Turkey’s options in handling the Syrian crisis

by Hasan Karaahmet

As Syria’s Assad regime continues to struggle in containing the widespread uprisings and demonstrations for a more democratic, progressive political system throughout the country, neighboring Turkey is facing an increasingly difficult humanitarian crisis just north of the long border.

Last Thursday, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mr. Ahmet Davutoglu spoke with his Syrian counterpart, Walid al-Moallem, about the changing security environment in Syria and implications for Turkey. Movement of Syrian troops north near the Turkish border in an attempt to control the outflow of Syrian refugees into Turkey was among the critical subjects the two ministers discussed. It is no secret now that the situation at the border and increasing numbers of Syrian refugees in Turkey, now approaching some 20,000, is creating tensions between the two countries.

Thus far, Turkey’s AKP government has followed a bi-polar political strategy in handling the Syrian crisis. It publicly criticized Syrian President Bashar al-Assad while quietly advising the same regime on how to contain and eliminate the opposition using tangible, progressive reforms. On the other hand, Turkey also hosted open platforms for Syrian opposition leaders on Turkish soil, in order to provide guidance and discuss their strategies in toppling the Assad regime and achieving a higher political presence in Syria.

Currently, Turkey seems to have three options in peacefully diffusing the threatening situation beyond its southern border and stopping the inflow of Syrian refugees.

  • (1) The first option Turkey is suggesting to Syria involves removal of Bashar al-Assad’s brother, Maher al-Assad, who leads the Syrian Republican Guard and is primarily responsible for killing and mistreatment of a great number of Syrian opposition members. Turkish authorities have wisely avoided condemning Bashar al-Assad and kept their focus on Maher instead. According to a June 18th report by Al Arabiya, an emissary of Turkish Prime Minister Mr. Recep Tayyip Erdogan traveled to Syria to ask Bashar to fire his brother. This suggestion requires Maher to be exiled to Turkey or another suitable country where he would be monitored and kept away from militancy and interfering with Syrian internal politics. Turkey points out that such a move would portray Bashar as a truly progressive, reformist leader who is willing to exile his brother for the greater good of Syria.

Some western analysts generally unfamiliar with the region point out that this option undermines the role of Maher in keeping different factions of the Syrian Armed Forces together and suggest that exiling Maher may push Syria into an explosive infighting and eventually even partitioning. I, however, disagree with this observation as I believe it is the Assad family as a whole and its surrogates within the Syrian state that provide the said unifying function. Power of the al-Assad clan is currently personified in Bashar al-Assad, and any decision he makes, even as radical as firing his brother, will be readily digestible by the forces in Syria that determine the political and economic dynamics in that country. So long as the Alawites’ traditional hold of economic power in Syria’s western coastal cities is not damaged, their support of Bashar and the al-Assad family in general will remain strong.

That said, we should not forget that the former Syrian President, Bashar’s father Hazef al-Assad did successfully exile his younger brother Rifaat al-Assad, also a military man, after a coup attempt, a move that demonstrated the reach of his power and strengthened his regime for years to come. I believe the same may as well be the case for his sons.

  • (2) The second option Turkey is working on for Syria is similar to the Lebanese political model, where a confessional system based on a 1932 census is in effect that just about equally divides power among Lebanon’s Christian and Muslim factions. Proposal for Syria would similarly allocate the power, and hence resources, somewhat equally among the country’s majority Sunni Arabs, Turkmens and Kurds, and minority Alawites, Christians and Druze. This new system would create strong checks and balances that would prevent either side from dominating the economy or monopolizing the politics of Syria.

Turkey is ready to provide all the assistance needed for accomplishing this. If completed successfully, it would score an important point for Turkey in the country’s ambitious mission to become a prestigious leader and a secular democracy model for the Islamic world.

  • (3) The third option proposes the legalization of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood (MB). At the moment, membership in the group is not only outlawed in Syria, but also punishable by death. Turkey says legalization of the Syrian MB and turning the group into a legitimate political party would limit its militancy and draw the movement closer to a more peaceful, political struggle. This would, in effect, dramatically defuse the Syrian crisis.

