TIME feminism

Turkish Women Can’t Stop Laughing at Minister’s Advice to Stop Laughing

TURKEY-POLITICS
Turkey's Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc speaks during an interview in Ankara on July 24, 2014, ahead of the presidential election Adem Alta—AFP/Getty Images

A speech on public morals has morphed into a comedy of errors

Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc did not intend his Monday speech on “moral corruption” to get big laughs, but when he advised women to suppress their laughter in public, it landed on the public like a well-crafted punch line.

Women in Turkey have since tweeted pictures of their reactions, ranging from grins …

… to guffaws.

Over the past three days, hundreds of thousands of people have tweeted under the hashtag #kahkaha, the Turkish word for laughter. Sadly, the Deputy Prime Minister wasn’t joking.

TIME Middle East

Hamas Still Has Some Friends Left

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses his supporters at parliament in Ankara, Turkey, July 22, 2014.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses his supporters at parliament wearing a Palestinian keffiyeh, in Ankara, July 22, 2014. Burhan Ozbilici—AP

Though Egypt has turned its back on Hamas, other countries are coming in from the cold

With the fighting in Gaza intensifying daily, the ruling militant group Hamas is finding itself pushed to the limit. Trying to match Israel’s vast military might is an impossible task, and even finding the resources to launch rocket attacks against Israeli targets could only be achieved by heavy foreign investment.

But which country wants to invest in Hamas? The West certainly doesn’t. The militant Palestinian organization has been a firm fixture on the United States’ Foreign Terrorist Organizations list since 1997. Hamas’ only hope is its neighbors in the Arab world.

Hamas has two clear allies, according to Middle East experts: Qatar and Turkey. Both have given Hamas their public support and financial assistance estimated to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

“Qatar also hosts Hamas’ political bureau which includes Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal,” says Shashank Joshi, Senior Research Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute. “Qatar has a long history of providing shelter to Islamist groups, amongst them the Muslim Brotherhood and the Taliban.”

Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party, which came to power in 2002, supports what Joshi calls “other neo-Islamist allies.” Though the Turkish government explicitly rejects the label “Islamist”, their social conservatism is inspired by an Islamic ideology that Hamas shares. Last year, Meshaal visited Turkey and met with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan for several hours.

Both Qatar — one of the world’s richest states — and Turkey are powerful allies to have, but Hamas might wish for more support given the breadth of the Arab world. It once had it, too. Hamas used to be strongly allied with both Iran and Syria, with the former giving Hamas an estimated $13-15 million a month as recently as 2011, as well as long-range missiles. Hamas’ political bureau used to be based in the Syrian capital of Damascus before its move to Qatar in 2012.

But relations cooled dramatically with Iran and Syria amid sectarian divisions following the outbreak of the Syrian civil war. Iran, a Shia-majority country, backed the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad whose Alawite faith is a branch of Shia Islam. Hezbollah, a powerful Shia Islamist group based in Lebanon, also took Assad’s side.

However Hamas, a Sunni-led faction, sided, as most of the Arab world did, with the rebels. Cue Tehran cutting their allowance, Hezbollah allegedly ordering Hamas members out of Lebanon, and Hamas packing their bags for Qatar.

“Iran’s relationship with Hamas was always problematic,” says Chris Doyle, director of the Council for the Advancement of Arab-British Understanding. “Hamas is a Palestinian Sunni group and Iran is Shia. Nevertheless, Hamas was their entry into the issue of Palestine.”

Seeking to regain its influence over this issue, Iran has attempted to foster a reconciliation with Hamas over the last 18 months. Farwaz Gerges, professor on the Middle East at the London School of Economics says the conflict in Gaza is the reason. “The current crisis has brought a kind of rapprochement between Iranian leaders and Hamas.”

Hezbollah too, Gerges notes, has invited Hamas back into the fold. On Monday, the Hezbollah-owned television channel Al Manar reported that Hezbollah leader, Hassan Nasrallah, praised Meshaal for “the persistence of the Hamas resistance.” The TV station added he “strongly supported their rightful demands to end the current battle.”

Gerges is quick to point out that this doesn’t signal “a return to the warm days of the Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas leaders.” However he adds: “Out of this particular crisis, a new realignment might happen.” That may sound like good news for Hamas, but there’s another Arab country that is of late vehemently opposed to it. That would be Egypt, the largest and most influential country in the Arab world and the one responsible for drafting a potential cease-fire.

