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Turkey: Background and U.S. Relations In Brief

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Turkey After the July 2016 Failed Coup

Kurds in Turkey


Figure 1. Past Turkish Domestic Military Interventions
Figure 2. Recent Terrorist Attacks in Turkey
Figure 3. Map of U.S. and NATO Military Presence in Turkey


Several Turkish foreign and domestic policy issues are significant for U.S. interests, and Congress plays an active role in shaping and overseeing U.S. relations with Turkey.

This report provides information and analysis on key issues in the aftermath of the failed July 15-16, 2016, coup attempt, including:

  • the response of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the Turkish government— including significant personnel and institutional changes, and calls for the United States to extradite Fethullah Gulen (see below)—amid Turkey's continuing domestic and regional challenges;
  • implications for Turkey's cooperation with the United States and NATO;
  • the status of Turkey's Kurds, including tensions and violence between the Turkish government and the Kurdish militant group PKK (Kurdistan Workers' Party or Partiya Karkeren Kurdistan); and
  • U.S.-Turkey dealings and other aspects regarding Syria that involve the Islamic State organization (IS, also known as ISIS, ISIL, or the Arabic acronym Da'esh), Kurdish groups, Turkey's hosting of around three million refugees and migrants, and its 2016 arrangement with the European Union.

For additional information and analysis, see CRS Report R41368, Turkey: Background and U.S. Relations, by Jim Zanotti.

Turkey After the July 2016 Failed Coup

Coup Attempt and Aftermath

On July 15-16, 2016, elements within the Turkish military operating outside the chain of command mobilized air and ground forces in a failed attempt to seize political power from President Erdogan and Prime Minister Binali Yildirim. |1| A majority of voters had elected Erdogan to a five-year term as president in August 2014, and the ruling Justice and Development Party (Turkish acronym AKP, which Erdogan co-founded) won its fourth parliamentary majority since 2002 in a November 2015 election.

Government officials used various traditional and social media platforms |2| and alerts from mosque loudspeakers |3| to rally Turkey's citizens in opposition to the plot. Resistance by security forces loyal to the government and civilians in key areas of Istanbul and Ankara succeeded in foiling the coup, |4| with around 270 killed on both sides. |5| The leaders of Turkey's opposition parties and key military commanders helped counter the coup attempt by promptly denouncing it. |6|

Turkish officials have publicly blamed the plot on military officers with alleged links to Fethullah Gulen—formerly a state-employed imam in Turkey and now a permanent U.S. resident. Gulen strenuously denies involvement in the plot, but has acknowledged that he "could not rule out" involvement by some of his followers. |7| He has claimed that the coup attempt appeared staged, though in a July 31 CNN interview, he said that he would consider any allegation that Erdogan himself staged the plot to be "a slander." |8| For more on Gulen, see CRS In Focus IF10444, Fethullah Gulen, Turkey, and the United States: A Reference, by Jim Zanotti.

The coup attempt occurred against a backdrop of various challenges to Turkey's physical, political, and economic security. Challenges include domestic controversy over Erdogan's increasing consolidation of power and constraints on freedom of expression, as well as terrorist threats and other security problems connected with the Islamic State, the PKK, and Syria. In recent years, many observers had concluded that the long era of military sway over Turkish civilian politics had ended. |9| Reportedly, this was largely due to efforts by the government and adherents or sympathizers of Gulen during Erdogan's first decade as prime minister (he served in that office from 2003 to 2014) to diminish the military's traditionally secularist political power. |10|

The Erdogan Era

Since Erdogan became prime minister in 2003, he and the ruling AKP have led a process of change in Turkey's parliamentary democracy that has steadily increased the power of Erdogan and other civilian leaders working with him. They have been supported by a substantial political base that largely aligns with decades-long Turkish voter preferences and backs Erdogan's economically populist and religiously-informed, socially conservative agenda. |11|

Erdogan has worked to reduce the political power of the military and other institutions that had constituted Turkey's secular elite since the republic's founding by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in 1923, and has clashed with other possible rival power centers, including the Gulen movement. Domestic polarization has intensified since 2013: nationwide anti-government protests that began in Istanbul's Gezi Park took place that year, and corruption allegations later surfaced against a number of Erdogan's colleagues in and out of government. |12|

After Erdogan became president in August 2014 via Turkey's first-ever popular presidential election, he claimed a mandate for increasing his power and pursuing a "presidential system" of governance. |13| In recent years under Erdogan and the AKP, Turkey has seen:

  • major personnel and structural changes to the justice sector and the widespread dropping of charges or convictions against Erdogan colleagues |14| and military leaders amid government accusations that the Gulen movement had used its own agenda to drive police and prosecutorial actions and was intent on establishing a "parallel structure" to control Turkey. |15|
  • official or related private efforts to influence media expression through intimidation, personnel changes, prosecution, and even direct takeover of key enterprises; |16|
  • various measures to prevent future protests, including robust police action, restrictions on social media, and official and pro-government media allegations that dissent in Turkey largely comes about through the interaction of small minorities and foreign interests; |17|
  • the May 2016 replacement of former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu's AKP government by Prime Minister Binali Yildirim and others characterized as more deferential to Erdogan; |18| and
  • U.S. and European statements of concern regarding Turkish measures targeting civil liberties and the potential for developments that may undermine the rule of law and political and economic stability. |19|

Analyses of Erdogan sometimes characterize him as one or more of the following: a reflection of the Turkish everyman, a cagey and pragmatic populist, a protector of the vulnerable, a budding authoritarian, an indispensable figure, or an Islamic ideologue. |20| Analyses that assert similarities between Erdogan and leaders in countries such as Russia, Iran, and China in personality, psychology, or leadership style offer possible analogies regarding the countries' respective pathways. |21| However, such analyses often do not note factors that might distinguish Turkey from these other countries. For example, unlike Russia or Iran, Turkey's economy cannot rely on significant rents from natural resources if foreign sources of revenue or investment dry up. Unlike Russia and China, Turkey does not have nuclear weapons under its command and control. Additionally, unlike all three others, Turkey's economic, political, and national security institutions and traditions have been closely connected with those of the West for decades. Turkey's future trajectory is likely to be informed by factors including leadership, geopolitics, history, and economics.