Al-Assad is however seems to be currently against the idea as it bears the potential for eventually growing in power via unification of the majority Sunni base turning into electoral votes and undermining the established power of Al-Assad’s Baath party and the economic monopoly of Syria’s Alawites.

It will be interesting to see the events unfold and watch Turkey make its moves before the crisis grows into an even bigger refugee crisis, and with the movements of even more Syrian military units into the border region, starts posing a national security danger for Turkey.

TR Defence

Azerbaijan Warns Armenia with Show of Force

Showing Azerbaijan's increasing military capabilities, S-300 air defence missiles was part of an Azeri army parade held in Baku.

Azerbaijan paraded thousands of soldiers and hundreds of military vehicles through its capital June 26 in a show of force two days after talks failed to resolve a bitter territorial dispute with Armenia.

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, who has overseen massive increases in defense spending, warned in his speech that he was ready to take back the disputed Nagorny Karabakh region, which was seized from Azerbaijan in the 1990s by Armenian separatist forces backed by Yerevan.

“The war is not over yet,” Aliyev said at the showpiece parade in the center of Baku, vowing to end what he called the “occupation” of Karabakh.

“The territorial integrity of Azerbaijan must be restored and the territory will be restored,” he said.

Six thousand troops marched in the parade, accompanied by tanks, armored cars and rocket launchers, as fighter planes and combat helicopters roared overhead and warships lined up in the nearby Caspian Sea bay.

In his speech, Aliyev also spoke approvingly about the increases in defense spending financed by the energy-rich state’s huge revenues from oil and gas exports.

“Azerbaijan has fulfilled the task that I set, which was that Azerbaijan’s military expenditure must exceed the entire state budget of Armenia,” he said, noting that defense spending reached $3.3 billion (2.3 billion euros) this year.

“Military expenditure occupies first place in the state budget of Azerbaijan and that is understandable. It will be like this as long as our lands are not liberated,” he said.

Military hardware manufactured in Azerbaijan, including unmanned drones, was on show for the first time to highlight the country’s expanding defense industry.

The “Armed Forces Day” parade in Baku was the third in the country’s post-Soviet history and also marked this year’s 20th anniversary of independence.

It was shown live on state television in a broadcast preceded by a series of patriotic songs accompanied by images of troops in action and President Aliyev wearing camouflage fatigues.

The parade was held after the leaders of Azerbaijan and Armenia failed to agree despite strong international pressure to a “basic principles” roadmap document that would have been a significant step towards a Karabakh peace deal.

A joint statement issued after the summit in Russia on June 24 merely noted “the reaching of mutual understanding on a number of questions, whose resolution helps create conditions to approve the basic principles”.

The two enemies traded accusations after the summit, with Armenia saying that Azerbaijan had torpedoed the talks by wanting a dozen changes to the document and Baku saying that Yerevan was seeking to mislead the world.

The outcome was a major disappointment after hopes had been raised of a long-awaited breakthrough in the talks, which were presided over by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in the city of Kazan.

U.S. President Barack Obama had also telephoned his Armenian and Azerbaijani counterparts before the summit to urge them to agree the “basic principles” document.

Seventeen years after the Karabakh ceasefire, the opposing sides still often exchange deadly fire across the frontline and Baku has repeatedly threatened to use force if negotiations don’t yield results.

Fears have been raised of a return to war that could prove even bloodier than the 1990s conflict and potentially threaten pipelines taking Caspian Sea oil and gas from Azerbaijan to Europe.

The interim “basic principles” agreement would see an Armenian withdrawal from areas around Karabakh that were also seized during the post-Soviet war.

It also envisages international security guarantees and a vote on the final status of the territory at some point in the future.

But even if the document is eventually agreed by both sides, huge obstacles remain to a final peace deal.

Armenia insists that Karabakh will never again be ruled by Baku, while Azerbaijan insists that the region must remain part of its sovereign territory.

AFP

Greece striving for more debt

.Greece needs to impose ever more unpopular austerity on a restive people on June 28, with the European Union placing its faith in Athens to clear parliamentary opposition and a general strike.

Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou said Friday he is negotiating a new bailout worth some 110 billion euros, as Europe enters a crucial 10 day period to ringfence the euro crisis.

