Everything you need to know about Turkish elections

Turkey will be holding what is considered to be the most consequential elections in recent history on 14 May.

From a stuttering economy to migration policies, the issues at stake have been exacerbated by the recent earthquake while killed 50,000 people and devastated towns and cities acrous the south and southwest of the country. 

Voters will decide whether to keep the current government — which has ruled the country for more than two decades — or opt instead for a change of leadership in Ankara. 

Here’s everything you need to know about Turkish politics, parties, personalities and the issues at stake as the country gets ready to go to the polls: 

The election timetable

There will be two elections held on 14 May where voters will choose their new president, and also 600 members of parliament.

For the presidential elections, if no candidate can secure at least 50% of the votes, a second run-off will be held on 28 May between the top two runners.

Around 61 million voters will head to the polls on election day and it is estimated that 3 million voters abroad will likely cast their votes in advance, between 27 April and 9 May. 

The voting on 14 May will begin at 08:00, and the polls will close at 17:00 local time. 

All politicians and parties will have to conclude their campaigns at 18:00 the day before, then the pre-election restrictions begin.

The initial results are expected to be known by 23:59 on election day. At midnight the electoral prohibitions end, and the broadcasters will begin to announce unofficial initial results. 

Traditionally, the winner of the race for the presidency will declare victory in the early hours of the morning, when the majority of the ballots have been counted. 

The president-elect will address the public with a victory speech. However, the announcement of the definite results by the Supreme Election Council can take a few days or even a week.

The presidency and parliamentary elections are run on the same day every five years.

Who is running for the presidency?

On 14 May, the voter will be handed a ballot paper with four candidates, who all succeeded in securing the 100,000 signatures required for candidacy.

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the current president will be facing his toughest test during his 20-year rule. Founder and the leader of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), Erdoğan has been leading the country since he became prime minister in 2002. 

Appointed as president by parliament in 2014, his powers were only symbolic in theory, although critics would argue that he already established a de-facto presidential system since coming into office.

The referendum in 2017 paved the way for the presidential system and in 2018, all the powers of the government were handed over to the elected president, Erdoğan, as the parliamentary government was abolished. 

The 69-year-old president is criticised for monopolising all powers and silencing dissenting voices as well as shifting Turkey away from Ataturk’s secular blueprint. 

Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, who has been the country’s main opposition leader for 13 years, is widely believed to have a high chance of winning the race for the first time. 

The leader of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), Kılıçdaroğlu is the candidate of the Nation Alliance, also known as the ‘Table of Six’.

Following a series of major defeats against Erdoğan and AKP, the retaking of power in stronghold municipalities at the local elections in 2019 by CHP was the first signal of Erdoğan’s loss of support. 

The country’s worsening economic situation appears to be strengthening Kılıçdaroğlu’s hand.

Some call the 74-year-old retired civil servant a Turkish ‘Ghandi’, others criticise him for lacking political charisma and for obstructing politicians from his own party who are seen as having a high chance of winning the election.

Muharrem Ince, the leader of the Homeland Party, knows the presidential race all too well. He will be running against Erdoğan for the second time following the last presidential elections in 2018. 

İnce was a member of the CHP and the candidate of the main opposition at the time. However, his disappearance on the election night was perceived as a betrayal and his ‘off the record’ Whatsapp message, “the man won”, accepting the defeat was the last straw that broke the camel’s back for his supporters. 

He formed Homeland Party (MP) following his resignation from CHP in 2021.

Despite calls for withdrawal from the opposition wing, İnce is confident that he will make it to the second round. The 58-year-old candidate is criticised for splitting the votes and playing into Erdoğan’s hands. 

Sinan Oğan, nominated by the Ancestral Alliance, was a member of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).

He was dismissed from the party in 2017 for the second time, following his return after winning the lawsuit against his expulsion in 2015. 

Now an independent politician, the 55-year-old is less well-known among the public than the other candidates. Oğan served as a member of parliament between 2011 and 2015.


Perhaps the most complicated part of the race is the parliamentary elections. The voters will have a long ballot paper with a list of 32 political parties. 

Turkey is divided into 87 multi-member constituencies which elect a certain number of representatives depending on the size of the population of each constituency. 

In total 600 MPs are elected. 

The complication doesn’t end here. 

Some cities are traditionally strongholds of a particular party regardless of who the candidates are. So, to increase the chance of winning a seat, some parties include candidates from other parties in their electoral lists. 

For a party to be represented in parliament, it must exceed the threshold of 7%.

Any party unable to obtain enough votes can still join the parliament if it is a member of an alliance that reaches the 7% threshold.


People’s Alliance is currently formed of four parties: the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), Great Unity Party (BBP) and New Welfare Party (YRP).

The main opposition bloc’s Nation Alliance, on the other hand, is made up of six parties: Republican People’s Party (CHP), Good Party (İYİ), Felicity Party (SP), Future Party (GP), Democrat Party (DP) and Democracy and Progress Party (DEVA).

Labour and Freedom Alliance is in theory formed of two parties Green Left Party (YSP) and Workers’ Party of Turkey (TİP). However, the party list of YSP consists of candidates from four different parties. 

The pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) which came third in the last elections and currently facing a possible closure, will be participating under Green Left Party (YSP). 

Union of Socialist Forces brings together Left Party (SOL), Communist Party of Turkey (TKP) and the Communist Movement of Turkey (TKH).

 Victory Party (ZP) and Justice Party (AP) runs in the election under the Ancestral Alliance.

Once all the votes have been counted, the D’Hondt method will be used to determine the new MPs. The method aims to allocate seats to parties approximately in proportion to the number of votes received.

The votes cast abroad will be added proportionally to the votes received by the parties across the country.

What are they promising?

Unless there will be a big surprise, it is almost certain that it is either Erdoğan or Kiılıçdaroğlu who will reside at the presidential palace for the next term. And if the pattern continues from previous elections, the majority of the seats will be occupied by the three alliances: the Nation, People’s, and Labour and Freedom Alliance.

Erdoğan has been basing its campaign on the “Century of Turkey” vision and is expected to introduce his 23-point manifesto on 11 April. 

He will be showcasing the projects AKP has realised for the last 20 years and new plans for the reconstruction of the disaster zone are expected to come to the fore. 

At an event last October, the current leader already mentioned that his main goal is to change the constitution, saying amendments made so far weren’t enough.

The controversial topic of his speech was about the institution of the family. “While the unity between woman and man based on legitimacy is scorned; perversion, immorality, and crooked relationships are being encouraged intentionally,” he said. 

On the other hand, the main opposition (Nation Alliance) is pledging to reverse many of Erdoğan’s signature policies and has listed its election vows under nine main headings: highlighting justice, anti-corruption, and education as some of the top priorities. 

The opposition wants to dismantle Erdoğan’s executive presidency in favour of the previous parliamentary system. 

The most striking of its promises are about economic and migration policies. 

The alliance is promising to reduce inflation to single figures in two years and increase the national income per capita fivefold. 

They also have been pledging to send two million Syrians back to their country within two years, on a voluntary basis.

Sharing live videos from his modest kitchen, Kılıçdaroğlu promises to fight corruption and vows to enhance freedom. 

If they take power, Turkey will rejoin the Istanbul Convention he says, which aims to prevent gender-based violence, protect victims of violence, and punish perpetrators, 

Also, the plans for Istanbul Canal will be abandoned, the Presidential Palace in Ankara will be opened to the public and the new address of the president will be the old palace, Çankaya Mansion.

What polls are indicating?

Election surveys pointing to a neck-and-neck race, unsurprisingly between Erdoğan and Kılıçdaroğlu, and suggesting a possible power change after more than two decades. However, many are skeptical of the polls and believe Erdoğan’s grassroots will not betray him.

Based on the latest reports by 4 out of 5 research companies, Kılıçdaroğlu is ahead of Erdoğan by single figures. However, the numbers also suggest a second run-off.

According to the latest opinion polls conducted by 11 different companies, AKP is leading the race with over 32% of the votes, followed by the CHP projected to win around 27.6%. HDP, who will be running under Green Left Party, is in third place with around 10.7%.

The ruling AKP is losing ground against the opposition.

Looking at the overall votes of the two opposing blocs, the Nation Alliance is leading the polls with 42.2% while Erdoğan’s People’s Alliance is set to gain 40.6% of the votes.

What is at stake?

Without a doubt, high inflation and economic crisis top the election debates in the country. According to Turkish Statistical Institute (TUİK) the annual inflation was recorded at 64.27% in 2022. However independent Inflation Research Group (ENAG), claims the number was more than double, at the rate of 137.55%.

