Unless otherwise indicated, the articles here and in the Archive appeared on www.globalresearch.ca

Rekeszus2

Wiesbaden Musician Renews Ties to Armenia


WIESBADEN, Germany – On Sunday, September 17, solo clarinetist Heiner Rekeszus performed in a farewell concert in Wiesbaden, before going into retirement. The 65-year-old musician was co-founder of the Chamber Music Association of the Hessen State Orchestra in Wiesbaden, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.
Rekeszus3

What few people know is that the idea leading to the foundation of the chamber music series was born in Armenia. It was during a concert tour of the State Orchestra in Yerevan on the anniversary of the Hessen-Armenian Friendship that the solo cellist, Stephan Breith, presented the suggestion to the director, Peter Janowsky, that a chamber music series be organized, independent of the orchestra. As recounted in a program brochure to honor the 25th jubilee, it was in “this relaxed atmosphere” in Yerevan that “organizational and bureaucratic hurdles that had been often raised” against such a proposal “disappeared into thin air. The musicians’ enthusiasm spread to Director Janowsky and the series was born.”
Rekeszus4

What even fewer people attending the concert knew is that Yerevan has become the beneficiary to a magnificent musical gift presented by Rekeszus.
Schermata 09-2458019 alle 15.06.48
Years ago, he received the estate of the Wiesbaden Kurhaus-Orchester, an orchestra which used to perform for the guests at the spa health resort here. Having learned that another Wiesbaden musician had donated musical scores to the Yerevan Komitas State Conservatory, Rekeszus decided to follow suit and contacted the Mirak-Weissbach Foundation, which had mediated the delivery. Just a week before his farewell concert, Rekeszus received a thank-you letter from the Conservatory, in acknowledgement of the precious gift.

A truck had just delivered seven palettes carrying over 4,000 pounds of musical scores and books to the library of the conservatory.
In an upcoming interview, Rekeszus will talk about his experiences as a musician and his links to Armenia.

  
  
  



Hostage to Erdogan


by Muriel Mirak-Weissbach – Special to the Armenian Mirror Spectator
Recep_Tayyip_Erdogan_2017
BERLIN —SEPTEMBER 7, 2017 – When Turkish authorities arrest German citizens they are not taking prisoners, but rather collecting hostages. What was mooted as a hypothesis months ago has been confirmed by the detention of two more individuals holding German passports.
On Thursday August 31, upon their arrival at Antalya airport a married couple were arrested and taken into custody. German consular authorities, who learned of the action through non-official channels, inquired officially and received confirmation from airport police, that the two were indeed German citizens of Turkish descent. Although no formal charges had been made, it was said that the reasons were political. The two were apparently accused of being members of the movement of Fethullah Gülen, who is officially designated a terrorist in Turkey, for his presumed role in the failed coup attempt last summer. Thus, they brought the number of politically motivated detentions of Germans in Turkey to 12.
For days, German authorities had no access to the two individuals and the foreign ministry confirmed their identities only on September 3. The same day, it was announced that a lawyer had established contact with them. On the next day, it was reported that the woman had been released. Although initially it was said that both were only German citizens, remarks by the Turkish foreign minister indicated he considered them dual citizens.

Cause Célèbre in Berlin
In what has become almost a ritual, political figures in Berlin denounced the arrests and fed the debate on what new measures should be pursued to pressure the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Chancellor Angela Merkel blasted the move, saying such arrests “in most cases have no basis” in law. She called for “a determined response” and added, “Perhaps we have to rethink our Turkey policy further.” Concretely she said that talks on expanding the EU customs union were out of the question. These continuing arrests have “nothing in common with our principle of the rule of law,” she stated. Rejecting Erdogan’s earlier public appeal to German voters of Turkish background, not to cast their ballots for the CDU, SPD or Green party, Merkel said, “That is alone the decision of people in our country who have German citizenship.”
In a nationally televised debate on September 3 between Merkel and her SPD challenger, chancellor candidate Martin Schulz, viewed by 16 million people, Turkey was a central issue. Schulz promised that he, as chancellor, “would terminate talks on Turkey’s entrance into the EU,” saying that “A point has been reached where we have to end the economic relations, financial relations, customs union talks and negotiation for membership” into the EU. Merkel explained that according to regulations, the EU as a whole would have to agree to end negotiations. She stressed that her party the CDU — unlike Schulz’s SPD — had never been in favor of Turkish membership at all, and had proposed a “privileged partnership” instead. The negotiations “are non-existent, anyway” she said. The real problem is the direction Turkey is heading in; Merkel said Turkey “is distancing itself from all political manners at a breathtaking speed.” The question is: where will it all lead?

Creeping Dictatorship
There are no serious doubts regarding the game Erdogan would like to play with the Wild West tactics he has ordered his police force to follow. “Catch a German” is the name of the game, and the more citizens of the Federal Republic he can put behind bars, the better his chances (he figures) of forcing Berlin to extradite to Turkey targeted persons he believes are on German soil. As he himself said, “If they [the Germans] are not helpful in extraditing, then they should know that they will not be able to have the citizens that fall into our hands either.”
The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, a daily of record, published an extensive report on September 2, with background on Erdogan’s hostage-taking policy. The FAZ quoted remarks that an unidentified official, involved in bilateral Turkish-German relations, had made to the paper back in the middle of July: “By now we have the impression that the Turkish government is following a plan to systematically arrest Germans,” he said. “They apparently want to reach a critical mass, with the expectation that they will be able to exchange the hostages for Turkish citizens who have filed for asylum in Germany, since they are suspected of terrorism there.” The FAZ quoted the person’s travel warning. Germans who might have reason to believe that they could be arrested should cancel plans to travel there, even for a stopover on a longer flight. It has become evident that the energetic efforts undertaken by Merkel and Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, to free the prisoners, or even to enforce consular contact with them, have failed and that does not bode well for future captives.
Prisoner exchanges are generally associated with wartime situations, or post-war negotiations between former belligerents. Or with crises between nations whose diplomatic relations are strained or even cut; one thinks of the Cold War spy-exchanges, the US hostages in post-revolutionary Iran, or American prisoners in Vietnam or North Korea.
Germany and Turkey are not at war, and their diplomatic ties are still officially valid. That notwithstanding, Erdogan is proceeding as if they were engaged in hostilities. As the FAZ and other media reported, Erdogan has arranged to be given enhanced powers enabling him to play the role of negotiator in a hostage-exchange scenario. On August 15, a decree was issued in Turkey, which, one should remember, is still in a state of emergency. A similar decree was blocked by the opposition back in 2015, but today the situation is much changed. Article 74 of Decree 694 confers on Erdogan the power to swap foreigners detained in Turkish jails for Turkish prisoners detained in foreign countries, “if national security or the interests of the country require it.” The new decree applies not only to indicted felons but also persons detained who are awaiting trial – precisely the category into which the 11 German political prisoners fall. As for the formal procedure, according to the FAZ report, it is the Turkish foreign minister who must initiate the process, which the interior minister then is to propose, followed by the president, who is to confirm it. At the same time, the authorities ruled that the length of time that persons may be kept in detention awaiting trial should be extended from 5 to 7 years. This would apply to Germans like Deniz Yücel et al.
The problem that the Turkish president faces, but refuses to acknowledge, is that neither Germany nor the European Union as a whole are likely to act according to his adventurous script. The EU has legal proceedings to regulate the transfer of citizens back to their home country to serve their sentences after they have been imprisoned abroad, for having committed a crime. But here, what is the crime? What legitimate court has heard the case and ruled in fairness?

The same may be said of those persons Erdogan seeks to extradite. Among the names mooted in the German press are Adil Öksüz, an Islamic theologian, attorneys Zekeriya Öz and Celal Kara, who had carried out investigations into alleged corruption among persons in Erdogan’s entourage, and numerous military and diplomatic personnel who have applied for political asylum. Have they committed any crime?