The Greek premier is in the eye of a storm threatening financial markets, the unity of Europe’s 17-nation currency area, and even the EU – with the United States warning of a potential to drag down world economic recovery.

“We are talking about a huge, huge amount,” the Agence France-Presse quoted Papandreou as saying after formally requesting aid at a two-day European Union summit in Brussels.

While he said it was “too early to give a precise amount,” the final sum would be “similar to the first aid package” in May 2010, which was not enough to prevent the government in Athens from slipping ever deeper into the red.

The actual size, Papandreou admitted, “depends on the participation of the private creditors,” those banks, pension funds and insurers that the EU wants to contribute to a rescue by way of an “informal and voluntary” rollover.

Greece needs to impose ever more unpopular austerity on a restive people on June 28, with the European Union placing its faith in Athens to clear parliamentary opposition and a general strike.

Even before the new bailout, Greece owes the equivalent of a year-and-a-half of total national economic output, some 350 billion euros.

British banks face an indirect risk from Greece’s financial crisis despite having a “remarkably small” direct exposure to the country, the governor of the Bank of England said Friday.

Mervyn King called for greater disclosure of sovereign and banking exposures, and of other risks which may be lurking on balance sheets, to bolster confidence in the broader financial system, The Associated Press reported.

“If there is uncertainty about exposures and a lack of transparency and people simply do not know which other institutions could be at risk because of their direct and indirect exposures, then there is always the risk that people may feel it’s just not worth continuing to roll over funding to institutions,” King told a news conference.

On Friday, the euro slid against the dollar amid persistent concerns the Greek debt crisis spreading contagion across the eurozone.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Friday that leaders had struck “an important political accord for the stabilisation of the euro,” which Belgian Prime Minister Yves Leterme said took just half an hour to thrash out.

Merkel stressed the EU had “encouraged Ireland, Portugal and Greece to follow the roadmap set down with the troika” of the European Commission, the ECB and the IMF that is monitoring the rescues.

Portugal measures

Portugal’s new Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho, meanwhile, said his coalition government is preparing to accelerate and possibly broaden austerity measures the country promised in return for a $110 billion bailout.

Coelho, who took office earlier this week at the head of a center-right administration, says he is also considering a swifter reorganization of loss-making state companies.

Passos Coelho said after a European Union summit Friday in Brussels that he will announce details of his plans next week.

HDN

Obama: U.S. to Pull 30,000 Out of Afghanistan by Summer 2012

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks June 22 in the White House. (Pool photo via Agence France-Presse)

U.S. President Barack Obama on June 22 ordered all 33,000 U.S. so-called surge troops home from Afghanistan by next summer, declared the beginning of the end of the war and vowed to turn to “nation building” at home.

In a pivotal moment for U.S. national security strategy, Obama also signaled in a 13-minute primetime speech that the United States would no longer try to build a “perfect” Afghanistan from a nation ravaged by generations of violence.

“We take comfort in knowing that the tide of war is receding,” Obama said in the East Room of the White House in an address blanketing U.S. television networks at a time of rising discontent on the war.

“Even as there will be dark days ahead in Afghanistan, the light of a secure peace can be seen in the distance. These long wars will come to a responsible end,” Obama said.

The president’s speech came as domestic political support fades for the war following the killing of al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden by Navy SEALs on May 2, and as Washington backs fragile Afghan reconciliation talks with the Taliban.

His decision on troop numbers amounted to a rejection of appeals from the Pentagon for a slower drawdown to safeguard gains against the Taliban and to allow a new counterinsurgency mission to unfold in eastern Afghanistan.

The president said that he would, as promised, begin the U.S. withdrawal next month and that 10,000 of the more than 30,000 troops he sent to war in an escalation of the conflict in 2009 would be home this year.

A further 23,000 surge troops will be withdrawn by next summer, and more yet-to-be announced drawdowns will continue, until Afghan forces assume security responsibility in 2014.

“This is the beginning – but not the end – of our effort to wind down this war,” Obama said.

“We will have to do the hard work of keeping the gains that we have made, while we draw down our forces and transition responsibility for security to the Afghan government.”

Although Obama said the tide of war was receding, there will still be more than 65,000 troops in Afghanistan when he asks Americans to give him a second term in November 2012.

