France backpedals on Armenian ‘genocide’

Sarkozy

French lawmakers appealed to their country’s highest court yesterday (31 January) to overturn a law that makes it illegal to deny that the mass killing of Armenians by Ottoman Turks nearly a century ago was genocide.

The move raises the possibility that the law, which sparked an angry reaction in Turkey, will be dismissed as unconstitutional.

The legislation, which received final parliamentary approval on 23 January, prompted Ankara to cancel all economic, political and military meetings with Paris.

More than 130 French lawmakers from both houses of parliament and across the political divide, who had originally voted against the bill, appealed to the Constitutional Council.

The court has one month to make its decision.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who branded the legislation “discriminatory and racist,” thanked the lawmakers who opposed it.

“On behalf of my country, I am declaring our heartfelt gratitude to the senators and deputies who gave their signatures,” he said. “I believe they have done what needed to be done.”

The lawmakers argued in their appeal that the event was still the subject of historical contention, and therefore the legislation infringed on the freedoms of historians, analysts and others to debate it, ultimately violating the right to free speech.

They insisted their move did not aim to deny “the suffering of our compatriots of Armenian origin and of all Armenians across the world.”

‘Patience’

Last week, Erdoğan said Turkey was in a “period of patience” as it considered what measures to take.

As a member of NATO and the World Trade Organisation, Turkey may be limited in its response by its international obligations. However, newspapers have listed possible measures that Ankara might take against France.

These included recalling its ambassador in Paris and expelling the French ambassador in Ankara, thus reducing diplomatic ties to charge d’affaires level, and closing Turkish airspace and waters to French military aircraft and vessels.

President Nicolas Sarkozy must still ratify the law, a move now on hold pending the court’s decision.

Mostly Muslim Turkey accuses Sarkozy of trying to win the votes of 500,000 ethnic Armenians in France in the two-round presidential vote on April 22 and May 6. France’s Socialist Party, which has a majority in the upper house, and Sarkozy’s UMP party, which put forward the bill, supported the legislation.

AFP agency quoted Sarkozy as saying that the move of the French parliamentarians to seize the Constitutional Council was not in his favour ahead of the April-May election.

“French companies in Turkey … wanted the Constitutional Council to be involved because it’s the best solution to calm the Turks,” said Dorothée Schmid, head of the Turkish program at the French Foreign Relations Institute in Paris.

“The Turkish government accused the French government of being racist and discriminatory, yet this matter stems from the inability of the Turks to handle the genocide case. Now there is a discussion on it.”

France is Turkey’s fifth biggest export market and sixth biggest supplier of imports of goods and services, and bilateral trade was €10.3 billion in the first 10 months of last year.

EurActiv.com

Turkey threatens intervention into Iraq

Relations between the Turkish and Iraqi governments have deteriorated sharply. In a speech to parliament on Monday, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, the head of a Sunni Islam-based religious party, accused his Iraqi counterpart, Nouri al-Maliki, the leader of a Shiite-coalition, of promoting sectarian violence against the Sunni minority in Iraq.

Erdogan warned: “Maliki should know that if you start a conflict in Iraq in the form of sectarian clashes it will be impossible for us to remain silent. Those who stand by with folded arms watching brothers massacre each other are accomplices to murder.”

Erdogan was responding to complaints by Maliki that Turkey has been interfering in Iraqi domestic politics through its support for the largely Sunni-based Iraqiya coalition, which is engaged in a fierce power struggle with the government in Baghdad.

The implications of Erdogan’s statement are unmistakable. They amount to a direct threat that Turkey will support an intervention into Iraq on the same pretext of “defending civilians” used to justify the NATO-led intervention to oust Gaddafi regime in Libya. In the case of Iraq, intervention would be justified with the allegation that Maliki is persecuting the country’s Sunnis.