Dogan Akhanli

Erdogan’s Extraterritorial Ambitions:
The Case of Dogan Akhanli


by Muriel Mirak-Weissbach – Special to The Armenian Mirror-Spectator
BERLIN — Deciphering the behavior of the President is a challenging task, and not only in the United States. Narcissism, paranoia and megalomania are the terms the psychiatrist would use to describe the brand of personality disorders driving the erratic behavior that has become routine not only in the White House but also in the thousand-room presidential palace in Ankara. And the clinical diagnosis would be on the mark. That said, it fails to explain the political calculation that the affected subject has contrived to rationalize his outrageous actions. Yet, no doubt, there must be a method to the madness. The actor is after all a political animal.
Consider the recent moves by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan with regard to Germany, which, from any sane objective standpoint, he should consider his closest European ally and trade partner. Erdogan has been on the warpath with Germany ever since the Bundestag (Parliament) last year passed a resolution recognizing the Armenian genocide. He has consistently sought provocations and conflict.
After refusing German parliamentarians access to German troops stationed in Incirlik, which led Germany to redeploy them to Jordan, he ruled against a similar request to visit troops in Konya, and a major crisis was averted only after German legislators were allowed to do so in the context of a NATO delegation. Shortly thereafter Erdogan, addressing a mass rally of his supporters, issued a call, or better, an order, to German citizens of Turkish descent not to cast their votes in the September parliamentary elections for the ruling CDU or SPD parties, or for the opposition Green Party, on grounds that they “are waging a campaign against Turkey.” When German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel denounced the bid as unacceptable interference into the internal affairs of a sovereign nation, the Turkish head of state (again in a speech to a rally of supporters) responded with cheap ridicule. “Who are you,” he asked Gabriel rhetorically, “to talk to the President of Turkey? You should know your place!” i.e. he should address his remarks to his ranking counterpart, the foreign minister. He slammed Gabriel for “trying to teach us a lesson,” adding, “How long have you been in politics? How old are you anyway?” Gabriel, he said, was “a catastrophe.”

The Long Arm of Turkish “Justice”
Days later, it became clear that the huffing and puffing was only the prelude to an act of far graver import. On August 19, on the basis of an international arrest warrant issued by Turkey, and implemented through Interpol, Spanish police arrested a German citizen of Turkish descent during his vacation in Grenada. Dogan Akhanli, a well-known novelist, playwright and human rights activist residing in Cologne and Berlin, was awakened that Saturday morning by loud banging on the door of his hotel room. Three Spanish policemen in bullet-proof vests and armed with submachine guns, asked him for identification, and, having ascertained he was the same person Interpol was pursuing with a “Red Notice”, slapped handcuffs on him and hauled him off to prison.
From Grenada, he was transferred to Madrid, and then, thanks to the prompt intervention of his lawyer, Ilyas Uyar, and German political authorities, released the following day, on condition he remain in Spain for 40 days and report weekly to the authorities. During that ominous number of days, the Turkish authorities will have to supply documentation to substantiate their demand that he be extradited to Turkey for trial.
The mood in Berlin was livid. Foreign Minister Gabriel spoke to his Spanish counterpart by phone, urging him to deny Turkey’s demand for extradition. Chancellor Angela Merkel said, “This is unacceptable, we cannot allow international organizations like Interpol to be misused for something like this.” It is due to such cases, she said, that Germany had “massively changed its Turkey policy,” adding that “we have to settle this conflict.” Her spokesman Steffen Seibert expressed the suspicion that the Turkish authorities were using Interpol against political critics. He said he was particularly upset because the “Red Notice” had been used against Akhanli. “Here we are dealing with a German citizen!” he said. The SPD’s chancellor candidate Martin Schultz denounced the political motivation behind the outrageous arrest: “Anyone who takes the liberty of criticizing Mr. Erdogan is stigmatized as an enemy of Turkey and is persecuted. This is a new level of escalation. Therefore, I believe that one answer must be that we say to Turkey: further and deeper economic relations are not possible as long as Turkey behaves in this manner.” Cem Özdemir, Green Party leader, called for a review of security cooperation with Turkey, given that it is no longer a state based on the rule of law. Other political figures echoed these sentiments.

What Crime?
Judging by the character of the security forces deployed to apprehend Akhanli – three armed policemen at his door and two police cars with six to eight policemen waiting outside – one might assume the suspect were a dangerous felon, especially in the heightened security atmosphere reigning in Spain in the wake of the vile terrorist attacks that had just shaken Barcelona. Akhanli himself told the press that he thought the Spanish police must have been surprised. They acted correctly, he said, but evidently, they had been prepared to apprehend a terrorist, and when they found him and realized he was a normal person, they must have been shocked.
They must have been told that he was, if not a terrorist, at least a dangerous criminal, a murderer. For this is what the arrest warrant asserts. In 2010, when he travelled to Turkey to visit his terminally ill father, he was apprehended at the airport and arrested. He was then put on trial, charged with involvement in a case of robbery and murder from 1989. After months in jail, the case finally came to court and, on grounds of insufficient proof, he was acquitted. Three years later however the ruling was reversed, and an arrest warrant followed. Now Turkey was activating it through Interpol.
At the time of the trial, human rights activists mobilized an international solidarity campaign for Akhanli, which organized a delegation of observers at the trial, among them this author. The message that was stressed in that campaign, and what remains valid in the current situation, is that the only “crime” Akhanli has committed is that he has told the truth.
Dogan Akhanli was born in a Turkish village in the northeast and moved to Istanbul with his brother to attend school as an adolescent. He opposed the military regime in the 1980s and spent two years in prison as a result. He succeeded in fleeing to Germany, where he was granted political asylum and then German citizenship in 2001. Since then he has been engaged, not in party politics, but in civil society and, as an intellectual, he has dedicated his literary efforts to shedding light on the true story of the Armenian genocide. One of his novels that appeared in 1989-1999 in Turkish and was translated into German, “The Judges of the Last Judgment”, deals with the Armenian genocide. It was the first novel by a Turkish author to do so. In 2016, his novel The Days without Father appeared in German, a work that relates the drama of a politically persecuted exile in Germany.
Perhaps the most important work is the play he wrote as a monodrama, “Anne’s Silence.” The play was conceived by German-Armenian actress Bea Ehlers-Kerbekian, who performed it on the stage in several cities in Germany as well as Armenia. It tells the story of a Turkish-German girl who discovers that her mother, whom she knew as a Turkish Muslim, had actually been an Armenian genocide survivor. The play was an important contribution to the discussion process that unfolded in Germany around the genocide, which eventually led to the Bundestag resolution.
Akhanli has also been active for years in civil society initiatives involving Germans, Turks, Armenians and Kurds aimed at working through the common history and reaching recognition of the genocide, as a prelude to reconciliation. He organized and led week-long seminars in Berlin (which I also participated in), dealing with the genocide and the Shoah. He has been honored for his literary and civil society engagement, and was invited to be the keynote speaker at the St. Paul’s Cathedral in Frankfurt commemoration of the genocide on April 24. Recently he was among the founding members of the German-Turkish-Armenian Friendship Society. In short, if there is any German intellectual of Turkish descent who has fought for recognition of the Armenian genocide, it is Dogan.
That is, in short, the crime that the Erdogan establishment wants to punish him for.