Obama also argued that his policy of escalating the war against the Taliban and al-Qaida had forged substantial progress and had allowed him to commence troop withdrawals from a “position of strength.”

He said that documents seized from bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan showed that al-Qaida was under “enormous strain.”

“Bin Laden expressed concern that has been unable to effectively replace senior terrorists that have been killed, and that al-Qaida has failed in its effort to portray America as a nation at war with Islam – thereby draining more widespread support,” he said.

U.S. Army Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of NATO and U.S. troops in Afghanistan, and top Pentagon officials had asked for a slower drawdown through summer 2012 to allow them to solidify gains in southern Afghanistan and to mount counter-insurgency operations in eastern districts.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said Obama’s decision, represented an “unnecessary risk” and noted Petraeus and Defense Secretary Robert Gates had recommended a “more modest withdrawal.”

But Obama’s timetable may be too slow for critics who want faster withdrawals from a war launched 10 years ago to oust the Taliban after it offered al-Qaida a haven before and after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Some of Obama’s fellow Democrats and some Republicans are demanding a faster U.S. exit from Afghanistan, and questioning the huge $10 billion-per-month cost of the conflict at a time of deep fiscal pain.

Obama argued the surge had made progress towards key objectives he laid down at the start of the escalation, namely: reversing Taliban momentum, disrupting and dismantling al-Qaida and building Afghan forces towards an eventual assumption of security duties.

One official said the U.S. operation against al-Qaida in Afghanistan and Pakistan tribal regions had “exceeded our expectations,” saying 20 of the group’s top 30 leaders, including bin Laden, had been killed in the last year.

Administration aides also rejected criticism that Obama’s decision would put recent gains in danger and increase the chances that Afghanistan will slip back into an abyss of deep violence.

Obama also placed the Afghan mission in the context of his wider foreign policy and war strategy, arguing he has removed 100,000 troops from Iraq and will oversee the promised full withdrawal by the end of this year.

He announced that a NATO summit to review progress on Afghanistan will take place in his hometown of Chicago in May 2012, alongside the G8 summit of industrialized nations.

AFP

Turkey’s Actions May Trigger NATO Confrontation With Syrian Military

Last week, a feature by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton excoriating the political leadership of Syria appeared in the London-based Arabic-language daily Asharq Al-Awsat. Saudi-supported and printed in twelve locations, it is considered to be among the most influential newspapers in the Arab world.

As such, her comments (in English and Arabic) were intended to signal to Arab readers and the world at large that the American position toward Damascus is becoming more stringent and confrontational, evoking Clinton’s statements toward the leadership of Ivory Coast and Libya earlier in the year.

Her characteristically imperious, contemptuous and inflammatory comments, indeed threats, included:

“In his May 19 speech, President Obama echoed demonstrators’ basic and legitimate demands…President Assad, he said, could either lead that transition or get out of the way.

“It is increasingly clear that President Assad has made his choice.”

“…President Assad is showing his true colors by embracing the repressive tactics of his ally Iran and putting Syria onto the path of a pariah state.

“By following Iran’s lead, President Assad is placing himself and his regime on the wrong side of history…”

“If President Assad believes he can act with impunity because the international community hopes for his cooperation on other issues, he is wrong about this as well. He and his regime are certainly not indispensable.”

The Wall Street Journal reported on June 18 that the Washington administration is preparing a case against Syrian President Bashar Assad and other government officials at the International Criminal Court in the Hague. The same newspaper feature added that “The U.S. is also exploring ways to more directly target Syria’s oil and gas revenue…”

On June 14 four members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, including the military alliance’s three European powerhouses – Britain, France, Germany and Portugal – proposed a draft resolution in the United Nations Security Council aimed at Syria. Three days later in Berlin German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy confirmed their governments would push for a new UN resolution targeting Syria. In Sarkozy’s words: “France, hand in hand with Germany, calls for tougher sanctions against Syrian authorities who are conducting intolerable and unacceptable actions and repression against the population.”

The USS George H.W. Bush nuclear-powered supercarrier and its assigned carrier strike group and carrier air wing – with 9,000 sailors, 70 aircraft and four guided missile destroyers and cruisers – is in the Mediterranean Sea not far from the Syrian coast. One of the destroyers, USS Truxtun, just left the Israeli port city of Haifa after a two-day stopover.