From 2012 to 2013, Hamas enjoyed Egypt’s munificence under the leadership of former President Mohamed Morsi, a longtime member of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood of which Hamas is an offshoot. When Morsi was ousted last year and replaced with Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, Hamas knew the good times were over.

“The most devastating thing that has happened to Hamas is the ousting of Mohamed Morsi,” comments Gerges. Sisi, whose government has orchestrated a violent crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, destroyed Hamas’ tunnel network into Egypt and closed the border crossing at Rafah, devastating Hamas’ finances. The United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, two of Egypt’s financial backers, are also hostile to Hamas. Like Egypt, they view the Muslim Brotherhood as a clear domestic threat — and Hamas is guilty by association.

But perhaps Hamas doesn’t need Egypt. As the death toll continues to rise in Gaza, there is a groundswell of public sympathy across the Arab world for the group.

“Hamas in terms of people on the street is at the height of its political power in every single Arab country with the exception of Egypt,” says Gerges. “The longer the conflict continues, the more they gain in popularity. And for Hamas, what really matters is the public pulse.”

TIME animals

Recycle Plastic Bottles in This Machine, and It Will Dispense Food for Stray Dogs

A recycling bin that's good for the earth and its four-legged inhabitants

+ READ ARTICLE

In Istanbul, Turkey, where an estimated 150,000 stray dogs and cats reportedly wander the streets, a Turkish company called Pugedon believes it has come up with a way to feed the animals: “Smart Recycling Boxes,” a machine that dispenses food and water in exchange for recycled plastic bottles, Big Think reports.

The benefits of the vending machine are supposed to be two fold: encourage recycling and feed the city’s strays. Recycling is put on top and food is dispensed out the bottom within easy reach for animals in need. There’s even a water dish attached so users can pour the remaining water from a plastic bottle before recycling it. The recycled bottles are supposed to cover the cost of the food.

The problem of managing stray dogs in international cities most recently came to light during the 2014 Winter Olympics, when stray dogs roamed the street’s of the Games’ host city, Sochi, Russia. When it was reported that some of the Sochi strays were going to be culled, animal rights activists sprung into action to rescue the homeless pups, and even some of the athletes brought them back to the United States.

MORE: 10 Stray Sochi Pups Arrive in U.S.

MORE: Mystery Photo Found In Stray Dog’s Collar Baffles County

TIME Turkey

Transsexual TV Reporter Becomes Turkey’s Face of LGBT Rights

In Turkey, legislation does not discriminate against transsexuals, but the country has a long way to go when it comes to LGBT rights, advocates say

+ READ ARTICLE

Homosexuality is not a crime in Turkey, but homophobia is widespread and activists hope to make the country an example of respect towards the LGBT community.

Michelle Demishevich, a prominent LGBT rights activist, is the country’s first transsexual TV reporter. While Turkey’s gay and transgender communities enjoy better rights than their counterparts in most Muslim countries, her achievement is rather unique.

In the video above, reported by the AFP, the activist talks about the fight for LGBT rights in Turkish society.

TIME Soccer

Nowhere to Go: Chronicling Soccer’s Human Trafficking Problem

Photographer Jason Andrew's "Black Diamonds" reveals the sordid underbelly of the world's most popular sport in Turkey and West Africa

Every four years, the World Cup draws unparalleled attention to soccer and its stars — the “beautiful game” played on its grandest stage for all to see. Far less attention is minded to those whose passion for the game has led to their exploitation.

In his series of photographs “Black Diamonds,” Jason Andrew chronicles the human trafficking of African soccer players from Nigeria to Istanbul by an assortment of scouts and unlicensed agents. These young athletes, largely under-informed and uneducated, are promised the opportunity to realize their dreams of becoming soccer stars — if their impoverished families are willing to pay fees that can exceed $5,000 to send them to Turkey. But instead of using their time in Turkey to kickstart successful soccer careers in top-tier European leagues, the players are typically abandoned shortly after their arrival and forced to fend for themselves in a harsh and unforgiving land.