The Time is Ripe
But then, the question arises, why should Erdogan and company revive their witch hunt against Dogan Akhanli now? Here we move from the psychoanalytical to the political.
Erdogan himself may have betrayed the secret, when he spoke about the extradition of persons in Germany to Turkey. Referring to the German-Turkish journalist Deniz Yücel, jailed in Turkey, Erdogan had quipped that maybe the Germans would now comply with his demands for handing over persons he claimed were behind the attempted coup last summer. In July, the mass tabloid BILD-Zeitung reported that, according to Foreign Ministry sources, Erdogan had discretely inquired whether Germany would be interested in swapping Yücel for two former Turkish generals allegedly in Germany. The response, BILD wrote, was “Naturally we cannot embark on such a trade.” Now it appears confirmed that Erdogan had planned to use the arrests of enemies of Turkey abroad (like Dogan Akhanli) as pawns in a game of political chess with his European partners. If they will not hand over to Turkey those persons he and his regime have identified as coup plotters (=Gülenists), then he will continue to arrest persons he considers enemies, even if they reside in European countries.
Turkey expert Rainer Hermann penned an editorial on August 21 in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung entitled, “Erdogan’s Hostages,” in which he stated that the Akhanli case would set a precedent: if Spain were to agree to his extradition to Turkey, then “all critics of Erdogan would have to be afraid of travel.” A day later the same newspaper of record carried an interview with Ilias Uyar, Akhanli’s lawyer, in which he stated: “I believe that the Turkish legal authorities are trying to set an example: you are not safe anywhere. Turkey perhaps assumed that Akhanli would be in detention Sunday. That would have been a very strong sign to demonstrate their power. No one is supposed to feel safe anywhere.”
Erdogan’s cheerful disregard for national sovereignty has prompted suggestions that he may seriously style himself as a new sultan, with territorial ambitions stretching westwards across Europe, a suggestion that would be coherent with the vision of a “new Ottomanism” that his AKP has embraced.

Spain’s Response
What is going to happen next? On August 25, the Red Notice was formally lifted, but it is not clear why. That decision may be made on technical grounds: since it signifies the request to pursue and arrest the sought individual, once Akhanli had been found, there was no reason to maintain that level of alarm. Or, it may be lifted if it is found that political motivations were behind the issuance of the alert. Interpol headquarters in Lyons gave no reasons to the press for their action, and there was no statement issued by the Spanish authorities either. The German Foreign Ministry expressed it was “glad that Interpol cancelled the Red Notice.”
Whatever the thinking behind the move, Akhanli has still not been allowed to leave the country. Reached by telephone by this author on August 29, he explained that he had to wait for the procedure to be completed by the Turkish and Spanish authorities, which might be long. He said he would stay in Madrid, was in good spirits and the German Foreign Ministry was taking good care of the matter.
As announced at the time of the arrest. Turkey would be given forty days to provide the documentation to prove he should be extradited. It will be up to the Spanish authorities to decide whether or not the documentation meets the requirements. The German government has already made clear that it is totally opposed to any such move, and has signaled this view to the Spanish government in several ministries. As representatives of the Justice, Interior and Foreign ministries told reporters on August 21, any state working with Interpol can decide how it reacts to arrest warrants and actually the organization conducting the search should examine the possibility of a political motivation behind the warrant. In Germany, decisions at every stage of the process are both juridical and political: one must ascertain whether or not the criminal charges are valid, and then evaluate politically, whether the accused person is being politically persecuted, what the consequences of an extradition might be for that person’s safety, and so forth. The ministry spokesmen were unanimous in excluding the possibility that Spain would extradite him.
Given the precedents in this case — that Akhanli has a history of juridical and political persecution at the hands of Turkish legal authorities — and the current sad state of affairs inside Turkey today, where prisons are overcrowded with critics, dissidents, journalists, teachers, “Gülenists” who have been arbitrarily jailed, it is indeed very unlikely that Spain would bend under pressure. When asked for his prediction, lawyer Uyar said, “A trial against Akhanli according to the rule of law is impossible in Turkey.” To depict how disastrous the human rights situation there is and how paralyzed the judiciary is, he pointed to the Hrant Dink murder trial: “… during a pause in the proceedings of the trial, a judge was arrested.” If European standards hold in this case, Uyar said he did not believe it would come to extradition.
The entire affair has left many open questions regarding the legality or lack thereof of Turkey’s initiative. If the international arrest warrant was reactivated, and even on “Red Notice” denoting the highest degree of urgency, why were the German authorities not informed? Did Interpol in Ankara contact Interpol in Madrid directly, instead of going through the central agency in Lyons, in which case other states would have been informed? How did the Spanish police know what hotel Akhanli was staying in? Were Turkish intelligence agents involved? In short: was the law broken somewhere along the way? And if so, by whom?

Truth Will Tell
It may well be that the clumsy attempt on Erdogan’s part to take justice into his own hands will boomerang, as have so many other of his ill-conceived political antics. For sure he is the one who has mud on his face; editorials and cartoons have made him the laughing stock of the political circus. The story has dominated TV and press coverage since the arrest; on August 27, it was the topic of a prime-time talk show, with participation of nationally prominent politicians, including Foreign Minister Gabriel, connected by video. The political establishment in Berlin has united in denouncing the abuse of power demonstrated by Ankara and the question of how to revise German and EU policy downwards vis-à-vis Turkey has become a leading issue in the ongoing parliamentary election campaign. Friends, colleagues, intellectuals and human rights activists have rallied in Dogan’s defense.
As for the victim of this judicial travesty, Akhanli told German TV reporters that he was shaken by the events, shocked to find that even in the EU he was not safe. He had no doubts about the motivation behind events; “I have expressed criticism of Turkey’s politics and Turkey’s past, and they didn’t like that. They want to silence me,” he said, “but at sixty, I am not going to remain silent.” In a press conference after his release from custody, he said it would be “a juridical scandal” if he were extradited. Erdogan, he said, displayed “a despotic attitude” and “believes he can do whatever he wants.” Erdogan “has nothing to do with an elected state president.” Asked what he might do during his forty-day forced vacation in Spain, he said, “Who knows? Maybe I will write a book.”
(Quotations from German press sources have been translated by the author.)




German Government Draws the Line


Protesting

By Muriel Mirak-Weissbach – Special to the Mirror-Spectator
BERLIN — If Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan thought he could celebrate the first anniversary of the attempted coup by cementing his dictatorial rule at home and intimidating allies abroad, he made a serious miscalculation, which may end up costing more than he could have imagined. By exacerbating tensions with Germany, he has approached a breaking point neither he nor many in Berlin thought possible. On July 15, the anniversary of the coup attempt attributed to the Fetullah Gülen movement, the Turkish president celebrated by staging mass rallies, followed by a new wave of arbitrary arrests and accusations leveled against persons and institutions related to Germany. A day earlier it became known that Turkey had refused to allow members of the German Bundestag (Parliament) their lawful right to visit German troops stationed at the NATO base in Konya, “postponing” the visit due to a “deterioration” in bilateral relations. On July 17, a number of human rights activists earlier detained, were formally arrested on trumped up charges of supporting terrorism. Primary among them was Peter Steudtner, a German citizen, taken into custody for up to 5 years. Since the coup attempt last year, 22 Germans had been arrested, including journalist Deniz Yücel, and nine are still in prison.At the same time, it was reported in Zeit magazine, that the German Criminal Police (Bundeskriminalamt) had received a “black list” of names of 68 persons and agencies (later corrected to 700), from Turkish authorities, accused of having connections to the Gülen movement. Among them were big industrial groups like BASF and Daimler. When the BKA demanded further information, nothing came and the list was ridiculed in Berlin as “absurd” and “ridiculous.” The German press quickly put two and two together, and reckoned that Erdogan, by arresting German journalists and others, was essentially taking hostages that he might offer in exchange for the extradition of persons in Germany he wanted to put on trial. Among the latter would be Turkish military and diplomatic personnel who have filed for political asylum since the coup attempt.

