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Turkey Officially Apologizes for 1930s Mass Killing of Kurds November 24, 2011

Turkey’s prime minister has for the first time officially apologized for the mass killing of Kurds in an uprising 80 years ago. The statement is seen by some as groundbreaking and the first step in the country facing up to its difficult past, but others see it as more to do with politics.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan addressed a meeting of supporters holding a copy of an historical paper, which he said documents the killing of nearly 14,000 Kurds in a rebellion in the 1930s. He then went on to do what no previous prime minister has done.

Erdogan said if there is need for an apology on behalf of the state, “I will apologize and I am apologizing.”

The killings occurred between 1936 and 1938 in Dersim province. It was renamed Tunceli as part of the suppression of the rebellion, which also saw tens of thousands Kurds forced from their homes.

The mass killings of the restive Kurdish minority in Dersim, most of whom were civilians, have until recently remained a largely taboo subject for mainstream politics.

Observers say Erdogan’s groundbreaking statement has as much to do with party politics, however, with the prime minister pointing out that the main opposition People’s Republican Party, or CHP, was in power when the killings occurred.

It was the leader of that party, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, who demanded that Turkey acknowledge its past actions. Kilicdaroglu, who is from Tunceli, accused Erdogan of seeking to undermine the legacy of the founder of the Turkish Republic, Kemal Ataturk, who was in power at the time of the mass killings.

The Turkish government currently is fighting against Kurdish rebels, who are waging a campaign for autonomy in Turkey’s largely Kurdish southeast. The fighting has killed more than 40,000 people since 1984. It is the latest of several uprisings by the Kurds that span more than a century.

Turkey’s main pro-Kurdish party, the BDP, has questioned the sincerity of the prime minister’s move, pointing out that mass arrests of its members and sympathizers continue.

The government maintains the arrests are part of its fight against the Kurdish insurgency, led by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK. More than 70 Kurds were detained this week, most of whom were lawyers. More than 1,000 Kurds have been arrested since Turkey’s general election in June.

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BP gulf spill has not dimmed Tony Hayward’s ambition November 16, 2011

The same clear and easy speech patterns, the same smart but conservative suits and that same funny smile – or smirk as his US critics saw it – are all there. This is Tony Hayward, the former boss of BP, who is keen to promote a new oil venture in Iraqi Kurdistan, but also eager to enforce an no-go zone around discussion of last year’s events. “I don’t want to go back to talking about the past, so if you want to go there I am just going to stop. I am not talking about BP. I am not interested in talking about it and I don’t want you writing about it.” So we move on — for now.

Hayward spent his entire career at BP, until the Deepwater Horizon accident cost 11 lives, wiped tens of billions off the value of the business and brought Hayward’s tenure at the top to an abrupt end. In what has become a textbook case of how not to handle a disaster, Hayward made some serious errors: at the height of the furore he quipped that he wanted his “life back” and then nipped to the UK for a spot of sailing in the Solent.

But now his future is focused on the Genel Energy business which he has just bought with financier Nat Rothschild through their Vallares investment vehicle. Genel is as far away from the BP behemoth as it possibly could be. It is a relatively small, but successful, Turkish-based exploration and production company with assets concentrated in the geologically exciting but politically sensitive Kurdish market.

It has also been run, up until now, by a colourful and controversial boss, Mehmet Sepil – who was fined £1m for insider dealing by the FSA City watchdog last year – and partly owned by another Turkish businessman, Mehmet Emin Karamehmet, who is currently appealing against an 11-year jail sentence for embezzlement.

Hayward once again is keen to accentuate the positives – and there are many he can list. “We have a very strong asset base – a top quartile asset base with assets that normally belong in the hands of a super major [such as BP or Shell]. We have an extraordinarily strong platform for growth.

The second thing we have is $2bn in cash on our balance sheet. The third thing we have – I say this with humility – is we have a board and a management team that is a bit bigger than the company we have today.”

“The fourth thing we have which is very important in this region is a Turkish brand. This has an Anglo-Turkish flavour, but fundamentally it’s a Turkish business working at a very interesting time of great change, in the Middle East and the wider region, at a time when Turkey is playing a bigger and bigger role both politically and economically.”

The statistics certainly look impressive. Kurdistan has the fourth-largest crude reserves in the world and a very pro-business government that has overseen GDP growth of 12% annually.

And sitting in a western-style luxury hotel in the Iraqi Kurdish capital of Erbil with Hayward, it is easy to see that things are changing fast here. The immediate building is surrounded by high walls and security guards but the surrounding area is one massive building site, with offices and factories being put up at breakneck speed. It is certainly a far cry from present-day Baghdad.

