Erdoğan: Syrians will not stay here forever
Turkey aims for 3.5 million Syrian refugees to return to their homes, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said, vowing to pursue “Operation Olive Branch” in Syria’s Afrin.
“We want our refugee brothers and sisters to return to their land, to their homes. We are not in the position to hide 3.5 million here forever,” Erdoğan said on Feb. 8, addressing local province heads at the Presidential Palace in Ankara.
As Turkey’s “Operation Olive Branch” in Syria’s northwestern province of Afrin continues into its second week, Erdoğan has vowed to “solve the Afrin issue.”
“We have taken 2,000 square kilometers of land under our control in al-Rai, Jarabulus and al-Bab. Some 135,000 refugee brothers and sisters in Turkey who have come from Syria have returned to their homes,” Erdoğan said.
“We have reconstructed the cities, their hospitals and schools. Now, they are living in their own land. The Free Syrian Army [FSA] and our soldiers have provided security for them. We want to do the same in Afrin,” he added.
Erdoğan said Turkey “aims to ensure 3.5 million Syrian” refugees “return to their homes.”
“They wish to return to their homes anyway. Some might stay here, but that is another subject,” he said.
The president said Turkey’s ongoing military offensive in Syria is not even “a warm-up lap” for its future plans in the region.
“What we have done so far is not even the warm-up. We will make great moves and pushes in the coming period,” he said.
Some 1,028 “terrorists have been neutralized so far,” said Erdoğan. On Feb. 9, state-run Anadolu Agency announced the number has risen to 1,062.
Turkish authorities often use the word “neutralized” in their statements to imply the militants in question either surrendered or were killed or captured.
On Jan. 20, Turkey launched “Operation Olive Branch” to clear Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militants from Afrin in northwestern Syria.
Erdoğan rejects call for contact with al-Assad
Erdoğan also rejected a call by main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu to establish contact with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
“What will we talk about with a murderer who has killed one million of his citizens?” said the president.
“You can walk hand in hand with terrorists when necessary … Until today, we have not walked with those who have taken the path permitted by terrorist organizations and we will not do so from now on,” said Erdoğan.
Speaking to CHP officials on Feb. 6, Kılıçdaroğlu called on the government to establish contact with the al-Assad regime in order to resolve the ongoing conflict in Syria.
Erdoğan also criticized the Turkish Medical Association (TTB) over its opposition of Turkey’s “Operation Olive Branch” and reiterated that the association should remove “Turkish” from its name.
“Yes, we want this because the association has nothing to do with Turkishness,” he said.
“They will not use the term ‘Turkey’ or ‘Turkish.’ Only those who are worthy can use them,” said Erdoğan.
Eleven members of the TTB’s central council were detained on Jan. 30 for their statement criticizing the military’s “Operation Olive Branch” in Syria. Eight of them were released on probation following their deposition on Feb. 5.
The TTB had issued a declaration that said, “War is a matter of public health,” upon the start of the cross-border operation into Afrin last week and also said, “No to war, peace immediately.”
Erdoğan accused the union of “treason” on Jan. 29, amid the detention of over 300 people across Turkey for social media posts criticizing the Afrin operation.