Since 2011, Andrew has followed the journeys of these young men, many of whom end up destitute and desperate for whatever work they are able to find. Some have returned home to West Africa, more have remained in Turkey, sharing apartments and jobs with others lured north under false pretenses, but very few have found even a fraction of the glory and riches once promised.

The problem is a growing one. Jean Claude Mbvoumin of the Foot Solidaire group, a charity whose goal is to protect young African soccer players, estimated that as many as 15,000 soccer-playing African youths were emigrating under what can only be described as the falsest of pretenses, and that number shows no sign of shrinking. Nearly every day more of these young players arrive in Turkey, just as their predecessors’ visas expire.

“Black Diamonds” highlights a few of these exploited players, tracking their attempts to fulfill the dreams that had once been promised them — the same dreams that others have been living at this summer’s World Cup. For these exploited soccer players, however, the path forward is far less certain.

All photographs by Jason Andrew.

TIME Iraq

Iraqi Kurdish Leader Urges Independence Referendum

The President of Iraqi Kurdistan Massoud Barzani visits Kirkuk
The President of Iraqi Kurdistan Massoud Barzani (L) visits Kirkuk June 26, 2014. Barzani called on regional lawmakers Thursday to lay the groundwork for a referendum on independence. Reuters

(BAGHDAD) — With large parts of Iraq in militant hands, a top Kurdish leader called on regional lawmakers Thursday to lay the groundwork for a referendum on independence, a vote that would likely spell the end of a unified Iraq.

The recent blitz by Sunni militants across much of northern and western Iraq has given the country’s 5 million Kurds — who have long agitated for independence — their best chance ever to seize disputed territory and move closer to a decades-old dream of their own state.

But the Kurds still face considerable opposition from many in the international community, including the United States, which has no desire to see a fragmented Iraq.

A Western-established no-fly zone in 1991 helped the Kurds set up their enclave, which has emerged over the years as a beacon of stability and prosperity, while much of the rest of the country has been mired in violence and political turmoil. The three-province territory was formally recognized as an autonomous region within Iraq following the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein.

Speaking to the regional legislature Thursday, the president of the Kurdistan Regional Government, Massoud Barzani, told lawmakers to set up an electoral commission to “hurry up” and prepare for “a referendum on self-determination.”

“We will be in a better position and we will have better (political) weapons in our hands. But how we will do this?” he said. “What kind of steps will there be? For this, you have to study the issue and take steps in this direction. It is time to decide our self-determination and not wait for other people to decide for us.”

Barzani spoke behind closed doors, but The Associated Press obtained a video of his address.

Kurdish leaders have threatened for years to hold an independence referendum, but those moves were often more about wresting concessions from the central government in Baghdad than a real push for statehood. The recent Sunni offensive has effectively cleaved the country in three, bringing the prospect of full independence within reach.

Kurdish fighters already have seized control of disputed territory — including the city of Kirkuk, a major oil hub. The Kurds say they only want to protect the areas from the Sunni militants. Many of the zones have considerable Kurdish communities that the Kurds have demanded be incorporated into their territory, making them unlikely to give them up.

With its own oil resources, the Kurdish region has long had a contentious relationship with Baghdad, with disputes over a range of issues including how to share the revenue. In May, the Kurdish government sold oil independent of the central government for the first time, shipping about 1.05 million barrels to Turkey. In retaliation, Baghdad stopped giving the Kurds the share of the central budget they are entitled to receive.

The border of the Kurdish self-rule region is another point of contention. The Kurds say they have tried for years to get Baghdad to agree on where to draw the frontier, but the central government has dragged its feet. They point to a constitutional amendment requiring that Kirkuk’s fate be decided by referendum, but it has never been implemented.

While the Sunni militants’ offensive may have turned the situation in the Kurds’ favor, there is still significant opposition to changing the status quo.

Kurdish independence is opposed by the U.S., as well as by Iraq’s regional neighbors, Turkey and Iran — both of whom have large Kurdish minority populations.

“Iraq is divided. We have got a new reality,” Fuad Hussein, the chief of staff to Barzani, told reporters Thursday. He was in Washington to update senior Obama administration officials on Kurdish aspirations for “self-determination.”