However, increased internal and external stresses in the past few years may have made Turkey more dependent on military force in confronting threats and maintaining stability, leading some to speculate on the potential for renewed military intervention in politics. |22| The plotters' precise motivations are unclear, but could possibly have included differences with military and political leadership over Turkey's general trajectory or specific policies. |23| Many observers theorize that the coup attempt probably sought to thwart a reportedly imminent purge of some involved in the plot. |24|

Figure 1. Past Turkish Domestic Military Interventions

Click to enlarge

Source: Washington Post

Amid post-plot turmoil and an atmosphere of distrust, Turkey's government has detained or dismissed tens of thousands of personnel within its military, judiciary, civil service, and educational system, and taken over or closed various businesses, schools, and media outlets. |25| The government largely justifies its actions by claiming that those affected are associated with the Gulen movement, even though the measures may be broader in whom they directly impact. |26| Erdogan described the failed coup as a "gift from God" that would allow the military to be "cleansed." |27|

The United States, various European leaders, and the U.N. Secretary-General have cautioned Turkey to follow the rule of law. |28| Amnesty International alleges that some detainees have been subjected to beatings, torture, and other human rights violations. |29| Western countries' emphasis on concerns about the government response has reportedly bothered many Turks (including some who normally oppose Erdogan) who largely show support for the government's post-coup actions, and who may have expected the West to show more solidarity with the Turkish people after they faced down the coup. |30| One observer has indicated that this dynamic may feed "some virulent anti-Americanism—always latent in Turkey but now increasingly on the surface." |31|

State of Emergency and Death Penalty Debate

On July 21, the Turkish Parliament voted to approve a three-month state of emergency, which can be extended. This allows the government to rule by decree. Turkish also partially suspended the European Convention on Human Rights, citing examples from France, Belgium, and Ukraine as precedents. |32|

Turkey is also engaged in a nationwide debate on reinstating capital punishment. Pointing to anti-coup protests that have voiced support for bringing back the death penalty, President Erdogan has stated that if the parliament passes such a measure, he will sign it. |33| Capital punishment was abolished in Turkey in 2004 as an EU membership prerequisite. Some EU officials have recently reiterated that no country can join the EU while maintaining the death penalty, |34| making any reinstatement likely to render Turkey's long-stalled prospects for accession an even more remote possibility. |35|

Observers debate how lasting and influential the purges will be, |36| and how the failed coup and echoes of past Turkish military interventions might influence future military and government actions. |37| In late July, Turkey's Supreme Military Council (YAS) decided that the country's top military commanders, who maintained their loyalty to the government and were taken hostage during the failed coup, would retain their positions. |38| Shortly thereafter, the government announced a dramatic restructuring of Turkey's chain of command, giving the government apparently decisive control over the YAS. Erdogan also revealed plans to place the military under the Defense Ministry's control and to reorganize institutions involved with military training and education. |39|

With nearly half of the generals and admirals who were serving on July 15 now detained |40| and/or dismissed from service, |41| there are doubts in some quarters about the efficacy of the Turkish military in combating the numerous threats to Turkish security, including those from the Islamic State and the PKK. |42| Beyond the personnel challenges, many observers assert that the internal divisions revealed by the coup attempt will be detrimental to both cohesion and morale. |43|

Incirlik Air Base

Incirlik (pronounced in-jeer-leek) air base has long been the symbolic and logistical center of the U.S. military presence in Turkey. Over the past 15 years, the base has been critical in supplying U.S. military missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. It currently hosts U.S.-led coalition aircraft carrying out anti-IS strikes in Syria and Iraq, and around 1,500 U.S. personnel. Dependents of U.S. military and government personnel were ordered to leave Incirlik and other U.S. installations in Turkey in March 2016. |44|

During and shortly after the July coup attempt, power to the base was shut off and the airspace over it was closed to some U.S. aircraft after pro-coup forces were revealed to have been using the airfield and assets based there. U.S. personnel and assets at Incirlik continued to function on backup generators. |45| U.S. anti-IS sorties have since resumed. The arrest of the base's Turkish commander for alleged involvement in the coup plot has raised suspicions among some in Turkey about whether the U.S. knew about the coup in advance. |46|

Implications for U.S./NATO Cooperation

The July 2016 failed coup and Turkey's trajectory in its aftermath could significantly impact U.S.-Turkey relations given Turkey's regional importance and membership in NATO. |47| Among NATO allies, only the U.S. military has more active duty personnel than Turkey's. |48|

Post-Plot Tensions and Gulen's Status

In the wake of the failed coup, some tensions have arisen between the United States and Turkey. Secretary of State John Kerry warned on July 16 that a wide-ranging purge "would be a great challenge to [Erdogan's] relationship to Europe, to NATO and to all of us." |49| As mentioned above, an apparent disconnect between many Turks and Western observers regarding Turkey's post-coup response may be one factor complicating U.S.Turkey relations. |50| Some Turkish officials and media have accused the U.S. of prior knowledge of or involvement in the coup attempt. President Obama dismissed such accusations on July 22 as "unequivocally false" and threatening to U.S.-Turkey ties. |51| The claims may partly stem from popular Turkish sensitivities about historical U.S. closeness to Turkey's military. General Joseph Votel, head of U.S. Central Command, and James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, both have raised concerns about how post-plot military personnel changes might affect U.S.-Turkey cooperation, prompting criticism from Erdogan that has further fed speculation in Turkey about alleged U.S. connections with the plot. |52|

Further complicating U.S.-Turkey relations, in the plot's aftermath the Turkish government has intensified its calls (which date back to 2014) |53| for the United States to extradite Gulen. |54| According to polls, calls for Gulen's extradition have widespread public support in Turkey. |55| In a July 19 phone call with Erdogan, President Obama said that the United States is "willing to provide appropriate assistance to Turkish authorities investigating the attempted coup" while urging that Turkish authorities conduct their investigation "in ways that reinforce public confidence in democratic institutions and the rule of law." |56| In a late July interview, Erdogan alleged that a "mastermind" was behind Fethullah Gulen's coming to the United States. |57| For more information on U.S.-Turkey dynamics regarding the extradition issue, see CRS In Focus IF10444, Fethullah Gulen, Turkey, and the United States: A Reference, by Jim Zanotti. For more information on the U.S. extradition process in general, see CRS Report RS22702, An Abridged Sketch of Extradition To and From the United States, by Charles Doyle.

