Lack of no-fly zone in Syria aided ISIL, Turkish PM says
Akif Beki - ABOARD TC-TUR
Prime Minister Davutoğlu spoke to a group of scribes aboard the new official plane, TC-TUR, while travelling for an official visit to Azerbaijan.Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu spoke to a group of journalists on Sept. 19 aboard the prime ministry’s brand new official plane, TC-TUR. While travelling for an official visit to Azerbaijan, Davutoğlu explained that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan decided to order such a large jet when he saw the airplanes of other world leaders almost a decade ago.
“It was the first visit to the United States. We were invited as guests to the G-8 summit. Our plane landed, all the other leaders had arrived earlier and their jets were as big as this one. There was such a huge difference between ANA, Turkey’s official airplane then, and the jets of the other leaders. At that time, the prime minister [Erdoğan] ordered another plane,” he explained.
The new airplane was not the focus of the conversation, though, as Davutoğlu answered questions on a range of domestic and foreign policy issues.
On the Kurdish peace bid
Regarding the Kurdish peace process, Davutoğlu said some key decisions had been made recently. “We reached some decisions during the peace process meeting two weeks ago. I can’t talk about the details, but we commissioned our friends [ministers and bureaucrats] with certain missions. Each of my friends presented a report on Thursday. Now we have a clearer road map in our minds regarding which steps should be taken towards where,” he said.
“These steps should be shared [with the public] gradually, considering public perception. ... New bills may come to the Parliament floor, but I won’t talk about their timing,” Davutoğlu added.
The prime minister then connected the issue to the controversial story recently published by the New York Times and U.S.-based Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, the government’s ally-turned-nemesis.
“Those who affect the peace process negatively, and those who propagate the idea that Turkey doesn’t help the Syrian Kurds, combine this with their ‘Turkey supports ISIL’ campaign. Actually, there is a coalition. The New York Times and [pro-Gülen Turkish daily] Zaman are crossing each other in an interesting way,” Davutoğlu said.
“The president and the prime minister pray at a mosque and ISIL is recruiting men around the mosque ... Hacı Bayram Veli [the historical figure who the mosque is named after] will be turning in his grave. They have made a coalition of perception [management],” he added.
In reference to the recent wave of violent attacks against schools by alleged militants of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), Davutoğlu warned that “all sides should behave responsibly.”
On relations with the main opposition
Addressing the issue of recent tensions between the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), Davutoğlu said it was the CHP that was responsible for increased polarization. “Look at the language we use. I never use a reactive language. We’re not reactive,” he said.
He also repeated his criticism of the open letter written by CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, which said Davutoğlu was responsible for Erdoğan’s “attacks” on Bank Asya, a pro-Gülen bank on the frontline of the clash between the government and the Gülen movement.
“The thing that makes me smile most about the letter is, you know, those little minds that present themselves as part of a smart strategy, a grand strategy... Do you know what the trick [in the letter] is? ... By inviting me to ‘prove’ that I am a prime minister, it tries to set me against the president ... Still, despite all of these issues, I always say that I can hold hands with the opposition if they hold mine,” Davutoğlu said.
On the Cyprus question
Davutoğlu recently invited Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras to “drink tea” together in both southern and northern Cyprus to solve the decades-old problem on the divided island, but he revealed on the jet to Azerbaijan that Samaras had declined the invitation.
“Their response was negative and I knew it would beforehand. I saw six or seven foreign ministers and made the same invitation, but none of them dared to [visit northern Cyprus]. A couple of days ago, I walked from northern Cyprus to the south through the Lokmacı Border Gate [in Nicosia]. If there was a Greek counterpart on the other side, we held each other’s hands and walked across both sides together,” he said.
On the ISIL threat and Turkey's response
Meanwhile, the threat posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) was the issue that took up the longest amount of time on the plane. Addressing the issue, Prime Minister Davutoğlu said Turkey’s democracy and culture, including its religious education schools, prevented it from turning into a breeding ground for radicals like the militants of ISIL.
Here is the full text of his answers concerning ISIL:
Will there be any changes in the framework of the Syria and Iraq resolutions on military action, which must be renewed by the Turkish Parliament in October?