In a statement late Thursday, the White House said Vice President Joe Biden “dropped by” a meeting with Hussein and that “both sides agreed on the importance of forming a new government in Iraq that will pull together all communities in Iraq.” A separate White House statement said Biden spoke by phone with Turkey’s prime minister and that they agreed on “the importance of supporting lasting security and stability in Iraq.”

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Wednesday that “a united Iraq is a stronger Iraq.” She said the country’s leaders should focus on the insurgency instead of drawing new borders, “and we should not give an opening to a horrific terrorist group by being divided at this critical moment.”

The prospect of Kurdish independence is just one of the ripple effects caused by the stunning rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, the extremist group that has carved out a large chunk of territory spanning the Syria-Iraq border. It has declared an Islamic state in the area.

The jihadi group’s growing strength has caused jitters across the region, particularly in neighboring Jordan, Iran and Saudi Arabia.

A U.S. defense official said Thursday that Saudi troops are massing along its border with Iraq in response to the extremist group’s advance toward the kingdom’s frontier. Countries in the region are nervous about their security and are moving to protect their borders, said the official, who was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly so spoke on condition of anonymity.

U.S. Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the U.S. is not close to launching a military assault against the insurgents, but “may get to that point” if they become a threat to the American homeland.

Dempsey said he does not believe the U.S., at this point, needs to send in an “industrial strength” force with a mountain of supplies to bolster Iraqi troops, adding that the most urgent need is a political solution centered on a more inclusive Iraqi government.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said about 200 U.S. military advisers are in Iraq assessing the situation and they have opened a second joint operating center in the north in Irbil. The U.S. has more than 750 troops in Iraq, mainly providing security for the embassy and the airport.

In northern Iraq, the Sunni militants released 32 Turkish truck drivers who were captured when the extremists overran the city of Mosul last month. The truckers traveled to the capital of Iraq’s Kurdish region before flying to southern Turkey.

Militants seized the truckers June 9 in Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city. Three days later, they took another 49 people from the Turkish consulate in Mosul. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said efforts were underway to secure the release of the Turks still in captivity.

The militants’ assault in Iraq has eased in recent days since encountering stiffer resistance in Shiite majority areas.

The rapid pace of the initial advance left 46 Indian nurses stranded at a hospital in the militant-held northern city of Tikrit, Saddam’s hometown. The nurses are safe but are being forced to move to an area controlled by the militants, according to Indian External Affairs Ministry spokesman Syed Akbaruddin.

He also said 40 Indian construction workers abducted two weeks ago near Mosul were still being held, but were unharmed.

Across the border in Syria, meanwhile, the al-Qaeda splinter group seized several towns and villages as well as the country’s largest oil field Thursday as rival factions gave up the fight, Syrian activists said.

They said the jihadi group is in almost full control of a corridor stretching from the Syrian border town of Boukamal to the government-controlled provincial capital of Deir el-Zour to the northwest. Those gains in territory straddling the border between the two conflict-ridden countries effectively expand and consolidate areas held by the group — which has shortened its name to the Islamic State.

The majority of significant Syrian rebel brigades that have been fighting to overthrow President Bashar Assad have rejected the group’s unilateral declaration of an Islamic state. The rebel groups, including the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front, have battled the Sunni extremists since the beginning of the year. Nearly 7,000 people, mostly fighters, have died in the clashes.

However, the Nusra Front appears to be losing in Syria as fighters allied with powerful tribes in eastern Syria defect to al-Baghdadi’s group.

TIME Turkey

Turkey’s Erdogan Plans to Go From Premiership to Presidency

Turkey's PM Erdogan greets AK Party members at a meeting where he is named as his party's candidate for the country's first direct presidential election in Ankara
Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan greets Justice and Development Party members at a meeting, in which he is named as his party's candidate for the country's first direct presidential election, in Ankara on July 1, 2014 Umit Bektas—Reuters

The Turkish PM wants to transform the presidency from a largely ceremonial post into an executive seat of power, but some say he's overplaying his hand

It was fine pantomime, but it was also a sign of political things to come.

Back in May, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s famously irascible Prime Minister, lost his temper at an official function as a prominent lawyer berated his government. “This kind of rudeness is unimaginable,” he yelled. “You’re lying.” Turkey’s President, Abdullah Gul, tried to calm Erdogan but failed. The Prime Minister eventually made it known he was leaving the venue in protest. Then, in a gesture that seemed to be far less of an entreaty than a command, he motioned for the President to do likewise. Gul, obligingly, made his way toward the door.