The USS Monterey guided missile cruiser is docked off the Georgian Black Sea city of Batumi currently and will re-enter the Mediterranean soon. Deployed as the first warship assigned to the U.S.-NATO potential first-strike pan-European interceptor missile system, it can launch Tomahawk cruise missiles as well as Standard Missile-3 interceptor missiles.

The guided missile destroyer USS Barry left Gaeta, Italy where nine other US. warships have been stationed, on June 17 after a five-day port visit. USS Barry is part of the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group, headed by the amphibious assault ship USS Bataan, used at the beginning of the U.S.-NATO Libyan campaign in March and currently in the Mediterranean.

The Pentagon and its allies – every nation in the Mediterranean is now a NATO member or partner except for Libya, Syria, Cyprus (under renewed and intensified pressure to join the bloc’s Partnership for Peace program) and Lebanon (whose coastline has been blockaded by NATO states’ military vessels since 2006) – have the military hardware in place for a replication of the 95-day war against Libya directed at Syria: Scores of warplanes on carriers and on bases in Italy, Greece, Cyprus and Turkey and guided missile ships ready to launch Tomahawk missiles.

On June 19 Ersat Hurmuzlu, senior adviser to Turkish President Abdullah Gul, told the United Arab Emirates-based Al Arabiya television channel that Syria has less than a week to respond to what Reuters described as “calls for change.” Hurmuzlu’s exact words were:

“The demands in this field will be for a positive response to these issues within a short period that does not exceed a week.

“The opposite of this, it would not be possible to offer any cover for the leadership in Syria because there is the danger …that we had always been afraid of, and that is foreign intervention.”

Although the last sentence can be read as either warning or threat, it is in fact the second. The statement as a whole is an ultimatum.

Since the war against Libya was launched by U.S. Africa Command under the codename Operation Odyssey Dawn to the present NATO-run Operation Unified Protector in place since March 31, air operations have been run from NATO’s Air Command Headquarters for Southern Europe in Izmir, Turkey.

In March Turkey supplied five ships and a submarine for the blockade of Libya’s coast and on March 28 Hurriyet Daily News announced that Turkey was “assuming control of the Benghazi airport, and sending naval forces to patrol the corridor between the rebel-held city and Crete,” quoting Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan:

“Turkey said ‘yes’ to three tasks within NATO: the takeover of Benghazi airport for the delivery of humanitarian aid, the task about control of the air corridor and the involvement of Turkish naval forces in the corridor between Benghazi and Crete.”

In 2003 the U.S. ambassador to NATO at the time, Nicholas Burns, stated in testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee:

“NATO needs to pivot from its inward focus on Europe – which was necessary and appropriate during the Cold War – to an outward focus on the arc of countries where most of the threats are today – in Central and South Asia, and in the Middle East.

“NATO’s mandate is still to defend Europe and North America. But we don’t believe we can do that by sitting in Western Europe, or Central Europe, or North America. We have to deploy our conceptual attention and our military forces east and south. NATO’s future, we believe, is east, and is south. It’s in the Greater Middle East.”

Earlier this month Turkish Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul announced that Izmir will also be the new home of the Alliance’s Land Force Command, consolidating and transferring ground forces currently stationed in Germany and Spain to the Izmir Air Station.

On June 17 Turkey took over command of Standing NATO Maritime Group-2 which, with Standing NATO Maritime Group-1, is part of the NATO Response Force and centers its activities in the Mediterranean. Each group consists of between 4-8 warships – destroyers and frigates – and since 2005 has expanded its missions through the Suez Canal to the Gulf of Aden and the Somalia coast, circumnavigating the African continent in 2007 and traveling the length of the Atlantic coast of the U.S., then entering the Caribbean Sea the same year, the first time NATO had ever deployed to the Caribbean. The NATO naval groups have also sailed to Africa’s Gulf of Guinea, the Persian Gulf and the Baltic Sea among other locations.

Turkey hosted a conference of Syrian opposition forces called “Change in Syria” from May 1-June 2 in the city of Antalya. Although held under the sponsorship of the Egyptian-based National Organisation of Human Rights, logistics and security were provided by the host country.