Peter-Steudtner Kopie

The Last Straw
This time the blackmail coming from Ankara backfired. On July 19, the Turkish ambassador was summoned by the German Foreign Ministry, and “clearly told that the arrest of Peter Steudtner and other human rights activists was not comprehensible, not acceptable and certainly inexplicable.” Berlin demanded his immediate release, and characterized the assault on the human rights group as a “dramatic escalation.”
Underlining the seriousness of the incident, Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel cut short his vacation and flew back to the capital. Gabriel accused Turkey of having abandoned European values and announced a new direction in German foreign policy. “De-escalation is in principle a good thing,” he said, but “we need a change in course, so as not to make ourselves ridiculous — even if it comes at a price.” The concrete steps that followed are capable of delivering a negative economic impact. First, Gabriel said that travel warnings for Germans going to Turkey would be expanded, since virtually anyone could be fair game. Tourists should report to the German consular offices. Already, bilateral tensions have cut into Turkey’s revenue from German tourists, whose numbers are second only to the Russians. Then trade relations are to be reviewed, as Gabriel said he found it difficult to encourage German investments in a country where no real legal framework existed. As reported in Spiegel magazine, Germany is Turkey’s most important trade partner, in 2016 to the tune of 37 billion euros; about 15 billion euros in imports to Germany and 22 billion in exports to Turkey. German investments stand at 12 billion, so if the Hermes export credits are reduced or withdrawn, as Gabriel has suggested, that could have a devastating effect. Furthermore, Germany wields power in EU-Turkish relations; Gabriel stated, “I can’t imagine that negotiations for the expansion of the customs union will take place” in such a situation. Not only is the customs union being questioned, but the very process of talks on EU membership are de facto on ice, and CSU chairman Horst Seehofer, endorsing the new government policy, said he thought the talks should be cancelled and the 4.2 billion euros slated to support the process between now and 2020 be stopped. Germany is receiving backing not only from Austria but also from the EU Commission in its new response to the “destructive course” of Erdogan’s policy, as EU Expansion Commissioner Johannes Hahn put it.
The arms sector was also affected. On July 21, a spokesman for the German Economics Ministry stated officially that all orders and applications for arms deals were being subjected to thorough review. Though some orders last year had been denied, deliveries to the tune of 100 million euros had been approved since January 2016. It was reported on July 21 that the agency responsible would not issue any new permits. This is no small matter considering that in 2016 Germany had approved arms exports worth 83.9 million euros and in the first four months of 2017, 22 million, according to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. Turkey is, after all, a NATO member.

Message Received
This time Ankara seemed to sit up and take notice, albeit with much fuss and bluster. While fuming that “No one has a right to interfere in the internal affairs of Turkey” (by demanding the release of prisoners), and categorically stating that Turkey “is a democratic, social state of law,” Erdogan found himself on July 23 also pleading that the “strategic partnership” with Germany should not be overshadowed by events. He added that reports that Turkish authorities were investigating German groups on suspicion of terrorism were outright lies. On July 24, this line was made official. A spokesman for the German Interior Minister Thomas de Mazière announced that his Turkish counterpart had told him by phone that there had been a “communications problem,” some sort of misunderstanding, that is, and that no Germans were being investigated by Turkey, in either country. (The Turkish Economics Minister Nihat Zeybekci had also raised doubts that such a black list ever existed.) De Mazière’s spokesman then declared that the Interpol office in Ankara which had originally asked the BKA for information on the blacklisted names had “formally withdrawn” the request.
It is important to stress that, although Germany has entered an election campaign period, there is agreement across the political spectrum regarding the need to draw a firm line with provocations from Turkey. German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, from the CDU, had unusually harsh words for Erdogan: “He is placing the hundred-year-long partnership between Turkey and Germany in jeopardy,” adding, “It is certainly dramatic. But we cannot let ourselves be blackmailed.” His party colleague Volker Kauder, head of the CDU/CSU Parliamentary faction, said economic pressure was absolutely necessary; “We have to tell Turkey that it cannot go on like this.” On the issue of the German government’s rights to visit its troops, Kauder stressed the fact that the troops are there not for Turkey but as part of the coalition against the so-called Islamic State. SPD politician Wolfgang Hellmich, who is Defense Committee chairman, called for even more pressure, demanding an ultimatum for the visit be set for late August.
He also said the issue had to be clarified more fundamentally, as one could not become dependent on “arbitrary case-by-case decisions by Turkey.” As for NATO, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg tried to mediate on July 24, by proposing that a NATO parliamentary delegation be organized to visit Konya.

The Die Is Cast
Whatever compromise solution here might be reached, it is clear that a new chapter has opened in German-Turkish relations. In a summer interview on national television on July 24, President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, whose official position is considered politically neutral, minced no words regarding his Turkish counterpart: “Erdogan is trying to tailor the country to his own liking,” meaning his own aspirations to power. The “rest of the critics and opposition” are being persecuted, thrown into prison and silenced, he said. Even former members of Erdogan’s AKP were being oppressed. Throwing his support behind the new German policy thrust, Steinmeier said “we cannot accept” what is going on in Turkey, it is “also a question of the self-respect of Germany.” And for this reason, it is right “to send clear signals.” No matter how deep the crisis has become, threatening the very existence of bilateral relations as Schäuble put it, Foreign Minister Gabriel has gone to great lengths to explain the matter to Turks in Germany. Over the past year in particular, the escalating social-political conflict inside Turkey has spilled over into Germany, at an alarming pace and intensity, threatening violence within the community.
Repeatedly German politicians have sought to reestablish calm. To make his bid for understanding, Gabriel addressed the Turkish community in a bilingual message published in the Sunday edition of the mass tabloid Bild Zeitung, and spoke in the name of the whole government. These citizens and residents of Turkish background see the difficulties in bilateral relations, he said; your homeland is Germany, but for many it is also in Turkey. For this reason, “we want to say to you: the friendship between Germans and Turks is a great treasure. We have always worked for good relations with Turkey also because we know that a good relation between Turkey and Germany is important for you.” Then his tone sharpened: “Now however innocent German citizens are being put in prison. As the German government. we cannot idly stand by. We have to protect our citizens.” This is the reason, he went on, for the change in German policy, whereby cooperation and economic aid will be re-examined, also on a European level. Most emphatically, Gabriel stated that “None of this is aimed against people in Turkey and our citizens of Turkish background in Germany” and concluded that, no matter how difficult matters become, those of Turkish background in Germany “belong to us – whether with or without a German passport.”
(Quotations from German sources have been translated by the author.)