Some Turkish officials have sought to portray U.S. extradition of Gulen as critical for positive U.S.-Turkey relations, |58| though the potential consequences if he is not extradited remain unclear. In early August 2016, during a visit to Turkey by General Joseph Dunford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, top Turkish officials reassured Dunford that the United States would continue to enjoy access to Incirlik and other bases in Turkey. |59|

Specific Issues for U.S. Policy

Specific issues of concern with implications for U.S. policy going forward include:

  • Turkey's NATO Role. U.S./NATO basing and operations in Turkey, joint exercises and expeditionary missions, and NATO assistance (including air defense batteries and AWACS aircraft |60|) to address Turkey's external threats.
  • Arms Sales and Bilateral Military Cooperation. U.S. arms sales or potential sales to Turkey include F-35 next-generation fighter aircraft. |61| The United States provides annual security-related aid to Turkey of approximately $3-5 million. |62|
  • Syria and Iraq Issues and Anti-IS Coalition. Including U.S.-Turkey dynamics involving the Islamic State, Kurds within and outside Turkey, other state and non-state actors, and contested territory in northern Syria.
  • Domestic Stability, Human Rights, and Kurdish Issues. Including the government's approach to rule of law, civil liberties, terrorist threats, Kurds and other minorities, and nearly three million refugees and migrants from Syria and elsewhere.
  • Border Concerns. Turkey's ability and willingness, in concert with other international actors, to control cross-border flows of refugees, migrants, and possible foreign fighters and terrorists.

Figure 2. Recent Terrorist Attacks in Turkey

Click to enlarge

Source: Deutsche Welle, July 2016
Notes: All figures are approximate.

Recently Improved Turkish Relations with Israel and Russia

Turkey's relations with key neighbors could have significant implications for U.S.-Turkey relations as well. In the weeks prior to the coup, Turkey had undertaken efforts to reconcile or improve its troubled ties with both Israel and Russia, and had stated an interest in improving its relations with other nearby countries. The efforts may partly have reflected Turkish leaders' desires to (1) bolster Erdogan's position domestically and internationally in light of various national security threats, economic concerns (including a major decline in foreign tourism), and recent criticism of his rule; |63| (2) address Turkey's growing demand for external sources of energy; |64| and (3) improve Turkey's prospects of influencing regional political-military outcomes, particularly in Syria and Iraq. |65|

In late June 2016, Turkey and Israel announced the full restoration of diplomatic relations. Reportedly, Vice President Joe Biden facilitated the rapprochement in part due to potential mutual benefits anticipated by both sides from the construction of a natural gas pipeline from offshore Israeli fields to Turkey. |66| According to media reports, the rapprochement includes Israeli compensation to the families of those killed in the 2010 Gaza flotilla incident |67| in exchange for an end to legal claims, as well as opportunities for Turkey to assist with humanitarian and infrastructure projects for Palestinian residents in the Gaza Strip. It is unclear to what extent Turkey might—as part of the rapprochement—contemplate limiting its ties with Hamas or the activities of some Hamas figures reportedly based in Turkey. |68|

Also in June, Turkey made strides toward repairing relations with Russia that had been strained since November 2015 when a Turkish F-16 downed a Russian Su-24 aircraft near the Turkey-Syria border under disputed circumstances. Erdogan wrote a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin expressing regret for the November incident. In response, Russia lifted various economic sanctions it had imposed after the incident, |69| and state-owned Gazprom subsequently announced that work that had reportedly been put on hold regarding a planned natural gas pipeline between the two countries (known as Turkish Stream) would resume. |70| Concerns about possible Russian retaliation prevented Turkey from carrying out air sorties over Syria after the incident, |71| and reported Russian support or enabling of Syrian Kurdish forces may have also been partially motivated by bilateral tensions. |72|

Some analysts posit that in light of Western criticism of the post-coup crackdown on domestic opposition, Erdogan may opt to seek closer relations with Russia, possibly at the expense of Turkey's relations with the U.S. and Europe. |73| However, Turkey has a long history of tension with Russia. |74|

Strategic and Political Assessment

U.S. civilian and military installations and personnel in Turkey were unharmed during the July 2016 attempted putsch. However, concerns surrounding plot-related events that transpired at Incirlik air base (see textbox above) have fueled discussion among analysts about the advisability of continued U.S./NATO use of Turkish bases, |75| including the reported storage of aircraft-deliverable nuclear weapons at Incirlik (for more information, see CRS Insight IN10542, U.S. Nuclear Weapons in Turkey, by Amy F. Woolf). |76|

Turkey's location near several global hotspots makes the continuing availability of its territory for the stationing and transport of arms, cargo, and personnel valuable for the United States and NATO. Turkey also controls access to and from the Black Sea through its straits pursuant to the Montreux Convention of 1936. Turkey's embrace of the United States and NATO during the Cold War came largely as a reaction to post-World War II actions by the Soviet Union seemingly aimed at moving Turkey and its strategic control of maritime access points into a Soviet sphere of influence.

Figure 3. Map of U.S. and NATO Military Presence in Turkey

Click to enlarge

Sources: Department of Defense, NATO, and various media outlets; adapted by CRS.
Notes: All locations are approximate. All bases are under Turkish sovereignty, with portions of them used for limited purposes by the U.S. military and NATO. The U.S. and German Patriot missile batteries are scheduled to be withdrawn by October 2015 and January 2016, respectively.

On a number of occasions throughout the history of the U.S.-Turkey alliance, events or developments have led to the withdrawal of U.S. military assets from Turkey or restrictions on U.S. use of its territory and/or airspace. |77| Calculations regarding the costs and benefits to the United States of a U.S./NATO presence in Turkey, and how changes or potential changes in U.S./NATO posture might influence Turkish calculations and policies, revolve to a significant extent around the following two questions:

  • To what extent does the United States rely on the use of Turkish territory or airspace to secure and protect U.S. interests?
  • To what extent does Turkey rely on U.S./NATO support, both in principle and in functional terms, for its security and its ability to exercise influence in the surrounding region?

The cost to the United States of finding a temporary or permanent replacement for Incirlik air base would likely depend on a number of variables, including the functionality and location of alternatives, the location of future U.S. military engagements, and the political and economic difficulty involved in moving or expanding U.S. military operations elsewhere.

