Russian Ambassador to Turkey Gunned down ‘for Aleppo.’ What’s next for Turkish-Russian Relations?

Russia and Turkey have come a long way over the past year.

In November 2015, the Turkish Air Force blew a Russian fighter jet out of the sky. And the countries were (and continue to be) at great odds over the civil war in Syria. Over the past year, however, relations between the two countries have rapidly improved. Their successful detente was illustrated by the Russian ambassador’s speaking engagement at a photo exhibit’s opening ceremony in the Turkish capital of Ankara.

Today, however, Russian Ambassador to Turkey, Andrey Karlov, was delivering remarks, when he was assassinated by a lone assailant who has since been identified as 22-year-old Turkish police officer Mevlut Mert Altintas. The off-duty officer reportedly shouted, “Allahu akbar! Do not forget Aleppo! Do not forget Syria! Do not forget Aleppo! Do not forget Syria!”

“After shooting the ambassador, the gunman climbed to the second floor of the same building and a 15-minute shootout with police ensued before he was killed, Turkey’s Anadolu news agency reported,” the AP reports.

Now, where do we go from here?

Take him at his word?

The gunman’s actions and rhetoric suggest he was motivated by the Russian government’s role and action in Syria’s civil war. It should be noted that he did not attack the stunned innocent bystanders at the exhibit after striking down the Russian ambassador.

Was this a mere act of revenge, or something much more?

Was the shooter a jihadist?

Pro-government sources in Turkey are alleging that shooter could have been tied to Al Nusra, an ally of al-Qaeda that is operating in Syria. But there appears to be no proof of any substantial ties thus far.

What is the state media saying?

Observers may want to check in with the state-run media outlets in both Moscow and Ankara, as the media censors often reflect the official government stance on important issues.

Blame Gulen?

The Turkish government, often without proof, frequently takes to blaming Gulenists — followers of Fethullah Gulen, a popular cleric who now lives in exile in America — for terrorist attacks or any other negative event that happens inside the country.

Most notably, after a failed July coup attempt, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan blamed Gulen for inciting the attempted overthrow. Yet, he never provided any evidence that Gulen was involved.

And right on cue, the mayor of Ankara has alleged Gulen is to blame for Andrey Karlov’s assassination.

Blame America/the West?

Nothing unites two adversaries like some good old-fashioned anti-American conspiracies, which are known to be rife in both Turkey and Russia.

Katehon, a Russian think tank that promotes extreme anti-American views, has called the assassination a “typical CIA operation” meant to sow discord between Russia and Turkey.

Additionally, a Kremlin representative has blamed the attack on the “secret services” of a “NATO country.”


Will this incident worsen the ever-increasing sectarian chaos in Syria? Just before the assassination, Russia had finally agreed to pause its military campaigns in Aleppo and let select civilians evacuate from the area. Does this latest incident mean the deal is off? (For more from the author of “Russian Ambassador to Turkey Gunned down ‘for Aleppo.’ What’s next for Turkish-Russian Relations?” please click HERE)

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The Attempted Coup Reveals Turkey’s Instability. That’s Bad News for the US.

An attempted military coup in NATO member Turkey was foiled over the weekend.

At the time of writing, at least 265 people have been killed and another 1,400 wounded. Thousands of judges have been dismissed or arrested. Tanks shelled the parliament in Ankara and at one point President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was forced to address the nation using FaceTime.

After finally landing at Istanbul’s Atatürk Airport, a serious, if not slightly shaken, Erdogan declared on national TV: “This uprising is a gift from God to us because this will be a reason to cleanse our army.”

He isn’t wasting any time. Since those words were uttered thousands of military personnel have been arrested, including several senior generals.

This weekend’s coup was the fourth since 1960 (the fifth if you count the so-called “post-modern coup” in 1997). In each previous case the military had been successful and democracy was returned to the people.