There could be. The circumstances have changed. The current resolutions concerning Syria and Iraq will be renewed, and there could be content changes while they are renewed because conditions have changed. The first Iraq resolution was passed in 2007. Since that year, conditions did not change too much in Iraq and the resolution stayed generally the same, but right now the threat perception has changed in Iraq. There are changes in Syria too. Thus, changes will be made according to what Turkey’s national defense requires.
Will İncirlik be included in the changes?
There is no reference to İncirlik in the resolution.
There is talk about an operational preparation at the border that is capable of providing aid. Is it possible to associate this with the buffer zone? Also, will there be any developments about the no-fly zone?
Aid at the border is not new. There has to be a buffer zone for this. We have aided hundreds of thousands at the Syrian border and we were able to keep the numbers at a certain level for a while. If the same situation arises in Kobani, in places where Kurds live, instructions have been given to the governors of our border provinces. All kinds of work will be prepared for humanitarian aid. If a very serious security problem occurs and they arrive here having fled, seeking shelter, then the situation is different indeed. Right now seven villages are affected. In the event that those seven villages come to the border for a safer zone, we will provide aid to meet their needs.
We have helped the Yezidis too. We first met them across the border, but right now there are more than 35,000 Yezidis inside. Even though some people claim that there is no aid delivered to the Yezidis, right now more than 35,000 Yezidis are hosted in Turkey. Everyone should see what kind of an effort is exerted on the Syrian and Iraqi borders. On one side you take security measures, on the other hand you also have to help these people. Actually, this also shows where the capacity of the state has reached. Was it possible to do the same in the 1990s?
Barzani once told us, “While I was talking to my father, there was an incident when I felt hopeless…” It was the 1960s and Cevdet Sunay was the Turkish president. At that time, the Iraqi regime was oppressing the Kurds. The Kurds asked for help, writing to many countries, including Turkey. Some countries said “Yes,” some countries responded by saying they would do whatever they could. From Ankara, the letter was returned without even being opened. But this was the old Turkey. In the ‘New Turkey,’ let alone not answering the letter, we are here with all our presence. In the past, there was both reluctance and rejection. Now, there is no reluctance left, there is power and capacity to help. Late President Özal would have also wanted to help as much as he could, but the capacity of the country was not enough at that time.
We will provide aid at the border. Buffer zone and no-fly zone are subjects that we have been bringing up anyway. We brought up the buffer zone for humanitarian reasons. In other words, it is not a military buffer zone. There should be such a place where people can take shelter under the assurances of the U.N., while those people will also not generate pressure across our borders. They will not have lost hope about the future of Syria. Domestic migration, displacement inside a country, can always be retrieved, but external migration causes incurable wounds.
So for this reason we are constantly saying “safe zone.” If this had already happened, then 1.5 million Syrians would have been staying along our border. We would still be delivering the same aid, but the Syrians would not have the impression of “We are living in another country.” Now, the same thing goes for the Kurds. It is important that they are protected on their own land when they flee due to ISIL pressure. The demand for a buffer zone is in favor of Kurds, Arabs and Turkmens, everybody living in this region. It is a humanitarian thing.
The no-fly zone is a strategic and humanitarian demand. Why? If there had been a no-fly zone declared in Syria when we asked for it, then ISIL would not have been able to spread to such a wide area. You may ask whether ISIL has planes. No it doesn’t. But when the regime bombarded the opposition, it had to retreat to places safe from air attacks, and ISIL entered these vacated places. So a tactical coalition was formed between ISIL and the regime. This is how ISIL grew.
If there was a “no-fly zone” and no air operations, then the Free Syrian Army could have advanced more easily, protected itself and maybe a new administration could have been possible.
But the no-fly zone was opposed on grounds that it would constitute a reason for war, that it would escalate the war. But the lack of a no-fly zone has created the situation we have today. We have made the necessary warnings at every stage of this.
Now, behind the criticism in the U.S. media against Turkey lies this feeling of guilt.
Before, a safe zone was more necessary for the Sunni Arabs and Turkmens. Today, it is necessary for the Kurds too. Maybe tomorrow it will be necessary for the Nusayris.
Until now, it was perceived in this way. When Turkey sat down to talk to the West, it was as if it was a side that had to explain something. When we sit down next time, the first thing we will say is, “We warned you.” We told them about Iraq and Syria. Some people are trying to put us into a guilt psychology, but on the contrary we will say, “We told you about all of this.” If the Free Syrian Army had been supported strongly and a if a no-fly zone had been declared, most of these things would not have occurred.