The Turkish stance toward Maliki is inseparable from the broader US-backed drive to refashion geopolitical relations in the Middle East and, above all, to shatter the regional influence of Iran. US allies such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the other Gulf state monarchies—all dominated by Sunni elites—have lined up with Washington against Shiite-ruled Iran. They are using inflammatory sectarian language to try to galvanise support for a policy that threatens to trigger a regional war.

The Syrian regime, which is a longstanding Iranian ally and based on an Allawite Shiite ruling stratum, has been targeted for “regime change.” The current Iraqi government, while it is the direct creation of the American invasion and occupation of Iraq, is also viewed as unacceptable by the regional US allies. The Shiite factions forming the Maliki government have longstanding ties with the Iranian religious establishment. Maliki has refused to support an ongoing US military presence in Iraq or economic sanctions, let alone military aggression, against Syria and Iran.

Iraqiya, which was part of the ruling coalition, campaigned aggressively to weaken the political dominance of the Shiite parties in the lead-up to the withdrawal of US combat troops in December. Sunni leaders accused Maliki of reneging on an agreement to preside over a “national unity” government and pressured him to place the main security ministries under the direction of Iraqiya head Ayad Allawi.

Allawi, a secular Shiite, had been a long-time American collaborator before the US invasion and was installed by the US in 2004 as the “interim” prime minister of Iraq. He sanctioned the military repression of the Sunni population and atrocities such as the destruction of the largely Sunni city of Fallujah. Despite this history, he was adopted by the Sunni elites as their main representative after the effective collapse of the anti-occupation insurgency. His qualifications are his hostility to the Shiite religious parties, his anti-Iranian Arab nationalism and his close connections to Washington.

Attempts to elevate Allawi, with clear support from the US, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, have suffered something of a shipwreck. Maliki and his Shiite-based Da’wa Party, which was repressed by the Sunni-dominated Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein, responded with a pre-emptive strike against the challenge to their grip on power.

Hundreds of ex-Baath Party members, particularly former senior military officers, have been rounded up and detained. Allawi alleged this month that more than 1,000 members of his and other parties opposed to Maliki had been arrested in recent months. He claimed they had been subjected to torture to extract false confessions of committing “terrorism.” There has been a growing number of indiscriminate bombings of civilian areas and religious events by suspected Sunni extremists. Last week, 34 men accused of terrorism were executed in a single day.

In the most high-profile case of alleged Sunni “terrorism,” the bodyguards of Iraqiya Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi—one of the country’s highest ranking politicians—were detained and allegedly tortured. They were paraded on national television in late December to accuse the Sunni leader of personally directing a sectarian death squad.

Hashemi has only escaped arrest by taking refuge in the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq. He has been charged with crimes that carry a death sentence.

Maliki responded to a walkout of Iraqiya ministers from his cabinet by having their offices locked and stripping them of their political responsibilities. The Iraqi parliament has continued to sit despite a boycott by most Iraqiya members.

Last Friday, the Iraqiya deputy governor of the majority Sunni province of Diyala, who agitated last year for regional autonomy, was seized by secret police operating under Maliki’s command. He has been charged with “terrorist activities.”

The present crisis could rapidly lead to the eruption of civil war and potentially fracture Iraq along sectarian lines, drawing in other regional powers such as Turkey and Iran. The majority of the 300,000-strong Iraqi military are Shiites. While poorly trained and equipped, they have a degree of allegiance to Maliki’s government.

A confrontation is looming between the Maliki government and the autonomous Kurdish region in the north. Last week, a Shiite politician advocated an economic blockade of the Kurdish region unless Vice President Hashemi was handed over for trial. The Kurdish government has its own 200,000-strong armed forces.

Following the 2003 invasion, the US fostered sectarian divisions as a means of undermining the previous Baathist elite and blocking a unified resistance by ordinary working people against the occupation and collapse of living standards. Now the US is encouraging its regional allies to back the Sunni and Kurdish elites against the Maliki government, with reckless indifference for the rapidly escalating violence.

By James Cogan, WSWS

Boeing wins $3.48 bln missile defense contract

Boeing beat out Lockheed Martin to retain its position as the prime contractor for the U.S. long-range missile shield, the Pentagon said on Dec. 30.

