Friday, November 27, 2015

US Statement on Cumhuriyet

Office of the Spokesperson

For Immediate Release
November 27, 2015
Media Freedom in Turkey
We are troubled by the pre-trial arrest yesterday of senior editors of the respected Turkish newspaper Cumhuriyet 
The investigation, criminal charges, and arrest raise serious concerns about the Turkish government’s commitment to the fundamental principle of media freedom.  These events are only the latest in a series of judicial and law enforcement actions taken under questionable circumstances against Turkish media outlets critical of the government.
We call on Turkish authorities to ensure that all individuals and organizations – including but not limited to the media – are free to voice a full range of opinions and criticism, in accordance with Turkey’s constitutional guarantees of media freedom and freedom of expression.  This will ultimately strengthen Turkey’s democracy. 

Stay connected with the State Department Office of Press Relations:

Friday, November 20, 2015

Georgetown's ITS loses funds from Turkey

The Institute of Turkish Studies (ITS) Loses its funding from Turkey

The Institute of Turkish Studies (ITS) published an announcement on November 19th to inform that Turkish administration's financial support, which has been provided since 1982, is ending.

Announcement says:
"For over thirty years, ITS has been the principal independent supporter and sponsor of Turkish studies in the United States. The research, publishing, and teaching of several generations of scholars, now the leading lights of American academe on matters Turkish and Ottoman, have been supported – indeed, made possible – by this funding, for which they and ITS as an institution are grateful."

ITS was receiving on average between $200 and $225K funding per year from successive Turkish governments for 33 years. That means ITS' support has been bipartisan over decades. 

Georgetown University's ITS has been a respected actor in Washington DC over the years. It has helped creating 13 Turkey programs in 13 different American universities. ITS is not only encouraging discussions over Turkish Republic’s history but also Ottoman history along with Turkey's contemporary political, social and economic developments. ITS has raised an awareness about Turkey’s "glorious past" Ottomans which AKP officials love to talk about. ITS has been faciliating thousands of students going to Turkey every summer for Turkish language classes. Many of these American students have had incredible adventures in Turkey in their early years.

When one thinks how much lobbying groups or actors charge Turkey every year ($1, $2 millions every year), this program at a world leading university by a quarter million dollars seems like a great bargain.

So why do we think AKP preferred to end this Turkish studies program that has been going over 30 years and maintained by dozens of various Turkish administrations?

Steven A. Cook, who is an expert on Turkey at CFR in Washington, also is featured on ITS’ “hall of fame” for being a former benefactor of ITS grants said this: “The move to cut Ankara's contribution to ITS does not surprise me. Turkish leaders--and quite frankly, more than a few Turkish philanthropists--expect something in return for their goodwill. That something is for the grateful recipients to echo the views of their donors.”

As Cook briefly touches here, for sometime, it has been indeed talked that the AKP government is not happy with Georgetown’s ITS program for it is not pushing AKP vision in Washington "good enough" and defending it against others. ITS, as it says on the website clearly as one of its missions: “To promote better understanding of Turkish politics, economy, and society through conferences and lecture series.” ITS wants to stay away from daily politics. It wants to promote better understanding of Turkish politics but not better understanding of AKP’s vision.

For AKP administration, there are lobbying groups and Turkish-American associations, Embassy to push its vision and policies as its lawyers and spokespeople in Washington. There are “think tanks” like Seta to promote its ideas.

ITS, during its 33 years helped hundreds of students and academics like Stanford Shaw, Kemal Karpat, Jenny B. White, Joshua Hendrick and Steven A. Cook (more can be found).  

Jenny B. White who is at Boston University’s Department of Anthropology, author of books and many articles on Turkey, also featured at ITS’ “hall of fame” said this: “Almost all ITS money goes to funding grants, very little to overhead. I don’t understand why the Turkish government would defund such a lean and effective organization with a proven track record of bringing information about Turkey to campuses around the country, even in the heartland, setting up Turkish programs, fostering scholarship about Turkey, helping train new generations of scholars. I’m very proud of being associated with ITS and what it has accomplished and I’m very disappointed at the decision to defund it.”