Any reevaluation of the U.S./NATO presence in and relationship with Turkey would take a number of political considerations into account alongside strategic and operational ones. Certain differences between Turkey and its NATO allies, including some related to Syria in recent years, may persist irrespective of who leads these countries given their varying (1) geographical positions, (2) threat perceptions, and (3) roles in regional and global political and security architectures. Turkey's historically and geopolitically driven efforts to avoid domination by outside powers—sometimes called the "Sèvres syndrome" |78|—resonate in its ongoing attempts to achieve greater military, economic, and political self-sufficiency and to influence its surrounding environment.

The potential for the United States to use its political relationship with Turkey to boost U.S. influence in the greater Middle East remains inconclusive. Regardless of some difficulties with the United States and other NATO countries, Turkey remains a key regional power that shares linkages and characteristics with the West, |79| which may distinguish Turkey from other Muslim-majority regional powers such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Iran. Therefore, cooperation with Turkey, along with other actors, is likely to remain relevant for the advancement of U.S. interests in the volatile area. |80|

However, recent foreign and domestic policy developments may have constrained Turkey's role as a shaper of regional outcomes, a model for neighboring countries, and a facilitator of U.S. interests. |81| Additionally, as Turkey's energy consumption grows along with its economy, its dependence on Russia |82| and Iran |83| for significant portions of its energy may contribute to constraints on some aspects of its security cooperation with the United States and NATO. Turkey engages with a wide range of non-NATO actors as part of its efforts to cultivate military and defense industrial links and to exercise greater regional and global influence politically and economically. |84| Still, for the time being, Turkey lacks comparable alternatives to its security and economic ties with the West, with which it shares a more than 60-year legacy of institutionalized cooperation.

Kurds in Turkey

It is still not clear how the failed coup will affect Erdogan's stance toward Turkey's Kurds, which has changed in recent years. Until the spring of 2015, Erdogan appeared to prefer negotiating a political compromise with PKK leaders over the prospect of armed conflict. |85| However, against the backdrop of PKK affiliated Kurdish groups' continued success in Syria, and a June 2015 election in Turkey in which the pro-Kurdish party (People's Democratic Party, Turkish acronym HDP) made substantial gains, Erdogan adopted a more nationalistic rhetorical stance criticizing the PKK and HDP.

Around the same time, the PKK was reportedly preparing for a possible renewal of conflict in southeastern Turkey. |86| The balance of leverage between the government and the PKK was at least partly affected after late 2014 by growing U.S. support for PKK-affiliated Kurds in Syria who are fighting against the Islamic State (specifically the Democratic Union Party—Kurdish acronym PYD—and its militia the People's Protection Units—Kurdish acronym YPG). |87| Although the United States has considered the PKK to be a terrorist group since 1997, it does not apply this characterization to the PYD/YPG. |88|

A complicated set of circumstances involving IS-linked terrorist attacks against pro-Kurdish demonstrators, PKK allegations of Turkish government acquiescence to or complicity with the attacks, and a deadly ambush of Turkish security personnel led to a resumption of violence between government forces and the PKK in the summer of 2015. The return to violence helped Erdogan in the short term, with some Kurds presumably moving back to the AKP from the HDP in November 2015 elections because of the PKK's return to conflict. |89|

The resurgent Turkey-PKK violence led Turkish authorities to take emergency measures to overcome PKK-affiliated redoubts in key southeastern urban areas. |90| Since December 2015, at least 350,000 have been displaced and the region's infrastructure has suffered significant damage, according to the Turkish Ministry of Health. |91| The violence has fueled international concerns about possible human rights abuses. |92| Figures are difficult to verify, but Erdogan claimed in March 2016 that 5,000 PKK militants and 355 state security forces had been killed in the offensive |93| and the U.S. State Department reported "dozens" of civilian deaths as of December 2015. |94| U.S. officials, while supportive of Turkey's prerogative to defend itself from attacks, have advised Turkey to show restraint and proportionality in its actions against the PKK. |95|

The military effort against the PKK in the southeast has been led by Turkey's Second Army, whose commander has been detained in connection with the coup plot. |96| Some analysts assert that post-coup changes involving commanders and personnel could affect force readiness. |97| The Turkish military launched air strikes against PKK targets in northern Iraq in the days following the coup, possibly at least partly to project a sense of continuity and stability. |98|

In late 2015, some Turkish observers alleged that remarks by HDP leaders supported armed Kurdish resistance. Erdogan called for action revoking parliamentary members' immunity from expulsion and prosecution. |99| In May 2016, legislators (largely from the AKP and the Nationalist Action Party—Turkish acronym MHP) approved this change by amending the constitution. |100| Before the failed coup, many analysts anticipated action against parliamentary members from the HDP and perhaps some from the main opposition CHP (Turkish acronym for Republican People's Party), at least partly as a way to advance Erdogan's quest for a favorable parliamentary supermajority to establish a presidential system. They speculated about how a virtual disenfranchisement of Kurdish nationalist voters might affect prospects for heightened or extended Turkey-PKK violence. |101|

In the aftermath of the failed coup, next steps regarding the PKK and HDP and prospects for resuming Turkey-PKK negotiations are uncertain. Despite the HDP's quick condemnation of the plot, along with all other parties in parliament, Erdogan continues to exclude HDP leaders from cross-party meetings and events. |102| Some HDP figures have voiced concern that CHP and MHP solidarity with the AKP might isolate them or leave them prone to a future government crackdown. |103|


U.S.-Turkey Dealings

A number of developments, such as international jihadist terror incidents and refugee flows, particularly in the past year, have driven U.S. expectations regarding Turkish cooperation with respect to Syria. Though some observers alleged that Turkey had been slow in 2013 and 2014 to curtail activities involving its territory that were seen as bolstering the Islamic State and other Sunni extremist groups, |104| Turkey has partnered with the U.S.-led anti-IS coalition, including through hosting coalition aircraft that (since summer 2015) strike targets in Syria and Iraq. In engaging in these efforts, Turkish officials have sought greater intelligence sharing from foreign fighters' countries of origin, with some success. |105|

