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Hello! This is the last recap of 2022, which you can also consider a holiday card full of Christmas perils. Of course, we’ll miss you, too, but we’ll be back in two short weeks.
Thanks to support from readers like you, Turkey recap has very much evolved since its launch in 2019. We aim to keep growing this platform, so if you have any thoughts or requests, send us an email: email@example.com.
Otherwise, as ABBA so rightly put it: “Happy New Year! May we all have our hopes, our will to try.”
If you can’t beat ‘em, jail Ekrem. Or at least that’s what a judge ordered Wednesday, as he sentenced İstanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu to jail for 2 years, 7 months and 15 days for insulting members of the Supreme Electoral Council (YSK). İmamoğlu’s lawyers will appeal the verdict, so it’s not final and sentences of this length rarely result in actual jail time.
As for İmamoğlu’s looming political ban, which would bar him from holding elected office as a result of the conviction, it would only come into force if higher courts uphold the sentence. It remains unclear if such a ruling would take place before elections expected by June 2023.
İmamoğlu didn’t attend the hearing of what many see as a political trial, according to Metropoll. Instead, he called on İstanbullular to protest the verdict in front of a municipality building Wednesday evening. A few thousand people made their way to Saraçhane, waving flags and shouting “Ekrem Başkan”, which is no surprise as the mayor has many fans, especially on Turkish Reddit.
A minimum wage worker at the rally who declined to give his name said: “It doesn’t matter if I voted for İmamoğlu or not. People that don’t like him should support him as well.” Spitting while talking in anger: “This is not about Ekrem İmamoğlu, this is about Turkey, this is about democracy.”
Along with criticism by US and EU politicians as well as other opposition parties, a former Erdoğan ally and even some in the pro-government crowd defined the verdict as wrong. İmamoğlu himself called it a disgrace, saying it is “proof that there is no justice left in Turkey.” Concluding his speech, İmamoğlu announced a public Table of Six meeting at Saraçhane at 16.00 today (Thursday).
Striking was the prominence of İYİ Party chair Meral Akşener, who spoke at the event in support of İmamoğlu. While a big absentee was CHP head Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, who to the disbelief of many, chose this exact day for a trip to Berlin. Initially planning to stay until Saturday, he cut his visit short and came back to İstanbul the same evening.
Political science scholar Berk Esen expects the verdict to change dynamics within the opposition bloc. Akşener fears Kılıçdaroğlu might not be able to win the elections, he said, “she first passively and now increasingly openly tries to prevent the candidacy of Kılıçdaroğlu.” Esen added that Kılıçdaroğlu, by not being there, “let down his voters.”
Taken together, the decision seems to indicate a shift in repression, and is a turning point in the election period, Esen told Turkey recap. “The fact that Erdoğan resorted to this desperate measure, that he will tolerate the backlash, indicates his fear for İmamoğlu and that he will do everything within his power to prevent İmamoğlu’s candidacy.”
– Ingrid Woudwijk
Oils of war
This week brought two major breakthroughs in Russia-Turkey news: Putin was revealed to be a Muslim, at least by this Turkish commentator, and the oil tanker problem on the Bosporus was resolved Tuesday.
It’s early in the day, so we haven’t drank enough to explain the first one, but the second one was welcome news for western diplomats and the international shipping industry, which had been in talks with Turkish authorities to resolve new insurance requirements.
To put it simply, Ankara wanted to ensure all oil tankers passing through the Turkish straits were insured after the new price cap on Russian crude made it illegal to insure vessels carrying Russian oil sold above the price cap rate. This caused a backlog of oil tankers waiting to cross the Bosporus.
Following extensive negotiations on the wording of the new regulations, western insurance companies and Turkish authorities came to an agreement to resume regular shipping following some edits to phrases that originally would have required the companies to insure oil tankers in breach of western sanctions on Russia.
Considering the population, commerce and ecology of the Turkish straits, Yörük Işık, a geopolitical analyst based in İstanbul, where he runs the Bosphorus Observer, said showing an abundance of caution is “not illogical.”