The Turkish military considers itself to be the guardian of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s (the founder of the Republic of Turkey) legacy of a Turkey based on secularism and Western orientation. Consequently, military coups have been a peculiar feature of the Turkish Republic when the country strays from these founding principles.

It is still not clear what motived the coup plotters, but some reasonable assumptions can be made.

It’s only logical that many in the military are increasingly worried that Erdogan has embraced a more conservative brand of Islam at the expense of state secularism. Recent crackdowns on press freedom by the government have not gone unnoticed either.

Erdogan has also been accused of flirting with Sunni Islamists for too long in Syria. The increase in Islamic State terror attacks across Turkey, and the seemingly reluctance of Erdogan to respond in a meaningful way, could have played a role in driving the coup.

The recent rapprochement with Russia could have tipped the military over the edge. It has been reported that the Turkish fighter pilot who shot down the Russian jet after illegally entering Turkey’s airspace last year was a participant in the coup.

In many ways this coup was doomed to fail from the beginning. It was a nameless coup with no public leader or mandate. Instead of protecting the citizens and the country’s democratic institutions, the coup plotters attacked civilians and shelled the parliament building. No major military base came under the full control of the plotters and no senior leader of the government was captured. There was no reason for the average Turk to get behind such shambles, and unsurprisingly very few did.

Paradoxically, the coup demonstrated how resilient democracy is in Turkey, at least for now. Like him or not, Erdogan is a democratically elected leader. All the major political parties, including the opposition, signed a joint letter condemning the attempted coup. Many Turks who protested in Istanbul’s Gezi Park in 2013 against Erdogan’s rule were there this weekend protesting against the coup plotters trying to overthrow Erdogan.

Under Erdogan, Turkey has been a contentious partner for the U.S., but it remains an important ally and NATO member. It is in America’s interests for Turkey to remain stable and become a productive leader in the region and beyond.

The fact that an attempted coup took place shows that Turkey is anything but stable. Instead of being a leader in the region, Erdogan will focus a lot of resources and energy at home bringing the plotters to justice. This invites Russia and ISIS, for example, to take advantage of the situation. This would be bad for Turkey and the U.S.

The coup might not have lasted long, but the fallout will be felt for years. Erdogan will use the coup to consolidate even more power. The political landscape in Turkey will be fundamentally changed. But if Erdogan responds to the coup by completely abandoning Turkey’s democratic principles, he will be planting the seed for the next coup.

The choices Erdogan makes now will impact Turkey for a generation. (For more from the author of “The Attempted Coup Reveals Turkey’s Instability. That’s Bad News for the US.” please click HERE)

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Islamist Turkey Seizes ALL Christian Churches in City

cross-66700_960_720 (1)President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has taken control of six churches in the war-torn southeastern city of Diyarbakir in his latest move to squash freedom of speech and religious movement.

The state-sanctioned seizure is just the latest in a number of worrying developments to come out of increasingly hardline Turkey, which is in advanced talks with the EU over visa-free travel for its 80 million citizens.

Included in the seizures are Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox churches, one of which is over 1,700 years old.

They have now effectively become state property – meaning they are run by the government – in a country with a dire human rights record where about 98 percent of the population is Muslim.

The order to seize the churches was made on March 25 by Erdogan’s council of ministers, according to the website World Watch Monitor. (Read more from “Islamist Turkey Seizes ALL Christian Churches in City” HERE)

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Turkey Arrests, Detains Without Charge, US Evangelist; Russia Says Turkish Civil War Underway

6711234961_a6d9c006b7_oBy Morning Star News. Turkish authorities have detained a U.S. evangelist and ordered him held for 30 days without charge ahead of deportation, sources said.

Declaring David Byle “a danger to public order,” authorities in Turkey took him into custody on April 6 after asking him to report to the immigration office in Istanbul regarding his application for a residency permit.

Byle, 46, was told his application had been denied; he was immediately taken into custody and then transferred to the Fatih police station in Istanbul. Police held him for two days before transferring him on Friday (April 8) to a holding center for foreigners awaiting deportation, the sources said. . .