On Tuesday, less than two months later, Erdogan confirmed what his body language had earlier suggested — that the key decisions about Turkey’s political future were his to make, that he would be the Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) candidate in an Aug. 10 presidential election, and that Gul, his political ally, would head for the exit.

In an emotional speech at an AKP rally in Ankara in front of 4,000 party faithful, Erdogan pledged to transform the office to which he aspires from a largely ceremonial post into the main node of executive power. “This is no simple technical change,” he said, referring to a constitutional amendment that will see Turkey’s President elected by popular vote for the first time. “A President elected by the people and not by Parliament … is a turning point for democracy,” he said. “A popular election will invest the presidency with strong legitimacy and real meaning.”

To most Turks, Erdogan’s decision to enter the race did not come as a surprise. Earlier this year, the AKP decided to cap at three the number of terms that its members can serve in parliament, a rule that would have prevented Erdogan from returning as Prime Minister. Gul, meanwhile, confirmed that he would not run for re-election over the weekend.

Over the past year, Erdogan has had to contend with a series of antigovernment protests, a major corruption scandal, fallout from the deadliest industrial disaster in Turkish history and, most recently, a hostage crisis in Iraq. He appears to have weathered it all. Most opinion polls now give him over 50% of the vote, enough to defeat his main challenger, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, a former head of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, in the first round.

Ihsanoglu has practically “no chance” of stopping Erdogan’s march toward the presidency, says Turkish columnist Kadri Gursel, as the candidate of an opposition that is “incapable of managing political processes, perceptions and political communication.” The two main opposition parties waited until mid-June to unveil the septuagenarian Ihsanoglu as their joint candidate, ensuring that he would remain an unfamiliar, untested product by the time Turks went to the polls. Days later, several members of the secularist opposition made it clear Ihsanoglu was far from their preferred nominee.

Tuesday’s announcement may have put an end to the speculation about Erdogan’s political future, but it has left a number of other questions unanswered. Turks still have no clue as to who will replace Erdogan as Prime Minister should he win, and whether he intends to stay on in his current job should he lose.

But if Erdogan does win the presidency, says Gursel, it will only strengthen his iron grip over Turkish politics and his party. “It will be the continuation of his premiership,” he says, “and even in a more powerful manner”

“Erdogan will dictate the main lines of policy that should be followed and the [new] Prime Minister will apply them,” he says. “This will be one-man rule.”

Others think that Erdogan risks overplaying his hand. “He thinks he’ll get the majority in the 2015 parliamentary election, change the constitution and [implement] a presidential system, but I think it’s going to be difficult,” says Cenk Sidar, managing director of consultancy firm Sidar Global Advisors, based in Washington, D.C. In the end, “he may get stuck as regular President, a figurehead,” he says.

Erdogan himself appears confident he will remain Turkey’s de facto leader for the foreseeable future, constitutional changes or not. Across the country, his face beams from billboards proclaiming “Target 2023,” the year when Turks will celebrate the centenary of their republic. Erdogan plans to be master of ceremonies. Should he win the presidency, then repeat in 2019, he will get his wish.

“Today,” he said on Tuesday, announcing his bid for the presidency, “we are getting ready for a beautiful journey.”

TIME Iraq

What is the Caliphate?

Silhouetted behind the Arabic word "cali
The Arabic word for "caliphate" ABBAS MOMANI—AFP/Getty Images

For centuries, the Caliphate claimed dominion over all the world's Muslims. It was abolished in 1924. Now Sunni extremists say it's back.

Most Westerners have only the dimmest idea of what the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) claims to have set up on the desert flats and cities it controls.

Just what is the Caliphate?

At its most basic, the Caliphate is how Muslims organized themselves for centuries after the death of the Prophet Mohammed. In life, Mohammed led the faith that Muslims believe he channeled directly from God, serving as both religious leader and temporal ruler of the legions drawn to his teachings.

But when the Prophet died in 632 A.D., he left no heir, and the search was on for a successor—which is what caliph means. The caliphate (or succession) is what he rules, the governing body that claims dominion over all believers.

