The Turkish public agenda has been busy with four main topics in the last week
Firstly, HDP Members of Parliament were ripped of their immunity as requested by state persecutors.
Secondly, a currency crisis hit the Turkish Lira, which has suddenly lost value as a part of the ongoing currency crisis since mid 2018.
Thirdly, the Blue Homeland 2021 naval drill started, conducted in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Aegean Sea, by the Turkish Navy.
Fourthly, the ongoing lockdown and vaccination efforts against the COVID-19 pandemic have been a matter of debate.
HDP MP’s immunity
Turkish prosecutors have requested that nine MPs of the pro-PKK People’s Democracy Party (HDP) have their parliamentary immunity removed, opening the way for their arrest.
The request comes after a hostage crisis that saw 13 Turkish citizens killed by the PKK terrorist organization two weeks before.
The Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office on Friday said it had prepared a summary of proceedings for the parliamentarians, including HDP co-leader Pervin Buldan, which had been submitted to the justice ministry.
The application is linked to an investigation into pro-YPG/PKK protests in Turkey’s southeastern region in 2014.
Those protests saw 37 people killed in clashes between pro-PKK demonstrators, the police and members of the Turkish Hezbollah, a separatist and Islamist party. The government largely blamed the HDP for inciting the violence.
The prosecutor’s office said that it had evidence that the MPs “had taken an action in term of starting and continuing the violence-related events”.
Numerous HDP members have had their parliamentary immunity stripped in recent years.
The party’s previous co-leaders, Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag, are both currently under arrest over their links to terrorism.
Turkey has repeatedly accused the HDP of having links to the PKK terrorist organization, which conducted terrorist attacks throughout Turkey since 1984.
Presidential spokesperson Fahrettin Altun slammed the party as a PKK front on Sunday.
“HDP means PKK. HDP is a political puppet that acts upon orders it gets from PKK. We have seen this reality once again today,” he tweeted.
On Monday, security personnel detained 718 people across 40 cities over alleged links to the PKK.
The Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) in Turkey has repeatedly called for the HDP to be dissolved.
MHP leader Devlet Bahceli told during a meeting of his party’s parliamentary group on Monday, “If duty calls us, which will happen in a short time, the MHP will fully exercise its right arising from article 100 of the Law on Political Parties and make its historic application”.
Vatan Party leader Dogu Perincek has also been calling for a liquidation of HDP, over many years, and recently said “I call the Prosecutor’s Office of Turkey to take its duty on homeland defense. It is both a legal obligation and a necessity of patriotism for the Supreme Court of Turkey to apply a prosecution oh HDP’s dissolvement.”
The Turkish parliament will examine lifting some opposition lawmakers’ immunity, its speaker said on Wednesday, as the HDP comes under renewed pressure from the government.
Turkish prosecutors sent a total of 33 legal proceedings to the parliament on Tuesday, in a bid to remove the immunity of at least nine HDP MPs.
The court of cassation last week also upheld a two-year prison sentence for HDP MP Omer Faruk Gergerlioglu for making terrorist propaganda in a social media post.
The Turkish Lira has experienced another sudden drop and lost nearly half the year’s gains this week alone, as the government again defended the record of former Finance Minister Berat Albayrak, and speculation brewed over his possible return to cabinet.
The currency was down 1.6% against the dollar, after having touched 7.47 TL/Dollar, its weakest level in more than three weeks, despite a slump in the US greenback.
After leading emerging market peers this year, the lira has shed nearly 5% in only three days.
Dealers said that the selloff was triggered by President Tayyip Erdogan’s defense of his son-in-law Albayrak, who abruptly resigned in November amid an economic leadership overhaul.
Albayrak oversaw an unorthodox policy that sharply depleted Turkey’s foreign currency reserves.
Since his departure, the Central Bank under new Governor Naci Agbal has hiked interest rates sharply, and the lira has gained 20% of its value back.
An official from Erdogan’s AK Party said that Albayrak’s possible re-appointment as a cabinet minister had recently been discussed internally and that a final decision could be made at a party convention in coming weeks.
“Some are sure that he will be appointed Energy Minister, but Erdogan will decide at the end. Some in the party consider his appointment impossible”, the official told.
The currency shed about half its value during Albayrak’s two years as finance minister, in which state banks sold some $130 billion in dollars in markets to support the lira.
Last year alone, the Central Bank’s net foreign reserves dropped by about three quarters. Agbal, the new bank chief, says they will be replenished amid more orthodox steps.
Adding to the lira’s fragility, Turks hold near record levels of hard currencies as a hedge against double-digit inflation.
Blue Homeland 2021 naval drill
The Turkish Navy has started the “Blue Homeland – 2021” naval exercise, which will take place between the 25th of February and 7th of March in the Aegean Sea and the Mediterranean.
A total of 87 warships have set sails towards their exercise destination. Several army and air force units will also join the Turkish navy during the exercise.