Aramean Day of Remembrance in Berlin

By Muriel Mirak-Weissbach – Special to the Mirror-Spectator
Mor-Philoxenus-Mattias-Nayis
BERLIN JUNE 29, 2017 — If the Armenians were the ones who suffered the greatest losses in the 1915 genocide, they were not alone. Other Christian minorities in the Ottoman Empire were targeted, among them the Arameans, Assyrians, Chaldeans and Greeks. Since 2015, the date June 15 has been designated as Remembrance Day in Germany for the Arameans, the East and West Syrian Christians, and this year members of the community, joined by Armenians and others, commemorated the victims in Berlin. In the afternoon, participants gathered at the Evangelical Luisenkirchof cemetery, at the site of a memorial in honor of the 3 million Christians who died between 1912 and 1922. The three altars of remembrance are dedicated to the Armenians, the Arameans, Assyrians and Chaldeans, and the Greeks from Eastern Thrace, Asia Minor and Pontus.
In the evening a solemn ceremony was held in the French Cathedral, located in the historic Gendarmenmarkt in central Berlin. Following greetings by Josef Kaya, from the Foundation of Aramaic Studies, Prof. Dorothea Weltecke from the Research Center for Aramaic Studies of the Goethe University in Frankfurt spoke. She introduced a theme that was to be developed by later speakers: the German role in the genocide. The Germans were not only well aware of the events unfolding during the war, she said, but were complicit. In May 1915, the French, English and Russians had raised the alarm, and some Germans tried to prevent the atrocities but others took part. She called for an independent parliamentary commission of inquiry to investigate the German role. The resolution passed on June 2, 2016 by the Bundestag (Parliament) recognizing the genocide was all well and good, she said, but did not go far enough.
Daniyel Demir, chairman of the National Association of Arameans in Germany, drew the parallels between the butchery wrought by the so-called Islamic State today and the genocide a century ago, when the Ottoman leadership under Talaat Pasha et al was committed to eliminate the Christian community from Turkey. Demir also applauded the passage of the Bundestag resolution, but lamented the fact that the German government had undermined its impact by saying it had no binding legal value. Expressing his “due respect to the Bundestag,” he urged the government to take steps with regard to the descendants of the victims.
Community of Survivors
Mor Philoxenus Mattias Nayis, Archbishop of the Syrian Orthodox Diocese in Germany, expressed his profound gratitude and respect for the fact that the Arameans have succeeded in maintaining their integrity as a people. He said 1915 was not the only time they had been persecuted. It is truly a wonder, he went on, that this community, which has neither its own land nor a state, has managed to survive; though expelled from their homeland and dispersed throughout the world, they have kept their faith and identity. Given this moral strength, he expressed his confidence that the schools and churches that have been destroyed again today will be rebuilt.
The members of the Aramean community displayed their special appreciation of the presence of an Armenian diplomat at the ceremony. Ashot Smbatyan, the Armenian ambassador in Berlin, himself honored to be present, spoke of the fraternal relations between the two peoples. Arameans and Armenians have much in common, he said, not only as victims of the genocide but as friends throughout hundreds of years before that. He recalled the presence of Aramean traditions in Armenia, pointing to manuscripts preserved in the Matenadaran. He also referenced the importance of works in Aramaic that were translated into Armenian. And he recalled the fourth-century bishop Jacob, said to have been the first to search for Noah’s Ark; though he climbed daily, and prayed, he never found the ark. But it is related that an angel sent by God gave him a piece of the wood of the ark, preserved in Echmiadzin.
Stressing the need to “commemorate, remember, warn,” Ambassador Smbatyan said the people of Turkey today are not guilty for the deeds committed by others, but they need to acknowledge the deeds of their forefathers. Many Turks are ready to do so but the political leadership is not. Recognition of the genocide, he said, is the precondition for reconciliation to take place. In 1915, it was not only Armenians but also Pontic Greeks, Assyrians and Arameans, a fact that has been expressly acknowledged in Armenia. In September 2015, a monument to the Arameans was unveiled in Yerevan. In conclusion, he noted that such symbols and dates of remembrance are important, not only for the victims but also for Europe today. The scenes we see today remind us of events of a century ago, he said, and quoted George Santayana, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
The Language of Christ
In this ecumenical ceremony, Dr. Markus Dröge, Bishop of the Evangelical Church, Berlin-Brandenburg-Silesian Oberlausitz, spoke for the Protestants. Aramaic was the language of Christ, he recalled, and quoted those words in the Bible that are still given in the original, in Luther’s German translation: “eli eli lama sabachthani?” (My God why hast thou forsaken me?)
Christ’s plea from the cross might well be uttered by Arameans, as their suffering is not universally known; the genocide against the Arameans, he said, is the least known of the atrocities of the 20th century. Turning to the current situation, Bishop Dröge noted that many survivors who fled to Syria and Iraq today are threatened again, this time by IS. In what he characterized as “an epochal event” that has not been fully grasped, the successors of the first Christians, those who speak the language of Christ, are threatened today. He called for more awareness of how dangerous the current situation is. “We Protestants know too little about the Orthodox Christians,” he noted, and suggested that the arrival of refugees here to Germany represents an opportunity to learn about them.
‘Destroying, Remembering, Commemorating’
One of the leading initiators of the event was Prof. Tessa Hofmann, a philologist and genocide researcher, who delivered the main address. The year 2015, when June 15 was designated a day of commemoration for the Arameans, “marked the centenary of the extermination of 1.5 million Armenians,” through a deliberate action lasting 19 months. Hofmann reviewed the process whereby April 24, 1915 was officially declared remembrance day in 1921, by Catholicos Gevorg V., noting that many Syrian Christians also recognized it, as their forefathers had been among the victims. Similarly, Syrian Christians in northwest Iran were massacred in 1914 and 1918. Whether or not they were singled out for elimination, or were “collateral damage” within the Armenian genocide, is a question she could not elaborate there, but the fact is that, despite their shared suffering in the war years, many Armenians were not aware of the Arameans’ plight. Thus the importance of a separate remembrance day. Against this backdrop, Hofmann found it appropriate to make some “basic considerations about remembrance, commemoration and related policy.”
In the genocide, the physical destruction of the people was followed by the destruction of the evidence, the attempt to eliminate the culture, especially by destroying the churches. After death, one lives on through memory, and to erase this memory is to kill again. Therefore descendants of survivors strive to counter the elimination of memory with a culture of remembrance, not only transmitting family histories from one generation to the next, but by establishing a collective memory. This, Hofmann said, serves not only as genocide prevention but has also unleashed creativity, as demonstrated in the rich genocide literature. Citing the phrase in the German constitution, that the dignity of the individual is inviolable, Hofmann emphasized that in genocide (including today) the perpetrator violates the dignity of the victim in every way imaginable, through slavery, torture, rape, etc., before finally extinguishing life itself.
The 2016 Bundestag resolution explicitly calls for teaching about genocide in schools, and it is the federal states that decide curriculum. If this was not merely symbolic, in Hofmann’s view, then the schools must take on this task, and expand teaching in genocide studies. In light of the influx of refugee communities, too, she called for “ethical orientation” to be offered. In this context she condemned the continued existence of “graves of honor” in Berlin cemeteries for genocide perpetrators. Instead, those who intervened to save people from genocide — the “Ottoman Oskar Schindlers” — are the ones to be remembered and honored. Finally, she highlighted the need to acknowledge the “enormous cultural achievements” of the Arameans, Armenians and Greeks of Asia Minor, especially through their translation works of the ancients. Preserving the languages of the region is part of this effort. This approach is what Hofmann views as crucial to a policy of remembrance.
The moving ceremony concluded with a recitation by Anne Osterloh and prayers by Mor Julius Hanna Aydin, with the participation of the choir of the Mar Jacob Syrian Orthodox Church. The entire evening was framed in music, with a new interpretation of Syrian hymns for a string quintet on the occasion of the commemoration and selected pieces from the Sayfo Symphony by Thomas Ücel.


rita-sargsyan
First Lady of Armenia Rita Sargsyan at the My Way center with students and staff

‘My Way’ Is Helping Children with Autism in Armenia

By Muriel Mirak-Weissbach – Special to the Mirror-Spectator – JUNE 15, 2017
YEREVAN — It was not the atmosphere we expected to find in a center for youngsters with autism: laughter rang out of one room where children were busily painting, while piano music sounded in another room, where two young lads were performing a duet. Playing from memory without scores, they were fully concentrated, absorbed in producing the strong rhythms. When one of the lads played a solo piece, his companion grabbed the hands of a woman (who turned out to be his mother) and swept her up in dancing across the floor. In another room, a child hovered over his notebook, carefully writing out exercise sentences in Armenian under the watchful eyes of his teacher. In other small rooms, the same one-on-one combination of specialist and student was to be seen: whether in speech therapy or physical therapy. The scenes depicted youngsters concentrated on tasks that they were carrying out in their own fashion, with serenity, or delight or outright joy. The meaning of the center’s slogan — “I am different, I am one of you” — was immediately apparent.
As Lilith Soghomonyan and Sona Petrosyan, co-founders and board members, explained to my husband and me, taking us on a tour of the My Way Socio-Rehabilitation Day Care Center last April, the children come to the center five days a week from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and take part in a wide range of activities, selected in consultation with the parents according to the specific needs of each individual. Therapy is provided in small groups where appropriate or individually, as for example, in speech therapy. Music, art, — whether drawing, painting, paper maché or clay modeling — sports, gardening or making candles, — all sorts of playful and productive activities are available, to allow the students to learn new skills in a social context. And they see the fruits of their endeavors, not only in the final creation, but often in its sale. Near the entrance, we saw such products on display, items ranging from candles to ceramics to works of art. The center has organized online auctions of paintings, for example, and the proceeds go to financing art therapy classes. This commercial activity, albeit on a small scale, illustrates the principle of gainful employment. In fact, as we learned, those running the center hope to expand, to provide actual vocational training to the older students, in an effort to provide them the means to earn a living.
It is a “global mission,” Soghomonyan explained to us, an approach that addresses the needs of the children as well as the families, providing information exchange and advice, and increasing social awareness of the issue. By functioning like a school, with a five-day schedule, the center provides the students with therapeutic, social activity under the supervision of specialists, while allowing families to tend to their jobs and homes.