The competition for caliph would split the faith. After Mohammed died, some thought his favorite son-in-law, Ali, should serve. A supporter of Ali was rendered as Shiaat Ali, which became “Shia.”

Others said the caliph should be drawn from those who were especially close to the Prophet, and followed his teachings and example, or Sunnah. They formed Islam’s Sunni tradition.

Shiites stopped selecting caliphs fairly early on, but in the dominant Sunni tradition, the office held ultimate religious and political authority. The combined powers held together empires based wherever the Caliph chose: Baghdad, Damascus or, finally, Istanbul, from which Ottoman sultans governed an empire stretching across three continents for more than 500 years.

But the Ottoman Empire collapsed in World War I, and its remaining land was divided up into the form preferred by the European victors: nation-states. And as it happened, perhaps the most emphatic nation-state in the world, the Republic of Turkey, emerged on its own in the Anatolian peninsula that had been the heart of the empire. Its founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, viewed Islam as a rival to the power of the secular state, and literally packed the last caliph out of town on the Orient Express—Abdulmecid Efendi, an urbane scholar who by some accounts was reading the essays of Montaigne when the police came for him. He retired to Paris and Nice.

Decades passed, and the West largely forgot that there ever was a caliphate. But Muslims did not. The Muslim Brotherhood was founded in Egypt in 1928 on the desire to re-establish it. Other groups followed, all of them radical in the sense that they sought to upend the world order by ending what one scholar called “the division of Muslim lands into measly pieces which call themselves nations.”

But many moderate Muslims like the idea as well. Some cite the dysfunction of the Arab world as defined by colonial borders, especially compared to Ottoman times. Others note that Catholics have their pope. “The concept of the caliphate is very much alive in the collective memory of society,” a Turkish author, Ali Bulac, once told me. “There is absolutely nothing to keep Muslim society together at the moment.”

Dignity, or its loss, plays a significant role. Osama bin Laden called the attacks of 9/11 “a very small thing compared to this humiliation and contempt for more than 80 years,” counting from the 1924 elimination of the caliphate. And in its statement asserting a restored caliphate on the lands it holds between Syria and Iraq, ISIS appealed to “generations that were drowning in oceans of disgrace, being nursed on the milk of humiliation.”

Even before the caliphate was officially declared June 29, ISIS, which uses social media masterfully, promoted the Twitter hashtag #sykespicotover. (Mark Sykes and Georges Picot being, as Arabs know only too well, the British and French officials who secretly divided up the Middle East in the waning days of WWI.) ISIS supporters also gleefully posted videos of captured earth movers breaching the berm separating Syria and Iraq.

But the group is radical in more ways than one. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the ISIS founder who now claims the mantle of the Prophet, calls for a war on the 10 percent of the world’s Muslims who follow the Shia tradition. His foundational screed calls for his soldiers to “greedily drink the blood” of non-believers.

“This is something that is characteristic of our time, to reestablish an ideological empire,” a Turkish scholar named Serif Mardin once told me, a look of distaste crossing his face. “A sweet caliph of ancient times is overwhelmed by this modern military idea. I mean, the caliph is supposed to be a nice guy.” That is one thing the new self-declared caliph does not appear to be.

TIME Photos

Feel Good Friday: 19 Fun Photos to Start Your Weekend

From swamp soccer to baby giraffes, here's a handful of photos to get your weekend started right

TIME Iraq

Iraq Breakup Made Easier by Turkey’s Détente With Kurds

Peshmerga fighters provide security at the last checkpoint outside of Mosul which is currently under control of ISIS militants, on June 14 in Mosul.
Kurdish Peshmerga fighters provide security at the last checkpoint outside of Mosul on June 14. Sebastiano Tomada—Getty Images

The neighbor that a decade ago was most intent upon keeping Iraq together is now allied with its most ardent separatists—the Kurds—removing a key obstacle to the dismemberment of Iraq as Sunni Muslim extremists gain territory

In March 2003, U.S. troops parachuted into Iraq’s north and took up positions in the most fraught conflict then going in that part of the country: A looming battle between Turkey and the Kurds of northern Iraq. Turkey had 200,000 troops to its southeastern border, fearing not the armies of Saddam Hussein but the aspirations of an ethnic minority that openly pined for independence – and was angling to use the US invasion of Iraq as an excuse to declare it. Turkey feared an independent Kurdistan in Iraq would enflame the separatist passions among its own Kurdish minority, a situation so fraught that the Pentagon set up a special command specifically to deal with it. Its stated mission: “deconfliction.”