Even though the program is losing its funding from the Turkish Government and its trust, “ITS continues to exist as an NGO and we are looking forward to continuing the very important task of supporting independent scholarship on Turkey,” said White, “this came as a shock after thirty years of operation. ITS has been the principal independent supporter and sponsor of Turkish studies in the United States. Several generations of US-based scholars, including myself, received ITS support for their research, publishing, and teaching about Turkey, often at crucial moments early in their careers.”

It’s expected that the ITS will be looking for some money to continue its work. Will there be any Turkish or American philanthropists, donors?  

Saturday, November 14, 2015

US Spox: human rights issues, fundamental freedom issues are always on the agenda and always possible for discussion.

DPB # 189
Briefer: Mark Toner, Deputy Spokesperson 

My Qs & As w/Mark Toner re Turkey, Press Freedom, G20 etc. reds by other reporters

QUESTION: On Turkey and G20.
QUESTION: Is there any way you can tell us what will be the ideal outcome for the U.S. side in terms of Syrian situation there, things – is there a specific plan or strategy you have in your mind when you’re talking to Turks or other --
MR TONER: Sure. I refer you to the Secretary’s speech yesterday at the U.S. Institute for Peace.
MR TONER: I’m slightly joking, but seriously, he laid out our strategy, and among which – actually, I think Josh Earnest over at the White House spoke to the fact that certainly, coming out of Vienna, hopefully the Secretary will be able to report on progress that’s been made in our pursuit of this dual track, but more importantly this political process or political transition that we’re looking to put in play or put in process to lead to a political transition in Syria.
The other really pressing need that will be discussed at the G20 – and the Secretary spoke a little bit about our efforts – is to address the humanitarian crisis that all this conflict in Syria has wrought: the refugee crisis that now is reaching into Europe, but certainly countries like Turkey, Jordan, and others – Lebanon – as well have been dealing with for years; as well as this crisis within Syria itself, and so how can all the nations of the G20 pull together to address this crisis – ongoing crisis. Even in our most optimistic days, I think none of us see this as the conflict in Syria ending any day soon, and we’re certainly going to be dealing with internally displaced as well as externally displaced people going forward for a long time to come, so we need to all do our utmost to address their needs.
QUESTION: Since the G20’s going to be in Turkey, is there any thought to any inclusion in the statement concerning freedom of the press?
MR TONER: I can’t speak to what may or may not go into the statement. That’s obviously something that we – a principle, if I could put it that way, that we always value and – yeah, I mean --
QUESTION: Well, you just said you’re going – it’s – a major focus will be on the things that are negatively affecting Turkey, like the humanitarian crisis --
MR TONER: Right. I was speaking about Syria and the overflow of refugees, but you’re talking about freedom of the press now in Turkey or --
QUESTION: No, freedom of the press anywhere.
MR TONER: Oh, I’m sorry. I totally misunderstood.
QUESTION: Is that going to be in – is that going to be referenced in any way at the summit – fundamental freedoms, including freedom of the press – given your criticism of Turkey recently and actually long term for its freedom of the press?
MR TONER: Well, the second part of your question first. We continue to have discussions all the time with Turkey, and we’re very public in our viewpoint that we want to see and urge the Turkish authorities to ensure their actions uphold universal democratic values, and that includes freedom of the press. I can’t speak to whether or what is going to actually be contained in the final statement coming out of the G20, but we consider freedom of the press, broadly speaking, to be one of the fundamental rights around the world.
QUESTION: Same question, Mark.
QUESTION: On the G20 and on the press, even for this summit, worldwide summit, there will be media from Turkey being excluded to follow the event. So how do you handle such a challenge that you are going to country and going to speak to people, and the press – but part of the press, opposition press, will not be there? And as you know, the bigger part of the opposition media in Turkey under the crackdown – it looks like increasing since the elections.
MR TONER: Well, a couple points. We’ve said this before but I’ll say it again: We’re concerned by a troubling pattern in Turkey of targeting media outlets and their organizations that are critical of the government. In a democratic society, critical opinions should be encouraged, not silenced. Look at this room right now or on any given day as we get a wide swath of opinions and questions from all sides, and we take seriously all of the viewpoints of the journalists in the room and try to answer their questions as best we can. That’s part of a democratic society and it’s part of any government’s responsibility.
Just to pivot back to what I said to Brad, we want to see and urge Turkish authorities to uphold democratic values that are enshrined in Turkey’s constitution.
QUESTION: Since many of the Westerns leaders will be also in Antalya and speaking to Turkish leaders, would you call on your allies, especially Western allies who claim to value the universal values, should they raise these issues when they talk to their Turkishcounterparts?
MR TONER: Many of our Western allies don’t need us necessarily to call on them to raise these issues. They raise them themselves. Many of our democratic allies around the world will raise these issues. Look, NATO is – or Turkey is a valued partner, it’s a NATO ally, it’s a longstanding democracy. We want to see it live up to its democratic values.
QUESTION: Final question.
MR TONER: Yes, sir.
QUESTION: Will the U.S. President raise these issues when he’s in Turkey?
MR TONER: I would not attempt to preview what the President may or may not raise in his meetings in Turkey, simply to say that human rights issues, fundamental freedom issues are always on the agenda and always possible for discussion.