Even as periodic IS-linked terrorist attacks and cross-border rocket attacks have killed dozens in Turkey in recent months, various factors contribute to Turkish leaders' continuing concerns about Kurdish groups |106| and the Syrian government and its allies. Turkish priorities are likely to depend on perceived threats and the options Turkish leaders discern for minimizing them. |107| As with Turkey's efforts against the PKK, Turkey's capacity to influence events in Syria appears to be affected by the July 2016 failed coup and military shakeup. |108| These, in turn, may be impacting the calculations of the Syrian government and other key actors. |109|

Refugee Issue and European Union Deal

Since 2011, approximately three million refugees or migrants from Syria and other countries have come to Turkey, posing significant humanitarian, socioeconomic, and security challenges. Turkey has spent approximately $9 billion on refugee assistance |110| and its camps have reportedly provided a relatively high standard of care. |111| Turkey does not grant formal refugee status to non-Europeans, |112| but has adjusted its laws and practices in recent years to provide greater protection and assistance to asylum-seekers, regardless of their country of origin. With the imminent return of most refugees unlikely due to continuing conflict in Syria, Turkey is focusing more on how to manage their longer-term presence in Turkish society—including with reference to their basic needs, employment, |113| education, and impact on local communities—and on preventing additional mass influxes. After the July 2016 failed coup in Turkey, some observers question Turkey's ability to manage the situation. |114|

In response to hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants leaving Turkey for the Greek islands in 2015 and the first three months of 2016, Turkey and the European Union (EU) reached an arrangement in March 2016 providing for the return from Greece to Turkey of "irregular migrants or asylum seekers whose applications have been declared inadmissible." |115| In exchange, the EU agreed to resettle one Syrian refugee for every Syrian readmitted to Turkey, and additionally promised to (1) speed up the disbursement of a previously allocated 3 billion in aid to Turkey and provide up to 3 billion more to assist with refugee care in Turkey through 2018, (2) grant visa-free travel to Turkish citizens if Turkey meets certain requirements, and (3) "reenergize" Turkey's EU accession process. |116|

The deterrent effect of the arrangement appears to have contributed to a dramatic reduction in the number of people crossing from Turkey to the Greek islands, leading some observers to characterize it to date as a pragmatic success. |117| Ongoing Turkey-EU disputes and questions about the deal's compatibility with international legal and human rights standards, however, call its long-term viability into question. Turkish officials want the EU to pay assistance funds directly to the government, rather than to third-party organizations, |118| and Turkey appears resistant to meeting the EU's precondition that it narrow the scope of a key anti-terrorism law in order for the visa waiver to go into effect. |119| The EU announced in June that the visa waiver determination would be delayed to October, though doubts have arisen about that timeline and the durability of the overall deal in light of EU criticism of post-coup developments in Turkey. |120|

Additionally, a number of international organizations and other observers claim that the Turkey-EU deal does not or may not meet international norms and laws. |121| Some reports from 2016 claim that Turkish officials have expelled some Syrian refugees and that security forces have shot or beaten others at the border to prevent them from entering. |122| Some displaced persons unable to reach Turkey are in makeshift camps on the Syrian side of the border. |123| Largely owing to concerns regarding Turkey's "safe country" status, Greek asylum adjudicators are returning fewer claimants to Turkey than was generally expected at the time of the deal, |124| while disputes within and between EU countries additionally cloud the prospects of large-scale refugee resettlement from Turkey.

Jim Zanotti is a Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs
Clayton B. Thomas, Presidential Management Fellow in Middle Eastern Affairs, co-authored this report.

[Source: By Jim Zanotti, Congressional Research Service, R44000, Washington D.C., 04Aug16]


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18. Reuben Silverman, "Some of the President's Men: Yildirim, Davutoglu, and the 'Palace Coup' Before the Coup,", August 1, 2016. [Back]

19. State Department, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2015, op. cit.; European Commission, Turkey 2015 Report, November 10, 2015, available at [Back]

20. See e.g., Mustafa Akyol, "Turkey's Authoritarian Drift," New York Times, November 10, 2015; Nora Fisher Onar, "The populism/realism gap: Managing uncertainty in Turkey's politics and foreign policy," Brookings Institution, February 4, 2016; Mustafa Akyol, "Does Erdogan want his own Islamic state?" Al-Monitor Turkey Pulse, April 29, 2016; Burak Kadercan, "Erdogan's Last Off-Ramp: Authoritarianism, Democracy, and the Future of Turkey," War on the Rocks, July 28, 2016. [Back]

21. See e.g., Oral Calislar, "A tale of two Rambos: Putin, Erdogan take on West," Al-Monitor Turkey Pulse, December 2, 2014; Douglas Bloomfield, "Washington Watch: Is Erdogan the new Ahmadinejad?" Jerusalem Post, July 17, 2013; "Sending the Wrong Signal to Turkey," New York Times, April 19, 2016. [Back]

22. See, e.g. Lars Haugom, "A Political Comeback for the Turkish Military?" Turkey Analyst, March 11, 2016; Michael Rubin, "Could there be a coup in Turkey?" American Enterprise Institute, March 21, 2016; Gonul Tol, "Turkey's Next Military Coup," Foreign Affairs, May 30, 2016; Cengiz Candar, "How will Turkey's military use its restored standing?" Al-Monitor Turkey Pulse, April 24, 2016. [Back]

23. See, e.g., Borzou Daragahi, "Document Reveals What Really Drove Turkey's Failed Coup Plotters," BuzzFeed, July 28, 2016. [Back]

24. Joe Parkinson and Adam Entous, "Turkey's Spies Failed to See Coup Coming," Wall Street Journal, July 30, 2016; Metin Gurcan, "Why Turkey's coup didn't stand a chance," Al-Monitor Turkey Pulse, July 17, 2016. [Back]

25. Tulay Karadeniz, et al. , "Turkey dismisses military, shuts media outlets as crackdown deepens," Reuters, July 28, 2016. [Back]

26. Parkinson and Entous, op. cit. [Back]

27. David Dolan and Gulsen Solaker, "Turkey rounds up plot suspects after thwarting coup against Erdogan," Reuters, July 16, 2016. [Back]

28. See, e.g., Duncan Robinson and Mehul Srivastava, "US and EU leaders warn Turkey's Erdogan over post-coup crackdown," Financial Times, July 18, 2016; "UN head 'deeply concerned' by ongoing arrests in Turkey," Hurriyet Daily News, July 28, 2016. [Back]

29. Merrit Kennedy, "Amnesty International: After Turkey's Failed Coup, Some Detainees Are Tortured, Raped," NPR, July 25, 2016. [Back]