Had Syria allowed a gathering of Turkish opposition groups whose express intention was the overthrow of the government in Ankara, one can only imagine the Turkish administration’s reaction.

On June 13 Britain’s The Guardian, since the Balkans crisis began in the early 1990s never slow to fan the flames of moral panic over humanitarian crises, with techniques ranging from hyperbole to hysterics, in order to alarm and neutralize its readership into acquiescence to Western military action (while claiming formally, if not convincingly, that it is not advocating the latter), ran an editorial titled “Syria: Butchery, while the world watches,” which let the cat out of the bag regarding the prospect of U.S. and NATO military intervention in Syria by stating:

“Turkey, a member of Nato, could yet drag the west in, if it decides its own interests require action to defend its borders from the [Syrian] refugees The world would then pay a high price indeed for having pretended that Assad was somebody else’s problem.”

On June 19 the major Turkish daily newspaper Zaman quoted Veysel Ayhan of the Center for Middle Eastern Strategic Studies harking back to the rationale for NATO’s first military actions 16 years ago:

“Remember when NATO was accused by the international media and public of not being able to prevent 8,000 Muslim Bosnians from being murdered in front of the world’s eyes? As a member of NATO and a country whose border is about to witness such a massacre by the Syrian army, Turkey will not allow such a thing to happen again, especially before its own eyes.”

Last week Turkey’s President Erdogan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu were reported to have toughened demands on Syria in a meeting with President Assad’s special envoy Hasan Turkmani in Ankara, and on January 18 Al Arabiya reported that Ankara had dispatched an envoy to Damascus to demand that Assad’s brother Maher relinquish his command of the Republican Guard and the Fourth Armored Division.

Zaman recently cited what was identified as a pro-government Syrian official saying to the United Arab Emirates-based daily The National:

“The West wants to put the region under Turkish control like in the Ottoman days. Turkey is a NATO member and embodies a safe kind of Islam for the West, so they have done a deal to give everything to Ankara.”

Should a conflict erupt between Turkey and Syria on their border, NATO will be obligated under its Article 5 collective military assistance clause to enter the fray on Turkey’s side. Should NATO intend opening hostilities against Syria, no better pretext could be devised than that scenario.

In February of 2003, on the eve of the U.S. and British invasion of Iraq, in NATO’s words “Turkey requested NATO assistance under Article 4 of the North Atlantic Treaty.”

“NATO’s Integrated Air Defence System in Turkey was put on full alert and augmented with equipment and personnel from other NATO commands and countries.”

Four Alliance Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft were deployed from their base in Germany to the Forward Operating Base in Konya, Turkey. Three Dutch and two American Patriot missile batteries were deployed to the country in March of that year, and “Preparations were made to augment Turkey’s air defence assets with additional aircraft from other NATO countries.”

Article 4 of the 1949 Washington Treaty, NATO’s founding document, states:

“The Parties will consult together whenever, in the opinion of any of them, the territorial integrity, political independence or security of any of the Parties is threatened.”

Article 5 says:

“The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence recognised by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.”

If Turkey opens armed hostilities with its neighbor, the conflict will not remain a local one for long.

Scoop

Armenia’s Sarkisian complains about ‘Turkish blockade’, warns of war

Armenia’s President Serge Sarkisian addresses the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. The Armenian president says his country has no other choice than nuclear energy because of ‘Turkish blockade.’ AFP photo

Armenian President Serge Sarkisian claimed Armenia is under the blockade of Turkey and Azerbaijan, during his address to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, while Azerbaijani parliamentarians said they were not able to ask their questions during the session Wednesday.

Regarding a parliamentarian’s question on the threats of the Metzamar Nuclear Plant in Armenia, Sarkisian also said Armenia has no other choice than nuclear energy because of the “blockade” imposed by Turkey.

“This unlawful blockade of Armenia must come to an end. Europe cannot and should not tolerate new dividing lines,” said Sarkisian.

Sarkisian addressed the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe where he also received questions from the European parliamentarians on Wednesday. However Turkish parliamentarians did not pose any questions to Sarkisian during the session, mainly because the Turkish delegation made a unanimous decision to not ask any questions to the Armenian President, Hürriyet Daily News has learned.

