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Turkish News Round Up -01.02.2021

The fight against PKK

It is reported that, together with Iraqi military forces, Turkey may soon launch an operation in Sinjar, Northern Iraq – the home of the terrorist organisation PKK, which has been responsible for many terrorism attacks in Turkey over the last 40 years.

Experts describe how such an attack would not only  deal a heavy blow to terrorist groups like the PKK and Daesh, but it would also thwart the formation of a terror corridor by the PKK’s offshoots and restore stability in the region, although such partnership would require the sincere commitment of the Baghdad and Irbil administrations.

Can Acun, a foreign policy expert, Turkey said “We see that the PKK exploits instability in the region to strengthen itself, and this poses a threat to not only Turkey but also the interests of the Baghdad and Irbil administrations,” Acun said, adding that the elimination of the PKK would work in favor of all legitimate actors in the region.

It is not yet clear whether the operation with be a joint or unilateral one, but Mr Acun noted that Iraqi military aspires to eliminate groups linked with PKK, such as the Sinjar Resistance Unit and that Turkey is ready to provide support if necessary.

Turkish and Iraqi officials have held several meetings in recent months to discuss the issue of Sinjar. Most recently, the National Security Council (MGK) discussed the matter and Defence Minister Hulusi Akar has just visited Iraq, saying that co-operation between Ankara and Baghdad, as well as Ankara and Irbil, will lead to important developments in terms of the fight against terrorism.

Tourism

Despite falling tourism numbers, which saw revenue slashed by 2/3 last year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Turkish Tourism chiefs are confident that 2021 could see more tourists visiting the country’s holiday hotspots before the end of the year.

Taleb Rifai, secretary-general of the U.K.-based World Tourism Forum Institute (WTFI), told Anadolu Agency (AA). “Turkey is doing very well. If Turkey continues to inspire trust and confidence for visitors, it may reach the pre-2020 rates before the end of 2021”

The revenue raised by Turkey’s tourism sector is necessary to decrease the current account deficit.  However, with global travel restrictions, stay at home orders and the closure of restaurants and hotels, the number of foreign visitors fell by 71.7% in 2020, leading to a drop in income of $12.06 billion (88.19 billion TL), a shortfall of 65.1%.

Noting that coronavirus-related travel restrictions caused the tourism sector to collapse, Rifai said noted that, even if borders reopen, people will probably not start traveling immediately due to issues with “trust and confidence perceptions” however it is believed that Turkey’s robust vaccination programme will have a positive impact on the tourism sector.

The Culture and Tourism Ministry kicked off a Safe Tourism Certificate program at the very beginning of the coronavirus outbreak, implementing effective measures at airports, accommodation facilities and beaches to curb the spread of the disease, which led to tourists being able to holiday with peace of mind.

Touching on Turkey’s success in dealing with the crisis in the 21st century, Rifai underlined the importance of strong political will and belief for the resilience of the tourism sector.  “It is about everyone in the world. It is not about competition but rather coordination and good management,” he added.  Mr Rifai added that the world will not return to the “good old days” in the short run but feels “We will go back to sustainable growth maybe by 2022,” he said. “It will depend on how successful governments are in promoting safe vaccines and the vaccine’s success rates,” he noted.

In 2019, Turkey welcomed 45 million foreign visitors, up from 39.5 million from 2018.  Amongst others, Turkey welcomes visitors from Russia (16.8%), Bulgaria (9.8%), Germany (8.8%), Ukraine (7.8%) and Great Britain (6.4%).

Export

Friday saw two trains leave Turkey, carrying export goods on the Baku-Tblisi-Kars railway.  One train, heading to Russia is the first block train to use the route, whilst the second train, carrying boron containers to China is the third train to do so.

The trains indicate Turkey’s importance on the modern Silk Route trade and global transportation network. At the sending off ceremony in Ankara, Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Adil Karaismailoğlu, said the country has become the most strategic connection on the Iron Silk Road and also noted that China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) project – an ambitious initiative connecting China, Asia, Europe and the Middle East and covering a large trade and investment area – is important for Turkey and is an opportunity to expand exports.

The BTK line connects Azerbaijan’s capital Baku on the Caspian Sea to Turkey’s eastern border city of Kars via the Georgian capital, Tbilisi. Meanwhile, China’s Iron Silk Road connects China to Europe via Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan to Baku via train ferries. The trains cross Georgia to enter Turkey via the BTK and then reach the western coast of Turkey before entering Europe.

The BTK started operations on 30th October 2017, and began a new era in global rail transportation.  Mr Karaismailoğlu informed reporters that the rail line has reduced cargo transport time between China and Turkey to just 12 days from one month, while the integration of the Marmaray tunnel, which connects Istanbul’s Asian and European sides, and lies beneath the Bosphorous, thus being dubbed “the project of the century,” has reduced the travelling time between East Asia and Western Europe to 18 days.

Mr Karaismailoğlu stated “The export train we are sending off today will travel approximately 4,650 kilometers (2,889 miles) to Moscow, using the BTK line, carrying some 3,321 dishwashers, stoves and ovens produced in Turkey, and delivered to the Vladimir Region of Russia in 15 containers over 15 wagons,” before adding that the development in this transport, which was previously carried out via sea and land routes, is the result of the trust shown in Turkey’s railway transportation.

Underlining the importance for both Russia and Turkey to transport their exports and imports via the railroad and thus strengthen commercial relations, Karaismailoğlu noted that these shipments are not just for commercial activities alone.

“Trade and purchasing are among the most important elements of the multidimensional relations between Turkey and Russia and also strengthen the bridge of friendship between the two countries,” he said.

Turkey-EU Relations – Health

On Thursday, The head of the European Union Delegation to Turkey, Ambassador Nikolaus Meyer-Landrut, visited the construction site of a new 300-bed state hospital in Turkey’s southern province of Kilis, which is being financed by the EU, managed by the Council of Europe Development Bank (CEB) and implemented by Turkey’s Health Ministry.

Kilis, located near the border with Syria, has seen its population double due to an influx of Syrian refugees and is one of the provinces with the highest percentage of Syrian refugees.

“The construction of this hospital, which will provide health services to both the local community and Syrian refugees, is part of a European contribution to improve the health structure in the Kilis province.  It will double the space available in hospitals in the area,” Meyer-Landrut told journalists after visiting the hospital construction site which, according to the CEB, is expected to be operational by October 2021.

The ambassador also visited the refugee health center and the Elbeyli temporary refuge center.

Continuing his visits in the region, Mr Meyer-Landrut

Going on to Gaziantep to continue his visits in the region Mr Meyer-Landrut stopped at the Archaeology and Cultural Heritage Institute in Gaziantep , which was established in collaboration with the EU. The envoy underlined the significance of mutual cooperation between Turkish and EU institutes as well as artists within the scope of dialogue with civil society.

Saying that the EU has finalized the transfer of 6 billion euros (about $7.3 billion) to be used in projects for migrants according to the deal between Ankara and Brussels in 2016, Meyer-Landrut said the bloc expects the projects to be implemented, mostly by local authorities, after the transfer of the promised amount in the migrant deal. He added that cooperation with Gaziantep will be strengthened with the new projects due to the province’s position as an important hub for refugees.

Gaziantep Mayor Fatma Şahin, said the municipality created a “Gaziantep model” in its relations with refugees, carrying out special projects for children’s rights, women’s rights and human rights. The veteran mayor added that she would like to continue working with the EU delegation on joint projects for refugees.

 

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