The rocketing cost of living, particularly in the housing sector, and unemployment rates are the most important issues on the voter’s agenda.

The government’s response and the handling of the devastating earthquakes in February will be reflected at the ballot box. 

Given that Turkey is the country with the highest number of refugees in the world, it is not surprising that voters consider migration to be another important issue. Some surveys show anti-migrant sentiment has increased as well as the number of migrants.

Erdoğan’s critics say his government has muzzled dissent, eroded rights, and brought the judicial system under its sway, a charge denied by officials who say it has protected citizens in the face of unique security threats including a 2016 coup attempt. Dismissing thousands of civil servants and academics from public institutions and a crackdown on media was regarded as a policy of silencing and intimidation.

Hence civil liberties are never off the agenda.

Last but not least, the upheaval caused by the devastating earthquakes in the southeast has heightened concerns about potential irregularities during the elections.

… and on election day

Selling or consuming alcohol in public places will be forbidden. All recreation centers will have to stay shut during the hours of voting. Venues that offer restaurant and entertainment facilities can only serve food to the customers. No one, except law enforcement officers, can carry arms.

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What will happen to Turkey’s EU migrant deal if the opposition wins?

Turkey is counting down to elections on 14 May, with the economy the single most important issue for voters. 

But the migrant crisis is also seen as critical — not just for the public, but for the political parties vying for power. 

The last decade has witnessed a wave of arrivals with people fleeing the war in Syria. Many passed through Turkey and went on to Europe, but millions remained in the first point of safety. 

Some surveys show that as the number of foreigners has increased, so has anti-migrant sentiment. 

That has meant immigration issues are a hot election subject, which could have implications for the EU as well.

The opposition ‘National Alliance bloc is hoping to gain votes by pledging to send two million Syrians back to their homeland within two years. According to official figures, Turkey hosts 3,447,837 Syrian refugees registered under temporary protection as of March 2023.

Meanwhile, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, facing harsh criticism for his migration policy from his own supporters, has tried to keep one foot in each camp. 

Last year, he reiterated that his government was working on a return scheme to send one million Syrians back to their homeland on a voluntary basis. A few days later he also said “we will never expel them from this land. Our door is wide open. We’ll continue to host them and not throw them into the lap of murderers.”

Five months before the election, Erdogan announced more than half a million Syrians returned to northern Syria and he added “voluntary return of Syrians back to their homes is accelerating”. 

An alternative to the EU-Turkey deal

Migrants have become a bargaining tool between Ankara and the European Union too. 

In 2016, both parties reached a deal on the readmission of persons residing without authorisation, better known as the EU-Turkey Refugee Deal. It aimed to stop the influx of refugees and migrants into the EU by sending anyone trying to enter Greece irregularly back to Turkey. 

In return, the EU promised to fund €6 billion to help Turkey accommodate Syrians, as well as offer visa liberalisation for Turkish nationals. The deal meant that for every Syrian being returned to Turkey from Greece, another Syrian will be resettled in the EU.

For Professor Dr Kemal Kirişci, a nonresident senior fellow and director of the Turkey Project at the Brookings Institution, the deal was “utterly successful” for Brussels, though the possibility of a similar agreement is highly unlikely. 

Statistics from Turkish authorities show that about 37,000 Syrians have been relocated to Western countries under the one-for-one principle.

According to Kirişci, integrating them into reconstruction plans of the disaster zone following February’s devastating earthquake, is much more feasible and realistic than any other solution.

He points out there is already a United Nations plan on the table which focuses on “the EU and other Western partners extending trade concessions to Turkey, enabling private businesses to expand their exports and in return create formal and sustainable employment for both Syrian refugees and locals.” 

In his article about the proposal, Kirişci writes: “It would reduce Syrian refugees’ dependence on humanitarian assistance, help alleviate public resentment, and diminish the prospects of secondary movements”.

Speaking to Euronews, he added the EU would be much more receptive to this idea and there is great support for the proposal from concerned organisations.

“Until last year, Syrian refugees were increasingly feeling integrated into Turkish society, but the situation has changed due to the public resentment that surfaced during the course of the last year. With that resentment, you begin to see refugees doubting their presence and acceptance in Turkey. Their consideration to turn towards a third destination is increasing too”, Kirişci continues.

A 2021 report suggests that most Syrians, who five years ago wanted to stay in Turkey, now want to relocate to another country. 

In 2017 only around 32% of Syrians wanted to settle in a third country, by 2021 this number had risen to 64%. 

Kirişci also points out that migrants are unlikely to be a top priority for the new government after the elections because whoever will be in power, will face more pressing issues such as the economy.

‘Immigration [is] a key element in EU-Turkey relations’

Dr Sibel Karadag from Kadir Has University, an expert on migration and borders, says the policy of return is already in place internationally.

“Deportation and returns have been a hot topic for a long time. Western countries are deporting migrants to their neighbouring countries and the neighbours sending them to the countries of origin.”

“On the way to elections, Turkey increases the level of returns and deportations as we previously witnessed during the 2019 municipality elections. Since January 2022, another episode is at stake which is officially called as the policy of dilution and sweeping. 

“Under this policy, Syrians are sent back to the areas under Turkish control in northern Syria under the name of voluntary returns and other irregular migrants are deported through charter flights”, she explains. 

Karadag believes regardless of the election result, this practice will continue.

In its election campaign, the opposition bloc has outlined four step solution to the migrant crisis in Turkey. 

“First of all, we will make peace with all our neighbours” they say as their number one priority: “We will sit down with the Syrian government to discuss and find a peaceful solution”. 

On the other hand, the current government is yet to announce its election manifesto. However, Erdogan’s desire to negotiate with Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad and his efforts on a scheme to relocate at least one million Syrian to northern Syria are seen as a part of his election campaign.

For both experts, shaking hands with the Syrian president is not a possibility on the horizon while Turkey maintains its military presence in northern Syria, at least not in the very near future.

According to Karadag, migration and border governance became key elements in EU-Turkey relations. 

“The EU has aimed to externalise this issue to Turkey as part of its wider global approach to control migration, and Turkey has used its ‘guardian’ role by turning it into multi bargaining tool”, she argues.

She adds: “At times, the government aimed to bargain with the threat of opening of borders which finally became materialised during the Pazarkule events in 2020. At other times it sought additional financial support or tacit political tolerance for the regime”.

In late 2019, Erdogan threatened to open European borders to let migrants leave the country unless more international support was provided, plus as a response to criticisms of Turkish military intervention in northern Syria. 

Following his announcement, thousands of migrants and refugees, mainly from Somalia and Afghanistan, flocked to Turkey’s Pazarkule border crossing with Greece. 

Clashes broke out as desperate groups faced fierce resistance from Greek police.

For Karadag, in the event of implementing the plans of mass returns, we may see similar scenes again, as she argues the Turkey-Greece border is much deadlier than in 2015 with proven pushbacks from Greek security forces.

“The European Union will continue to support any kind of extra-legal action to stop migrants reaching its doorstep,” she says.

“The first task should be to build a critical and strong diplomacy with rights-based principles against EU’s migration and border policies,” adds Karadag.

“The new government should carry out a policy that puts human dignity at the forefront.”

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Don’t be fooled by the polls. Erdogan won’t go down without a fight

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.

It has been a long time since the citizens of Turkey awaited the high-stakes parliamentary and presidential elections with such bated breath.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has been ruling the country for 21 years, is set to face a united opposition candidate on 14 May, and this time, his chances look slim due to never-ending political and economic crises that were only deepened by the tremors costing more than 10% of the country’s 2023 national GDP.

The devastating twin earthquakes in early February that killed more than 50 thousand people and left millions homeless have only furthered a major decline in his popularity, with Erdogan expected to pay the price of what has been deemed a largely inadequate emergency response.

Right now, polls suggest that Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party, or CHP, and the joint presidential candidate of the Nation Alliance, leads the presidential race with at least 10 points ahead of Erdogan.

Kilicdaroglu is also expected to get support from smaller parties as well as Turkey’s third-largest bloc, Labour and Freedom Alliance, led by the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party, HDP.

Regardless of the dark clouds gathering fast, Erdogan and his People’s Alliance seem unphased and certain of yet another victory. Many wonder how come — but the answer can be gleaned from his past record.