30. Tim Arango and Ceylan Yeginsu, "Turks Agree on One Thing: U.S. Was Behind Failed Revolt," New York Times, August 3, 2016; Kadercan, op. cit.; Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, "Coup Attempt Unifies Turkey — But Could Distance the West," German Marshall Fund of the United States, August 2, 2016. [Back]

31. William Armstrong, "Turkey and the West Are Heading for a Breakup," War on the Rocks, August 1, 2016. [Back]

32. "Turkish Lawmakers Give Leader Erdogan Sweeping New Powers," Associated Press, July 21, 2016. [Back]

33. "President Erdogan: Ready to reinstate the death penalty," Al Jazeera, July 19, 2016. [Back]

34. Selen Girit, "Will Turkey's failed coup mean a return to the death penalty?" BBC News, July 19, 2016. [Back]

35. Kursat Akyol, "Will Turkey reinstate the death penalty?" Al-Monitor Turkish Pulse, July 29, 2016. [Back]

36. Ben Hubbard, et al., "Failed Turkish Coup Accelerated a Purge Years in the Making," New York Times, July 22, 2016. [Back]

37. See, e.g., Tim Arango, "With Army in Disarray, a Pillar of Turkey Lies Broken," New York Times, July 29, 2016. For references to past military interventions that occurred outside the chain of command (Turkey's first coup in 1960 and two failed coups in 1962 and 1963), see Nick Danforth, "Lessons for U.S.-Turkish Relations from a Coup Gone By," War on the Rocks, July 26, 2016; Aaron Stein, "The Fracturing of Turkey's Military," Atlantic Council, July 20, 2016. [Back]

38. Emre Peker, "Turkey Firms Grip on Its Military," Wall Street Journal, July 29, 2016. [Back]

39. Yesim Dikmen and David Dolan, "Turkey culls nearly 1,400 from army, overhauls top military council," Reuters, July 31, 2016. [Back]

40. Arango, "With Army in Disarray, a Pillar of Turkey Lies Broken," op. cit. [Back]

41. Peker, op. cit. [Back]

42. Metin Gurcan, "Critical meeting will determine fate of Turkish forces post-coup," Al-Monitor Turkey Pulse, July 25, 2016; Humeyra Pamuk and Gareth Jones, "INSIGHT- Turkish military a fractured force after attempted coup," Reuters, July 26, 2016. [Back]

43. Soner Cagaptay, "Turkey's Troubling Turn," Foreign Affairs, July 19, 2016; James Stavridis, "Turkey and NATO: What Comes Next Is Messy," Foreign Policy, July 18, 2016. [Back]

44. Andrew Tilghman, "U.S. military dependents ordered to leave Turkey,"Military Times, March 29, 2016. [Back]

45. Michael S. Schmidt and Tim Arango, "In a Bid to Maintain Ties, Turkey Changes Its Tone," New York Times, August 2, 2016; Selin Nasi, "Turbulence in Turkish-US ties: The Incirlik crisis," Hurriyet Daily News, July 21, 2016. [Back]

46. Oriana Pawlyk and Jeff Shogol, "Incirlik has power again, but Turkey mission faces uncertain future," Military Times, July 22, 2016. [Back]

47. Tim Arango and Ceylan Yeginsu, "Erdogan Triumphs After Coup Attempt, but Turkey's Fate Is Unclear," New York Times, July 18, 2016. [Back]

48. "Turkey: Executive Summary," IHS Jane's Sentinel Security Assessment - Eastern Mediterranean, July 25, 2016. [Back]

49. Gardiner Harris, "John Kerry Rejects Suggestions of U.S. Involvement in Turkey Coup," New York Times, July 17, 2016. [Back]

50. See, e.g., Unluhisarcikli, op. cit. [Back]

51. White House, Remarks by President Obama and President Pena Nieto of Mexico in Joint Press Conference, July 22, 2016. [Back]

52. Dion Nissenbaum and Paul Sonne, "Turkish President Rebukes U.S. General," Wall Street Journal, July 30, 2016. Earlier, Clapper had said in an interview that the intelligence he had seen had not turned up evidence of Gulen's involvement in the coup plot. David Ignatius, "A reality check on the Middle East from America's spy chief," Washington Post, July 21, 2016. However, in an early August interview on Turkish television, U.S. Ambassador to Turkey John Bass referred to the "apparent involvement of a large number" of Gulen's supporters in the plot. Tim Arango and Ceylan Yeginsu, "Turks Agree on One Thing: U.S. Was Behind Failed Revolt," op. cit. [Back]

53. Gulsen Solaker, "Turkey's Erdogan calls on U.S. to extradite rival Gulen," Reuters, April 29, 2014. [Back]

54. Jessica Durando, "Turkey demands extradition of cleric Fethullah Gulen from U.S.," USA Today, July 19, 2016. [Back]

55. "Most Turks believe a secretive Muslim sect was behind the failed coup," Economist, July 28, 2016. [Back]

56. White House, Readout of the President's Call with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, July 19, 2016. [Back]

57. Dikmen and Dolan, op. cit. [Back]

58. Schmidt and Arango, op. cit. [Back]

59. Thomas Gibbons-Neff and Erin Cunningham, "Pentagon's top general seeks to cool anti-American sentiment in Turkey," Washington Post, August 1, 2016. [Back]

60. NATO Fact Sheet, "Augmentation of Turkey's Air Defence," June 2016; NATO Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, "NATO AWACS Increases Assurance Measures to Turkey," March 15, 2016; John-Thor Dahlberg, "NATO chief: AWACS will aid anti-Islamic State operations," Associated Press, July 4, 2016. [Back]

61. Jeffrey Rathke and Lisa Sawyer Samp, "Security in the Eastern Mediterranean after the Coup Attempt: Turkey's Reckoning and Washington's Worries," Center for Strategic and International Studies, July 21, 2016; "Despite Tensions With US, Lockheed Prepares to Hand Over F-35s to Turkey," Sputnik News, July 20, 2016. Turkey is one of 12 partner countries (including the United States) in the multinational consortium responsible for the F-35's manufacture. See The Defense Security Cooperation Agency notified Congress in 2006 of a possible direct commercial sale of up to 100 F-35s to Turkey, with delivery on any sale projected to take place over the next decade. To date, Turkey has ordered six F-35s. "Turkey - Procurement," IHS Jane's Sentinel Security Assessment - Eastern Mediterranean, December 8, 2015. For more information on recent, ongoing, and prospective U.S. arms transfers to Turkey, see CRS Report R41368, Turkey: Background and U.S. Relations, by Jim Zanotti. [Back]