So why did Hayward court more bad headlines by choosing a man recently fined for insider dealing as a new business partner, even if Sepil remains something of a business hero in Turkey and Kurdistan? “You judge a person as you get to know them over a period of time. I actually happen to think that Mehmet is a man of incredible integrity actually,” said Hayward.

The Turkish businessman – who made £267,000 from the illegal dealings – told the FSA that he had made a mistake and had not intended to deceive anyone. His reputation has undoubtedly been tarnished, but Vallares’s coterie of international investors, like Hayward, seems largely unmoved.

There is also political risk in the deal. While Genel is in prime position to exploit its advantageous position in the northern Iraq oil fields, Hayward, with the whole world map to play with, has chosen to get back into the oil business with “risky” production rights that are still disputed by Baghdad.

“The real risk for any geologist is a dry well and what we have here is a place which most exploration geologists would say is the last great onshore oil and gas provinces. There is only one other place, which is potentially off-limits, in north-west Iran.

“The exploration under way here today is directly analogous to what the IOCs [international oil companies] did in the Middle East in Iran, Iraq and Kuwait in the 1960s and 70s.”

Hayward, a grammar school boy from Slough, obviously has the opportunity to get seriously rich, but denied that was what drove him: “I am not motivated by money. Anyone who knows me will tell you that. Yes, I could have sailed away on my boat but I would have been bored with it after six months.

“I have been dabbling with oil and gas since I was a young geologist on a rig in the North Sea. I enjoy it. I was too young to retire. I did have six months off and did different things, like climbing Kilimanjaro. But I knew I wanted to remain in the world of oil and gas.”

After the Deepwater disaster it was not certain how the City would view Hayward and his request for at least £1bn of financial backing — even when he teamed up with a high-achieving member of the Rothschild family. “It’s an interesting thing to ask people for money. They say ‘what are you going to do with it?’ and you just say trust me. We were obviously very successful.”

So has he set forth on this new venture just to vindicate himself in his own or the eyes or others? “No, it had nothing to do with vindication, it was just something interesting and challenging.”

Genel is due to be listed on the London Stock Exchange on November 22. The prospectus published the day before will outline an ambitious new programme in Kurdistan that will involve doubling oil production from Genel’s current level of 100,000 barrels and building a pipeline from its key Taq Taq field so that global exports can begin via Turkey.

But it will not stop there. Vallares has raised £1.4bn and plans to use a chunk of that cash on other acquisitions and geographical expansion. Hayward admits Libya, Egypt and other traditional oil and gas provinces in North Africa and the Middle East are in his sights.

He aims to expand Genel from a $2bn company into a $4bn-$5bn business within three to five years. It seems that Hayward still has vaulting ambitions.

Eventually I dared ask whether he had learned anything from the gulf episode. “Yes,” he said curtly. “But I am not going to tell you what.”

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Kurdish Rebel Killed After Hijacking Turkish Ferry November 12, 2011

Authorities say Turkish commandos stormed a hijacked ferry early Saturday and killed a Kurdish rebel who was carrying explosives.

Hostages say the special forces slipped aboard the ferry Kartepe before dawn as it was anchored off the coast of Silivry – a town west of Istanbul – and shot the hijacker dead within minutes.  The hijacked vessel dropped anchor Friday after running out of fuel.

Turkey’s interior minister Idris Naim Sahin identified the hijacker as 27-year-old Mensur Guzel, head of the youth wing of the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party in Kocaeli province.  The minister said officers tried to convince the man to surrender, but it was not possible to arrest the hijacker alive.

Officials said plastic explosives were found on his body.  Earlier reports said the hijacker was found with a fake bomb.

The ferry was carrying 18 passengers, including five women, along with four crew members and two trainees.  None of the crew or passengers were harmed in the 12-hour ordeal.

The Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, in recent months has increased its attacks against Turkish security forces with suicide bombings.  The group says it is fighting for increased civil and political rights in Turkey.

The United States and Turkey have labeled the PKK a terrorist organization.

Turkey’s government has cracked down on anyone suspected of belonging to or collaborating with the PKK, saying the group is a growing threat. The military has launched a series of attacks against PKK bases along the country’s border with Iraq.

More than 40,000 have died since the PKK took up arms against the Turkish government in 1984.

Attempts earlier this year to resolve the conflict failed.

Some information for this report provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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Suicide Bomber Strikes Turkey’s Southeast October 29, 2011

Turkish officials are blaming a female suicide bomber for a blast in the country’s mainly Kurdish southeast.

