'Erdoğan government dials up opposition crackdown by seizing assets' - Yavuz Baydar

The Turkish administration has been increasing pressure on critics and opponents by seizing or freezing the assets of prominent figures.

A local court on Wednesday ordered the seizure of exiled journalist Can Dündar's assets in Turkey after designating him a fugitive. Yavuz Baydar, editor-in-chief of Ahval News, said that Dündar's trial, originally scheduled for Oct. 16, had been suddenly brought forward to Oct. 7 after a new judge was appointed to the court.

Baydar said the new judge took the decision without notifying Dündar's lawyers, with the ruling against him made immediately after. "The acceleration of the process in this case, or de facto stepping on any type of legalities with a fait accompli" has become common practice during court proceedings in Turkey, Baydar noted.

The ruling against Dündar is not the first of its kind. Since the 2016 failed coup attempt, around $32 billion worth of assets have been forcibly confiscated by the government before often being sold, Baydar said citing a recent study. Much of this belonged to the Gülen Movement, which the government accuses of organising the attempted military takeover.

The assets of Ragip Zarakolu, one of Turkey's most prominent publishers, who has also been exiled, similarly saw his assets seized recently, another example of how property rights, which are sacred to the Western political tradition, are being regularly violated in Turkey.

Turning to the foreign affairs, Baydar pointed out that this weekend’s presidential election in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) comes at a critical time amid escalating tensions in the eastern Mediterranean.

Voting in the TRNC, a self-proclaimed state recognised only by Turkey, will be held on Sunday having been postponed in April due to restrictions imposed by the spread of COVID-19.

Current TRNC President Mustafa Akıncı is running against Prime Minister Ersin Tatar, with the two figures putting forward very different visions of the northern half of the partitioned island. Akıncı has favoured unification talks with the Republic of Cyprus to the south and supported a federalist political solution. While Tatar has aligned himself more closely with Turkey, seeking to enforce Ankara’s stance on issues including access to disputed natural gas reserves.

A third potential candidate tipped for the presidency is former Prime Minister Tufan Erhürman. But with few credible polls, it is has proven hard to gauge the mood in the TRNC ahead of Sunday’s vote.

Reports in the local press suggest Ankara’s political advisers have been in the TRNC to support Tartar’s campaign. And on Tuesday, Tatar unexpectedly arrived in the Turkish capital, where he joined senior figures for a ceremony reopening the disputed tourist resort of Varosha via satellite connection.

An abandoned southern suburb of the city of Famagusta, Varosha has been fenced off in no-man’s land since the 1974 Turkish invasion divided the island into Turkish and Greek Cypriot sides following a brief Greek-inspired coup.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s dominant presence during the ceremony was quite visible, Baydar said, commenting on the dynamic between the two leaders. The election is expected to go to a second round.

Another hot foreign policy issue involving Ankara is the on-going clashes between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, which have entered their second week, threatening to spread across the two countries’ territories.

Russia and France are becoming more deeply involved in the conflict, Baydar said, and as both Armenian and Azerbaijani may be showing fatigue, we are perhaps getting closer to the point where all sides can sit down at the table to negotiate a ceasefire.

"It will take some time. The question is what will happen afterwards. How the unresolved status of Karabakh will be dealt with, as well as what will happen to Turkey's involvement in the conflict", Baydar said. President Erdoğan is the only known actor who objects to a ceasefire before Armenia withdraws from the Karabakh-Nagorno.

Baydar predicted that the negotiation process will be a difficult one. Meanwhile, the issues between Turkey and Russia are becoming more complicated every day. As well as Karabakh-Nagorno, both countries are now at odds over Ukraine, Syria, the eastern Mediterranean, Egypt and Libya.