The Founding Mothers
It should come as no surprise that the founders of the center are mothers of autistic children. Prior to the opening of My Way, there were no facilities in Armenia to address the needs of persons with autism. Lilith, whose daughter Jeva displayed symptoms of autism, came into contact with Renate Beil, a German who had been taking painting lessons from Lilith’s mother Nona Gabrielyan in Wiesbaden. On a visit to Armenia, Beil met Lilith, who is also an artist of the second generation. (Her son Guy represents the third generation of this artistic family, and he was among six young Armenians who exhibited their works in Wiesbaden last December (see “Portraits of the Artists as Young Men,” December 10, 2016 and “Art Inspires Artists,” December 17, 2016).
Through Beil’s intervention, Maria Kaminski, director of the German organization named “Autismus,” travelled to Yerevan several times with associates and organized workshops for the families of autistic children. Kaminski is also the mother of a son with autism, and that is how she got started. She has founded 82 (!) centers for autism in Germany and is currently President of the National Association of Autism — Germany.) She told the Armenian parents, “You have to do something” and they did. Initially, she helped Lilith and her daughter, then it expanded to a group of six children. Out of this process the NGO “Autism. Overcoming” was born, as the effort of a group of parents, among them Soghomonyan and Petrosyan in 2004. Two years later the International Child Development Center (ICDC) was founded by Dr. Ira Heilveil, PhD, an American clinical psychologist and behavior analyst from Los Angeles. Heilveil, who has over 30 years of experience treating children with autism, trained a base of specialists, and in Yerevan, these specialists have trained others, expanding their capabilities. Initially, due to space constraints the center could offer help to a limited number of children and youth.

First Lady Spearheads National Effort
Progress was being made on a national level that was to have a decisive impact on the Yerevan group. In 2012, the “Autism National Foundation” (ANF) was established on the initiative of the First Lady of Republic of Armenia Ms. Rita Sargsyan, who is its President. The Director, Lilit Atajanyan, MD, has been involved in various charitable activities for children with disabilities. The mission of the Foundation, as detailed on its website (www.anf.am), is “To support people with autism in Armenia” which includes children, teenagers and adults. This means providing them education as well as preparing them for meaningful employment. At the same time, the Foundation seeks to enhance their quality of life, increase public awareness and promote social inclusion also with government engagement.
In 2012, the foundation received a building from the Yerevan City Municipality as well as the funds to have it renovated and in January 2015, a new facility opened to provide help for over 100 students. This was the Socio-Rehabilitation Day Care Center for Children and Teenagers with Autism known as My Way. The new Center brings together the ANF, the NGO “Autism.Overcoming” and the ICDC in one facility and is able to offer therapy to 5 times the number of students assisted in the previous site.

Providing a Healthy Life Chain
At the same time, a second building was made available on a neighboring site, slated to house another My Way Center, this one providing age-specific vocational training for teenagers with autism. This includes work stations for vocational training as well as living quarters for young adults. The vocational training, as we learned, includes crafts such as sewing and embroidery as well as carpet weaving and pottery, woodworking, computer skills, gardening, cooking, music and art. The aim is to work with organizations and employers to find jobs for the students and markets for their goods.
In March 2016, a grant from Save the Children financed a pilot “Vocational Training for Teenagers and Young Adults with Autism” and in the five-month program 30 therapists attended seminars and received on-the-job training. Now they are working independently providing speech, art, music and dance therapy. On completion of this part of the project, the parents extended the activities to the end of 2016. Since January 2017, the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs has been financing the project, providing salaries for 30 of the specialists, albeit at a minimal level. Now My Way is seeking further financial support to raise salaries. Currently 140 students are receiving education and therapy from a total of 73 specialists.
To help children with autism, early diagnosis is crucial. Our guides told us that this might be at the age of 1 or 2 years even, and it is important to begin therapy as soon as possible. As the word has spread about the encouraging work of My Way, more and more parents have made contact, and the waiting list now has well over 150 names. The only obstacle to welcoming them is physical and logistical: My Way needs more room. They have the therapists, the expertise and have gained the experience required, but need expanded facilities.
Last year a third building was made available to them for this expansion, and now the directors are seeking funds for the necessary renovation. Here the vocational training program will find its logical continuation as students will learn the advanced skills and specialization in various fields, preparing them for employment in different professions. About 70 students should find work here, while others will seek employment independently outside the center.

National and Regional Pioneer
The goal is for the center to operate in three buildings: in the first, more than 100 children under the age of 14 will find accommodation, in the second, 70 teenagers and young adults at a time will be able to participate and in the third, 70 adults will find training in the workshops. Currently, the State Budget covers costs for operations and therapy for the first building and it is expected that the same will be the case for the second and third facilities, once they have been renovated and made operational.
It is important to stress that all services available at the Center are free, thanks to government support and partner organizations. It is also noteworthy that this institution is the only one of its kind, not only in Armenia, but throughout the Transcaucasus. Indeed, it is a pioneer in the field and can serve as a role model for similar initiatives nationally and abroad.
When we left Yerevan, Lilith and Sona and their colleagues were optimistic that they would reach their goals and we shared their optimism. As a symbol of that shared commitment, Lilith Soghomonyan gave us a beautiful painting done by her daughter.
This week Lilith has been in Germany, to attend the annual gathering of the German Autism Congress, held in Dortmund on June 9-10. This is the organization of Maria Kaminski. This year’s conference was entitled, “Learn — Work — Quality of Life,” and featured lectures by specialists as well as workshops and round table discussions. The presence of a founding member of My way was a fitting reminder that the campaign to help persons with autism has reached Armenia; and it was a personal acknowledgement of the crucial contribution Kaminski has made to this effort.
For more information about the center, visit http://anf.am/
(Material for this article has been taken from the ANF website and project reports of the ANF and My Way.)






German Troops to Leave Incirlik


By Muriel Mirak-Weissbach – Special to the Mirror-Spectator – JUNE 8, 2017
Incirlik
BERLIN — When Turkish government officials repeated to German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel their refusal to allow German parliamentarians unconditional access to their troops at Incirlik base, it was the proverbial straw that broke that suffering camel’s back. Gabriel had travelled to Ankara on June 5 in a last-ditch effort to reach a compromise solution to the conflict that has strained relations, both bilateral and within NATO, to an unprecedented degree. After talks with both Foreign Minister Mevlùt Çavusoglu and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Gabriel made clear that Germany would have no choice but to withdraw its troops and relocate them. “There is no decision, no concrete plan,” he said, but there was also no alternative to transfer. Çavusoglu for his part stated that, although German parliamentarians could visit troops at the NATO base at Konya, “at the moment the conditions do not exist” for them to be allowed in to Incirlik. It was expected that within days the government and Bundestag would deliberate on the matter and opt for relocating the contingent to Jordan. Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen had already explored the option in Jordan and all that remained were the formalities of procedure.

Piling Up the Straws

How could it come to this point? The controversy began a year ago in the wake of the Bundestag’s deicison on June 2 to recognize the Armenian genocide. Turkey reacted by refusing visiting rights to a delegation of German parliamentarians to Incirlik, where 260 German troops, 6 Tornadoes and fuel tankers are stationed as part of the fight against IS. In September Berlin found a compromise formulation to deflate the impact of the resolution, which led to Ankara’s permission for one visit. Turkey resurrected the ban in response to Germany’s refusal to extend the witch-hunt against persons considered to be in cahoots with the Gülen movement which Erdogan blames for the attempted coup last July. Turkey’s stance toughened further after Germany granted political asylum to Turkish officers threatened with prosecution as pro-Gülenists. In addition, Turkey charged Germany with harboring terrorists, with reference to Kurdish organizations, accused of sympathies for the PKK. To add fuel to the fire, in February of this year Turkish authorities arrested Deniz Yücel, a German-Turkish journalist, as a pro-terrorist, and followed this up by detaining a German translator on similar grounds.