The arrest took place days before Byle was set to teach a class to a group of Turks on how to tell people about the gospel, though there was no public indication of a link between the arrest and the scheduled training. (Read more from “Turkey Arrests, Detains Without Charge, US Evangelist; Russia Says Turkish Civil War Underway” HERE)


Putin: Ankara ‘Not So Much Fights Radicals as Cooperates With Them,’ Civil War Underway in Turkey

By RT. The Turkish authorities are not so much fighting with the radicals, but working side by side with them instead, Russian President Vladimir Putin said during his annual Q&A session, noting that there is a civil war going on in southern Turkey.

“We believe that the current Turkish leadership not so much fights the radicals, but rather cooperates with them,” Putin said.

“In fact, there is a civil war going on in southern Turkey. We try to ignore it, the international community pretends not to notice it, but it’s a fact. Moreover, [the war goes on] with the use of heavy weaponry and equipment, artillery and so on,” he said, highlighting the fact that terrorist attacks take place in Turkey “nearly each week.” (Read more from “Putin: Ankara ‘Not So Much Fights Radicals as Cooperates With Them,’ Civil War Underway in Turkey” HERE)

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34 Dead, 125 Wounded in Turkey Explosion

A car bomb blew up near an Ankara bus stop on Sunday, killing at least 34 people and wounding 125 others, according to the Turkish health minister.

At least one or two of the dead were perpetrators of the attack, Health Minister Mehmet Muezzinoglu said, according to Reuters, and at least 19 of the wounded were in serious condition.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey would use its right to self-defense to prevent future attacks and called for national unity.

“Our people should not worry,” Erdogan said. “The struggle against terrorism will for certain end in success and terrorism will be brought to its knees.”

The Turkish interior minister told Reuters those responsible for the explosion would be named Monday, when an investigation into the blast was completed. (Read more from “34 Dead, 125 Wounded in Turkey Explosion” HERE)

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Aerial view of the Pentagon, Arlington, VA

Pentagon Approves Contract to Sell Smart Bombs to Turkey

The Pentagon has signed a deal to sell nearly $700 million worth of smart bombs to Turkey as tensions are escalating between Ankara and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militants in northern Iraq.

The sale, announced on Tuesday, comes at a crucial time for Turkey’s military, which continues to be heavily embroiled in attacking the Kurds in the volatile northern part of Iraq . . .

The Pentagon granted the contract to Ellwood National Forge and General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems for the sale of BLU-109 bunker busting bomb bodies and components, the first reported sale of such bombs to Turkey . . .

Based on reports, BLU-109 bombs have been in the Pentagon’s inventory since 1985 and are said to have been used on militants in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The bomb contains 550 pounds of high explosive Tritonal, a combination of 80% TNT and 20% aluminum powder. The BLU-109’s tail fuse delays the bomb’s detonation until the bomb has penetrated the targeted bunker, ensuring complete destruction. (Read more from “Pentagon Approves Contract to Sell Smart Bombs to Turkey” HERE)

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Storm Clouds Gathering: Turkey Viciously Attacks Only Syrian Group Backed by Both Putin and U.S., Risking Direct Conflict With Russia

By Selcan Hacaoglu. There’s only one major group of combatants in the Syrian war that’s backed by both Russia and the U.S. — and now Turkey is attacking it.

Since the weekend, Turkey has unleashed its 155-millimeter heavy guns across the border with Syria. The targets are Kurdish forces, whose recent advance is a key part of the Russian plan to extend President Bashar al-Assad’s control over Syria. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday refused to stop the shelling and said Turkey was acting in self-defense.

Syria’s five-year war has turned into a tangled web of proxy conflicts between global and regional powers, with a growing risk that some of them could clash directly. Right now the most dangerous flashpoint is between Russia and NATO member Turkey, which shot down a Russian plane in November. Since then tensions have steadily built as the Assad-Russia alliance — with help from the Kurds — threatens to surround Turkish-backed rebels in Aleppo, Syria’s biggest city.