MR TONER: Let’s stay on Turkey, and then I swear I’ll get back to you.
MR TONER: Okay? I apologize. I just want to finish out the --
QUESTION: And just a quick clarification. Are you asking the Turkish Government from this podium or have you reached out to them after the events when the TV station was raided and the opposition’s media is being --
MR TONER: I’d just say we – whether it’s within our dealings or – within our dealings with the – or conversations, rather, with the Turkish Government through our embassy in Ankara, we convey these same messages that we convey from the podium. So I would say it’s a dual-tracked approach.
MR TONER: Turkey? Okay.
MR TONER: And TurkeyTurkey, and then --
QUESTION: Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: Mark, since this is – the Turkish Government is preparing the areas for the G20, and it seems that also in that stage is just so focusing on the G20 and nothing else in Turkey because there is conflict in Silvan for seven – more than seven days, like, it’s been eight days. It’s been curfew and conflict, fighting, killing civilians, and media completely banned from those conflict areas in the southeast of Turkey. So there’s nothing, no statement, no word from the United States Government what’s going on there. But there were some pictures by some leaked from there that it showed it is – it was --
MR TONER: Well, we --
QUESTION: It seemed like Syria, not Turkey.
MR TONER: Well, we are aware about the – and have seen reports of the curfews – about the curfews in effect in Diyarbakir, which is the Silvan area. We understand that Turkey needs to take security measures, but it should also take all feasible precautions to protect civilians and act consistently with its legal obligations. As to the specifics about the curfews, I’d refer you to the Turkish authorities.
QUESTION: Do you have any way, any mechanism – and you have your diplomats there, but is there any way that United States Government can make sure that there were no war crimes conducted in those places?
MR TONER: No what? War crimes within --
QUESTION: In the conflict areas by Turkish forces or by guerillas, whatever. But do you have any way that – to confirm there were no war crimes, any kind of a targeting civilian – what do you – how can you confirm this --
MR TONER: Sure. I don’t know specifically if we have eyes on the ground in the Silvan area, and I’m not going to address your questions about whether there’s war crimes or anything like that. This is obviously Turkish security forces operating in the interest of their national security. They have a right to defend themselves against – and the country and Turkish citizens against violence that’s carried out by the PKK. Our concern is that they take, in conducting these security measures, into full consideration and take every feasible precaution to avoid hurting, injuring civilians, and act consistently within their legal obligations.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

US Reacts to Exclusion of Critical Media from G20 Summit

US State Department reacted to exclusion of a number of journalists from the G20 summit to be held in Antalya on Sunday. It is expected that President Obama will also be in Antalya, along with other world leaders including Russian President Putin. 
When asked about excluding some of critical media from the Summit, US State Department Spokesperson Julia Mason, in an email, said ''In a democratic society, critical opinions should be encouraged, not silenced.''
Mason continued: ''As we have said, we are concerned by a troubling pattern in Turkey of targeting media outlets and other organizations that are critical of the government.
As Turkey’s friend and NATO ally, we continue to urge the Turkish authorities to ensure their actions uphold the universal democratic values that are enshrined in Turkey’s constitution, including freedom of the press, freedom of speech and freedom of assembly.''
The World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) and the World Editors Forum, which represent 18,000 publications, 15,000 online sites and over 3,000 companies in more than 120 countries, condemned the Turkish government’s failure to provide accreditation to journalists from critical media outlets to cover the G-20 summit, the latest evidence of declining press freedom in the country.