Since the German army is an army of the Bundestag, it is imperative that parliamentarians have unconditional access to “their” troops, and for this reason there can be no backing down on the part of Germany. After consultations between Chancellor Angela Merkel and Defense Minister von der Leyen, it was decided to engage NATO, but NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg (whose doctrine is that Turkey is “a key country for security in Europe”) decreed the issue to be “bilateral.”

The NATO Dimension

Although the geopolitical considerations behind this are obvious, the proclamation raised eyebrows in view of the fact that Turkey had recently blocked the decision for NATO’s collaboration with Austria in the Balkans. Austria is not a NATO member but had been cooperating with 500 soldiers in NATO’s Kfor mission in Kosovo. After Austrian Foreign Minister Kurz lobbied for terminating EU entrance talks with Turkey, Ankara responded by blocking this operation.

A further reason to involve NATO would be the fact that, in Erdogan’s anti-Gülen purge, an estimated 150 of 300 Turkish officers have been fired from their positions in NATO headquarters, or as military attaches in embassies, according to Spiegel magazine. The same source reports that 270 mainly high-level officers in total had been fired by Erdogan, creating a collapse in quality, as the replacements were often less qualified and lacked foreign language capabilities. This has security implications, as they may be tasked with sensitive operations like air space surveillance and secret defense planning, according to Spiegel.

That notwithstanding, NATO steered clear of the dispute. Turkey would allow German Parliamentarians to visit German troops at Konya, because it is a NATO base and as such no formal permit is required; NATO must simply inform Turkey of the plan. But Incirlik is another matter.

A Bilateral Non-Solution

Thus it came to be that Gabriel made one last attempt to reach a solution on the bilateral plane, and left Ankara empty handed. Judging from public statements made before the talks and the tone struck at a joint press conference of the two foreign ministers, the atmosphere was not very congenial. Çavusoglu had said matter-of-factly of the foreseeable withdrawal, “We welcomed them when they came and when and if they leave, we will bid them a friendly farewell.” The reason for the Turkish visiting ban provided by the foreign ministry was that Germany had given Turkish officers political asylum. Furthermore, Germany was not doing enough against the PKK. “Our expectation,” the Turkish foreign minister said, “is that our friend will not become a refuge for our enemies.” Gabriel made clear that in his country it is “independent agencies and courts that decide on asylum,” not politics. In reference to the case of Deniz Yücel, Çavusoglu conceded that he could see it was very important for Berlin. “But,” he added, “one thing is certain and Germany knows it only too well: the charges against Yücel do not have to do with journalism but with terror,” adding that the Turkish judiciary was independent in its activities. He accused the Europeans of sending journalists to Turkey as spies, in order to play the “press freedom” card once they were caught.

The German foreign minister was explicit in identifying underlying factors to the strife. “For some time,” he said, “it has not just been a question of the joint fight against IS, but also about domestic politics. We cannot allow our soldiers to become the playthings of the political climate.” He refused to budge on the demand that Bundestag members have unlimited access to the troops; “If Turkey insists that they cannot, then what remains is a decision for the transfer.” He expressed his desire to “arrange it with our Turkish colleagues peacefully and without great fuss.”

As if to underscore the animosity, Prime Minister Binali Yilderin made it known that scheduling problems would prevent him from receiving Gabriel.

However, Gabriel did get to meet Erdogan for an hour, and it was, as he said afterwards, a “sobering” experience. “Relations are very tense,” he summarized. Erdogan had accused Germany of failing to prosecute terrorists. Gabriel concluded, “We have to take note of the fact that the Turkish government has a completely different understanding of the state of law than we do.”



German Troops to Leave Incirlik


By Muriel Mirak-Weissbach – Special to the Mirror-Spectator – JUNE 8, 2017

Incirlik
BERLIN — When Turkish government officials repeated to German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel their refusal to allow German parliamentarians unconditional access to their troops at Incirlik base, it was the proverbial straw that broke that suffering camel’s back. Gabriel had travelled to Ankara on June 5 in a last-ditch effort to reach a compromise solution to the conflict that has strained relations, both bilateral and within NATO, to an unprecedented degree. After talks with both Foreign Minister Mevlùt Çavusoglu and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Gabriel made clear that Germany would have no choice but to withdraw its troops and relocate them. “There is no decision, no concrete plan,” he said, but there was also no alternative to transfer. Çavusoglu for his part stated that, although German parliamentarians could visit troops at the NATO base at Konya, “at the moment the conditions do not exist” for them to be allowed in to Incirlik. It was expected that within days the government and Bundestag would deliberate on the matter and opt for relocating the contingent to Jordan. Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen had already explored the option in Jordan and all that remained were the formalities of procedure.

Piling Up the Straws

How could it come to this point? The controversy began a year ago in the wake of the Bundestag’s deicison on June 2 to recognize the Armenian genocide. Turkey reacted by refusing visiting rights to a delegation of German parliamentarians to Incirlik, where 260 German troops, 6 Tornadoes and fuel tankers are stationed as part of the fight against IS. In September Berlin found a compromise formulation to deflate the impact of the resolution, which led to Ankara’s permission for one visit. Turkey resurrected the ban in response to Germany’s refusal to extend the witch-hunt against persons considered to be in cahoots with the Gülen movement which Erdogan blames for the attempted coup last July. Turkey’s stance toughened further after Germany granted political asylum to Turkish officers threatened with prosecution as pro-Gülenists. In addition, Turkey charged Germany with harboring terrorists, with reference to Kurdish organizations, accused of sympathies for the PKK. To add fuel to the fire, in February of this year Turkish authorities arrested Deniz Yücel, a German-Turkish journalist, as a pro-terrorist, and followed this up by detaining a German translator on similar grounds.

Since the German army is an army of the Bundestag, it is imperative that parliamentarians have unconditional access to “their” troops, and for this reason there can be no backing down on the part of Germany. After consultations between Chancellor Angela Merkel and Defense Minister von der Leyen, it was decided to engage NATO, but NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg (whose doctrine is that Turkey is “a key country for security in Europe”) decreed the issue to be “bilateral.”

The NATO Dimension

Although the geopolitical considerations behind this are obvious, the proclamation raised eyebrows in view of the fact that Turkey had recently blocked the decision for NATO’s collaboration with Austria in the Balkans. Austria is not a NATO member but had been cooperating with 500 soldiers in NATO’s Kfor mission in Kosovo. After Austrian Foreign Minister Kurz lobbied for terminating EU entrance talks with Turkey, Ankara responded by blocking this operation.

A further reason to involve NATO would be the fact that, in Erdogan’s anti-Gülen purge, an estimated 150 of 300 Turkish officers have been fired from their positions in NATO headquarters, or as military attaches in embassies, according to Spiegel magazine. The same source reports that 270 mainly high-level officers in total had been fired by Erdogan, creating a collapse in quality, as the replacements were often less qualified and lacked foreign language capabilities. This has security implications, as they may be tasked with sensitive operations like air space surveillance and secret defense planning, according to Spiegel.

That notwithstanding, NATO steered clear of the dispute. Turkey would allow German Parliamentarians to visit German troops at Konya, because it is a NATO base and as such no formal permit is required; NATO must simply inform Turkey of the plan. But Incirlik is another matter.

