Turkey takes aim at Berlin as arsonists target mosques

Turkey’s deputy prime minister, Bekir Bozdag. (REUTERS)
Updated 14 March 2018

Turkey takes aim at Berlin as arsonists target mosques

ANKARA: A spate of attacks on Turkish mosques and businesses in Germany has drawn a sharp rebuke from Turkey only days before a key EU-Turkish summit.
Turkey issued a stern warning to Germany’s ambassador to Ankara and sent a diplomatic note to Berlin on Monday after several Turkish mosques, a cultural center and a Turkish vegetable shop in Germany were targeted by arsonists last week.
“The German government and its security forces have primary responsibility for the safety of Turkish citizens and other Muslims living in Germany,” Turkey’s deputy prime minister, Bekir Bozdag, said.
About 3 million people of Turkish descent live in Germany, including many ethnic Kurds.
The arson attacks have been blamed on Kurdish-led demonstrators in Germany who oppose Turkey’s military operation to drive out Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in the northern Syrian region of Afrin.
The developing crisis comes ahead of a key EU-Turkey summit set for March 26 in Varna, Bulgaria, where EU leaders will meet Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
However, experts believe the dispute is unlikely to escalate to the same level as the bilateral confrontation that followed the failed coup in Turkey last year.
Dr. Magdalena Kirchner, Mercator-IPC fellow at the Istanbul Policy Center, told Arab News that it was in Berlin’s interest to prevent the Turkish conflict with Syrian Kurds spilling over on to German territory.
German politicians and civil rights groups condemned the attacks, which damaged Turkish places of worship. Security agencies are also on the alert for further attacks against Turkish facilities in cities such as Berlin and Stuttgart.
Despite calls from Ankara, Germany and the Czech Republic have refused to extradite Salih Muslim, the former co-chair of the Syrian Democratic Union Party (PYD), which Turkey considers a terrorist group.
Muslim was arrested in Prague late last month. The Syrian Kurdish leader, who holds a resident’s permit in Finland, is on Turkey’s most-wanted terrorists’ list with a bounty of $1.05 million on his head. He has not filed for asylum in Germany.
“Ignoring Turkish calls for the arrest and extradition of Salih Muslim appears to be a consensus among European states as Swedish and Danish politicians have also refused to take action on behalf of Ankara,” Kirchner said.
“While this may add to Turkish frustration with its European partners because of the handling of the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) on their territory, and could lead to a further erosion of trust in Europe among the wider Turkish public, it is unlikely that Ankara will take action against Germany or other EU member states,” she said.
German chancellor Angela Merkel has voiced support for closer dialogue between Turkey and the EU, praising Turkey’s efforts to welcome more than 3.5 million Syrian refugees.
“We cannot hide our differences, but communication channels should remain open. We are dependent on each other,” Merkel said in Berlin on Monday.
Both Ankara and Berlin have a vested interest in smoothing relations ahead of the EU-Turkey summit, said Kirchner.
“Although German policymakers do not favor Turkey’s military operations in Syria, the governing parties have not publicly spoken out against it,” she said.
The PKK has been outlawed in Germany since 1993, but it remains an active force with about 14,000 followers among the country’s Kurdish community.
Germany has banned the carrying of PKK symbols and flags during rallies, but holding symbols of other Kurdish groups — such as PYD and YPG, which are not considered terror organizations in Germany — is permitted.
“Setting fire to mosques is an overt act of terrorism and, in doing so, German supporters of PYD only reinforce Turkey’s accusations that PYD is a terrorist organization,” Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, Ankara director of the German Marshall Fund, said.
“This is an attack against Germany as much as against Turkey, and is taken lightly by neither German authorities nor German politicians.”
Paradoxically, the attacks could strengthen Germany’s resolve against PKK activities on its soil and contribute positively to Turkey-Germany relations, he said.


Afghan delegates head online for crucial talks

Updated 56 min 31 sec ago

Afghan delegates head online for crucial talks

  • Peace hopes rest on virtual forum with Taliban amid virus threat

KABUL: Afghan government and Taliban delegates are expected to begin online talks in mid-June in a bid to end a decades-old conflict in the country, officials told Arab News on Sunday.

While past meetings have been held in person, the latest round of negotiations will take place online because of the threat of coronavirus in the war-ravaged country.

“We see no challenges, the atmosphere and preparations are all set for the talks,” Feraidoon Khawzoon, a spokesman for Abdullah Abdullah, newly appointed chief of the High Council for National Reconciliation, told Arab News.

Negotiations could begin in “the next 10 or 15 days,” he said.

“The announcement of a cease-fire, a reduction in violence and the exchange of prisoners were all requirements for the start of the talks, and we have had progress on them recently,” Khawzoon said.

On Wednesday the Afghan government released a list of 20 delegates due to hold peace talks with the Taliban.

The team will be led by Mohammad Masoom Stanekzai, a former spy chief who has held indirect negotiations with the militants in the past outside Afghanistan, he added.

In the lead-up to the talks, President Ashraf Ghani’s government will release 3,000 more Taliban prisoners, an official close to the Afghan leader told Arab News on condition of anonymity.

More than 2,000 Taliban inmates have already been freed as part of a historic peace deal in February.

In return, the Taliban released hundreds of government troops and, in a surprise move, announced a three-day cease-fire last week for Eid Al-Fitr.

The peace moves follow a buildup in fighting between the two sides despite the pandemic. Taliban attacks killed at least 146 people and injured 430 during Ramadan. 

Fears had been growing that the peace deal signed on Feb. 29 between the Taliban and the US would collapse.

The joint cease-fire followed talks in Qatar last week between the Taliban and Zalmay Khalilzad, US special representative for Afghanistan.

Khalilzad later traveled to Kabul for meetings with Afghan political leaders over a reduction in violence and an exchange of prisoners. 

“We welcome the Taliban’s decision to observe a cease-fire during Eid, as well as the Afghan government reciprocating and announcing its own,” Khalilzad said last Sunday.

Increasing Taliban attacks on government troops, and political infighting between Ghani and Abdullah over who would assume office as president, have delayed the talks.

After Washington failed to reconcile Ghani and Abdullah, both leaders agreed two weeks ago to share power, with Ghani leading the country for another five years and Abdullah appointed as chief of the peace talks.

Khalilzad described the cease-fire agreement as a “momentous opportunity that should not be missed,” and pressed both sides to agree on a new date to start negotiations.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also urged the two sides to start peace talks, with the release of prisoners as a first step. 

Pompeo said that he expected the Taliban “to adhere to their commitment not to allow released prisoners to return to the battlefield.”

Ghani said the release of Taliban inmates would be “expedited” and that his government’s negotiating team was ready to begin talks “as soon as possible.”

Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, could not be reached for comment on the Taliban’s stance.

In the past, the group has insisted it will take part in talks with Kabul only after all 5,000 Taliban prisoners are freed.

Experts hope the latest developments are a step in the right direction.

“The Taliban do not seem to have any reservations about the structure of the government team, so the hope is high that the talks will take place by June 15,” Wahidullah Ghazikhail, an analyst, told Arab News.

“Some of Taliban’s field commanders seem to be divided on the talks, hoping to capture power again after the departure of US forces (by next spring), while the political leaders are pushing for a political settlement,” he said.