The U.S. Defense Department said it was awarding Boeing a $3.48 billion, seven-year contract to develop, test, engineer and manufacture missile defense systems.

A team led by Lockheed Martin and Raytheon had vied with Boeing to expand and maintain the “Ground-based Midcourse Defense” (GMD) hub of layered antimissile protection.
Boeing partnered with Northrop Grumman to retain the work.

“We believe the government conducted a fair and open competition, making the right decision for the future of the program,” Norm Tew, Boeing vice president and program director of GMD, said in a statement.

‘Shield against Iran, North Korea’

The GMD contract’s value to Boeing will have been about $18 billion from January 2001, when it formally became the system’s prime contractor, through the end of this year, Boeing has said.

GMD uses radar and other sensors plus a more than 32,000-kilometer fiber optic communications network to cue interceptors in silos at Fort Greely, Alaska and Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.

The shield has been shaped initially to guard against ballistic missiles that could be fired by Iran and North Korea. It is the only U.S. defense against long-range missiles that could be tipped with chemical, biological or nuclear warheads.

Reuters

Turkey awaits key counterterrorism weapons

Turkey's T129 attack helicopter during flight tests.

The Turkish military is slated to acquire several weapons systems to use against terrorists from the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) this year, one senior procurement official said last week.
Italy’s AgustaWestland and Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) have been collaborating on building the T-129 attack helicopter, a Turkish version of the company’s A129 Mangusta International.

AgustaWestland is scheduled to deliver the first nine of a planned 59 helicopters to the military toward the end of 2012.

Turkish authorities then will assemble the required weapons systems on the platforms, and the nine helicopter gunships are expected to enter service in 2013, the official said.

Separately, the United States is expected to deliver three AH-1W Super Cobra attack helicopters early this year. The U.S. Congress approved the sale of these three choppers, worth $125 million, toward the end of 2012.

Additionally, TAI, Turkey’s state-owned aerospace powerhouse, is scheduled to deliver to the military three Anka Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) unmanned aerial vehicles in 2012, to be used for reconnaissance purposes, the official said.

Turkey is already operating nine Israeli-made Heron MALE drones against the PKK. The United States has also deployed another four RQ-1 Predator MALE drones at Turkey’s southern İncirlik airbase to fly over PKK camps in northern Iraq and provide the Turkish military intelligence.

Additionally Turkey has requested to buy four RQ-1 Predator reconnaissance drones and two armed MQ-1 Reapers, but the U.S. has not responded to the request.

In addition to its MALE drone capabilities, the Turkish military operates scores of smaller drones.

Unmanned vehicles

TAI’s efforts to develop and produce the Anka have seen a delay of several years. “Attack helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles are among the most effective weapons against terrorists, and we will have an abundance of these weapons soon,” said one security official.

The PKK this year intensified terrorist attacks against Turkish military and civilian targets, causing a public outrage.

Separately, the U.S. Boeing is expected to deliver the first of a planned four spy planes to the Turkish Air Force in 2012. The program to manufacture the four Airborne Early Warning & Control (AEW&C) aircraft is worth more than $1.6 billion and is behind schedule a few years.

The Defense Industry Executive Committee, Turkey’s highest procurement agency, is also expected to select a foreign company in Turkey’s $4 billion long range air and missile defense system program. Among the candidates competing to build an air and missile defense system with Turkish partners are U.S. companies Raytheon and Lockheed Martin, with their Patriot Air and Missile Defense System; Russian Rosoboronexport’s S-300; Chinese CPMIEC’s (China Precision Machinery Export-Import Corp.) HQ-9; and European Eurosam’s SAMP/T Aster 30.

The Defense Industry Executive Committee’s members include Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Defense Minister İsmet Yılmaz, Chief of the Turkish General Staff Gen. Necdet Özel and Procurement Chief Murad Bayar.