In Erdogan’s eyes, the state is himself

For Erdogan, a victory would represent a go-ahead to cement his autocratic rule once and for all. A win would provide him with a way to rule Turkey for good, moving the country further away from the West and the EU and destroying every form of opposition against him.

For the opposition, the 14 May elections are seen as the last chance to preserve Turkish democracy and prevent the country from sliding further towards autocratic rule.

During his more than two decades in power, Erdogan established near-absolute control over state institutions, especially after an executive presidency was introduced in 2018, giving supreme powers to his office.

Since then, people with links to Erdogan and his party have been systematically placed in positions of power in the judiciary, police, army, and other state institutions.

Moreover, while other parties have only donations to rely on in addition to humble financial support from the country’s treasury, Erdogan and his party control all of the state’s financial means.

The Turkish Presidency’s Communications Directorate alone has spent nearly 233 million liras (approx €11.3 million) in the first two months of 2023 — a 274% increase to the same period in 2022.

In fact, the Communications Directorate — although technically a state institution — proved to be the Turkish president’s tool for propaganda and a pressure mechanism on what is left of Turkish media.

As the vote nears, the state budget will increasingly serve for Erdogan’s elections games in addition to providing him with a major platform for media appearances, as more than 90% of the Turkish media scene is owned or controlled by the government.

The remaining independent media outlets have started to feel the pressure after being hit with heavy fines.

Since the earthquake disaster and with the approaching elections, Turkish TV stations have been heavily sanctioned and fined for their critical coverage ahead of the vote by the Radio and Television Supreme Council, RTUK, the state agency that monitors — and sanctions — radio and television broadcasts.

Social media warfare and disdain of Twitter

But the media campaign will not end there. The Turkish government has already established a control mechanism on social media with draconian laws and regulations.

The government also banned Twitter during the earthquake disaster, saying that it was to blame for the increase of disinformation following the public anger against the government’s ineffective and slow disaster response.

Experts, politicians, and commentators criticised the ban, saying that Twitter was the main source of communication for many people searching for survivors and victims, as well as for local and nationwide aid campaigns.

Erdogan’s government has toyed with limiting or outright blocking access to social media in Turkey ever since activists widely used platforms like Twitter to organise and communicate during the 2013 Gezi Park protests in Istanbul.

The protests posed a huge challenge to his authority at the time that ended with a brutal police crackdown causing several deaths among the demonstrators, causing Erdogan to label Twitter as “trouble”, accusing it of spreading “unmitigated lies“.

He followed up by openly criticising Twitter, calling it “Twitter, mwitter!” and threatening to “eradicate” it in front of his supporters in the run-up to the municipal elections in 2014. 

Officials then banned it just days before the vote on the grounds of allegedly allowing posts “insulting Turkish citizens” to remain on the platform and a law allowing the Telecommunications Board to block any website or social media network for anything it believes to be “privacy violations”.

Now, it is not certain that the government would not attempt to impose a similar ban before, during or after elections using “disinformation” as an excuse.

This time, internal subversion is not out of the question

In the meantime, more and more reports suggest that Erdogan and his party are trying to subvert the platform from within.

In the last few months, there has been a significant increase in Twitter accounts posing as news outlets without specifying members of their editorial board, journalists, or even linking to a website.

These accounts, which have hundreds of thousands of followers, are allegedly controlled by the troll armies of AKP.

More interestingly, several influential commentators, analysts and academics revealed that dozens of fake accounts using their names have been created in the last weeks.

They claim that these accounts — again, controlled by the government trolls — aim to manipulate Twitter discussions on politics and upcoming elections.

Bots and fake accounts are also reportedly advocating for other politicians, such as Muharrem Ince, a former CHP official and 2018 presidential candidate, who is expected to take some of the votes that would otherwise most likely go to Kilicdaroglu.

Fears of election fraud spike

Increased fears of possible election fraud are not baseless hysteria. It would be naïve to believe there would be no attempts at it considering a record of malversations and questionable calls by authorities in Erdogan’s times.

Most recently, in 2017, the Turkish Supreme Election Council, or YSK, reportedly accepted up to 2.5 million unsealed ballots — which could have been easily manipulated — in a referendum that allowed Erdogan to undermine the country’s parliamentary system and push through the aforementioned executive presidency.

The YSK decision was supported by the AKP. The opposition, rights groups and international organisations condemned it.

In 2019, Erdogan made the unthinkable after he lost Turkey’s important cities, including Istanbul, Ankara, Antalya and Adana, to the opposition in local elections.

YSK, fearing Erdogan, annulled Istanbul’s mayoral vote due to alleged irregularities. However, district and city council elections — in which Erdogan’s party held the majority — were not annulled even though people voted at the same time with the same ballot boxes.

In the second round, Erdogan’s candidate still experienced a humiliating defeat against Istanbul’s popular mayor Ekrem Imamoglu.

What will happen to the votes from the earthquake-affected areas?

This time, one major issue stems from the fact that it is not clear how people will cast their votes in the areas affected by the earthquakes, as there are almost no standing buildings in some towns and cities. 

Some 2 million people have been forced to migrate to safer areas, but only 345,000 people have self-registered in other cities for elections since.

In the earthquake-struck eastern Turkey, Erdogan allied with the Kurdish nationalist and Islamist Free Cause Party, HÜDA PAR, citing election safety in affected areas would benefit from the alliance.

HÜDA PAR is known to have ties to Hezbollah’s Turkish branch, held responsible for the assassination of hundreds of people, including intellectuals, journalists and academics, in the 1990s. It is also a designated Islamist militant terror group by the US and many Western countries.

Fears now abound that Erdogan might use HÜDA PAR to use the chaos to his advantage through illicit means, be it ballot theft or intimidation of voters.

Moreover, Russia — which has been accused of malicious influence on several elections across the world,  including the 2016 US presidential election — clearly supports Erdogan as his government remains the only bridge for Russian trade following the West’s sanctions over its invasion of Ukraine.

Last but not least, Erdogan passed a new election law last year that openly favours his party and allies. 

In addition to the detailed mathematical calculation on how AKP could get more seats in the parliament with fewer votes as a result of the changes, the election boards’ structure was tinkered with as well.

Under the previous law, the most senior judge acted as the head of the district election board, but the new draft law suggests that first-category judges can now lead the election boards, meaning it’s the professional category and not seniority that determines who gets to serve.

Following the failed coup attempt in Turkey in 2016, thousands of judicial officials were dismissed from their posts as part of the government’s crackdown on opponents, and the ruling coalition was accused of favouring their allies while appointing new judges and prosecutors.

Most of these new judges will be presiding over the district election boards, which could then repay the favour to those who appointed them, ignore any attempted fraud, or even participate in it themselves.

Opposition must be ready to play ball

Erdogan proved himself as a political strategist, winning under unexpected circumstances on several occasions.

This time, however, the united and growingly optimistic opposition is bound to be the first real test — and it might prove to be a test for both.

Kilicdaroglu united most of the opposition parties behind him, but he is known for his election defeats against Erdogan.

While he won one local election victory in 2019, Kilicdaroglu lost four general elections, two referendums, and two local elections against Erdogan, bringing the total between the two over the years to 8-1 in favour of Erdogan.

And despite the big lead in the polls, pre-election polling has also misguided both politicians and voters in the past. 

In 2022, Hungarian strongman Victor Orban seemed to be on the brink of losing elections against a united opposition. 

Yet, in the last weeks prior to the vote, Orban forged a comeback and brought another surprising victory to his party, cementing his control over Hungary despite the illiberal policies that he promotes.

In a highly polarised country like Turkey, polls can also cause people not to go out and vote on election day due to their confidence in a victory.

Whatever polls say, Erdogan has a strong voter base of some 30-35%, and he knows the profile of his electoral body very well while having every means to expand it.

The opposition, however, is very diverse and has less experience in working together. Just agreeing on the joint candidate could almost have ended the opposition’s alliance only two weeks ago — a tell-tale sign that not everything is as rosy as one would think.

Erdogan knows this, too, and will try to manipulate the opposition parties’ differences, especially regarding the Kurdish issue and the relationship with the pro-Kurdish HDP.

Erdogan still has cards up his sleeve

All things considered, the security and resilience of the electoral process must be the number one priority for opposition parties and civil initiatives between now and mid-May. 

The 2019 Istanbul election and the relentless work of Imamoglu and CHP’s provincial branch chair Canan Kaftancioglu have done to ensure the vote’s legitimacy should be seen as an example. 

Without their effort, Istanbul could still have been ruled by Erdogan’s AKP.

