Turkey’s media turns focus to Idlib crisis - weekly roundup

Idlib was the hottest topic on the agenda this week in Turkish press, reflecting growing international concern that an impending attack by Syrian regime forces could lead to a humanitarian catastrophe and drive many thousands, if not millions, of refugees to seek safety abroad.

The northwest Syrian province is the largest remaining opposition-controlled territory. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces are thought to be preparing a full-scale assault on the territory to drive out the 20-30,000 fighters from various rebel groups.

The issue had not yet grabbed headlines on Monday, and was consigned to a small section on pro-government daily Star’s front page, carrying a warning from a Turkish scholar that an assault on Idlib could be dangerous for Turkey, increasing the chances of a wave of refugees and jihadists crossing into Turkish territory.

A notable headline on Monday was carried in Türkiye, another pro-government daily, which urged housewives to inform on businesses that raise prices.

Prices are rapidly rising in Turkey due to a weakening lira, but the government has put pressure on sellers to keep their prices low. The trade ministry vowed last week to open investigations on businesses that needlessly hike their prices.

“A housewife notices right away if there is a price difference of just three cents,” Star’s front-page story said.

“If foreign exchange rates have no bearing (on the price rise), then they can call the police and lodge a complaint with the trade ministry,” it continued.

The liberal Islamist daily Karar and left-wing daily BirGün reported on an issue that was largely uncovered by the pro-government contingent on Monday – a health scare caused by findings of anthrax poisoning in cattle in areas around Turkey.

BirGün reported that areas in Istanbul, Ankara and the central Anatolian province of Sivas had been quarantined. Further incidences of anthrax would be reported throughout the week.

On Tuesday, however, it was the local producers – so-called “meat barons” – that the Islamist pro-Erdoğan Yeni Şafak took aim at, rather than government officials charged with preventing such breakouts.

The “meat barons” had exploited the anthrax scare to raise prices on their products, said Yeni Şafak in its front-page story.

The secularist main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) has criticised the government for its loose regulations on meat imports after reports surfaced that the anthrax had been brought into the country in a shipment of cattle from Brazil.

Tuesday’s Hürriyet carried the front-page story of Turkish military deployment to Hatay, the southern province bordering Idlib.

The deployment of M-60 tanks ahead of the possible attack on Idlib was part of a plan that would help shield displaced people within Syria, said Hürriyet.

Berat Albayrak, the Turkish finance minister and son-in-law of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, also had a prominent place on Tuesday’s front pages, which conveyed his promise to combat inflation.

On Wednesday, pro-government press gave wide coverage to Erdoğan’s statement that his party would consider a repeat of its alliance with the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) in the upcoming local elections, which are due by the end of March 2019.

Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) formed the “People’s Alliance” in the parliamentary elections in June, together winning a majority.

Karar’s headline focused on the start of operations against Idlib by the Russian air force, which has a strong deployment in Syria.

The newspaper said Russian President Vladimir Putin had “pulled the trigger for a massacre” by neglecting international warnings and launching the operation against the province, where as many as 4 million Syrian civilians are located.

Concerns about the impending operation took the front page of newspapers of all political striped on Thursday.

Cumhuriyet’s front page focussed on the civilians left awaiting the coming battle under bombardment from Russian planes and Assad regime’s artiller.

Noting the beginning of the bombardment, Star’s headline expressed its hope that Idlib would not be a repeat of Aleppo, the Syrian city which was recaptured by the Syrian regime after heavy bombardment last year.

Yeni Şafak’s front page accused Assad of having founded a “terrorist army,” with a headline piece claiming the Syrian-Kurdish wing of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) had been deployed near Idlib and were on standby to join a ground assault.

The headline piece in Aydınlık, a leftist-nationalist newspaper with strong ties to Turkey’s anti-imperialist and Eurasianist political circles, had a novel take on events in the region, presenting Idlib as an example of the strong military relationship enjoyed by the two countries.

Turkey has supported rebel groups against Russia’s allies in the Assad regime since the beginning of the conflict, but has grown closer to Moscow in recent years, and is involved in the Astana peace talks alongside Iran and Russia.

The pro-government newspaper Türkiye’s first page congratulated Turkish citizen informers for the flood of complaints made about “businesspeople who have raised prices.

The front page calls these price rises opportunistic, and features a picture of tomato paste, which has almost doubled in the space of two months.

On Friday, attention turned to the summit scheduled that day in Tehran, where Erdoğan would meet his Iranian and Russian counterparts and discuss events in Idlib.

The headlines of Yeni Şafak and Sabah were optimistic that the Turkish president could persuade Putin to pursue a diplomatic solution to the crisis.

On the day, Erdoğan was filmed at the summit, apparently without his knowledge, proposing a ceasefire in Idlib to minimise civilian casualties, but failed to reach an agreement with Iran and Russia.