Finally, the committee would select a national commercial shipyard which will manufacture the third through the eighth of the Milgem national corvettes. The first two corvettes were built at a military shipyard. The first corvette, the TCG Heybeliada, already has entered service in the Navy, and the second, the TCG Büyükada, has been put to sea for tests.

HDN

Turkey’s MGK discusses France, Syria

The MGK meeting, chaired by President Abdullah Gül and attended by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Chief of General Staff Gen. Necdet Özel, was held at the Çankaya presidential palace.

Turkey’s National Security Council (MGK) on Wednesday convened in Ankara for the last meeting of 2011 with an agenda dominated by recent developments in Syria as well as a recent French move to penalize the denial of Armenian allegations.

The MGK meeting, chaired by President Abdullah Gül and attended by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Chief of General Staff Gen. Necdet Özel, was held at the Çankaya presidential palace.

The council reportedly discussed the approval by the French National Assembly of a bill which makes it a crime to deny that the 1915 killings of Armenians during the fall of the Ottoman Empire were tantamount to genocide.

Legislators in France’s lower house of parliament last week voted overwhelmingly in favor of a draft law outlawing the denial of the 1915 events as genocide. The senate is slated to debate the bill next year.

Turkey, which vehemently rejects the term “genocide” for the World War I-era mass killings of Armenians, saying the issue should be left to historians, was outraged by the French move and reduced ties with Paris. It recalled its ambassador to France for consultations for an indefinite period of time.

Among the other issues discussed during the meeting was the ongoing government crackdown on protesters in the neighboring country of Syria.

Turkey announced a series of sanctions against the Syrian regime in November due to its military crackdown on an eight-month-long uprising. It said the measures target the Syrian administration and will not harm the Syrian people.

The council also discussed recent military operations against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which have been regarded as successful by many security experts.

The number of PKK militants who have surrendered or were captured alive has increased in the past few months. Dozens of militants who refused to surrender were killed in November and December. Turkish losses were minimal in these encounters.

Cihan

Turkey urges Belgium to investigate fire that killed Turkish woman

Relatives carry coffin of Tuba Küçüksarı Elçi, 25, who was killed in a fire in Belgium, during a funeral in her hometown Kayseri on Dec. 29, 2011. (Photo: Cihan)

Turkey urged Belgium on Thursday to investigate possible wrongdoings by authorities in a fire that killed a Turkish national and severely injured three others, including two children.

The fire took place in a flat in Vilvoorde, near Brussels, on Dec. 25. Tuba Küçüksarı Elçi (26) died after she and her husband, Ramazan Elçi (26), together with their 2-year-old daughter Sıla and 40-day-old son Talha, jumped out of the window to escape from the flames. Ramazan Elçi was severely injured from the fall while the two children reportedly have high chances of survival.

The fire caused outrage among Turkish immigrants living in the area, who said firefighters did not arrive in time to extinguish the flames, leaving the couple with no choice but to jump. Residents said they had called the fire department to report the fire but dispatch officials hung up the phone because none of the callers could speak Flemish.

The fire reportedly began from the floor below when the couple was asleep. A Polish family living in the flat where the fire began was not at home that night.

“We deeply regret the fact that a Turkish national was killed and three others, including two children, were severely injured in the fire,” a statement from the Turkish Foreign Ministry said. It noted that the Turkish embassy and consulate were closely following the case and urged Belgian authorities to shed light on the incident, “particularly with regard to allegations concerning the circumstances behind it,” and on the “reason why the fire began.”

TZ

Turkey’s T-129 attack helicopter prototype P6 maiden flight completes successfully

The first Turkish-built prototype of the T129 attack helicopter during flight tests over the Akinci airfield, Ankara.

The first flight, conducted by Turkish Aerospace Industries’ (TAI) test pilots, of the T129 “P6” prototype helicopter has timely and successfully been completed at TAI’s facilities in Akıncı, Ankara, the company said today  

The ATAK Program was initiated with the aim to meet the Attack/Tactical Reconnaissance Helicopter requirements of the Turkish Land Forces Command (TLF) by the integration of high-tech avionics equipment, hardware and software being developed ‘in-house’ by Turkey.  