Eleven years later, Iraq’s Kurds have finally acted on their plan – sending forces to take the disputed, oil-rich city of Kirkuk, known as the “Kurdish Jerusalem,” and declaring the end of Iraq as the world now knows it. And what did Turkey do? Wish them well. “The Kurds of Iraq can decide for themselves the name and type of entity they are living in,” a spokesman for Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party told a Kurdish news outlet.

The transformation of Turkey from enemy to key ally of Iraqi Kurdistan is almost complete, removing a key obstacle to the dismemberment of Iraq as Sunni Muslim extremists gain territory in a nation ruled by a sectarian Shiite Muslim government.

No longer does Turkish nationalism serve to hold Iraq’s borders in place with pressure from the north. Instead, a country founded in 1924 as perhaps the world’s fiercest assertion of the nation-state – “Devlet,” which means “state,” is a first name in Turkey –- has aligned itself with a separatist movement dressed in the clothes of a sovereign nation. The Kurdistan Regional Government, formed after the U.S. invasion, has its own flag, prime minister, military, oil wells, border checkpoints and foreign minister.

“It’s a fact that the autonomous Kurdish region of Iraq is the best ally of Turkey in the Middle East,” says Dogu Ergil, a political science professor at Istanbul’s Fatih University who specializes in what Turks call “the Kurdish question.” “Once it was a formidable potential enemy, because Turkey feared a basically independent Iraqi Kurdistan would be an attraction center for the Kurds of Turkey. But it proved that it’s not so, and Iraqi Kurds could be the best economic partners of Turkey.”

Trade between Turkey and Iraq’s Kurdish region stands at more than $8 billion a year, twice the business Turkey does with the entire rest of Iraq. And the figure will rise as the Kurds pump oil across Turkey via a pipeline to a Mediterranean port, a physical tether between the newfound allies built despite Baghdad’s strenuous objections. “But as we see, “ Ergil notes, “Baghdad is a paper tiger.”

The relationship works both ways, says Soner Cagaptay, a Turkey specialist at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “The Kurds are also pivoting to Turkey. In Iraq they made a decision around 2007 that they would rather have Turkey as a long term protector than the Arabs.”

That decision transformed a longtime threat into a protector, but Turkey’s security situation was also improved by the deal. Kurds are an ethnic group that Woodrow Wilson once promised a nation of their own, but ended up divided instead among others — Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Iran. Once seen as a threat to the sovereignty of each (but especially Turkey, which has the most Kurds), they now are acting as a buffer. Because their turf abuts the Turkish border in both Syria and Iraq, the Kurdish region provides a barrier of sorts, insulating Turkey from the worst effects of the fighting, including flows of refugees. The checkpoints where hundreds of thousands of Iraqis fleeing Mosul, which was overrun by the extremist Islamic State of Iraq and Syria on June 10, stood at the entrance to Iraqi Kurdistan, not Turkey.

“If not for the Kurds, Turkey would neighbor ISIS,” says Cagaptay. “I think this has added a political element to the Turkish-Kurdish rapprochement.”

The improved relationship extends to electoral politics. Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan last year announced a peace deal with the Kurdistan Worker’s Party, or PKK, Turkish Kurds who had fought a separatist war for decades. According to leaked documents, as part of the bargain Turkey’s largest Kurdish political party agreed to back Erdogan’s bid for a more powerful presidency, cementing his hegemony in a reworked constitution.

“But the new approach to Iraqi Kurdistan has reached beyond Erdogan to Turkish elites,” notes Cagaptay. “You see it in the thinking of diplomats at the foreign ministry, in the spy chief.” Whatever challenges lay ahead for Kurds gaining acceptance in Turkish society–and those challenges are substantial—the transformation of Ankara’s foreign policy could alter the the entire Middle East.

“What is really shifting right now is Kurdish reality on the ground in Iraq and Syria,” Cagaptay says. “They’re using the civil war as an opportunity window to have Turkey recognize their de-facto independence.”

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