62. State Department FY2017 Congressional Budget Justification, Foreign Operations, Appendix 3, pp. 114-116. [Back]

63. Yaroslav Trofimov, "Turkey Changes Tack on Foreign Policy to Win Back Friends," Wall Street Journal, July 7, 2016. [Back]

64. Soner Cagaptay and James Jeffrey, "Turkey's Regional Charm Offensive: Motives and Prospects," Washington Institute for Near East Policy, June 27, 2016. [Back]

65. Laura Pitel, "Flurry of diplomatic activity marks Turkey foreign policy shift," Financial Times, June 28, 2016. [Back]

66. Many analysts assert that a Turkey-Israel pipeline would probably traverse Cypriot waters, thus necessitating an improvement in Turkish-Cypriot relations, if not a resolution to the decades-long dispute between Greek and Turkish Cypriots. For information on ongoing diplomacy regarding Cyprus, see CRS Report R41136, Cyprus: Reunification Proving Elusive, by Vincent L. Morelli. Discussion of a pipeline may also attract the attention of Russia, currently Turkey's largest natural gas supplier. [Back]

67. For more information on the incident, see CRS Report R41368, Turkey: Background and U.S. Relations, by Jim Zanotti. [Back]

68. Rory Jones, et al., "Turkey, Israel Trumpet Benefits of Deal to Normalize Relations," Wall Street Journal, June 27, 2016. [Back]

69. "Russia closes 'crisis chapter' with Turkey," Al Jazeera, June 29, 2016. [Back]

70. Dmitry Solovyov, "Russia, Turkey reach 'political decision' on TurkStream, nuclear power plant: agencies," Reuters, July 26, 2016. [Back]

71. Deniz Zeyrek, "Turkey suspends Syria flights after crisis with Russia," Hurriyet Daily News, November 27, 2015. [Back]

72. Trofimov, op. cit.; Fabrice Balanche, "The Struggle for Azaz Corridor Could Spur a Turkish Intervention," Washington Institute for Near East Policy, PolicyWatch 2532, December 11, 2015. [Back]

73. Soner Cagaptay, "If tensions increase with the west, Erdogan might find a friend in Putin," Guardian, July 23, 2016. [Back]

74. Soner Cagaptay, "When Russia Howls, Turkey Moves," War on the Rocks, December 2, 2015. [Back]

75. Rathke and Samp, op. cit. [Back]

76. Aaron Stein, "Nuclear Weapons in Turkey Are Destabilizing, but Not for the Reason You Think," War on the Rocks, July 22, 2016; Tobin Harshaw, "Why the U.S. should move nukes out of Turkey," Bloomberg, July 25, 2016; Jeffrey Lewis, "America's Nukes Aren't Safe in Turkey Anymore," Foreign Policy, July 18, 2016; Eric Schlosser, "The H-Bombs in Turkey," New Yorker, July 17, 2016. [Back]

77. For more information, see CRS Report R41368, Turkey: Background and U.S. Relations, by Jim Zanotti. [Back]

78. See, e.g., Nick Danforth, "Forget Sykes-Picot. It's the Treaty of Sàvres That Explains the Modern Middle East,", August 10, 2015. [Back]

79. "Foreign policy: Alone in the world," Economist, February 6, 2016. [Back]

80. See, e.g., M. Hakan Yavuz and Mujeeb R. Khan, "Turkey Treads a Positive Path," New York Times, February 12, 2015. [Back]

81. Michael Crowley, "Did Obama get Erdogan wrong?" Politico, July 16, 2016. Soli Ozel of Kadir Has University in Istanbul, quoted in Liz Sly, "Turkey's increasingly desperate predicament poses real dangers," Washington Post, February 20, 2016. [Back]

82. Russia supplies about 20% of Turkey's energy consumption. "Russia v Turkey: Over the borderline," Economist, November 28, 2015. [Back]

83. Turkey has become less dependent on Iranian oil in recent years, but—according to 2015 government figures—still receives about 22% of the oil it imports from Iran (with more than 45% now coming from Iraq) and 15.3% of the natural gas it imports from Iran (with more than 58% coming from Russia). See [Back]

84. For example, in a now-discontinued effort to seek a foreign partner for a multibillion-dollar air and missile defense system, Turkish officials in 2013 indicated a preliminary preference for a Chinese state-controlled company's offer until reported problems with negotiations, criticism from NATO allies, and competing offers from European and U.S. companies apparently led the Turks to move away from this preference. Lale Sariibrahimoglu, "Turkey begins T-Loramids talks with Eurosam," IHS Jane's Defence Weekly, September 8, 2014. [Back]

85. For more information on the various Kurdish groups in Syria and their relationships with Turkey-based groups and the Turkish state, see CRS Report R44513, Kurds in Iraq and Syria: U.S. Partners Against the Islamic State, coordinated by Jim Zanotti. [Back]

86. Ugur Ergan, "Attacks reveal PKK prepared for war during peace talks: Analyst," Hurriyet Daily News, August 21, 2015; Aliza Marcus, "Turkey's Kurdish Guerrillas Are Ready for War," Foreign Policy, August 31, 2015. [Back]

87. Semih Idiz, "US support of Syrian Kurds ruffles Turkey's feathers," Al-Monitor Turkey Pulse, August 4, 2015. [Back]

88. In a September 21, 2015, daily press briefing, the State Department spokesperson said that the United States does not consider the YPG to be a terrorist organization, and in a February 23, 2016, press briefing, the Defense Department spokesperson said that "we will continue to disagree with Turkey [with] regard [to] ... our support for those particular [Kurdish] groups that are taking the fight to ISIL, understanding their concerns about terrorist activities." In an April, 28, 2016 Senate hearing, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter appeared to answer 'yes' to a question on whether the YPG has ties to the PKK, but he later reiterated that the YPG is not a designated terrorist organization. [Back]

89. Piotr Zalewski, "Turkey's pro-Kurdish party reels as AKP storms back into power," Financial Times, November 2, 2015. [Back]

