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29.3.14

Leak and You Tube Ban in Turkey; U.S. State Department "Deeply Troubled"

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has filed a complaint against Today's Zaman editor-in-chief Bülent Keneş, deputy editor-in-chief Mehmet Kamış, columnist Emre Uslu, journalist Önder Aytaç, and Former İstanbul Police Department Intelligence Bureau Chief Ali Fuat Yılmazer on Saturday, March 29, 2014, a day before local elections in Turkey.
Erdoğan's lawyers said in a petition they submitted to Ankara Public Prosecutor's Office that they seek travel ban for Uslu, Aytaç, and Yılmazer and claimed that Keneş and Kamış humiliated Erdoğan in their tweets.

Erdoğan had previously filed a complaint against Today's Zaman journalist Mahir Zeynalov for posting tweets that include "heavy insults and swear words in a bid to provoke the nation to hatred and animosity." Zeynalov said his tweets were mostly about news reports appeared in the media and that they included no insult against Erdoğan or content that would provoke society. "The accusations directed against me in the petition are all groundless," Zeynalov said. Weeks after, Zeynalov was deported from Turkey, causing outrage in the community and abroad.
Aytaç, a former official in Police Academy, was detained on March 28 over allegations that he might had information about the bugging of the top secret meeting in which high-level officials were discussing options regarding Syria. Aytaç was released from custody on Saturday morning.

The audio conversation posted on YouTube presents the recording as being of National Intelligence Organization (MİT) chief Hakan Fidan discussing with Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, Deputy Chief of General Staff Gen. Yaşar Güler and Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioğlu a possible operation to secure the tomb of Suleyman Shah, grandfather of the founder of the Ottoman Empire, in an area of northern Syria largely controlled by militant Islamists ahead of March 30 local elections.
Ankara regards the tomb as sovereign Turkish territory under a treaty signed with France in 1921, when Syria was under French rule. About two dozen Turkish special forces soldiers permanently guard it.
Turkey threatened two weeks ago to retaliate for any attack on the tomb, after clashes with militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), an al Qaeda breakaway group, in the area, east of Aleppo.
"An operation against ISIL has international legitimacy. We will define it as al Qaeda. There are no issues on the al Qaeda framework. When it comes to the Suleyman Shah tomb, it’s about the protection of national soil," a voice presented as that of Foreign Ministry undersecretary Sinirlioğlu says.
When the discussion turns to the need to justify such an operation, the voice purportedly of Fidan says: "Justification can be created. The matter is to create the will."
In a written statement the Turkish foreign ministry did not deny the entire conversation but said portions of the recording had been manipulated.
In his first comment on the leaked audio recording, Erdoğan called the leak a wretched attack on national security and a treason against the country. Confirming the authenticity of the leaked recording, Erdoğan vowed action against those who were responsible for the leak.
News sources said the conversation was recorded at Davutoğlu's office at the Foreign Ministry on March 13. The authenticity of the audio and the date and way of its recording have not been verified.
The Turkish government swiftly banned YouTube Thursday afternoon hours after the leaked voice recording was posted. The ban comes a week after Ankara banned Twitter, canceled the nationwide broadcasting license of one station, and issued a record number of penalties to another.
In his article published in Today's Zaman on March 28, columnist Emre Uslu, one of the five names in Erdoğan's complaint, said:
"Indeed the recording and the leaking of such a conversation is a crime in Turkish law. The government should immediately find the perpetrators and punish them.
Yet when asking the government to find the perpetrators, we should also not refrain from debating the contents of the recording for two reasons. First, it is obvious that government officials are trying to drag Turkey into a war with Syria with fabricated evidence. Second, the recording also shows how amateurish Turkish authorities are when it comes to developing strategies and war plans.
In the recording, the four key officials admit Turkey has failed in its Syria policy. They said Turkey should have done this, waged war, trained foreign fighters and sent troops to Syria, a year ago. Secondly, all four figures agree they should find legal grounds for a possible war. Worst, MİT head Fidan says it is easy to fabricate “reasons” for Turkey to wage war against Syria.
In a state bureaucracy, if Turkey is not preparing to wage war against Syria, it would never discuss such scenarios. When we put the meeting into context, we need to consider that the timing of the meeting is important. First, the audio indicates that the officials are working off files that were discussed during the National Security Council (MGK) meeting held at the end of February. When we look at the MGK's statement, it clearly said: 'The developments in Syria pose a national security threat to Turkey. Such developments were discussed. There were deliberations on how to end the clashes in Syria.'
Moreover, when we examine what was discussed in the meeting and what took place after the meeting, we see striking similarities. Therefore one wonders whether Turkey is indeed preparing to wage war.
When it comes to Turkish officials' ability to develop strategy, the audio recording reveals that this is an absolute disaster. It shows the officials discussing it as though they are playing a video game instead of developing a war strategy. For instance, they do not discuss what their exit strategy would be, how they would convince the world if things go wrong, how such an operation would affect the Kurdish question, if there are any other options left, how the changing international environment would affect Turkey, etc.
Although it was stated that the conversation was recorded prior to the actual start of the meeting, the recording gives us enough evidence to understand the limited capacity of Turkey's top four strategists.
As a Turkish citizen, I am not against the idea of removing Bashar al-Assad from power, possibly via an intelligence operation. I have always defended the idea that removing Assad from power would be very beneficial to Syrians, the region and the world. However, after listening to the top four strategists, I renounce the idea of removing Assad via the hands of the Turkish authorities as they would further mess up the already messy situation in Syria." 