Saturday, November 07, 2015

US half a dozen times concerned about Turkey yesterday

DPB # 186
Briefer: John Kirby, Spokesperson

My Qs and As w John Kirby on Turkey, elections, crack downs on Press, Opposition

QUESTION:  Turkey? 
MR KIRBY:  Okay.  Turkey.  Go ahead.

QUESTION:  Okay.  I thought somebody else was going.  It has been about one week since the Turkey election conducted.  Do you see after a week of reports and all that the elections were held fair, free, and transparent manner?
MR KIRBY:  Well, as I – we’ve already spoken about the results of the elections, and I believe there’s international monitoring organizations that are still looking into this.  We understand that OSCE is going to issue a comprehensive final report on the election in coming weeks, and I’ll note for you that OSCE released a statement of preliminary findings highlighting that the elections offered voters a variety of choices but that restrictions on media freedom remain a serious concern.  So I’m not in a position now, neither is the State Department, to further that until we get a look at what OSCE has to say in the coming weeks.  And when that happens, then we’ll have that discussion. 

QUESTION:  There are many respectable Turkey experts in this city and around the world think that the – since the elections crackdowns on the press, free press increasing, even some of the private businesses or groups, as of yet today and through the week have been raided.  Do you think these elections, as many fear, may be taken by the government today’s – Turkey’s government as green light to diverge from democratic life going forward?
MR KIRBY:  Let me make sure I understand your question.  That the results of the election somehow --

QUESTION:  Which is giving a majority to this government and can basically do pretty much anything, this would give permission to government to further crackdowns on the press freedom and the opposition.
MR KIRBY:  No, I would say we certainly hope not.  I mean, we’ve been very clear about what we look to other governments to do in terms of press freedom and judicial process.  And from this very podium I’ve spoken at length about what our expectations are for Turkish authorities with respect to that.  We continue to be concerned about what appears to be a troubling pattern of targeting media outlets and other organizations that are critical of the government.  That’s not in keeping with democratic principles, certainly not in keeping with Turkey’s own democratic principles.  So the short answer is absolutely not.  We wouldn’t expect that from any government, nor would we want to see that in this case.

QUESTION:  Another question on Turkey? 
MR KIRBY:  Sure.

QUESTION:  I got one more.  So you have been stating these concerns and statements for a long time, indeed you have been doing that.  At the same time, whatever the government, Turkish Government, has been doing so far, cracking down on the, again, free press, arresting and detaining journalists, even the wife’s journalist that you mentioned here a couple months ago is still in jail, in Turkish jails.  So the question many people are asking whether your concerns and statements mean anything, or do you take any kind of policy difference when you are conducting your relations with Turkey?
MR KIRBY:  Do we do what?  Differences?
QUESTION:  Do you make any kind of policy changes when it comes to relations with Turkey because of these human rights issues?
MR KIRBY:  When it comes to our strident support for human rights and freedom of the press and proper judicial processes, no.  And you’ve been in many of these briefings and you know very well that we speak to these things equally across the board.  In whatever country in the world I’m asked about when we’re talking about media freedoms, our policies have not and will not change with respect to basic human rights.  And we’re very candid and we’re very open about that right here from the podium in a very public setting as well as in private discussions that we have diplomatically around the world.  We always raise these concerns, and we always will raise these concerns.
Look, Turkey is an ally and a partner.  Turkey is contributing in this coalition against ISIL.  They’ve – they’re hosting a couple of million refugees from Syria inside their borders.  They’ve got a serious terrorist threat that they’re dealing with.  There’s a lot going on.  Turkey’s a – but as I said, Turkey’s an ally and a partner, and we want to see Turkey succeed.  It’s in our interest as well as in the interest of the Turkish people, and we want to see Turkey live up to its own democratic principles. 
And so does it trouble us when we see some of these reports?  Absolutely it does.  And do we express that privately and publicly?  Absolutely we do, and we will continue because we want to see Turkey succeed.  We want to see the Turkish people succeed and to – and for the whole country to be able to not just espouse, but to live up to these democratic values.