“Both Russia and Turkey are looking to position for strategic advantage,” Tim Ash, head of emerging-market strategy at Nomura in London, said by e-mail on Monday. “The risk is of an actual Russo-Turkish military clash, which would then threaten to draw in NATO.” (Read more from “Storm Clouds Gathering: Turkey Viciously Attacks Only Syrian Group Backed by Both Putin and U.S., Risking Direct Conflict With Russia” HERE)


Kurds’ Advance in Syria Divides U.S. And Turkey as Russia Bombs

By Daren Butler. The rapid advance of U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters in northern Syria, taking advantage of Russian air strikes to seize territory near the Turkish border, has infuriated Ankara and threatened to drive a wedge between NATO allies.

Washington has long seen the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its YPG military wing as its best chance in the battle against Islamic State in Syria – to the chagrin of fellow NATO member Turkey, which sees the group as terrorists and fears it will stir up greater unrest among its own Kurdish minority.

Russian bombing has transformed the five-year-old Syrian civil war in recent weeks, turning the momentum decisively in favor of Moscow’s ally President Bashar al-Assad.

The Syrian army has come within 25 km (15 miles) of the Turkish border and says it aims to seal it off altogether, closing the main lifeline into rebel territory for years and recapturing Aleppo, Syria’s largest city before the war. (Read more from “Kurds’ Advance in Syria Divides U.S. And Turkey as Russia Bombs” HERE)

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Turkey Promises to ‘Never Step Back’ From Terror Fight After Blast

A day after a suicide bomber killed at least 10 people in a brazen attack, few ventured into Instanbul’s central tourist district.

Street vendors and shopkeepers opened for the day, but had little business.

A makeshift memorial formed at the site of the attack. People laid red roses in the shadow of the city’s world-famous Blue Mosque.

The people of Istanbul began to regroup as Turkey’s prime minister promised the nation’s resolve to fight terror remains unchanged.

“We will continue our fight against terrorism with the same resolve, and will never take a step back,’ Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said, according to Turkey’s semi-official Anadolu news agency. (Read more from “Turkey Promises to ‘Never Step Back’ From Terror Fight After Blast” HERE)

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Turkey Shoots Down Russian Jet, Tensions Escalate in Volatile Region

One of the world’s most volatile regions was roiled further Tuesday when Turkey shot down a Russian warplane near the Turkish-Syrian border. Turkey said it hit the plane after it repeatedly violated Turkey’s airspace and ignored 10 warnings.

One of the two pilots was killed in the air by fire from the ground, according to Russia’s state-run news agency RIA Novosti. The fate of the second pilot wasn’t disclosed.

Meanwhile, a Russian marine was killed on Tuesday during an operation to rescue the two pilots, who were flying an Su-24 warplane, according to RIA Novosti.

Turkey and Russia exchanged bellicose language after the downing of the plane, raising fears in the international community that the brutal Syrian conflict could spiral into something much wider.

The Russian plane was warned numerous times beforehand and was subsequently dealt with because it “did not answer our warning,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Tuesday. (Read more from “Turkey Shoots Down Russian Jet” HERE)

U.S. Consulate Building in Istanbul Targeted in Turkey Attacks [+video]

consulate081015Turkish police were searching Monday for a gunman who attacked the U.S. Consulate in Istanbul after a night of violence shook Turkey’s largest city.

A pair of assailants, a man and a woman, opened fire early Monday on the heavily fortified consulate building in the northern Sariyer district, leading to a shootout with police, authorities said.

No U.S. personnel were injured but the consulate announced that it was closing until further notice, according to Turkish media accounts.

The female assailant, who was wounded in the shootout, was captured by police in a nearby building, according to the official Andalou news agency.

The other attacker, a man, was still at large, authorities said. (Read more from “U.S. Consulate Building in Istanbul Targeted in Turkey Attacks” HERE)

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