Lists of "Suspects"
The state-run Anadolu news agency reported that Aytaç's comments on a TV program over the audio recording which has rocked Turkey's political landscape has gave the impression that he might have had information about who was the responsible for the leak. However, the way the journalist was detained led to questions over the motive behind the detention.
Pro-government journalist Cem Küçük has claimed that the lists of "suspects," including well-known journalists, were already ready and mass arrests would be carried out. Regarding government's critics and opponents, he said everybody will reap what they sowed.
In the hours following the detention of Aytaç, unconfirmed reports said two more journalists and a former head of İstanbul Police Department Intelligence Unit have also been detained. Journalists Nazlı Ilıcak and Mehmet Baransu, both outspoken critics of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government, were taken into custody after an overnight operation, unconfirmed reports said.
According to the claims, Yılmazer, who recently said in a series of TV interviews that Erdoğan personally ordered arrest of the former army chief as part of the investigation into the claims of a military plot to topple Erdoğan's government, was also detained.
His stunning revelations about a number of key trials and investigations has led a reassessment of the government's role in some critical political developments that entirely shaped the political structure of the country in the past few years.
While expectations about a government crackdown on dissent in run-up to local polls were high, the sudden operation came as a surprise to many. The leak of the high-level Syria meeting has riveted Turkish people and officials, leaving them struggling to make sense of scale of the security woes at the top echelons of the state.
Erdoğan and his aides have blamed the Hizmet movement of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gülen, a former ally whose followers have influence in the police and judiciary, of running a "dirty campaign" of espionage to implicate him in corruption ahead of crucial nationwide municipal elections on Sunday.
 "Tomorrow we will teach those liars and slanderers a lesson," Erdoğan told a jubilant crowd of supporters in Istanbul's working class Kartal district on March 29, vowing his ruling AK Party would triumph at the polls.
Gülen has vociferously denied orchestrating the leak scandal, but those close to his network have said they fear a heavy crackdown once the local elections have passed.
Aytaç said in a statement on the Hizmet-affiliated Samanyolu news website that he had been asked whether he was a spy and how he had known so much about the content of the leaked recording, after he discussed it on a television program.
"I made my assessment as an academic in that program. They are trying to intimidate people who think like me in this election process," he said in the statement.
Government officials declined to comment on whether an investigation into the leak had begun, saying any probe would be a matter for the judiciary. The state prosecutor's office could not immediately be reached for comment.

"Declaration of War"
Senior officials said in February that Turkey would launch a criminal investigation into an alleged "parallel state" backed by Gülen, which they accuse of orchestrating the graft scandal and illegally tapping thousands of phones over years. Erdoğan's government has already reassigned thousands of police officers and hundreds of prosecutors in a purge after the corruption investigation burst into the open on December 17 with the detention of businessmen and three ministers' sons.Gülen's network has said it is the victim of witch hunt.Meanwhile Fatih Altaylı, editor-in-chief of the mainstream Habertürk newspaper who openly decried government pressure on the media in a television interview last month, said in a column on Saturday that he was stepping down.
"With great regret I see that an era of 'militant journalism' has started," he wrote, decrying what he portrayed as an increasingly polarized media landscape in Turkey with a lack of independent voices.
The corruption scandal and anti-government protests last summer have grown into one of the greatest challenges of Erdoğan's 11-year rule, and his critics fear that what they see as his authoritarian instincts will only deepen if the AK Party puts in a strong showing in Sunday's polls.
A senior government official on Friday described the crisis as "one of the biggest in Turkish history". Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said voice recording of a high-level secret security meeting is a war declaration against Turkey.

US State Department "Deeply Troubled"
The United States State Department said it was "deeply troubled" by the violence in Syria that is endangering the Armenian community.
"We are deeply troubled by recent fighting and violence that is endangering the Armenian community in Kessab, Syria, and has forced many to flee," said U.S. State Department spokesperson Marie Harf during a press briefing on March 29, 2014.
The press conference came one day after a meeting between a delegation of Armenian community representatives led by the Armenian National Committee of America and Department of State officials, during which the State Department was urged to act immediately to end the vicious onslaught on the historically Armenian town of Kessab by al-Qaeda affiliated extremists and to confront Turkey about its complicity in aiding the extremists’ attack on Kessab.
"The United States will continue its steadfast support to those affected by violence in Syria and throughout the region, including Syrian Armenians," Harf said in her press briefing. "We have long had concerns about the threat posed by violent extremists and this latest threat to the Armenian community in Syria only underscores this further."
Harf acknowledged the role of the ISIL, al Nusra, and other al-Qaeda linked terrorist groups in the attacks and that they have targeted Armenians and other minority groups, saying, "we’re particularly concerned about these minority communities and want to make sure that their rights are protected." More than 80 civilians have been reportedly killed and churches have been desecrated after the occupation of Kesab by those groups on March 21-23, with Turkish involvement in it.
Harf made no mention, however, of the State Department’s stance on Turkey’s involvement in the attack on Kessab or their support of the belligerent extremists. Asked about the recent leaked phone conversations in which high level Turkish officials – including Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu – are heard planning military intervention in Syria via a false flag, Harf said, "I don’t have anything for you on alleged calls or conversations that are out there among Turkish officials." Moreover, she echoed statements made by Syrian rebels that they will respect minorities. "We have seen some statements by groups fighting in Kasab [sic] saying they will not target civilians and will respect minorities and holy places. We expect those commitments to be upheld," Harf said.

"Today's Zaman," March 28 and 29, 2014
"Asbarez," March 27 and 28, 2014

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