Turkey is not only Idlib, refugees and Brunson

Turkey is not only Idlib, refugees and Brunson

The top government advisers of Turkey, Russia, France and Germany met in Istanbul on Sept. 14 to discuss two important topics about the Syrian crisis. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s foreign policy and security adviser İbrahim Kalın has hosted French President Emmanuel Macron’s diplomacy adviser Philippe Étienne, Russian presidential advisor Yuri Ushakov and German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s foreign policy adviser Jan Hecker to discuss the fragile situation in Syria’s Turkish border town of Idlib and also the political future of Syria. The meeting was requested by Turkey, which is also a member of the Astana trio, along with Russia and Iran, and part of the Geneva peace talks. 

Ankara mainly wants to gain some more time to separate civilians as much as it can from al-Qadea and Daesh (Arabic acronym for ISIL) affiliated terror groups in Idlib in order to prevent the massive loss of life and flow of immigrants and terrorists into Turkey, which may pose another immigration and security problem for European Union countries and a security problem for Russia due to terrorists of Caucasian origin there. On Sept. 15, Kalın said the four agreed to focus on a political solution rather than a military one; perhaps there will be no solid outcome but a productive diplomatic effort. 

Turkey’s (and also France and Germany’s) NATO ally the United States is part of the equation in Syria. Besides its cooperation with terrorist-designated PKK affiliated groups against Daesh, there are two main problems, such as the continued arrest of U.S. evangelical pastor Andrew Brunson and the residence of Islamist preacher Fethullah Gülen in the U.S., who is accused of masterminding the July 15, 2016 coup attempt in Turkey. 

Would you be surprised if I wrote that those are not the issues at the top of the agenda of the Turkish public, other than the PKK and Gülen? 

The number one issue on the market that is on people’s agenda is the rising cost of living, which is aggravated by recent hikes in gas and electricity, thus transportation prices that also affect food prices, following the loss of value of the Turkish Lira against the U.S. dollar, euro and other currencies; Turkey pays currency for oil and gas imports. The rising paper prices bring another burden, not only on families as schools have opened, but also on the media and the publishing market, since Turkey pays currency for paper imports too. If Russia and Iran, as Turkey’s two major suppliers of oil and natural gas, agree among themselves to shift to trading in their national currencies, such as in liras, Russian rubles and Iranian rials, that could also bring a bit of relief, but not enough. 

The Central Bank has increased interest rates from an already high 17.5 percent to 24 percent on Sept. 13, which made Turkey have the third highest rates in the world after Argentina and Venezuela. This could pull down the lira only around 0.30 lira against the dollar. 

Erdoğan announced on Sept. 14 that his Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) government mulls to cancel some “mega” projects, all suggesting Treasury guarantees in dollars instead of euros. Government circles, even Erdoğan, signal the cancellation (or revision) could include Erdoğan’s dream project, a channel connecting the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara parallel to the Bosphorus, which Erdoğan likes to call the “Crazy Project.” The government also reviews the possibility of converting currency-based international tenders like bridges, highways, city hospitals, etc. into liras, if the contracts permit. 

Another dream project of Erdoğan is the new Istanbul airport under construction and is scheduled to be opened on Republic Day on Oct. 29. It will be the biggest airport in the world when it becomes fully operative with an estimated cost of $11.3 billion. Construction workers working on the airport’s construction left their jobs on Sept. 14 after 17 of them were injured in a construction accident. They are protesting excessive labor, insufficient safety measures, insufficient food and poor transportation and accommodation conditions and are accusing the construction companies for trying to compensate for their losses from the currency fluctuations by reducing costs. Hundreds of protesting workers have been taken into custody by security forces. It was an issue that has not been widely reported in mainstream media and some pro-government media have accused the workers of treason. 

The government is preparing to announce austerity measures to promote savings and control inflation, which has coincided with the news of a $370 million worth Boeing 747-8 VIP private jet gifted to the Turkish president by the Qatari Emir Temim al-Thani as a sign of his admiration. Hürriyet reported there were only 11 of those models in the world; two of them are used as Air Force One jets by U.S. presidents and the rest are used by the rulers of Qatar, the Sultanate of Brunei, Kuwait, Morocco, Oman and the United Arab Emirates. People have also shown some interest on this topic.

Murat Yetkin,