QUESTION:  Do you see any kind of sign that Turkey is going to or has changed any kind of its policies regarding its free press and its approach to the – approach to the opposition within Turkey after you have been expressing privately and publicly your concerns to them?
MR KIRBY:  Well, obviously we’re still seeing incidents that are of concern to us.  I would – you’d have to talk to Turkish authorities about what policies they’re espousing, continuing to espouse, or will espouse in the future.  That’s for them to talk to.  But as I’ve said here many, many times too, we don’t just judge another nation’s intent by their words but by their actions, and these recent actions certainly give us pause for concern – cause for concern.  And again, we’re going to continue to raise that.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

US Reacts to #Gezi Sentences: Unacceptable to prosecute medical professionals

Yesterday was another day that will be remembered as a very dark black day for Turkey's democracy.

Let's look: ''A local court in Istanbul has sentenced 244 participants in the 2013 Gezi protests to jail time for a range of crimes, including “polluting a mosque.”

The 55th Criminal Court of First Instance in Istanbul on Oct. 23 sentenced 244 of 255 defendants to between two months, 15 days and one year, two-months 16 days’ imprisonment. Only four of the defendants were acquitted, while charges against four suspects were separated from the case file.''

Yet, this is not the worst. Here it comes: ''The four defendants who were sentenced for “polluting a mosque” were doctors who provided emergency aid to protesters in the Dolmabahçe Bezm-i Alem Valide Sultan Mosque in Beşiktaş, where protesters injured in a police attack were being treated.''

AKP's judiciary succeeded sentencing doctors for treating injured protestors. This should be considered as nirvana of backsliding. When I was in Damascus in January of 2012, I visited a local hospital and chief physician described me how the Assad regime arrest medical professional just because treating protestors. I listened to Syrian doctor in awe then. Thanks to AKP government, Turkey quickly caught up with Assad's treatments. This is a big success for sure!

US: Unacceptable to prosecute medical professionals
I reached out to the State Department and asked them if they have any comments about the sentences. A State Department official sent an email said ''it is unacceptable to prosecute medical professionals for treating injured people.''

Official, who did not give any name, further stated: ''Freedoms of expression and assembly are universal human rights.  We support the right of citizens to peaceful protest.''

US State Department statements ended by calling on Turkey once more to uphold the fundamental freedoms of all its citizens: '' We call on Turkey, as we call on countries around the world, to meet the highest standards for transparency, timeliness, and fairness in the judicial system, and to uphold the fundamental freedoms of all its citizens.''

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Pentagon: US has concerns over Syrian Kurds expanding non-Kurdish territory in Syria

US Defense Department's Cmdr. Elissa Smith who oversees the Syria file, responded my questions re latest airdrop of ammunition in northern Syria.

Smith stated: "This airdrop supported Arab groups. We share the concern of our Turkish partners over the sensitivity of expanding Kurdish control into traditionally non-Kurdish areas in Syria."

I never heard Pentagon or any US officials expressing "concerns" regarding Syrian Kurds' expanding in non-Kurdish areas in Syria. With this statement, seems like US supports Turkey's "red line" which is for PYD or YPG not to cross over Jarablus and expand to west to link Afrin canton with Kobani.

Smith also stated clearly that the Syrian Kurds did not receive the latest ammunition airdrop occurred over the weekend in the same exclusive statement: "We've said that we support counter-ISIL forces. Counter-ISIL ground forces include Syrian Arabs, Kurds, Turkoman and other groups native to the region. The particular recipients of this ammunition were Syrian Arab groups."

During Tuesday's press briefing at the State Department, spokesperson Mark Toner did not want to comment explicitly whether Syrian Kurds also received part of ammunition drop.

Smith concluded in her 3 paragraph statement with this: "This successful airdrop provided ammunition to Syrian groups whose leaders were appropriately vetted by the United States and have been fighting to remove ISIL from northern Syria. The airdrop includes small arms ammunition. Due to operational security we will not have any further details about the groups that received these supplies, their location, or the type of equipment in the airdrop."