The Turkish Ministry of Defense declared that the exercise will test the readiness of units, warships and command posts connected to the Turkish Naval Forces.
Former Admiral Cihat Yayci has evaluated the exercise. Yayci said, “it is difficult to claim rights where you are not present. These exercises enable intense activity in the open seas.”
The exercise aims to improve basic operational actions, naval operations and interoperability on task force level.
It is told that 82 warships, 5 marine patrol planes, 12 sea helicopters and amphibious marine infantry and Special Forces Units of Underwater Offense from the Turkish Naval Forces; helicopters from the Land Forces Command; F-16, F-4 and air surveillance planes from the Air Force Command; search and rescue units and from the Gendarmerie and S/G boats from the Coast Guard Command will take part in the naval exercise.
UAVs will be used in the exercise on operational and tactical level, and to provide realistic conditions, water surface and air-to-air missiles will target high speed UAVs.
Former Admiral Cihat Yayci, who had developed this exercise during his duty in the Turkish Naval Forces, stated the following: “The Blue Homeland Naval Exercise, started in 2019, is one of the most important components of developing the Blue Homeland Doctrine.”
Admiral Yayci also commented on the current drill’s actual political and military context. He said:
“In this exercise, the Turkish Naval Forces’ access to the use of all international waters in the Aegean Sea (“the Sea of Islands”) and the Mediterranean is enforced, and the principle of maritime freedom is practically realized.”
The first of the Blue Homeland exercise series was held in 2019, being the largest naval exercise in Turkish naval history. All of the naval assets have participated in the training by deploying to three surrounding seas (Black Sea, Aegean Sea, East Mediterranean).
Turkey planned the second iteration of the exercise for 2020, but canceled due to the COVID-19 outbreak conditions.
Lockdowns and vaccination efforts against the pandemic
Turkey has been on a mass vaccination campaign against the coronavirus since January 14th, starting with healthcare workers along with top officials to encourage public confidence in the vaccines.
Turkey also put up weeknight and weekend curfews to curb the virus’ spread since the last December.
On Wednesday, Turkey started vaccinating teachers against COVID-19, with National Education Minister Ziya Selcuk getting the first shot in a primary school in the Sungurlu northern province of Corum, where he said: “Teachers can get vaccinated here today, but later they will get vaccinated in health institutions.”
He said a list including 1.25 million education workers was submitted to the Health Ministry, and added that workers can get information about their turn and take appointment through the mobile application.
According to the Health Ministry’s latest data, Turkey has vaccinated over 8.5 million citizens, over 1.6 million of whose have received the second dose, since the start of the vaccination campaign.
“Turkey will have 105 million doses of coronavirus vaccine by the end of May at the latest,” he said, adding that the country will initially receive 800,000 doses of the BioNTech vaccine out of 4.5 million in 10 days, and efforts will be put to raise it to 5 million doses in total.
There is no supply or planning problem in the vaccination process and the second doses for all who have received the first dose of the vaccine are guaranteed, Koca said, pointing out that Turkey is among the countries that have been fighting against the virus successfully.
Koca also rejected the opposition party’s claims that Turkey gets vaccines from China for free.
“In a world where there is a war for vaccines, would a manufacturer company donate vaccines to a country for free, is there a rational explanation for this?” he asked.
“I underline, under no circumstances has an additional amount of money been given to the intermediary firm,” he said.
To avoid a possible supply problem, it is necessary to domestically develop a COVID-19 vaccine, the health minister stressed.
On Turkey’s work to develop a local COVID-19 vaccine, Koca said the phase two trials may end in April and the country may advance to phase three in late April.
He also underlined that they aim to complete the vaccination campaign in April and May at the latest.
On Twitter, Fahrettin Koca said that cities where the number of cases fell the most per 100,000 people are Bayburt (northeast), Erzincan (east), Trabzon and Karabuk (north), and Hatay (south).
The cities of Ordu, Giresun, Samsun, Tokat and Bolu (all in the north) are the cities where the numbers raised the most, he added.
Minister Koca said on Thursday on a news conference in the capital Ankara following the meeting of the Coronavirus Scientific Advisory Board, “There is no new coronavirus variant that originated in Turkey, while the rate of infections related to the UK strain is rising in the country. One Brazilian, 49 South African variants of the coronavirus have been recorded in Turkey so far”.
He warned all citizens about the mutated virus as the infections are increasing day by day in the country.
The Minister also announced that Turkey will start to gradually normalize from coronavirus restrictions as of March 1st, depending on the situation of each province.
“We are now in a period prioritizing the normalization and the effects of the pandemic on social life, it is a period of taking on-site decisions,” he said.
As of Sunday, Turkey reported 8,424 more coronavirus cases, including 610 symptomatic patients, with 66 fatalities.
The total number of recoveries over 2.57million and more than 33.17 million coronavirus tests have been conducted in Turkey up to this date.