This Story Repeats Itself
Pro tip: If someone asks about potential election outcomes, dodge the question by noting there’s about 120 political parties in Turkey (full list). Then open your phone, scroll through this thread on the most unique party logos and thank Kavel Alpaslan later.
Our personal favorite is the Ebedi Nizam Partisi logo, which looks great on a headband, in your living room or above a street cone. We like the classics.
And do read Nida Kara’s Q+A with Cafer Solgun on the political concepts of ‘helalleşme’ and confrontation, which are at the root of some minority groups’ dislike for the CHP.
Just months before Turkey's “fate-sealing” elections, the Constitutional Court froze state financing for the pro-Kurd HDP, cutting off Turkey’s third-largest party from funding received by all major parties in parliament. This comes weeks after the verdict on another AKP-rival, İstanbul mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu.
The country's top court will soon announce its final decision on the HDP, which criticized the ruling as an "extortion of rights.” HDP officials told AFP they believed the case would conclude in the coming months, "before the elections."
If two-thirds of the 15-judge panel in the high court agree with the prosecutor's allegations [The last verdict was 8-7, see the voting log here], HDP will become Turkey’s sixth pro-Kurdish political party to be shuttered by the state (two additional parties dissolved before getting shuttered).
Faced with a looming political ban, HDP officials previously promised that they wouldn't leave voters "without a choice." As an alternative, HDP lawmakers may try to form a new bloc, under another party's list, or participate in the elections independently if the party is outlawed.
On a related note, the party’s co-chair Pervin Buldan announced Saturday the HDP would run its own candidate for the presidency in the coming elections.
"Of course, we have principled approaches," Buldan said, leaving the door open for the Table of Six. "We can sit down and discuss, negotiate these principles when the time comes.”
While the HDP has been calling on the opposition to negotiate around common principles since the beginning of the joint candidate process, no public steps have been taken in this direction to date. Regardless, prominent HDP figures reiterated the party remained open to negotiations after Buldan's announcement.
According to journalist İsmail Saymaz, the apparent shift in HDP policy is based on frustrations in the party's grassroots. However, the BBC's Ayşe Sayın reported Buldan's move was seen as a "message" to the main opposition block, and some political analysts agree with this interpretation.
Both might be true, as seen in the words of an unnamed HDP official in Amberin Zaman's report for Al-Monitor:
"For the past year and a half, we've been begging the opposition to sit down to forge a common strategy. Instead, they ignored and scorned us," the official said.
The source added: "The truth is that this opposition is every bit as fascistic as Erdoğan and has zero inclination to do anything for the Kurds. Thus we say, 'Let the fascists battle, and we will go our own way.' They are in for a big shock if they think we are bluffing and will help them win as we did in İstanbul."
– Gonca Tokyol
A howl gesture?
Turkey’s reviving memories of the 1990s, and not just in western street fashion, which has stagnated ever since. It seems we’re re-entering an era of MHP scandals and if you need a briefing on the Gray Wolves, here’s a recent German intelligence analysis in Turkish.
Following the Dec. 30 murder of former Ülkü Ocakları head Sinan Ateş in Ankara, 13 people were arrested last week. Among them is Doğukan Çep, the alleged instigator of the attack and two special ops police officers that allegedly helped transport the shooter (who is still on the run).
During his appeal last week Çep – a fugitive of a 2013 murder – reportedly denied accusations that the Ateş murder was premeditated. He said his intention was to show his teeth, adding the matter was something “personal.”
Turkish media (and Kılıçdaroğlu) noted the MHP remained silent after the murder and party members did not attend the funeral in Bursa, underlining suspicions Ateş’ death was politically motivated.
MHP head Bahçeli broke the silence Tuesday, though without mentioning Ateş by name, offering these ambiguous words: "I can share my reasons for removing [Ateş] from office when necessary, which I kept a secret for the period of time in which I had responsibility as the president of the party."
In a separate incident, another former MHP member was found dead at home last Thursday. Details and possible correlations remain limited.
