US suspending visa services in Turkey

1 / 2
Turkish police officers patrol near the side entrance of the US Embassy in Ankara, after it suspended its visa services on Friday. (AFP/File)
2 / 2
The US Embassy in Ankara said on Friday it was temporarily suspending all American citizen and visa services at missions in Turkey. (File/Reuters)
Short Url
Updated 24 October 2020

US suspending visa services in Turkey

  • US Embassy issues security alert to foreign citizens in the country after ‘credible reports’ of attacks and kidnappings

ANKARA: Turkey is facing the specter of a growing terror threat after the US Embassy in Ankara suspended its visa services on Friday and issued a security alert to foreign citizens in the country.

The US mission cited “credible reports” of potential attacks and kidnappings of foreign nationals, and urged US citizens to “exercise heightened caution” in public places, including offices and shopping malls.
Staff at US missions in Ankara, Istanbul, Izmir and Adana were told to stay alert and keep a low profile, while foreigners were advised to avoid crowds.
“The US mission in Turkey has received credible reports of potential terrorist attacks and kidnappings against US citizens and foreign nationals in Istanbul, including against the US Consulate General, as well as potentially other locations in Turkey,” the embassy said.
Arab News has asked the US Embassy in Ankara for additional details on the security threat.
The terror threat comes as the US focuses on the forthcoming presidential elections and Turkey begins its withdrawal from some key observation points in Syria’s rebel-held Idlib province.
Syrians linked to Daesh were recently released from Al-Hol camp in Syria, posing another security threat because of the porous border between the two countries.
Experts believe the latest terror threat is probably linked to Daesh.
“Foreign missions in Turkey sometimes coordinate with Turkish officials by releasing similar statements about the terror threats they perceive,” Mete Sohtaoglu, a security analyst, told Arab News.
“These tactics are designed to detect terror groups because the alerts can activate dormant cells preparing an attack,” he added.

FASTFACT

Staff at US missions in Ankara, Istanbul, Izmir and Adana were told to stay alert and keep a low profile, while foreigners were advised to avoid crowds.

Security at US missions in Turkey has been tightened recently with many Americans visiting the consulate and embassy buildings to post their ballots.  
Erol Bural, a former military officer and head of Ankara-based Countering Terrorism and Radicalization Research Center, said the threat to the US diplomatic missions in Turkey is likely to come from the extreme left-wing Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party/Front (DHKP-C) or Daesh.
The DHKP-C has been operating in Turkey for decades and has carried out several lethal bomb attacks — one against the US Embassy in Ankara in 2013 that killed a Turkish security guard.
In the past, coordination between US and Turkish security officials has led to several DHKP-C cells being uncovered.
“Terror alerts are an integral part of counterterrorism efforts in Turkey,” Bural said.
“The timing of this alert raises questions about why the terror threat is increasing when Turkey has increased its counterterrorism efforts against Daesh cells around the country.”
In Turkey’s deadliest terror attack, twin suicide bombings carried out by Daesh at a rally in Ankara in October, 2015 claimed 103 lives and injured more than 400 people.
Police recently arrested dozens of people in Istanbul over their links to the DHKP-C, which is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the US and EU.


Turkish president denies country has a ‘Kurdish issue’

Updated 26 November 2020

Turkish president denies country has a ‘Kurdish issue’

  • Erdogan defended the removal of 59 out of 65 elected Kurdish mayors from their posts
  • Erdogan's lack of sensitivity to the Kurdish issue could inflame tensions with Kurds in Syria and Iraq: analyst

ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan denied the country has a “Kurdish issue,” even as he doubled down on his anti-Kurdish stance and accused a politician of being a “terrorist who has blood on his hands.”

Erdogan was addressing members of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) on Nov. 25 when he made the remarks.

The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) launched an insurgency against the state in 1984, and is designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the European Union and US. Erdogan accuses the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) of links to the PKK, which it denies.

Erdogan told AKP members that Selahattin Demirtas, the HDP’s former co-chair who challenged him in the 2015 presidential elections, was a “terrorist who has blood on his hands.”

Demirtas has been behind bars since Nov. 4, 2016, despite court orders calling for his release and faces hundreds of years in prison over charges related to the outlawed PKK.

The president defended the removal of 59 out of 65 elected Kurdish mayors from their posts in the country's Kurdish-majority southeast region since local elections in March 2019.

He also said the AKP would design and implement democratization reforms with its nationalistic coalition partner, which is known for its anti-Kurdish credentials.  

His words are likely to disrupt the peace efforts that Turkey has been making with its Kurdish community for years, although they have been baby steps. They could also hint at a tougher policy shift against Kurds in Syria and Iraq.

According to Oxford University Middle East analyst Samuel Ramani, Erdogan’s comments should be read as a reaction to Tuesday’s resignation of top presidential aide Bulent Arinc, who urged for Demirtas to be released and insisted that the Kurds were repressed within Turkey.

“This gained widespread coverage in the Kurdish media, including in Iraqi Kurdistan's outlet Rudaw which has international viewership,” he told Arab News. “Erdogan wanted to stop speculation on this issue.”

Ramani said that Erdogan's lack of sensitivity to the Kurdish issue could inflame tensions with Kurds in Syria and Iraq.

“It is also an oblique warning to US President-elect Joe Biden not to try to interfere in Turkish politics by raising the treatment of Kurds within Turkey.”

But Erdogan’s comments would matter little in the long run, he added.

“Much more will depend on whether Turkey mounts another Operation Peace Spring-style offensive in northern Syria, which is a growing possibility. If that occurs during the Trump to Biden transition period, the incoming Biden administration could be more critical of Turkey and convert its rhetoric on solidarity with the Kurds into action.”

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces have been a key partner for the US in its fight against Daesh. During a campaign speech in Oct. 2019, Biden criticized the US decision to withdraw from Syria as a “complete failure” that would leave Syrian Kurds open to aggression from Turkey.

“It’s more insidious than the betrayal of our brave Kurdish partners, it’s more dangerous than taking the boot off the neck of ISIS,” Biden said at the time.

UK-based analyst Bill Park said that Erdogan was increasingly influenced by his coalition partners, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).

“He might also believe that both the PKK and the HDP have been so weakened that he doesn't have to take them into consideration,” he told Arab News. “The Western world will not respond dramatically to this announcement but they are tired of Erdogan. There is little hope that Turkey's relations with the US or the EU can be much improved. The Syrian Kurdish PYD militia are seeking an accommodation with Damascus, while the Kurdistan Democratic Party, the largest party in Iraqi Kurdistan, is indifferent to the fate of Turkey's Kurds and has problems of its own.”

The HDP, meanwhile, is skeptical about Erdogan’s reform pledges and sees them as “politicking.”

“This reform narrative is not sincere,” said HDP lawmaker Meral Danis Bestas, according to a Reuters news agency report. “This is a party which has been in power for 18 years and which has until now totally trampled on the law. It has one aim: To win back the support which has been lost.”

Turkey’s next election is scheduled for 2023, unless there is a snap election in a year.