The first flight of the P6 prototype marks an important milestone in the ATAK Program and is the first of three T129 prototypes which are being assembled in Turkey.

The helicopter is based on the Agusta Westland A129 Mongoose which has been the mainstay of the Italian army and has been operational and battle-proven in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The T-129 ATAK is an enhanced version of the Italian-built A129, and its development is now the responsibility of TAI, with AgustaWestland as the primary partner.

 Prior Crash

The original prototype being built in Italy crashed in March 2010 during a test flight, leaving its Italian test pilot and its test engineer needing hospital treatment for minor injuries.

Turkey originally planned to order 51 A129s with 40 options back in 2007 but the following year Turkey undertook to fully build the platform.

Under the agreement, TAI has integrated an indigenous mission computer, avionics, weapons systems, self-protection suites and the helmet-mounting cuing systems. TUSAS Engine Industries (TEI) is manufacturing the LHTEC CTS800-4N engines under licence. Under the agreement, Turkey has full marketing and intellectual property rights for the T-129 platform. There are also no restrictions imposed on Turkey for the export or transfer of the platform to third countries other than Italy and the UK.

Turkey to raise arms expenses to historic high

By Umit Enginsoy

FNSS secured a $600 million contract with Malaysia this year to sell its 8X8 Pars vehicles, the largest export deal in Turkey’s history.

Turkey will spend close to $5 billion for defense procurement this year, the highest in the country’s history, a senior procurement official said on the weekend.

“Some major spending items have just started or are starting now, including those for the purchase of [around 100] Joint Strike Fighter jet aircraft [JFSs], submarines and utility helicopters,” said the official, who was speaking on condition of anonymity. “As a result, the arms spending is jumping, approaching $5 billion this year. Thank God, the general economic situation of the country is fine.”

In recent years Turkey has spent just over $4 billion a year on defense procurement.

Turkey’s ambitious military modernization program calls for the acquisition of the most sophisticated weaponry for the Land Forces, the Navy and the Air Force. In addition, the procurement office has made local acquisition a priority in meeting the military’s equipment demands.

Two large-scale programs are expected to begin this year; the first is Turkey’s national long-range air- and missile-defense project for which U.S., European, Russian and Chinese companies are vying to be selected as the main contractor. Turkey’s selection for the multi-billion-dollar contract is expected late this year or early next year.

Second, Turkey is preparing to soon select a Landing Platform Dock, which resembles a helicopter carrier and can carry a battalion-sized force of more than 1,000 troops overseas. Three Turkish shipyards and their foreign partners are eyeing the contract, which will be worth between $500 million and $1 billion. Turkey’s decision is expected next summer.

“There’s enough reason to think that the defense procurement budget will continue to increase gradually over the next few years to reach another saturation point,” the procurement official said.

Part of the rise in Turkey’s arms procurement budget is expected to be compensated by a parallel increase in the local defense industry’s export capabilities. The Turkish defense industry this year is expecting to garner between $1 billion and $1.5 billion from exports of defense-related equipment.

The largest sector in the Turkish defense industry’s exports business is armored vehicle makers. Among these companies, FNSS secured a $600 million contract with Malaysia this year to sell its 8X8 Pars vehicles, the largest export deal in Turkey’s history.

Also, under a new measure adopted by Turkey’s defense procurement agency, Ankara is slated to retain at least 70 percent of the money it spends for defense purchases from other countries. For past contracts, this figure was 50 percent.

In a directive released late April, the Undersecretariat for Defense Industries said foreign defense companies doing business with Turkey should agree that 70 percent of the contract’s value be returned through local industry content and offsets.

In other words, if a foreign company signs a defense contract worth $100 million with Turkey, it will agree to return $70 million of this money through its payments to its Turkish partners for their local work on the project or through offsets.

