Confusion sparked by military statement
The whole Turkish thesis about the military jet downed by Syria on June 22 was overshadowed yesterday by a statement released early in the afternoon. It was not released by the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, who was denounced as “the spokesman of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad” by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in the morning hours. It was released by the Turkish General Staff, at the same time as the Chief of General Staff Gen. Necdet Özel was in a meeting with Erdoğan.
The statement concerned the ongoing efforts to recover the remnants of the downed plane, and its title was: “The search and rescue activities for the wreck of our plane, downed by Syria in international air space.” However, one of the first sentences read: “Official Syrian bodies claimed the jet was downed by themselves, following the ceasing of radar and radio contact in international waters.”
That was in clear contradiction with all statements made so far, by not only the Turkish government but also the military itself. In military releases on June 28, July 1 and July 5, the plane was unequivocally described as having been “downed by Syria.” And the reference in the statement was to al-Assad himself, who told Turkish journalist Utku Çakırözer of the Cumhuriyet newspaper that he regretted that Syria had hit the Turkish jet unintentionally and without an order given centrally to a missile battery. It was instead the spontaneous response of an anti-aircraft battery reacting to a violating foreign military plane.
Following the General Staff’s statement, news men and women compared it with the words of Erdoğan a few hours earlier. They found out that Erdoğan had said the Turkish plane “was hit” outside of Syrian territory, without specifically mentioning Syria. So, was he implying that the plane had perhaps been hit by some other actor? There was some supporting evidence for such a conspiracy theory. For example, an official U.S. source had told Hürriyet’s Washington correspondent Tolga Tanış that they knew every detail of the incident, but were not considering revealing the information. There was also the story of Şükrü Küçükşahin, again of Hürriyet, quoting an Air Force official who said that the Turkish RF-4 might have been shot by an optically-guided rocket (a shoulder-fired RPG, for example), possibly fired from a boat. That theory fitted with both Turkish and Syrian theses: no long-range missile and outside Syrian airspace. Plus, Erdoğan had given the example of 15 Russian military jets violating Turkish air space and intercepted by Turkish jets over the Black Sea (some three months ago, the Daily News has learnt), for which Moscow had apologized later on, but which Turkey did not respond to by returning fire. That was an interesting example to give, as Russian war ships have been sailing through the Bosphorus toward the Syrian coast for the last few days and nights ahead of a visit by Erdoğan to Russia to meet with President Vladimir Putin.
In the evening hours, Prime Ministry sources told the Daily News that it might be just a slip of the hand for the General Staff to make such a statement. But the confusion sparked is not the kind to be forgotten easily, and with such clumsy moves Turkey is overshadowing its own thesis, supported by its NATO allies, that its plane was shot down without any warning, even if it had violated Syrian air space.