If the opposition wants to win, they, together with everyone who believes in the salvation of Turkish democracy, should not be passive and must jointly build up their defences against Erdogan’s games before, during and after the elections.

Because even if Kilicdaroglu wins, it will only be over once Erdogan says so and admits defeat. 

After all, two decades later, he will be hardly ready to give up on power without playing all of his remaining cards — and he still has plenty of those up his sleeve.

Hamdi Fırat Büyük is a journalist and political analyst working with the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN).

At Euronews, we believe all views matter. Contact us at [email protected] to send pitches or submissions and be part of the conversation.

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Is the EU ready for Turkey’s increasingly likely democratic turn?

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.

A democratic change in Turkey matters to Europe and appears to be increasingly likely. 

The upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections on 14 May have the potential to be the most consequential since the 1950 elections, which ended the single-party rule.

Declining support for the Justice and Development Party, AKP, combined with strong alliances in the opposition, could mark the end of the era of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. 

According to several polls, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the candidate of the six-party opposition alliance, is leading against Erdoğan.

A victory for Kılıçdaroğlu might signal the start of a new era of democratisation and Europeanisation in Turkey, as well as a chance to reset Turkey’s relations with the West.

A largely transactional relationship persists

The EU played a significant role in Turkey’s democratisation process following the Helsinki Summit in 1999 when Turkey was officially recognised as a candidate country for EU membership. 

However, the nature of this relationship has become largely transactional, especially since “the refugee deal” in 2016. 

The EU has made itself irrelevant by doing nothing else than expressing concerns over the developments in Turkey. 

Instead of an approach based on values, the EU prioritised mutual interests and failed to adopt a clear policy against the AKP’s increasingly authoritarian style of governance.

Turkey’s detachment from the EU, coupled with the EU’s interests-based approach, had far-reaching political, economic, social and security repercussions for both sides, as well as wider regional and global implications.

A democratic change in Turkey could provide a new opportunity for Brussels to play a crucial role and reassert its relevance. 

A new government in Turkey would definitely need the EU’s support to return to the democratisation path and tackle the ongoing economic crisis. 

Some in Brussels need to reexamine their orientalist approach

This also presents a significant chance for the EU, as it confronts major challenges like the threat posed by Russia, dependency on China, energy crisis and democratic backsliding in some EU member states.

A renewed relationship between Turkey and the EU could and should be established following the elections based on democratic values. 

Nevertheless, the critical question is whether the EU is ready for this prospect.

The prevailing understanding in Brussels, especially since the adoption of the presidential system in Turkey in 2017, is that a democratic change is unlikely to occur in the short- to mid-term. 

Despite the victory of the opposition in the 2019 municipal elections, many in Brussels remain sceptical that presidential elections can bring about a democratic change, with some assuming that Erdoğan will always find a way to stay in power. 

Consequently, the EU is not adequately prepared for a potential democratic change in Turkey. 

This perspective not only reflects an orientalist approach that disregards the efforts of millions of Turkish democrats but also fails to acknowledge the fact that, despite all major issues, Turkey has a long-standing democratic experience with strong political parties and civil society.

Recent democracy and fundamental rights issues a convenient excuse

Although there are numerous unfair practices during the campaign period, elections in Turkey remain free, and parties and volunteers possess considerable experience in ensuring election security.

Given Turkey’s significance to Europe, the EU cannot afford to miss the opportunity to re-engage with Turkey in the event of a democratic change, and yet the EU currently lacks a clear strategy for such a scenario. 

The EU’s lack of a long-term vision for Turkey could make the process of re-engaging with the country challenging. For some countries and Turkey-sceptic political groups, the current transactional relationship with Turkey is not entirely undesirable.

Despite complaints aboutErdoğan, this interest-based dialogue affords them the opportunity to avoid difficult decisions about the future of Turkey-EU relations.

While many in the EU have long been opposed to Turkey’s accession process based on cultural and religious arguments, the country’s recent struggles with democracy and fundamental rights have given them a convenient excuse to maintain a sceptical stance. 

Should Turkey return to a democratic path, those sceptical of the country will need to find new justifications for their stance. In any case, maintaining the status quo will not be a viable option.

Turkey’s EU accession path has to be fully revitalised

In the event of Kılıçdaroğlu’s victory, what options does the EU have? 

One relatively simple choice would be to initiate talks for the modernisation of the Customs Union, which both sides are eager to pursue and would be beneficial for both. 

Nevertheless, this may not suffice. 

Another crucial matter on the agenda is visa liberalisation, which could be more challenging in the short term due to possible resistance from certain EU member countries.

There are several other challenging topics between Turkey and the EU, including “the refugee deal”.

Kılıçdaroğlu intends to renegotiate the agreement to alleviate Turkey’s burden, as anti-refugee sentiments are growing in Turkey, and decreasing the number of refugees is a pledge of all opposition parties. 

While the primary promise is to send Syrian refugees back by striking a deal with Bashar al-Assad, it is unclear how many would realistically return to the country. 

The future of refugees in Turkey is a matter with potentially significant consequences for the EU and will undoubtedly be part of the post-election discussions with Turkey.

Sooner or later, a decision on Turkey’s accession process will be also necessary. Despite the numerous challenges, the EU has opted to leave the door open for Turkey, and this was the correct decision. 

If the EU chooses to terminate the accession process when Turkey returns to the path of democracy, it could be viewed as a punishment for the millions of Turkish democrats. 

Revitalising the process is another alternative, but achieving consensus to reopen new negotiation chapters and recommence the accession process will be a challenging task.

Threats to European security make strengthening relations with Ankara a priority

One may question whether Turkey can ever join the EU or if working towards a new type of strategic partnership could be a better option instead.

As a firm believer in the EU’s role in democratisation, I would support re-energising the accession process if and when the conditions are met. 

Even if accession seems unlikely in the near future, engaging in the accession process can yield mutual benefits for both Turkey and the EU. 

Considering global developments and threats to European security, the dynamics and the needs may quickly evolve. 

Ankara and Brussels may actually need each other more than they realise.

Given all these factors, instead of taking a reactive approach, the EU should adopt a proactive stance and develop a comprehensive action plan to be implemented in case of a democratic change in Turkey. 

It is imperative that the EU does not simply stand by and observe such a development. 

Taking action is essential if the EU intends to assert its influence as a significant regional and global player.

Dr Demir Murat Seyrek is an adjunct professor at VUB (Free University of Brussels) and Senior Policy Advisor at the European Foundation for Democracy.

At Euronews, we believe all views matter. Contact us at [email protected] to send pitches or submissions and be part of the conversation.

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Live: Death toll in quake hit Turkey and Syria nears 40,000, as UN launches appeal for Syrians

As the death toll from the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria approached 40,000 on Wednesday, the UN launched an appeal for $397 million to provide “life-saving relief” for nearly five million Syrians affected by the latest disaster. Follow FRANCE 24’s live coverage of the devastating earthquake in Turkey and Syria. All times are Paris time (GMT + 1)

8:50pm: UK makes it easier for aid agencies in Syria to avoid breaching sanctions

Britain is issuing two new licences to make it easier for aid agencies helping earthquake relief efforts to operate in Syria without breaching sanctions aimed at the government of President Bashar al-Assad.

Relief efforts in Syria have been hampered by the legacy of a civil war that has splintered the country and divided regional and global powers.

The British government said the temporary new licences would “strengthen the timely and effective delivery of relief efforts by removing the need for individual licence applications”.

“UK sanctions do not target humanitarian aid, food, or medical supplies, but we recognise that the current requirements for individual licencing are not always practical during a crisis response,” Minister of State for International Development Andrew Mitchell said in a statement.

The licences provide broad protection to organisations to allow them to operate by authorising activities which would have otherwise been prohibited.

6:55pm: Northwest Syria now area of ‘greatest concern’, says WHO

The World Health Organization says it is particularly concerned about the welfare of people in northwestern Syria, a rebel-held region with little access to aid.

“It’s clear that the zone of greatest concern at the moment is the area of northwestern Syria,” WHO’s emergencies director, Mike Ryan, told a briefing in Geneva.

“The impact of the earthquake in areas of Syria controlled by the government is significant, but the services are there and there is access to those people. We have to remember here that in Syria, we’ve had ten years of war. The health system is amazingly fragile. People have been through hell.”

Efforts to distribute aid have been hampered by a civil war that has splintered the country for more than a decade. Civil war enmities have obstructed at least two attempts to send aid across frontlines into Syria’s northwest, but an aid convoy reached the area overnight.