In defense industry contracts, an offset is an industrial compensation. It is a commitment provided by the selling country to the purchasing country to buy defense-related products manufactured by the buying country in return for the main sale.

“Financially speaking, I think we’re doing a good job by keeping the larger part of the contract money in the country, and in the meantime, obtaining knowhow,” said the procurement official.

HDN

British parliamentarians warn EU against Turkish membership

The flags of the European Union, Turkey and Germany are pictured before the arrival of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to deliver a speech at the ISS arena in Dusseldorf, Germany on Feb.27, 2011. Photo: Reuters

A panel of UK lawmakers said it’s concerned about risks to the European Union from organized crime and illegal immigration if Turkey joins because of inadequate security along the country’s borders with Iran, Iraq and Syria.

Turkey must demonstrate “clearly and objectively” that it’s met stringent criteria set by the EU for the management of its frontiers before it can join, the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee said in a report released in London on Monday. The study by the committee raises “real concerns” about extending the EU’s border as far as Iran, Iraq and Syria in the event of Turkey’s membership.

“Current migration of Turkish nationals to the EU has declined to below 50,000 a year, but population trends and the gap in living standards could make easier migration within the EU an attractive option for Turkish citizens,” says the report.

“Given the UK’s experience after the 2004 enlargement, when many thousands more migrants arrived than expected, the committee is cautious about allowing Turkish citizens full freedom of movement and supports the government’s commitment to applying ‘effective transitional controls as a matter of course’ for all new member states,” says the report.

Turkey’s bid to join the EU has stalled, with the country having completed negotiations in only one of 35 policy areas. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy oppose Turkish membership, while UK Prime Minister David Cameron vowed on a trip to Ankara last year to be the “strongest possible advocate” for Turkish accession.

The lawmakers suggested amending EU legislation to allow more effective collaboration between EU and Turkish border agencies and to boost cooperation on law enforcement issues. The British parliamentarians’ report also drew attention to Turkey’s role as a “key nexus point” for the transit of illegal immigrants to the EU by criminal groups — which it said reached “crisis levels” at the end of 2010.

The study quoted Europol, the EU’s law enforcement agency, stating that Turkish criminal groups are “significantly involved in various forms of organized criminality,” including the trafficking of heroin, cocaine and synthetic drugs into Europe as well as firearms trafficking, money laundering and copyright offences.

However, the report concluded that the risks posed by organized crime were “considerably outweighed” by the benefits of accession, given that Turkey would have to meet higher standards of crime fighting and international cooperation if it attained membership.

TZ 

Turkey Defense Minister May Up Prominence of Navy

Turkish naval commando teams (SAT) during demonstrations on a national holiday.

Turkey’s naval programs are expected to gain prominence after the appointment of a maritime expert as the country’s new defense minister, procurement officials said.

There may also be a reshuffle of personnel at the procurement office, excluding the top official, Murad Bayar, as well as a flurry of new procurement rules. But they said the government’s doctrinal approach in favor of national/indigenous programs would progress on the same line regardless of a change at the Cabinet level.

The mildly Islamist government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan last month appointed Ismet Yilmaz as new defense minister after his party’s third consecutive election victory June 12. Yilmaz replaced Vecdi Gonul, defense minister since 2002.

“The new minister may introduce some new procurement rules and order a personnel reshuffle, but the top bureaucracy will remain intact, and so will the government policy to go local as much as possible in procurement programs,” a senior government official familiar with defense procurement said.

Yilmaz, born in 1961, graduated from the Maritime Academy in 1982 and from Istanbul University’s Law Faculty in 1987. He holds master’sdegrees in maritime and law from Swedish and Turkish universities, and a doctorate in private law from Marmara University in Istanbul.

Yilmaz worked for public and private sectors for 20 years as engineer and lawyer. In 2002, he became the undersecretary for the government’s Maritime Undersectariat. In government service, he also worked as deputy board director for the national telecom company, and as caretaker transport minister before the 2007 parliamentary elections. In November 2007, Yilmaz was appointed as undersecretary for the culture ministry.

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