Going on a blind candidate
In Turkish election news, Pres. Erdoğan and his allies have been emphasizing the election might come sooner than originally expected – prompting the Table of Six to finally announce they "have decided to start consultations regarding the determination of the candidate.” As they say, pre-visualization is the first step to action.
According to ORC research's recent survey, three of the possible opposition candidates could beat Erdoğan – İmamoğlu, Ankara mayor Mansur Yavaş, and İyi Party's Meral Akşener. Sadly, Kılıçdaroğlu fell short, even though he vowed to lower the alcohol tax.
Meanwhile, ahead of "the world's most important election in 2023," according to Bloomberg commentator Bobby Ghosh, İmamoğlu is now facing another lawsuit. The İstanbul mayor was charged Wednesday with rigging a public tender during his time in the Beylikdüzü municipality, an allegation he denied on Twitter.
Are you Syrious?
As we clicked the “send” button on our last edition, Erdoğan said he was open to meeting Syrian Pres. Bashar al-Assad in what might be his sharpest U-turn to date after the whole “facilitating armed groups to overthrow that war criminal” thing he did for a while (and which Sinan Ciddi sums up here).
Following high level talks in Moscow last month, the next step for normalization is a foreign ministers’ meeting, which could happen as soon as next week, an unnamed source told Reuters. Washington apparently does not support the thawing of Ankara-Damascus relations, and neither do Syrian opposition groups in Idlib and Aleppo, where protests broke out Friday.
Speaking Wednesday, Erdoğan said: “As the security environment in northern Syria improves, the return of Syrians” would accelerate. A recent Metropoll survey found most respondents support an Erdoğan-Assad meeting, and two minutes on Turkish Reddit will showcase widespread dislike for Syrian refugees, all meaning the prospects of returnees through normalization could give Erdoğan a boost at the ballot box.
Syria researcher Suhail al-Ghazi told Turkey recap Erdoğan’s government is focused improving national security with eyes on elections …
“... but also wants to engage in the future of Syria, not only as a supporter of the Syrian opposition, but rather as an official and legal party inside the Syrian territories, such as Russia and Iran, which can only be achieved through an agreement with the Syrian state similar to the 1998 Adana Agreement.”
This is an excerpt. For al-Ghazi’s full assessment of Turkey-Syria normalization talks, visit our members-only Slack channel.
Stub your NATO
In Nordic NATO bid updates, Swedish PM Ulf Kristersson basically reenacted the opening scene from Super Troopers Sunday, saying Stockholm already made concessions and can’t make concessions any further.
NATO Sec. Gen. Jens Stoltenberg supported Stockholm Monday, saying Sweden did what needed to be done to join the club, which is also what Ankara’s been saying about visa-free travel and EU membership for years, but we are not getting into that here.
Reframing the situation as a “misunderstanding”, Kristersson said Wednesday that discussions were going “going very well”. Though, on Ankara’s extradition requests he added: “Swedish legislation on that … is very clear: that courts [make] those decisions, there is no room for changing that.”
In a commentary published yesterday on the Swedish-language news site, Arbetsvärlden, Bitte Hammargren, an independent analyst and senior associate fellow at the Swedish Institute for Foreign Affairs (who does not speak in the name of the institute) wrote:
“More than six months after the NATO summit in Madrid, it is clear that Sweden's and Finland's NATO application cannot be successfully completed through bilateral or trilateral negotiations with Turkey alone. Maybe not even if the Nordic countries would fall flat for an authoritarian leader who gets along well with Russia. And that was not the intention of Sweden's and Finland's security policy turnaround after Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February.”
Hammargren suggested US involvement might be necessary, calling the accession process “humiliating” for Kristersson, which might be the point, or at least one of them.
In the latest jolts of economic turbulence, Turkey’s main stock index fell more than 7 percent in one day and the state-backed savings plan is losing billions of dollars as people seek better investment options in the face of diminished returns.