5:50pm: Destruction ‘is everywhere’ in Turkey’s quake-stricken Nurdagi

In Nurdagi, a southeastern Turkish town near the epicentre of the January 6 earthquakes, practically all buildings have been flattened or severly damaged, with plans now in place to completely demolish those still standing and rebuild the town anew.

Meanwhile, those left homeless by the disaster are still waiting for aid and a place to live.

FRANCE 24’s special correspondent Thameen Al Kheetan has more.


4:15pm: Two women pulled from the rubble in Turkey’s Kahramanmaras

Two more women have been pulled from the rubble in Turkey’s southern city of Kahramanmaras, even as hopes of finding survivors dwindle.

Rescuers could be seen applauding and embracing each other in a video posted to social media as an ambulance carried away a 74-year-old woman rescued after more than nine days trapped in rubble.

Earlier in the day, a 46-year-old woman was rescued in the same city, close to the epicentre of the quake.


2:35pm: Turkey says earthquake diplomacy could help mend Armenia ties

Humanitarian aid sent by Armenia for victims of last week’s devastating earthquake in Turkey could boost the neighbouring countries’ efforts to normalise their relations, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has said.

A border gate between the long-feuding neighbours was opened for the first time in 35 years to allow aid for quake victims in southern Turkey. Armenia also sent a rescue team to Turkey to help in the search for survivors.

“Armenia has extended its hand of friendship, showed solidarity and cooperation with us in this difficult time … We need to continue this solidarity,” Cavusoglu said at a joint news conference in Ankara with his Armenian counterpart Ararat Mirzoyan.

“The normalisation process in the southern Caucasus region is going on. We believe that our cooperation in the humanitarian field will support this process,” Cavusoglu added.

Mirzoyan said through a translator that Armenia remained committed to “the full normalisation of relations and complete opening of the border with Turkey”.

11:56am: Turkey arrests 78 for ‘sharing provocative posts’ on social media over earthquake

Turkish police said they have arrested 78 people accused of creating fear and panic by “sharing provocative posts” about last week’s earthquake on social media, adding 20 of them were being held in pre-trial detention.

Turkey‘s General Directorate of Security said it had identified 613 people accused of making provocative posts, and legal proceedings had been initiated against 293. Of this group, the chief prosecutor had ordered the arrest of 78.

The directorate added that 46 websites were shut down for running “phishing scams” trying to steal donations for quake victims and 15 social media accounts posing as official institutions were closed.

Last October, Turkey’s parliament adopted a law under which journalists and social media users could be jailed for up to three years for spreading “disinformation”, raising concerns among rights groups and European countries about free speech, particularly ahead of presidential and parliamentary elections due this summer.

11:57am: Armenian foreign minister visits Turkey, Ankara hails quake diplomacy

Armenian Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan arrived in Ankara Wednesday for rare talks with his Turkish counterpart as the two countries seek to normalise relations after decades of animosity.

At loggerheads since Armenia gained independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the neighbouring nations have never established formal diplomatic relations.

At a press conference in Ankara, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said humanitarian aid sent by Armenia for earthquake victims could help boost ties between the two countries.

A border gate was opened for the first time in 35 years to allow aid for quake victims in southern Turkey. Armenia also sent a rescue team to Turkey to help in the search for survivors.

“Armenia has extended its hand of friendship, showed solidarity and cooperation with us in this difficult time…We need to continue this solidarity,” said Cavusoglu.

10:40am: Woman rescued from ruins in Turkey 222 hours after quakes

A 42-year-old woman was rescued from the rubble of a building in the southern Turkish city of Kahramanmaras on Wednesday, almost 222 hours after devastating earthquakes struck the region, Turkish media reported.

TV footage sowed rescue workers carrying the woman, named Melike Imamoglu, strapped onto a stretcher, to an ambulance.

4:45am: Combined death toll nears 40,000

The confirmed death toll from the quake stands at 39,106 as officials and medics said 35,418 people had died in Turkey and at least 3,688 in Syria. Following the disaster, residents faced the harsh realities of surviving in cities turned to ruin in the middle of the winter freeze.

1:30am: New aid convoy route to rebel-held Syria opens with UN

An aid convoy  passed through a newly re-opened border crossing into rebel-held northwestern Syria, where help has been slow to arrive since last week’s earthquake.

A convoy of 11 UN trucks entered Syria through the newly-opened Bab al-Salam border point, after Damascus agreed to let the world body use the crossing for aid.

The UN has so far sent more than 50 trucks of aid through the Bab al-Hawa crossing.

Following international pressure, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad allowed the use of two more crossings, Bab Al-Salam and al-Raee, for an initial period of three months.

Activists and local emergency teams have decried the UN’s slow response to the quake in rebel-held areas, contrasting it with the planeloads of humanitarian aid delivered to government-controlled airports.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and Reuters)

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Live: Syria could open more border crossings for quake aid, WHO says

Issued on: Modified:

The death toll from the catastrophic earthquake that hit Turkey and Syria has now reached approximately 33,000 reports stated Sunday, with the UN warning that the final number could rise by “double or more”. Also on Sunday, a new UN convoy arrived in Syria to deliver deperately needed international aid. Follow FRANCE 24 for live updates. All times are Paris time (GMT+1).

6:28pm: Syria may consider to open more border crossings for quake aid, WHO says

The World Health Organization chief said Sunday that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had voiced openness to more border crossings for aid to be brought to quake victims in rebel-held northwestern Syria. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters he had met with the Syrian president in Damascus on Sunday afternoon to discuss the response to the devastating earthquake.

“This afternoon I met with His Excellency President Assad, who indicated he was open to considering additional cross-border access points for this emergency,” Tedros told a virtual press conference from the Syrian capital.

Rebel-held areas in northwestern Syria, which has been ravaged by more than a decade of civil war, are in a particularly dire situation. They cannot receive aid from government-held parts of Syria without Damascus’s authorisation, and the single border crossing open to shuttle aid from Turkey saw operations damaged in the quake.

Aid began trickling through the border crossing again on Thursday, but there have been mounting calls to open more crossings to speed up the aid delivery.

While Damascus had given the all-clear for cross-line aid convoys to go ahead from government-held areas, Tedros said the WHO was still waiting for the green light from the rebel-held areas before going in.

3:11pm: Death toll rises above 30,000 in Turkey, Syria earthquake

The death toll from the catastrophic earthquake that hit Turkey and Syria reached 33,000 on Sunday, with the United Nations warning that the final number may double.

Officials and medics said 29,605 people had died in Turkey and 3,574 in Syria from Monday’s 7.8-magnitude quake, bringing the current total to 33,179

2:28pm: UN warns of aid failure for Syria

The UN denounced Sunday a failure to get desperately needed aid to war-torn regions of Syria. A UN convoy with supplies for northwest Syria arrived via Turkey, but the agency’s relief chief Martin Griffiths said much more was needed for the millions whose homes were destroyed.

“We have so far failed the people in northwest Syria. They rightly feel abandoned. Looking for international help that hasn’t arrived,” Griffiths said on Twitter. “My duty and our obligation is to correct this failure as fast as we can.”

Aid has been slow to arrive in Syria, where years of conflict have ravaged the healthcare system, and parts of the country remain under the control of rebels battling the government of President Bashar al-Assad, which is under Western sanctions.

The UN convoy of ten trucks crossed into northwest Syria via the Bab al-Hawa border crossing, according to an AFP correspondent, carrying shelter kits including plastic sheeting, ropes and screws and nails, as well as blankets and mattresses.

1:22pm: A new UN convoy arrives in Syria

A UN convoy of ten trucks crossed the border with Turkey at the Bab-al Hawa crossing point in northwestern Syria. The trucks carried materials for emergency shelters like plastic sheeting, blankets, mattresses, ropes and even nails and screws.

12:15pm: Syria quake aid held up by Islamist group ‘approval issues’, says UN

Earthquake aid from government-held parts of Syria into territory controlled by hardline opposition groups has been held up by approval issues with the hardline Islamists group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), a United Nations spokesperson told Reuters on Sunday.

The Syrian government last week said it was willing to send aid into the northern zone, which is largely held by the HTS and was devastated by Monday’s earthquake.

8:49am: Greek foreign minister visits Turkey’s quake-hit region

Greece‘s foreign minister arrived in Turkey on Sunday in a show of support after the country was hit by a devastating earthquake seven days ago, the ministry said, despite a longstanding rivalry between the two NATO countries.

Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias was met with a warm embrace by his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu, according to footage on state-run ERT TV, before they boarded helicopters to visit quake-hit regions.

His arrival marks the first visit by a European minister to Turkey since the earthquake.

The two ministers are in Antakya, where Greek rescuers are helping with search and rescue operations.


7:18am: EU says ‘absolutely unfair’ to be accused of not providing aid to Syria

The European Union’s envoy to Syria said early on Sunday that it was not fair to accuse the bloc of failing to provide enough help to Syrians following the devastating earthquake that hit swathes of Syria and Turkey last week.

“It is absolutely unfair to be accused of not providing aid, when actually we have constantly been doing exactly that for over a decade and we are doing so much more even during the earthquake crisis,” the head of the EU delegation Dan Stoenescu told Reuters in written comments.


7:07am: Turkey-Syria quake death toll surpasses 28,000, UN expects toll to double

UN relief chief Martin Griffiths said he expected the death toll to at least double after he arrived in southern Turkey on Saturday to assess the quake’s damage.

Tens of thousands of rescue workers are scouring flattened neighbourhoods despite freezing weather that has deepened the misery of millions now in desperate need of aid.

Security concerns led some aid operations to be suspended, and dozens of people have been arrested for looting or trying to defraud victims in the aftermath of the quake in Turkey, according to state media.


(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and Reuters)

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Survivors still being rescued five days after Turkey-Syria quake as toll tops 28,000

Rescue crews on Saturday pulled more survivors, including entire families, from toppled buildings despite diminishing hopes as the death toll of the enormous quake that struck a border region of Turkey and Syria five days ago surpassed 28,000. Rescuers also pulled a two-month-old baby and an elderly woman from the rubble on Saturday. Read our live blog to see how all the day’s events unfolded. All times are Paris time (GMT+1). 

This live page is no longer being updated. For more of our coverage of the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria, click here.

10:27pm: Death toll tops 28,000 as some aid operations are suspended due to security reasons

Officials and medics said 24,617 people had died in Turkey and 3,574 in Syria. The confirmed total now stands at 28,191.

Although many rescues happened on Saturday, security concerns led some aid operations to be suspended, and 48 people have been arrested for looting or trying to defraud victims in the aftermath of the quake in Turkey, state media reported.

Tens of thousands of rescue workers are still scouring through flattened neighbourhoods despite freezing weather that has deepened the misery of millions now in desperate need of aid.

8:38pm: Turkey arrests 48 for looting, defrauding quake victims, state media says

Turkish authorities have arrested 48 people for looting or trying to defraud victims after a powerful earthquake hit Turkey, state media reported on Saturday.

The suspects were held in eight different provinces as part of investigations into looting after Monday’s 7.8-magnitude earthquake hit the region, news agency Anadolu said.

It later reported that 42 suspects were held for looting in southern Hatay province, while six were arrested over defrauding a victim in Gaziantep by telephone.

7:03pm: Survivors still being rescued five days after quake, including entire families and children

Rescue crews on Saturday pulled more survivors, including entire families, from toppled buildings despite diminishing hopes as the death toll of the enormous quake that struck a border region of Turkey and Syria five days ago surpassed 25,000. Rescuers also pulled a two-month-old baby and an elderly woman from the rubble on Saturday.

Dramatic rescues were being broadcast on Turkish television, including the rescue of the Narli family in central Kahramanmaras 133 hours after the quake struck early Monday. First, 12-year-old Nehir Naz Narli was saved, then both of her parents.

That followed the rescue earlier in the day of a family of five from a mound of debris in the hard-hit town of Nurdagi, in Gaziantep province, TV network HaberTurk reported. Rescuers cheered and chanted, “God is Great!” as the last family member, the father, was lifted to safety.

In the city of Antakya, a two-month-old baby was found alive 128 hours after the quake, state news agency Anadolu reported.

Tens of thousands of local and international rescue workers are still scouring through flattened neighbourhoods despite freezing weather that has compounded the misery of millions now in desperate need of aid.

3:52pm: Death toll rises above 25,000 in both countries

The death toll from a catastrophic earthquake that hit Turkey and Syria climbed to more than 25,000 on Saturday, as rescuers worked in freezing weather to find people alive.

Officials and medics said 21,848 people had died in Turkey and 3,553 in Syria from Monday’s 7.8-magnitude tremor, bringing the confirmed total to 25,401.

3pm: Turkey detains 12 over collapsed buildings after quake, media reports

Turkish police have detained 12 people over collapsed buildings in the southeastern provinces of Gaziantep and Sanliurfa, local media reported on Saturday, following the huge quake that hit Turkey.

Those taken into custody included contractors, DHA news agency said. At least 6,000 buildings collapsed after a 7.8-magnitude tremor hit the region, killing more than 25,000 people, sparking anger over the poor quality of housing.

There are expected to be more detentions after the public prosecutor in Diyarbakir, one of 10 southeastern provinces affected by the quake, issued arrest warrants for 29 people on Saturday, state news agency reported.

One of those detained Saturday was a contractor for a building in Gaziantep, the agency said, adding he was found by police in Istanbul.

1:27pm: Armenia-Turkey crossing opened for first time in 35 years after quake

A border crossing between Armenia and Turkey opened for the first time in 35 years on Saturday, to allow humanitarian aid through after a massive earthquake hit the region, an official said.

Five trucks with aid including food and water arrived in Turkey from the Alican border crossing, Serdar Kilic, Turkey’s special envoy for dialogue with Armenia, said on Twitter. State news agency Anadolu said this was the first time it had opened since 1988.

12:23am: Turkey to act against those involved in looting, says Erdogan

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Saturday the government would take action against those involved in looting and other crimes in the region affected by this week’s devastating earthquakes.

Speaking during a visit to the quake zone, Erdogan said hundreds of thousands of buildings were uninhabitable across southern Turkey and that authorities would take steps to start rebuilding damaged cities within weeks.

The death toll in Turkey has risen to 21,043, he said.

12:10am: UN aid chief says earthquake is region’s ‘worst event in 100 years’

UN aid chief Martin Griffiths described on Saturday the devastating earthquake that hit southern Turkey and northwestern Syria as the “worst event in 100 years in this region”.

Speaking during a news briefing in the Turkish province of Kahramanmaras, Griffiths also lauded Turkey’s response to the disaster as “extraordinary”.

He also told Reuters he hoped in Syria aid would go to both government and opposition-held areas, but that things with this regard were “not clear yet”.

11:44am: Turkish company to send ships to house 3,000 in earthquake zone

Turkey’s Karadeniz Holding said on Saturday it would send two humanitarian aid ships that can each house 1,500 people to help the relief effort in the southern province of Hatay, hit by a major earthquake that has claimed more than 20,000 lives.

“The company is working with the authorities to send lifeships Suheyla Sultan and Rauf Bey to Iskenderun-Hatay,” the company said, adding this would be its first humanitarian mission.

The so-called lifeships, built for humanitarian aid missions, have accommodation, fridges, TVs and heating, as well as facilities for education, healthcare and food, the company said.

11:44am: Austrian army suspends Turkey quake rescue

The Austrian army on Saturday suspended rescue operations in quake-ravaged Turkey due to a worsening “security situation”, a spokesman said.

“There have been clashes between groups,” he told AFP without giving details. 

The spokesman said the 82 soldiers from the Austrian Forces Disaster Relief Unit were sheltering in the southern Hatay province “in a base camp with other international organisations, awaiting instructions”.

They had arrived in Hatay on Tuesday with 45 tonnes of equipment and were able to rescue nine people from rubble.

9:30am: ‘Anger is brewing amid the grief’

“Authorities aren’t letting people return home even if their damaged residences are still standing,” reports Shona Bhattacharya from Osmaniye, Turkey. She adds that last Friday, the minister of urban planning announced 4,000 experts would be examining buildings to determine if they were safe to return to or not. 


Turkish rescue workers carry Ergin Guzeloglan, 36, to an ambulance after pulled him out from a collapsed building five days after an earthquake in Hatay, southern Turkey, early Saturday, Feb. 11, 2023. © Can Ozer, AP


9:09am: Earthquake compounds Turkish leader’s woes as election nears

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan came to power 20 years ago riding a wave of public outrage toward the previous government’s handling of a deadly earthquake. 

Now, three months away from an election, Erdogan’s political future could hinge on how the public perceives his government’s response to a similarly devastating natural disaster. 

“It is going to be a big challenge for Erdogan, who has established a brand for himself as an autocratic figure but an efficient one that gets the job done,” said Soner Cagaptay, a Turkey expert at the Washington Institute and the author of several books on Erdogan. 