A Bilateral Non-Solution

Thus it came to be that Gabriel made one last attempt to reach a solution on the bilateral plane, and left Ankara empty handed. Judging from public statements made before the talks and the tone struck at a joint press conference of the two foreign ministers, the atmosphere was not very congenial. Çavusoglu had said matter-of-factly of the foreseeable withdrawal, “We welcomed them when they came and when and if they leave, we will bid them a friendly farewell.” The reason for the Turkish visiting ban provided by the foreign ministry was that Germany had given Turkish officers political asylum. Furthermore, Germany was not doing enough against the PKK. “Our expectation,” the Turkish foreign minister said, “is that our friend will not become a refuge for our enemies.” Gabriel made clear that in his country it is “independent agencies and courts that decide on asylum,” not politics. In reference to the case of Deniz Yücel, Çavusoglu conceded that he could see it was very important for Berlin. “But,” he added, “one thing is certain and Germany knows it only too well: the charges against Yücel do not have to do with journalism but with terror,” adding that the Turkish judiciary was independent in its activities. He accused the Europeans of sending journalists to Turkey as spies, in order to play the “press freedom” card once they were caught.

The German foreign minister was explicit in identifying underlying factors to the strife. “For some time,” he said, “it has not just been a question of the joint fight against IS, but also about domestic politics. We cannot allow our soldiers to become the playthings of the political climate.” He refused to budge on the demand that Bundestag members have unlimited access to the troops; “If Turkey insists that they cannot, then what remains is a decision for the transfer.” He expressed his desire to “arrange it with our Turkish colleagues peacefully and without great fuss.”

As if to underscore the animosity, Prime Minister Binali Yilderin made it known that scheduling problems would prevent him from receiving Gabriel.

However, Gabriel did get to meet Erdogan for an hour, and it was, as he said afterwards, a “sobering” experience. “Relations are very tense,” he summarized. Erdogan had accused Germany of failing to prosecute terrorists. Gabriel concluded, “We have to take note of the fact that the Turkish government has a completely different understanding of the state of law than we do.”



Erdogan’s Referendum and Germany’s Dilemma


By Muriel Mirak-Weissbach

Special to the Mirror-Spectator – 25 MAY, 2017

Hermann
FRANKFURT, Germany — Turkish citizens who went to the polls on April 16 were saying “yes” or “no” not only to a new constitution but to the future of relations with Europe. This was the interpretation offered at a public debate organized by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation, a think-tank linked to the German Liberal Party (FDP). Convened on May 19 near Frankfurt, the event addressed the theme: “The Sick Democracy on the Bosporus: Is Turkey Taking Leave of the West?” The round table, moderated by Dr. Rainer Hermann, who was the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung’s correspondent in Turkey for more than a decade, brought together prominent politicians who have been involved in bilateral relations with Turkey.

Dr. Hans-Georg Fleck, current director of the think-tank’s Istanbul bureau, was joined by Dr. Jörg-Uwe Hahn and Nicola Beer, both members of the regional parliament in Hessen.

It was clear from the opening greetings by Hahn, that the political deterioration inside Turkey had cast a pall on relations with Germany. Over the past ten years, the Hessen government has tried to develop ties, both on the city and state level, and was the first to set up partnerships with Bursa. Now, Hahn said, he was very saddened, since contact has been interrupted; his counterpart, the Vali of Bursa, is now sitting in a jail, along with hundreds of thousands of other Turks accused of association with the Gülen movement, officially inculpated with the coup attempt last summer.

The outcome of the referendum has only aggravated this state of affairs. As Fleck detailed in his introductory analysis of the vote, those who supported the new constitution in hopes of achieving stability and security would be disappointed; the enhanced powers granted to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will neither help alleviate economic ills, especially growing unemployment, nor contribute to solving problems deriving from the oppression of the Kurdish (and other) minority populations. The collapse of the tourist industry (which he characterized as more important for Turkey than the auto industry for Germany) and falling currency rates have resulted from the political crisis following the coup attempt and massive crackdown. Economic revival will depend on development of the younger population, which will require advances in education, which, he said, would not benefit from the referendum results. If the education system in the country was already abysmal, the mass firings of competent academics have worsened the situation. These teachers have lost not only their jobs, but their pensions, their social standing and, in many cases, their very freedom. The situation in the judiciary, where young, inexperienced judges have replaced those thrown out, the perspective is as bleak.

That said, the speaker hastened to stress that the results were indeed very close, as nearly half those who cast their ballots voted against the changes, and thus against Erdogan’s move towards autocratic rule. Rejecting the “yes” voters’ illusions of regaining some mythical Ottoman glory, the “no” camp, which included Kemalist and pro-minority voters, is characterized by its pro-Western, pro-European orientation. The question for Turkey’s partners in Europe is: how to deal with this highly polarized population? How to provide support for the very substantial sector of Turkish society which is adamantly opposed to Erdogan and the AKP’s dictatorial ambitions?

Should Turkey Enter The EU?

The issue is not academic for the German government. Should Berlin join those in Europe who want to end all discussion with Ankara about its bid for membership in the European Union? If, as Erdogan has threatened, the death penalty is reintroduced, that will automatically terminate Turkey’s chances for membership, since the EU outlaws it. Even now, debate is rife as to whether or not German authorities would allow Turkish citizens residing here to vote in a referendum on the death penalty; thus far, the position has been negative, as no campaign propaganda for such would be compatible with German law. Linked to the issue of EU membership is the question of whether or not Europe should continue providing Turkey with funds allocated for the process.

In the course of a lively debate, moderator Rainer Hermann posed the provocative questions, “Are the EU negotiations, then, simply a farce?” And should the funding stop? Whereas Fleck argued that Turkey should take the first step, to decide whether or not it still wants to join Europe, Beer countered that the Europeans should put a stop to the process. Erdogan’s provocations, she said, had been his way of testing how far he could go and, in her view, “the limits of the tolerable have long since been overstepped.” Therefore she called for not opening any further chapters in the negotiations. As for the funds, which she said were still flowing without any accountability as to where they were being allocated, Fleck said they had been appropriated but not yet delivered, and that money for refugee program support at least was under control.

The refugee crisis represents a further challenge to bilateral relations. What, Hermann asked, if Erdogan were to make good on his threat to open the borders, allowing a new wave of refugees into Germany before elections here in the fall? Beer’s response echoing the official position of Chancellor Angela Merkel, that a European-wide solution is required, and that is indeed a topic high on the agenda addressed in ongoing EU discussions.

And What About NATO?

Last but surely not least for the German government is the issue of military cooperation. Again, in mid-May, Turkey refused permission for a delegation of parliamentarians from the Bundestag to make a routine visit to German troops stationed at the Incirlik base. The first time Ankara made such a move was in response to the German Bundestag’s recognition of the Armenian genocide last June; now the reason for the refusal was Germany’s having granted asylum to Turkish citizens, including military officers, persecuted for alleged Gülen ties.

Two opposition forces, the Green Party and the Left Party (Die Linke), called for Germany to pull out its troops in response; since “the German army is the army of the parliament,” it stated in its call, “and the parliament must control it at all times,” such a veto is unacceptable. Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel had also said the Turkish refusal was “the limit of the tolerable,” and Defense Minister von der Leyen arranged a visit to Jordan to discuss with the king possible alternative bases in the Hashemite Kingdom. Gabriel went further, suggesting that a possible pullout should be considered also for troops stationed in Konya. As government spokesman Steffen Siebert stated, however, there are differences between the two situations; German soldiers at Incirlik are manning German Tornados for reconnaissance flights over Syria and Iraq, whereas in Konya it is a NATO base for AWACs, and this would involve a NATO decision. It is considered unlikely for NATO to take any such steps considering Turkey is its second largest members.

As Beer pointed out at the round table debate, even redeploying German troops to Jordan would not solve the problem, which goes much deeper. How can one accept the move by one NATO member to deny access to troops of a fellow NATO member? This, indeed, is the question: how far is Germany or NATO going to tolerate the arbitrary rulings of an Erdogan regime which believes that with the referendum it has received a mandate to dictate its will despite national sovereignty and international agreements?