“It seems very likely, in my opinion, the regulation was written without enough consultation with the industry,” Işık told Turkey recap.
He continued, “But this fits with this government’s law-making record of the recent months, even recent years. Because of the general decline of quality of governance in Turkey, we’ve seen many times, laws are made and then they are changed, literally, only days after they are made because they are badly written.”
Taking a broader view of Turkey’s geography as well as relations with the European Union and the west, Işık said: “I think it’s just another reminder, from a different angle, of what a mistake it was for the EU to surrender to right-wing politicians in the early 2000s and leave Turkey out” of the union.
“When the difficult days come, when there’s a war, you need everyone to be on board, and Turkey is out. Without Turkey, some of the sanctions don’t work.”
For more on Turkey-Russia relations, read “Turkey Is Strengthening Its Energy Ties With Russia” by the NYTimes’ Patricia Cohen.
In NATO accession news, talks continue and Turkish officials keep requesting more concrete steps. Both Finland and Sweden have repeated they will abide by the trilateral memorandum, while Stockholm has now said it will not go any further.
Finnish FM Pekka Haavisto appeared more concerned about the lack of a timeline, saying: “What we are still missing is the clear date, a clear plan for the Turkish parliament to deal with this issue.”
Throughout, the US has sought to keep an arms-length approach to negotiations, with Sec. of State Anthony Blinken saying last Thursday: "This is not a bilateral issue between the United States and Turkey. And it's not going to turn into one."
The US Treasury sanctioned Ayan Thursday, accusing him of facilitating oil sales and money laundering for Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps. Read this Politico article for details.
Responding to Reuters, Ayan said he "has never worked with anyone other than Iranian official government institutions in any period of his life." Turkish officials have been silent on the subject.
In 2017, CHP's Kılıçdaroğlu claimed Erdoğan’s family members transferred millions of dollars abroad using a front company owned by Ayan. The accusations were not followed by legal investigations. On the contrary, Kılıçdaroğlu was sentenced to pay compensation to Erdoğan.
Without jet or hindrance
Ankara is expecting F-16s “as soon as possible,” after requesting 40 jets more than a year ago and it seems there’s light at the end of the tünel following a reversal on use conditions by the US House of Reps.
The news follows heavy Turkish airstrikes in northern Syria and Iraq and ongoing hints of a ground operation from Erdoğan, whose administration is holding talks with Damascus on at least two topics: terrorism and the return of Syrians to their home country.
Notably, Russian Dep. FM Sergey Vershinin was in Turkey last week to discuss Syria developments, and in a phone call Sunday, Erdoğan asked Russian Pres. Putin to establish a security corridor on Turkey’s southern border, as outlined in a 2019 agreement.
Keep calm and rally on
Turkey recently announced yerli ve milli short-range ballistic missiles, known as “Tayfun”, a development that once again raised tensions between NATO’s dynamic duo. According to Def. Min. Hulusi Akar, Greece’s “provocative actions” are to blame.
The missile was first test-fired in October over the Black Sea region, reportedly hitting targets at a wider range than missiles in Turkey’s existing arsenal, and so obviously Erdoğan warned Greece to stay calm before the typhoon.
Literally, Sunday he said Athens could become a target should it not stay calm or continue its alleged military build-up on Aegean islands. In response, Greek FM Nikos Dendias said the missile threats gave strong North Korean vibes. We’re waiting on Dennis Rodman for de-escalation talks.
The Turkish lira began the year at around 13.30 against the US dollar, and after countless direct or indirect interventions, the exchange rate is now over 18.60. That means the lira fell about 29 percent in 2022, and to keep up with demand, the central bank is printing a record number of 200 lira bills – Turkey's highest-denomination banknote, Bloomberg reported.
But don't feel alone if this loss of value clouds your daily life. According to Foreign Min. Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, the situation affects him, too, since the ministry's payments are in foreign currencies.
During his speech on budget discussions, Çavuşoğlu said that in the face of increased spending, the ministry requested more money from Finance Min. Nureddin Nebati.