90. Orhan Coskun, "Turkish warplanes strike northern Iraq after Ankara bombing blamed on Kurdish militants," Reuters, March 14, 2016. [Back]

91. Zia Weise, "Turkey's 'like Syria,'" Politico Europe, March 21, 2016. [Back]

92. Suzan Fraser, "Turkey's military has ended a three-month operation against Kurdish militants in the largest city in the country's mostly Kurdish southeast," Associated Press, March 9, 2016. [Back]

93. Seyhmus Cakan, "More than 5,000 Kurdish militants killed since July: Turkey's Erdogan," Reuters, March 28, 2016. [Back]

94. State Department, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2015, op. cit [Back]

95. See, e.g., "Obama calls Erdogan to discuss Ankara attack, Syria," Anadolu Agency, February 19, 2016. [Back]

96. Kadri Gursel, "Turkey's failed coup reveals 'army within an army,'" Al-Monitor Turkey Pulse, July 22, 2016. [Back]

97. See, e.g., Aaron Stein, "Inside a failed coup and Turkey's fragmented military," War on the Rocks, July 20, 2016. [Back]

98. "Turkey air strikes kill PKK fighters in northern Iraq," Al Jazeera, July 20, 2016. [Back]

99. "Turkey's Erdogan: Demirtas Kurdish autonomy plea is 'treason,'" BBC News, December 29, 2015. [Back]

100. "Turkey passes bill to strip politicians of immunity," Al Jazeera, May 20, 2016. [Back]

101. Kadri Gursel, "Ouster of Kurdish MPs threatens to fuel separatism in Turkey," Al-Monitor Turkey Pulse, May 23, 2016. [Back]

102. See, e.g., "No invitation to Turkish leaders' summit angers HDP," Hurriyet Daily News, July 25, 2016. [Back]

103. Diego Cupolo, "The state of emergency for Turkey's opposition,", July 25, 2016. [Back]

104. See, e.g., Alison Smale, "Turkey's Role as Migrant Gateway Is Source of New Urgency for E.U.," New York Times, November 18, 2015; Lale Sariibrahimoglu, "On the borderline-Turkey's ambiguous approach to Islamic State," IHS Jane's Intelligence Review, October 16, 2014. [Back]

105. Greg Miller and Souad Mekhennet, "Undercover teams, increased surveillance and hardened borders: Turkey cracks down on foreign fighters," Washington Post, March 6, 2016. [Back]

106. For more information, see CRS Report R44513, Kurds in Iraq and Syria: U.S. Partners Against the Islamic State, coordinated by Jim Zanotti. [Back]

107. See, e.g., Liz Sly and Karen DeYoung, "Ignoring Turkey, U.S. backs Kurds in drive against ISIS in Syria," Washington Post, June 1, 2016; Soner Cagaptay, "Turkey's Istanbul attack vengeance will be like 'rain from hell,'" CNN, June 29, 2016; Nick Ashdown, "Turkey's Tourism Plummets amid Bombings and Crisis with Russia," Jerusalem Post, June 14, 2016. [Back]

108. See, e.g., Yaroslav Trofimov, "Fallout from Turkey Coup Leaves Syria Rebels in the Lurch," Wall Street Journal, August 4, 2016. [Back]

109. Ibid. [Back]

110. "Turkey has spent $9 bn on refugees: Erdogan," Agence France Presse, February 1, 2016. [Back]

111. Mac McClelland, "How to Build a Perfect Refugee Camp," New York Times Magazine, February 13, 2014. [Back]

112. See [Back]

113. For information on a recently introduced work permit option for Syrian refugees registered in Turkey, see Daryl Grisgaber and Ann Hollingsworth, Planting the Seeds of Success? Turkey's New Refugee Work Permits, Refugees International, April 14, 2016. [Back]

114. See, e.g., Jessica Brandt, "Turkey's failed coup could have disastrous consequences for Europe's migrant crisis," Brookings Institution, July 29, 2016. [Back]

115. European Commission Fact Sheet, "Implementing the EU-Turkey Statement - Questions and Answers," June 15, 2016, available at [Back]

116. Ibid. [Back]

117. See, e.g., James Traub, "If the Refugee Deal Crumbles, There Will Be Hell to Pay," Foreign Policy, June 7, 2016. Around the time of the March 2016 deal, the closure of various migration routes from Greece to other European countries via the Western Balkans probably also contributed to the drop in maritime crossings from Turkey. [Back]

118. Laura Pitel and Alex Barker, "Turkey demands EU hands over 3bn for refugees," Financial Times, May 11, 2016. [Back]

119. Semih Idiz, "Turkish-EU ties in throes of a slow death," Al-Monitor Turkey Pulse, June 21, 2016. [Back]

120. Brandt, op. cit.; Ruth Bender and Margaret Coker, "Turkey Clashes with EU Allies," Wall Street Journal, August 2, 2016; Hortese Goulard, "Gunther Oettinger: No visa waiver for Turkey this year," Politico EU, July 19, 2016; Rem Korteweg, "Can the EU-Turkey Migration Deal Survive Erdogan's Purges?" Centre for European Reform, August 2, 2016. [Back]

121. See, e.g., Amnesty International, No Safe Refuge: Asylum-Seekers and Refugees Denied Effective Protection in Turkey, June 2016; Medicins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders), "EU States' dangerous approach to migration places asylum in jeopardy worldwide," June 17, 2016. [Back]

122. Amnesty International, "Turkey: Illegal mass returns of Syrian refugees expose fatal flaws in EU-Turkey deal," April 1, 2016; Human Rights Watch, "Turkey: Border Guards Kill and Injure Asylum Seekers," May 10, 2016; Ceylan Yeginsu, "11 Syrian Refugees Reported Killed by Turkish Border Guards," New York Times, June 20, 2016. [Back]

123. Human Rights Watch, "Turkey: Open Border to Displaced Syrians Shelled by Government," April 20, 2016. [Back]

124. Nektaria Stamouli, "EU's Migration Plan Hits Snag in Greece," Wall Street Journal, May 20, 2016. In May, a European Commission spokesperson said, "No asylum seeker will be sent back to Turkey under the EU-Turkey agreement if, in their individual case, Turkey cannot be considered a safe third country or safe first country of asylum." Ibid. [Back]

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