Turkish prosecutors on April 5 issued arrest warrants for 10 retired senior navy officers a day after 104 officers released a letter defending the Montreux Doctrine. The Montreux Doctrine is an agreement made in 1936 concerning critical waterways that run through Turkey, most notably the straits of the Bosphorus (also known as Strait of Istanbul) and the Dardanelles. The terms of the international convention provide that Turkey may control the straits, but must permit civilian vessels to pass through the waterways in times of peace. In addition, the treaty regulates passage of warships and foreign cargo ships on the waters. The treaty was designed to "prevent the militarization of the Black Sea."
Turkish security forces arrested 203 soldiers March 23 in nationwide raids targeting military personnel accused of links to an exiled Muslim cleric, Fethullah Gülen, accused by Ankara of being behind a 2016 coup attempt against President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The 2016 episode led to crackdowns and mass arrests, resulting in more than 250 deaths. Thousands of soldiers were rounded up in the wake of attempted coup. The new raids targeted personnel across ranks; colonels, lieutenants, majors, captains, sergeants, and specialist sergeants were sought out. Operations were held across 53 provinces in the country and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. Authorities alleged that the arrested soldiers are linked to the Fethullah Terrorist Organization (FETO), a supposed network infiltrating the police and security forces. The suspects are accused of communicating with Gülen's "covert imams" via payphone. "Covert imams" is a term used by the government to refer to FETO operatives.
Kurdish left-wing politician Selahattin Demirtaş was sentenced to three years and six months in prison by a Turkish court on March 22 for insulting President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Demirtas, a leader and co-founder of the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), was given the maximum punishment for the offence. He has been imprisoned since November 2016 along with several other HDP leaders. The charge against him concern statements he made in 2015 at the Ataturk Airport in Istanbul, where he said Erdoğan "fluttered from corridor to corridor" during a Paris conference in the hopes of getting a picture with Russian President Vladimir Putin. He also said that the government had betrayed the country by mismanaging the diplomatic crisis between Russia and Turkey after Turkish forces shot down a Russian warplane at the Syrian border.
Turkey withdrew from the Council of Europe's convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, popularly known as the Istanbul Convention, by a presidential decree announced in the official gazette March 20. The Istanbul Convention seeks to "protect women against all forms of violence, and prevent, prosecute and eliminate violence against women and domestic violence." It is the first legally binding instrument in Europe to combat violence against women. Turkey was the first country to sign the convention the day it was launched in the city of Istanbul in May 2011.
Ten years ago this week, the Syrian Revolution began with peaceful pro-democracy protests. The first demonstrations broke out in the city of Deraa after local schoolchildren painted a mural depicting scenes and slogans from the recent revolutions in other Arab countries, and were detained and brutalized by the police. The Bashar Assad regime responded to the demonstrations with serial massacres. After months of this, the Free Syrian Army emerged, initially as a self-defense militia to protect protesters. But the situation soon escalated to an armed insurgency. The regime lost control of large areas of the country, and local civil resistance committees backed by the FSA seized control. Assad then escalated to levels of violence rarely seen on Earth since World War II.
With a May 1 deadline for the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan approaching but a final peace deal stalled, the White House is said to be considering an extension beyond this date for removal of its 2,500 troops remaining in the country. The Washington Post writes that the Biden administration "is likely to postpone a full withdrawal—potentially with Taliban acquiescence—to buy more time to advance a power-sharing proposal they hope can break an impasse in talks between the militants and the Afghan government."
A March 5 missile attack on an oil refinery at al-Hamaran, near Jarabulus in Syria's rebel-held northern pocket, was launched from Russian warships off the country's coast, according to a monitoring group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. At least one person is known to have been killed in the the three-missile strike, which also hit a nearby market, possibly as "collateral damage." In a similar strike on Feb. 10, rockets fired from the Russian military base at Hmeimim, in Syria's coastal Latakia province, struck an oil refinery in the town of Tarhin, also within the rebel-held pocket of Aleppo province. The pocket is in the hands of the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army (SNA), and the strikes appear aimed at preventing SNA forces from resuming oil production in the region for black-market export to Turkey.
Internecine fighting among collaborationist militia in the Turkish-occupied northern Syrian town of Afrin left at least two civilians dead in the crossfire last month. Clashes broke out Feb. 13 between Jabha al-Shamiya (Levant Front) and the Jaysh al-Islam (Army of Islam)—two armed groups affiliated with the Turkey-backed Syrian National Army (SNA). Shops and civilian homes were also damaged in the clashes. Witnesses and local sources told the independent Syrians for Truth & Justice that the fighting began when Levant Front militants attempted to arrest a member of the Army of Islam who they suspected of smuggling people across border into Turkey.