Possibility of war?

Five Azerbaijani parliamentarians submitted their names for the list of the parliamentarians to ask questions.

“We made our request to ask questions two weeks ago, however our names were put at the bottom of the list, so we were not able to ask any questions due to time limitations,” an Azerbaijani parliamentarian, Rafael Huseyinov told Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review on Wednesday.

Armenian President said the Armenian-Turkish normalization process ended up in a “deadlock.” Sarkisian also blamed Turkey for not recognizing the 1915 events as “genocide.”

“Turkey still not only fails to recognize, but also denies the genocide conducted by the Ottomans in 1915. We are determined not to leave this issue unsolved for the next generations,” Sarkisian said.

Speaking about Azerbaijan, Sarkisian claimed there were xenophobia, racism and extreme nationalism in Azerbaijan against Armenia. Sarkisian also claimed Azerbaijan is becoming more armed and ready for a possible war with Armenia, adding that the casualties would be much greater for both Armenia and Azerbaijan if a war occurred now.

The leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan will meet next Saturday in Kazan in Russia at a meeting brokered by Russian President Dimitri Medvedev, one of the mediators of the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh, an Azeri territory occupied by Yerevan.

Sarkisian also said Nagorno-Karabagh remained as a part Europe. “It would be more logical for the Council of Europe to engage with Karabagh before discussing the statue of Karabagh”, Sarkisian claimed. “Indigenous Armenian people live in Karabagh for centuries, no one may question the right of the people of Karabagh to live in their land freely and decide their destiny,” Sarkisian said.

Besides five political groups who imposed questions to Sarkisian, an Armenian parliamentarian from the Armenian opposition Heritage Party, Zaruhi Postanjyan asked a critical question to the Armenian President.

“There is a an authoritarian regime in Armenia,” said Postanjyan and asked Sarkisian when they will make the real reforms.

AFP

Aselsan bags national missile system contract

An artist's conception of the Turkish Medium-Range Air Defence System (T-MALAMIDS)

Turkey’s leading military electronics company Aselsan and the Undersecretariat for Defence Industries, or SSM, have signed two major contracts for the development of indigenous low and medium altitude air defence missile systems, the company revealed in a special press release on Monday.

Request for proposal for the low level air defence system (T-LALADMIS) was first issued by SSM in September 2008, and entails the procurement of 18 self-propelled, armored air defence systems, support and training equipment, maintenance tools, spare parts and other relevant services and documents required for the efficient operation of the systems. An option also exists for 27 additional such systems in the immediate future.

Also awarded to Aselsan is a medium-range air defence system development program, dubbed T-MALADMIS, and it entails direct procurement of one medium altitude air defense missile system composed of one battalion headquarters and headquarters company and three batteries, each of which has a sufficient amount of launchers, missiles, radars, command-control and communication systems and other support equipment.

Cost of Aselsan’s T-LALADMIS program design and development is 314,920,445 EURO, while T-MALADMIS amounts to 241,392,218 EURO.

Turkey is also seeking to acquire 12 long-range air defence systems as part of SSM’s $4 billion T-LORADMIS program. USA-based Patriot PAC-3 and Russia’s S-300 are currently favorites in a tough competition against China’s HQ-9 and European Aster-30 air defence systems.

Turkey’s Islamists Win 3rd Straight Term in Govt.

Turkey’s Islamist-leaning Justice and Development Party (AKP) won a landslide victory in nationwide parliamentary elections June 12, according to results released June 13, securing a third consecutive term in government since 2002.

Led by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the AKP garnered nearly 50 percent of the general vote, while the main opposition party, the center-left Republican People’s Party (CHP), got about 26 percent. The AKP and the CHP won 426 and 135 deputies, respectively, in the 550-seat parliament.

Two smaller groups, the Nationalist Movement Party and the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, became the only other parties to be represented in parliament, with much smaller numbers of seats.

AKP leader Erdogan will create the next single-party government before the end of this month.

Under the AKP’s rule, Turkey over the past nine years became an economic powerhouse of the Islamic world, affected only minimally by the global financial crisis in 2008. From a buyer of defense equipment, it turned into a manufacturer of most of its defense needs itself.