The aftermath of a massive earthquake isn’t the only parallel to the election of 2002. Back then, Turkey was in the midst of a financial crisis that was punishing its economy.

7:22am: Aid trickles in as Turkey-Syria quake toll passes 24,000

A winter freeze in the affected areas has hurt rescue efforts and compounded the suffering of millions of people, many in desperate need of aid.

At least 870,000 people urgently needed food in the two countries after the quake, which has left up to 5.3 million people homeless in Syria alone, the UN warned.

Aftershocks following Monday’s 7.8-magnitude tremor have added to the death toll and further upended the lives of survivors.

A convoy of trucks carrying humanitarian aid to earthquake victims, sent by a Kurdish charity organisation, enters Syria through the opposition-held Bab al-Salama crossing with Turkey in the northern Aleppo province on February 10, 2023.
A convoy of trucks carrying humanitarian aid to earthquake victims, sent by a Kurdish charity organisation, enters Syria through the opposition-held Bab al-Salama crossing with Turkey in the northern Aleppo province on February 10, 2023. © AFP

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and Reuters)

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Sweden, Turkey not expected to back down in NATO accession tug of war

Sweden said on Sunday that Turkey is asking for too much in exchange for allowing it to join NATO, as Ankara effectively demands the impossible – that Stockholm override a decision by its own Supreme Court. But analysts say Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is unlikely to retract its condition, at least not before the all-important presidential elections scheduled in June. 

Sweden’s new conservative Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson said that, as far as he is concerned, Stockholm has done enough for Ankara.

“Turkey confirms that we have done what we said we would do. But they also say that they want things that we can’t and won’t give them,” Kristersson told the Forsvar Security Conference in Sweden. 

Along with neighbouring Finland, Sweden made joining NATO its top foreign policy objective last year after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine jolted them from their official neutrality stretching back through the Cold War. However, Erdogan made Turkey’s green light conditional – accusing Sweden of giving safe haven to people linked to Kurdish militant group the PKK and to the Gulenist movement Turkey holds responsible for the 2016 failed coup. 

Sweden – which has a large Kurdish diaspora of some 100,000 people – responded to Erdogan’s demands at a NATO summit back in June. Sweden and Finland agreed to “commit to prevent the activities of the PKK” on its territory.  

Stockholm then reversed an embargo on arms sales to Turkey and distanced itself from the YPG – a Syrian militia Western countries championed for its role fighting the Islamic State group but anathema to Ankara because of its close ties to the PKK, which has waged intermittent guerrilla campaigns against the Turkish state since 1984 and is classed as a terrorist organisation by the EU and US as well as Turkey. 

But Erdogan demands the extradition of journalist Bulent Kenes, an ex-editor-in-chief of the now closed Turkish newspaper Today’s Zaman, for his alleged role in the foiled coup.  

‘Not a political question’ 

The Swedish Supreme Court rejected Turkey’s demand in December, on the grounds that Kenes risked persecution for his politics if he were sent to Turkey. 

This is a judicial matter in a country run according to the separation of powers, and that gives the Swedish government no choice, noted Hakan Gunneriusson, a professor of political science at Mid Sweden University.

“Specific individuals can’t be expelled to Turkey from Sweden if there’s no legal foundation for it. It is a legal procedure, not a political question,” Gunneriusson said. 

If anything, Turkey’s intransigence on the question will only strengthen Swedish resolve, suggested Toni Alaranta, a senior research fellow at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs in Helsinki. 

“Both Sweden and Finland are applying for NATO in order to secure our [political order based on] rule of law in times of possible external attack – not to throw it in a dustbin,” Alaranta said.  

This approach is popular amongst the Swedish electorate, according to a poll published by newspaper Dagens Nyheter last week, which showed that 79 percent of Swedes favour standing by the court ruling even if it holds up NATO accession.  

Turkey’s stance is expected to soon become the only remaining obstacle to Sweden and Finland joining NATO, since 28 of the Western alliance’s 30 members have validated their requests and the Hungarian parliament is set to give its approval later this month. 

‘Happy to wait things out’ 

Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto lamented that Ankara will probably not allow the two countries to join before Turkey’s presidential polls in June. Yet Sweden and Finland could well end up waiting for longer.  

Turkey is no stranger to rowing with fellow NATO members – as demonstrated by Erdogan’s public spats with French President Emmanuel Macron and, especially, Ankara’s decision to buy Russia’s S-400 air defence system in 2017 in the face of US uproar followed by sanctions. Erdogan also has a history of making life difficult for European countries to help advance his priorities in the Middle East – most notably when he threatened in 2019 to let millions of migrants into Europe unless European powers quietened their criticism of Turkey’s offensive on Kurdish forces in Syria. 

Of course, Russia’s war against Ukraine is the West’s most pressing geopolitical concern, making it a natural priority to bring Sweden and Finland into the NATO umbrella. But the war in Ukraine also highlight’s Turkey’s importance to the Western alliance, even if Ankara has been an awkward NATO member over the past decade. So far Erdogan has kept ties with both Russia and Ukraine while alienating neither – and that bore fruit for the rest of the world when Turkey brokered alongside the UN a deal to export Ukrainian grain through the Black Sea in July, before renewing the deal in November after Russia briefly withdrew. 

“Erdogan approaches the NATO alliance with the belief that Turkey’s interests are not taken seriously enough and that NATO needs Turkey,” observed Howard Eissenstat, a Turkey specialist at St. Lawrence University in New York state and the Middle East Institute in Washington DC. “He doesn’t see acrimony within the alliance as necessarily a bad thing, so long as it underlines that Turkey’s interests need to be addressed.” 

The Turkish government’s “core assumptions about how Western governments should pursue Turkey’s enemies are at odds with basic principles of rule of law”, Eissenstat said, adding that he thought: “Ankara knew this at the onset but believes the process serves its interests.” 

“Ankara is perfectly happy to wait things out,” he reasoned. “Those calculations may well change after Turkish elections when the domestic benefits decrease, but until then I doubt Ankara is likely to budge.” 

Indeed, Erdogan faces a tricky re-election campaign in June amid a woeful economic context, as a currency and debt crisis has racked Turkey since 2018.  

“The key issues in Turkey’s elections are, of course, mostly domestic – the abysmal economy and the question of [Syrian] refugees,” Eissenstat pointed out. “But Erdogan clearly benefits from taking a tough stance on Finnish and Swedish accession to NATO.” 

Not only do the Turkish public like to “see Turkish leaders playing important roles in the world”, Eissenstat said, it is also “probably true that many share Erdogan’s distrust of the West and belief that Western governments have given safe haven to Turkey’s enemies”. 

So the Swedish-Turkish tug of war is set to continue. However, perhaps the most revealing statement at that Swedish defence conference was not Kristersson’s refusal to override the Supreme Court – but rather NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg’s suggestion that the alliance has already extended its security umbrella to the two Scandinavian countries. “It is inconceivable that NATO would not act if the security of Sweden and Finland were threatened,” he said.

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Why Cristiano Ronaldo’s move to Saudi Arabia means so much for the Gulf monarchy’s sporting ambitions | CNN

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Abu Dhabi, UAE

It’s a partnership that’s been hailed as “history in the making.”

One of the world’s most famous soccer stars landed in the Saudi capital Riyadh on Tuesday, where Cristiano Ronaldo was received in an extravagant ceremony, with excited children sporting his new club’s yellow and blue jerseys.

Oil-rich Saudi Arabia’s success in luring the five-time Ballon d’Or winner on a two-year contract with the kingdom’s Al Nassr FC is the Gulf monarchy’s latest step in realizing its sporting ambitions – seemingly at any cost.

According to Saudi state-owned media, Ronaldo will earn an estimated $200 million a year with Al Nassr, making him the world’s highest-paid soccer player.

Shortly after the 37-year-old’s signing with Al Nassr, the club’s Instagram page gained over 5.3 million new followers. Its official website was inaccessible after exceeding its bandwidth limit due to the sudden surge in traffic, and the hashtag #HalaRonaldo – Hello, Ronaldo in Arabic – was trending for days across the Middle East on Twitter.

Analysts say that his recruitment in Saudi Arabia is part of a wider effort by the kingdom to diversify its sources of revenue and become a serious player in the international sporting scene.

It is also seen as a move by the kingdom to shore up its image after it was tarnished by the 2018 dismemberment and killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi at the hands of Saudi agents, and a devastating war it started in Yemen in 2015.