In other news, a TurkStat official who oversaw worse-than-expected GDP growth data has been replaced, which is in no way connected to this week’s “better-than-expected” current account deficit figures. Turkey now needs some $3.7 billion to close the gap and we all need “about 50-60 million dollars for a life at ease”, according to this Turkish businesswoman, who triggered backlash this week.
Equally striking: dying from love is becoming increasingly unaffordable as both grave and dating costs are reportedly at all time highs. A recent study found couples meeting an average of 10 times per month spend more than 4,000 TL to do so.
The same study found dating expenses decrease with time, which can indicate the true value of investing in relationships or the transition to Netflix and chilling.
Call me by my name
And while we’re still struggling to write 2023 instead of 2022, we imagine Wikipedia editors had a productive week after the US State Dept. adopted the use of “Türkiye" in diplomatic and formal communications. (For the record, we follow AP style, and not just on Twitter.)
In other “new year, new you” headlines, Adana runners did not disappoint when offered kebabs mid-marathon, this 53-year-old Syrian man is doing his military service after getting Turkish citizenship, and the Daily Sabah might have published its first useful article with this 2023 calendar of cultural events.
Turkey Frees Medic Who Sought Chemical Arms Probe (AFP)
Turkey’s supermarket chains fix prices after government 'warning' (Duvar)
Alibaba plans $1 billion investment in Turkey, Sabah reports (Reuters)
Bellwether of Turkish Industry Wants Favorable, Weaker Lira Rate (Bloomberg)
The child bride who shook Turkey (New Lines)
Fury in Turkey as convicted wife killer murders third victim (Al-Monitor)
US, Turkey sanction alleged Islamic State Group supporters (AP)
Libyan court suspends energy deal with Turkey (Reuters)
Iran cuts gas exports to Turkey by 70% citing fault, Turkey says (Bloomberg)
Turkey lifts ban on air cargo to Armenia (Eurasianet)
Black Sea shipping rates rise as reinsurers cut cover (Reuters)
Turkey Is Sending Cold War-Era Cluster Bombs to Ukraine (FP)
Potential opposition candidate profiles
Journalist Michael Sercan Daventry (aka James in Turkey) does everyone a favor by crafting concise profiles on Erdoğan’s potential electoral rivals, Meral Akşener, Ekrem İmamoğlu, Mansur Yavaş and Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, noting the last one might be a good president but might “not necessarily make for a good presidential candidate.” (James in Turkey)
Quest for Autonomy: History, Geopolitics and Ideology in Turkish Foreign Policy
Laying out Ankara’s view of the world, analyst Soli Özel notes recent Turkish foreign policy “bears the unmistakable stamp of the ruling party” but there is also an element of continuity in Turkey’s "quest for autonomy" and desire to be a regional power. (Institut Montaigne)
Main Conflicts in Turkey's Foreign Policy 2022
Academics Cihan Dizdaroğlu and Pınar Sayan deliver helpful reference cards on Ankara’s role in regional conflicts, concluding: “The large number and variety of problems sometimes also lead to issues that overlap or contradict each other in terms of the policies pursued.” (Istanpol)
Governance Practices in Turkey: A Comparative Perspective
Arguing that institutions matter, analyst Dimitris Tsarouhas notes “in Turkey’s case they have stopped functioning” and “the result has been detrimental to the country’s goal of raising living standards, enhancing prosperity and demonstrating solid governance credentials.” (ELIAMEP)
Jan 13 The trial against 7 LGBTİ+ rights defenders detained during the 2021 Pride March resumes in İstanbul (background)
Jan 17 MEI hosts an in-person book talk with Gönül Tol, author of "Erdoğan’s War: A Strongman’s Struggle at Home and in Syria" at 12:30 EST
Jan 17 Trial resumes for journalists Canan Coşkun and Barış Pehlivan in İstanbul (background)
Jan 17-20 Turkish FM Çavuşoğlu to visit DC, meet US State Sec. Blinken (background)
Jan 19 Central Bank announces interest rate decision
Jan 19 Memorial services for journalist Hrant Dink
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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