But many Western observers suggest that Turkey in the meantime turned its back on NATO and other institutions of the Western world, including moves to bolster ties with Islamic countries in the Middle East and a major deterioration of relations with Israel, its former ally.

DefenseNews

Greek Privatization Drive and Strategic Opportunities for Turkey

The Parthenon, Athens

As economic indicators point to an imminent threat of painful restructuring of the Greek public debt and conseuently significant loss of capital for major lenders in the Eurozone, pressure on Greece’s ruling party PASOK and Prime Minister George Papandreou keeps piling on. Even though the austerity measures the PASOK government has been trying to implement have caused widespread protest and resistance from just about every sphere of the Greek society, Papandreou has no choice but to push for the implementation of further measures and accelerate sales of certain Greek government and public assets.

This creates a rare opportunity for cunning countries with strategic interests in Greece, and in a larger sense in the rest of Europe. Russia and China are two of them, Turkey with its rising economic star and increasingly independent, aggressive foreign policy is another.

Chine sees Greece as an extremely efficient gateway into Europe via which the Asian superpower can ship and distribute its immense line of consumer goods, dramatically increasing its reach to the European markets in the continent’s north and west. It has already shown interest in acquiring controlling shares for the Thessaloniki (Selanik) and Pireas ports.

Russian energy giant Gazprom is aiming at DEPA Gas in order to strengthen the Bear’s grip on the European energy network at large, while RWE of Germany is gunning after Greece’s Public Power Corporation in collaboration with French and Czech investors.

Turkey seems to be in an adventageous position to make similar moves as well, for the same motivations as China and Russia plus three more: (1) Its considerably large economy and GDP growth rate in the region, (2) close geographic proximity to Greece, and (3) historical sensitivities and certain national security concerns of its own.

Timing could not have been better for Turkish firms, with or without support from the AKP government, to invest in Greece. Among the publicly owned assets lined up for privatization by Greece are LARCO, a major mining company, TrainOSE, a railway company, Hellenic Telecommunications, which already signed an agreement with Germany’s Deutsche Telekom for 10% of its shares, Athens International Airport, Thessaloniki Water Supply & Sewerage and four Airbus A340-300 passanger jets. These assets present a buying opportunity below market place.

Beyond these companies mentioned, there are two other strategic assets at the moment that pose a very special opportunity for Turkey from a national security perspective: Hellenic Aerospace and Hellenic Defense Systems.

Let’s face it. Even though Greece has never posed an existential threat for Turkey in the last 1,000 years, it has managed to be somewhat of an annoyance, forcing Turkey to set aside billions of liras to create and maintain its Aegean army. Greece’s territorial attempts in Greece, menacing politics in regards to the Orthodox Patriarch in Istanbul or the Turkish minority in Western Thrace, as well as continuous violations of Turkish territorial waters and airspace in the Aegean Sea have kept Turkey on both diplomatic and military red alert.

Combined with the advancements in Turkey’s own defence industry and its exponential growth in recent years, acquisition of these two Greek national assets by Turkish firms can be both economically rewarding and strategically incisive.

If Turkey means to become a true regional power, this opportunity in Greece cannot be passed for only China, Russia and a few others to spoil. Time has come for Turkey to take bold steps.

Hasan Karaahmet

Thales Loses Court Appeal, Owes Taiwan $591M

A French court on June 9 ordered defense giant Thales to pay the Taiwanese Navy almost $600 million, rejecting the group’s appeal against last year’s arbitration ruling.

An arbitration panel employed by two parties to settle their differences found in April 2010 that the French firm had wrongly paid commissions to intermediaries to secure a huge warship contract.

Thales appealed the private panel’s decision in a civil court, but its complaint has been thrown out, leaving it facing a bill of at least $591 million plus interest and legal fees.

The French defense and electronics firm signed the original contract to supply Taiwan with six Horizon-class frigates in 1991. The deal specifically excluded the payment of sweeteners to go-betweens.

Thales can still appeal the latest ruling – it was based not on a re-examination of the case itself but on the conduct of the arbitration – in France’s top appeal court, the Court of Cassation.

It was not immediately clear whether it would do so.

AFP