch another operation in an area that has this many complexities, including a Russian presence, Daesh cells and Syrian regime operations. Even if they win, it will bear significant costs for troops on the ground because of security problems in northwestern Afrin and northwestern Idlib provinces,” he told Arab News. However, Saban also said the visit is unlikely to be random. “It is for coordination on the ground to manage clashes with different actors. But it wouldn’t trigger a new operation in the short term,” he said. On Friday, US-backed Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces announced a new campaign to fight remnants of Daesh across the border with Iraq following a recent increase in attacks. Last month, the UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR) blamed Daesh for exploiting the coronavirus pandemic to “regroup and inflict violence on the population.” “Intermittent clashes and ground-based strikes between pro-government forces and armed groups continue to be reported in western Aleppo and southern Idlib,” the OHCHR said. The resumption of violence in Idlib has sparked concern in Ankara about a possible wave of immigration toward the Turkish border, where Turkey has deployed troops. On Friday, one Turkish soldier was killed and two were wounded following an attack on an armored ambulance in Idlib. The region has seen an increase in attacks since December. On May 27, a Turkish soldier was killed in an explosion on a highway in Idlib. Kyle Orton, a UK-based Syria researcher, said that another Turkish operation into Syria remains unlikely for now, as previous cross-border operations already gave the country a military foothold. “The American presence in Syria has always been the major roadblock to Turkey dismantling the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) statelet, and the Americans want a withdrawal from Syria, quite possibly before the election in November,” he told Arab News. Orton said that Turkey can get what it wants by maintaining its position, as there are potential political advantages in fighting Daesh in the vacuum left by the US. “If the Americans are still in Syria in, say, a year, then Ankara might reconsider its view,” he added.
ISTANBUL: After three opposition politicians were stripped of their status as members of parliament in Turkey on Thursday, June 4, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) made it clear that a new period had begun in Turkish politics, given the country’s preoccupation with economic deterioration and rising unemployment that has already rendered many voters disenchanted. Two deputies from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and one deputy from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) lost their positions, and were arrested in an overnight operation on terror charges. The Kurdish politicians, Leyla Guven and Musa Farisogullari, were detained, while the CHP deputy, Kadri Enis Berberoglu, was released from police custody after less than 24 hours as part of anti-coronavirus measures in Turkish prisons. Several HDP deputies were later beaten by police during a protest in Ankara over the imprisonment of their colleagues. Insights from Ankara suggest two more parliamentarians from the HDP may be stripped of their seats soon as their files are being reviewed by the Turkish Court of Cassation. The crackdown on opposition figures does not end with politicians. The government is also working on a legislative change to the way bar associations elect their board members. Fifty bar associations recently released a joint statement against any move to limit their power and to increase pressure on the country’s already weakened judiciary. The AKP and its coalition partner, the Nationalist Movement Party, are also working on another legislative amendment to ban the transfer of parliamentary deputies to other parties over fears that newly founded opposition parties could be strengthened with the transfer of deputies from the CHP to take part of upcoming elections. Ten new political parties were established in Turkey over the past five months, bringing the total number to 91 — two of them, the Democracy and Progress Party, and the Future Party, to target disillusioned AKP voters and liberal segments of society. “Turkey has been a consolidated authoritarian state for some time and attacks on the HDP are certainly not new,” said Paul T. Levin, director of the Stockholm University Institute for Turkish Studies. “Going after the CHP would be a dramatic escalation, but they have been focused on Berberoglu for some time due to his involvement in the arms truck scandal,” he told Arab News. Berberoglu, a former journalist, was arrested for providing dissident daily newspaper Cumhuriyet with confidential footage of Turkish National Intelligence Organization trucks allegedly carrying weapons to Syria. According to Levin, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan may be trying to weaken the opposition in advance of a snap election, that is widely expected to be held next year. “As for the bar associations, they have long been an important source of opposition to attempts to undermine the rule of law. It would really be a terrible blow to what remains of judicial independence if they were neutered,” he said. There are still dozens of Kurdish politicians behind bars in Turkey, including parliamentarians, mayors and the party’s former co-chairs. The HDP released a statement following the arrests of Guven and Farisogullari, and said: “Turkey now witnesses yet another coup — this pro-coup mindset has been prevailing in parliament for 26 years.”
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