VOA’s Kurdish service reports the explosion killed three people and wounded 20 others.

Governor Mustafa Hakan Guvencer said the woman blew herself up near the headquarters of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), in the town of Bingol on Saturday.  But Turkish Interior Minister Idris Sahin said it was not clear the AKP office was the target.

Officials say, so far, there have been no claims of responsibility.

Turkey this week concluded an air and ground offensive against Kurdish militants in Turkey and in northern Iraq.  The offensive was conducted after a series of coordinated attacks by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) killed 24 soldiers.

Kurdish rebels have waged a campaign for autonomy in Turkey’s largely Kurdish southeast since 1984. The fighting has killed more than 40,000 people. Turkey, the United States, and the European Union regard the PKK as a terrorist group.

The Turkish government has taken steps to address the demands of Kurds and other minorities for greater rights. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is pushing to amend the constitution, which was written in 1982 when Turkey was under military rule. But Kurdish leaders say an amended constitution should recognize the Kurds as a distinct element of the nation and grant them autonomy.

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Earthquake Adds Even More Pressure to Relations Between Turks, Kurds October 27, 2011

Sunday’s powerful 7.2 magnitude earthquake in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast has put the spotlight on relations between Turks and Kurds.

Tragedy and grief

The quake happened a few days after the killing of 24 Turkish soldiers by the Kurdish rebel group, the PKK. The response to the quake, which killed more than 500 people, injured at least 1,600 and left thousands homeless, has seen both a humanitarian outpouring of support but also ugly nationalism by some Turks toward the survivors.

AFP

Turkish soldiers carrying the coffins of soldiers who were killed in an attack by members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) during funerals in Van, August 18, 2011.

At the same time the predominantly Kurdish region around the city of Van was being devastated by an earthquake, Turks were demonstrating across the country against the recent killing of 24 Turkish soldiers by the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, in an outpouring of grief and fury.

Muge Anil controversy

But even as the magnitude of the disaster became clear, with rescue workers battling to save those trapped and tens of thousands of people left destitute, well-known television presenter Muge Anil provoked a storm of controversy by questioning why Turks should help Kurds who are in desperate need in the earthquake area.

She said people should know their place. She said first the Kurds throw stones at Turkish police and kill Turkish soldiers, but when they are in trouble, she said they call the Turkish army and police for help.

After a storm of protests, Anil was forced to apologize. But political columnist Asla Aydintasba, of the Turkish newspaper Milliyet, says Anil’s mistake was to say on televison what many Turks are feeling.

“Coming right after the PKK attack here, when 24 people died, there is a certain amount [of] racism, in some quarters, we see this in social media,” said Aydintasba. “People saying that we are not going to grieve for the earthquake because the people who died did not grieve for the loss of [the] lives of Turkish soldiers. Getting into a cab and start talking to the cab driver, start talking to random people, this resentment towards Kurds does exist. It does signal a deep current underneath which [we] need to really focus on.”

Help vs. hate

But other Turks have reached out to the quake-stricken area. On Wednesday, TV stations ran a nationwide appeal called “One Heart,” raising millions of euros. Calls for warm clothing also have been met with a strong response. But organizers are reporting that they are finding obscene notes condemning Kurds in the pockets of some of the donated clothes. It is such a problem that all items are being searched.

Concern about such ethnic hatred prompted Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to angrily condemn it.

He said each word, each phrase, each expression towards discrimination is inhuman, unconscionable. He said he is seeing all this as sickening and that it is enough.

Ethnic polarization

The prime minister should be concerned, according to retired Brigadier General Haldun Solmazturk, who spent much of his career fighting the PKK. He says the past few months have seen an upsurge in fighting, claiming the lives of more than 50 Turkish soldiers. He says this is fueling a deepening and worrying ethnic polarization.

AP

Rescuers work to save people from of collapsed buildings in Ercis, Van, eastern Turkey, October 24, 2011.

“There has been a rapidly growing reaction to the events in southeastern Turkey, especially these ambushes,” he said. “And people are looking for [an] answer, which is not being answered – neither by the politicians and bureaucrats. So the tension is just building up, and this reaction is directed to the Kurdish people. At some stage, this could ignite an actual attack. I am afraid that there is potentially that once sparked, [it] could spread throughout Turkey.”

Observers say the Van area earthquake is now taking on an increasingly symbolic importance – will such a tragedy unite Turkey or further polarize it?

Reuters

Demonstrators shout slogans and hold Turkey’s national flag during a protest against the latest attacks by Kurdish rebels against the Turkish military in Istanbul, Turkey, October 19, 2011.

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