Critics have decried the kingdom for “sportswashing,” an attempt to burnish one’s reputation through sport.

“I think Saudi Arabia has recognized a couple of years ago that to be a powerful nation internationally, you cannot just rely on hard power,” Danyel Reiche, a visiting research fellow and associate professor at Georgetown University Qatar, told CNN.

“You also need to invest in soft power, and the case of Qatar shows that this can work pretty well,” he said, adding that Saudi Arabia is following in the Qatari approach with sport, but with a delay of around 25 years.

Neighboring Qatar has also faced immense criticism since it won the bid to hosting last year’s FIFA World Cup in 2010.

Despite the smaller Gulf state facing similar accusations of “sportswashing,” the tournament has largely been viewed as a success, not least in exposing the world to a different view of the Middle East, thanks in part to Morocco’s success in reaching the semifinals and Saudi Arabia beating eventual World Cup champion Argentina in their opening group game.

Gulf nations engage in fierce competition to become the region’s premier entertainment and sporting hubs. The UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Bahrain, in close proximity to each other, each have their own Formula One racing event. But their competition hasn’t been confined to the region. Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have also bought trophy European soccer teams.

Riyadh is playing catchup with neighbors who have long realized the importance of investing in sports, said Simon Chadwick, professor of sport and geopolitical economy at SKEMA Business School in Lille, France, especially as its main source of income – oil – is being gradually shunned.

“This is part of an ongoing attempt to create more resilient economies that are more broadly based upon industries other than those that are derived from oil and gas,” Chadwick told CNN.

Ronaldo’s new club Al Nassr is backed by Qiddiya Investment Company (QIC), a subsidiary of the kingdom’s wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund (PIF), which has played a pivotal role in Saudi Arabia’s diversification plans.

“It is also a sign of interconnectedness, of globalization and of opening up to the rest of the world,” said Georgetown University’s Reiche.

The move is part of “several recent high profile moves in the sports world, including hosting the Andy Ruiz Jr. and Anthony Joshua world heavywight boxing championship bout in 2019, and launching the LIV Golf championship,” said Omar Al-Ubaydli, director of research at the Bahrain-based Derasat think tank. “It is a significant piece of a large puzzle that represents their economic restructuring.”

The kingdom has been on a path to not only diversify its economy, but also shift its image amid a barrage of criticism over its human rights record and treatment of women. Saudi Arabia is today hosting everything from desert raves to teaming up with renowned soccer players. Argentina’s Lionel Messi last year signed a lucrative promotional deal with the kingdom.

Hailed as the world’s greatest player, 35-year-old Messi ended this year’s World Cup tournament in Qatar with his team’s win over France, making his ambassadorship of even greater value to the kingdom.

The acquisition of such key global figures will also help combat the monarchy’s decades-long reputation of being “secretive” and “ultra-conservative,” James Dorsey, a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore and an expert on soccer in the Middle East, told CNN’s Eleni Giokos on Wednesday.

Al-Ubaydli said that the kingdom wants to use high profile international sports “as a vehicle for advertising to the world its openness.”

Saudi Arabia bought the English Premier league club Newcastle United in 2021 through a three-party consortium, with PIF being the largest stakeholder. The move proved controversial, as Amnesty International and other human rights defenders worried it would overshadow the kingdom’s human rights violations.

Ronaldo’s work with Saudi Arabia is already being criticized by rights groups who are urging the soccer player to “draw attention to human rights issues” in Saudi Arabia.

“Saudi Arabia has an image problem,” especially since Khashoggi’s killing, says Reiche. But the kingdom’s recent investments in sports and entertainment are “not about sportswashing but about developing the country, social change and opening up to the world.”

Saudi Arabia is reportedly weighing a 2030 World Cup bid with Egypt and Greece, but the kingdom’s tourism ministry noted in November that it has not yet submitted an official bid. Chadwick believes that Ronaldo’s deal with Al Nassr, however, may help boost the kingdom’s bid should it choose it pursue it.

Another way Saudi Arabia may benefit from Ronaldo’s acquisition is that it will be able to improve commercial performance, says Chadwick, especially if this collaboration attracts further international talent.

“It is important to see Ronaldo not just as a geopolitical instrument,” said Chadwick, “There is still a commercial component to him and to the purpose he is expected to serve in Saudi Arabia.”

What Ronaldo’s move to Saudi Arabia shows is that the kingdom aspires “to be seen as being the best” and that it wants to be perceived as a “contender and a legitimate member of the international football community,” said Chadwick.

UAE FM meets Syria’s Assad in Damascus in further sign of thawing ties

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad received the United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed in Damascus on Wednesday in the latest sign of thawing relations between Assad and the Gulf state. The meeting addressed developments in Syria and the wider Middle East, according to UAE state news agency WAM.

  • Background: It was Abdullah bin Zayed’s first visit since a November 2021 meeting with Assad that led to the resumption of relations. Months later, in March 2022, Assad visited the UAE, his first visit to an Arab state since the start of Syria’s civil war.
  • Why it matters: A number of Assad’s former foes have been trying to mend fences with his regime. Last week, talks between the Syrian and Turkish defense ministers were held in Moscow in the highest-level encounter reported between the estranged sides since the war in Syria began. The regional rapprochement is yet to improve the lives of average Syrians. Syria is still under Western sanctions.

Turkish President Erdogan says he could meet with Assad

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a speech on Thursday that he could meet the Syrian leader “to establish peace.”

  • Background: Erdogan’s comments came after the Moscow talks between the two nations’ defense ministers and intelligence chiefs. “Following this meeting… we will bring our foreign ministers together. And after that, as leaders, we will come together,” Erdogan said on Thursday.
  • Why it matters: The meeting would mark a dramatic shift in Turkey’s decade-long stance on Syria, where Ankara was the prime supporter of political and armed factions fighting to topple Assad. The Turkish military maintains a presence across the Syrian border and within northern Syria, where it backs Syrian opposition forces. Erdogan has also pledged to launch yet another incursion into northern Syria, aiming at creating a 30-km (20-mile) deep “safe zone” that would be emptied of Kurdish fighters.

Iran shuts down French cultural center over Charlie Hebdo’s Khamenei cartoons

Iran announced on Thursday it had ended the activities of a Tehran-based French research institute, in reaction to cartoons mocking Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and fellow Shia Muslim clerics published by French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo this week.

  • Background: Iran summoned the French ambassador to Tehran on Wednesday to protest cartoons published by satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. More than 30 cartoons poking fun at Iran’s supreme leader were published by the magazine on Wednesday, in a show of support for the Iranian people who have been protesting the Islamic Republic’s government and its policies.
  • Why it matters: French-Iranian relations have deteriorated significantly since protests broke out in Iran late last year. Paris has publicly supported the protests and spoken out against Iran’s response to them. French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna criticized Iran’s freedom of press and judicial independence on Thursday, saying “press freedom exists, contrary to what is going on in Iran and… it is exercised under the supervision of a judge in an independent judiciary – and there too it’s something that Iran knows little of.”

The prized legacy of iconic Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum re-emerged this year when Rolling Stone magazine featured her in its “200 Greatest Singers of All Time.”

Ranking 61st, Umm Kulthum was the only Arab artist to make it to the list, with the magazine saying that she “has no real equivalent among singers in the West.”

Born in a small village northeast of the Egyptian capital Cairo, Umm Kulthum rose to unmatched fame as she came to represent “the soul of the pan-Arab world,” the music magazine said.

“Her potent contralto, which could blur gender in its lower register, conveyed breathtaking emotional range in complex songs that, across theme and wildly-ornamented variations, could easily last an hour, as she worked crowds like a fiery preacher,” it wrote.

Nicknamed “the lady of Arab singing,” her music featured both classical Arabic poetry as well as colloquial songs still adored by younger generations. Her most famous pieces include “Inta Uumri” (you are my life), “Alf Leila Weileila” (a thousand and one nights), “Amal Hayati” (hope of my life) and “Daret al-Ayyam” (the days have come around). Some of her songs have been remixed to modern beats that have made their way to Middle Eastern nightclubs.

The singer remains an unmatched voice across the Arab World and her music can still be heard in many traditional coffee shops in Old Cairo’s neighborhoods and other parts of the Arab world.

Umm Kulthum’s death in 1975 brought millions of mourners to the streets of Cairo.

By Nadeen Ebrahim

Women athletes aim their air rifles while competing in a local shooting championship in Yemen's Houthi rebel-held capital Sanaa on January 3.

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