"We go to him and check if he has a sparkle in his eyes," Çavuşoğlu said, referring to his colleague's famous line. "If he has it, we convey our request. If he doesn't, we leave and come back later without asking anything."
Since workers in the country, who were defined as "down and out" by Nebati, don’t have the same opportunity to seek out that sparkle and ask for a raise, many are currently waiting for a decision from the minimum wage commission.
Meanwhile, people in Turkey are working some of the longest hours in the world. At the same time, Turkey's jobless rate is rising, and an anonymous senior Turkish economy official told Reuters that "it is a problematic situation, especially before the elections."
And we always try to end our newsletters with a climax, but only figuratively, and today we do exactly both with the discovery of an 11,000 year-old figure that appears to be practicing self-love in the face of danger – which was our daily motto for 2022.
In what’s being called the world’s oldest-known narrative scene, Neolithic people near Urfa left the modern-day equivalent of dating app profile pic, leopards and all. It could also be art or something spiritual, but given that life expectancy at birth was just 20 years back then, what would you expect the pinnacle of self-expression to be?
Humankind is unified across time and spank.
Erdoğan Backs Turkmen Gas Link Easing Dependence On Russia (AFP)
Turkish Carpets Catch Trade Tailwind of Erdoğan’s Saudi Detente (Bloomberg)
Journalist faces online harassment after revealing alleged child marriage in Islamic group (Bianet)
More revealed about 6-year-old's marriage as child abuse in religious groups under spotlight (Bianet)
Getir acquires grocery app rival Gorillas in $1.2bn deal (FT)
Turkey's government wants refund for movie following LGBTQ controversy (Al-Monitor)
Facing Poverty and Hostility, Refugees in Turkey Mull Return to War-Torn Syria (VOA)
EU approves $232M border control package for eastern Türkiye (DS)
Türkiye discovers 150M barrels of oil reserves, president announces (AA)
Influx of Russians drives up home prices in Turkish resort, prompts call for ban (Reuters)
The supply chain that keeps tech flowing to Russia
In a joint investigation by the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) and Reteurs, journalists Steve Stecklow, David Gauthier-Villars and Maurice Tamman detail how companies based in Turkey, Hong Kong and other trading hubs are facilitating the “flow of sensitive high-tech components” to Russia, helping the nation skirt export restrictions and western sanctions. (Reuters)
Turkey’s Middle East reset policy and how it affects regional security dialogue
As we watch the Middle East inch towards a “post-Arab Spring phase”, analyst Galip Dalay places Iraq as a point for cooperation between Turkey and Gulf states. At the same time, he argues Iraq is the most active front for Turkey-Iran rivalry as “Tehran and Ankara are decidedly on opposing sides in Iraq, over both Kurdish and broader Iraqi politics.” (CH)
A “Pipe Dream?” The Prospects of Turkey as a Hub for Russian Natural Gas
Laying out the obstacles to Ankara’s gas transit hub ambitions, analyst Natalia Konarzewska argues the idea of increasing Russian gas flows to Turkey is most likely part of Moscow’s “strategy to exacerbate an energy crisis in Europe during the heating season in order to weaken Western support for Ukraine.” (Turkey Analyst)
What's at stake if Turkey invades Syria, again
Turkey is using the threat of a military incursion into northern Syria to extract further concessions from the West, writes Megan A. Stewart for MEI, warning that another ground invasion would exacerbate the humanitarian crises already present in the region. (MEI)
Dec 16 The Middle East Institute hosts its 11th Annual Turkey Conference in Washington DC
Dec 20 Trial of journalist Sezgin Kartal resumes in İstanbul (background)
Dec 21 Trial of journalist Hayri Demir resumes in Ankara (background)
Dec 22 Central bank announces interest rate decision
Dec 27 Trial of journalist Can Dündar resumes in absentia in İstanbul (background)
Diego Cupolo, co-founder + editor @diegocupolo
Gonca Tokyol, freelance journalist @goncatokyol
Ingrid Woudwijk, freelance journalist @deingrid
Verda Uyar, freelance journalist @verdauyar
Gökalp Badak, editorial intern @gklpbdk