Ankara wants to hear US scenario on Syria

Ankara wants to hear US scenario on Syria

Serkan Demirtaş
Ankara wants to hear US scenario on Syria

The USS George HW Bush was one of the aircraft carriers involved in yesterday’s strikes as the UnitedStates and its allies hit ISIL targets in Syria for the first time with jets, drones and Tomahawk missiles. AFP Photo

The airstrikes carried out by U.S.-led coalition forces in Syria target extremist jihadists and are nothing to do with the Bashar al-Assad regime, a senior Turkish government official has said, adding that Washington and other Western powers should first outline their strategy on the future of Syria before making military demands on Turkey. 

“[The U.S-led coalition] should openly disclose their scenarios about the future of Syria and the al-Assad regime. We’ll evaluate our position only after hearing these scenarios from them,” Deputy Prime Minister Yalçın Akdoğan told the Hürriyet Daily News yesterday.

Akdoğan’s statement was a first official reaction from Turkey to the international powers’ airstrikes against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) targets in Syria.

“[The Sept. 23] operation is against ISIL and not against al-Assad. Everybody should know this. But what does the coalition think about the future of Syria and of al-Assad?” Akdoğan asked. 

Reiterating that Turkey denounced all kinds of terrorism and that it was playing a major role in the global fight against terrorism, Akdoğan repeated that Turkey wanted to know the plans of allied countries on Syria. “Demanding Turkey’s contribution without informing it about their plans [on the future of Syria] is unfair,” he said.

Akdoğan posed a very important question about the airstrikes against ISIL, saying: “The coalition is hitting from the air now, but who’s going to fire bullets on the ground? We have been telling our partners to reinforce the Free Syrian Army for the last three years. Only now are they saying that they are going to give training to FSA troops.”

Today ISIL, tomorrow something else

The deputy prime minister’s statement is a clear reflection of Ankara’s stance on the international coalition against the growing threat of ISIL. Ankara believes that ISIL is a product of the Syrian regime's oppression and destroying ISIL will have not much meaning as long as the al-Assad regime stays in power.

“Today it’s ISIL, tomorrow something else. As long as you have the al-Assad regime there, you will continue to deal with radical and jihadist groups,” a Turkish official had said earlier.

Turkey said it would reconsider its position toward joining the anti-coalition forces after it safely rescued 46 of its citizens from ISIL, but has strongly underlined that its participation will be limited to providing humanitarian assistance to Syrians fleeing from ISIL’s violence. Turkey is already hosting around 1.5 million Syrian refugees, with 200,000 of them having crossed into Turkey in less than 48 hours.

“As Turkey, we are fulfilling our duty of humanity. We have opened our borders and our hearts to our brothers without discriminating against the ethnic, religious or sectarian identities of these refugees,” Akdoğan said. Turkey says it has spent nearly $4.5 billion on refugees and harshly criticized the West for not providing enough assistance to Turkey and other host countries.

Not a buffer zone but a safe haven

Akdoğan also sought to correct international misunderstanding on Turkey’s plans to build security zones inside Syria. “We are being criticized as they say we want to build a buffer zone. What we mean by buffer zone is establishing safe havens inside Syria for carrying out humanitarian assistance to Syrians without crossing the border,” he said.

Akdoğan underlined that Turkey could not build such safe havens alone and needed a groups of countries to aid it. “This is not something we’ll do unilaterally. We mean an international cooperation to this end.”

'Media operations are futile'

Turkey has been warning its allies that delaying the process of toppling al-Assad will only bring more radicalism to the region but its forecasts have not been taken into account, Akdoğan said. “Turkey’s rightness has now been approved,” he added.

Denouncing some international media outlets’ reports on Turkey that he said depict the country as one of the sponsors of ISIL and other radical terror groups, Akdoğan called these reports “futile, cheap media operations.” “We, as the Justice and Development Party [AKP], denounce all sorts of terrorism. We categorically denounce it. This is our raison d’être,” he said.

Recent pieces appearing in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal angered Ankara as they claimed Turkey was drifting away from the alliance relationship with the U.S., while also tolerating ISIL’s oil trade and recruitment of foreign fighters. Without directly naming the newspapers, Akdoğan described these reports as part of a "media operation" to force Turkey to join the military campaign against ISIL. “But Turkey is not a country that will move as a result of such psychological moves,” he said.

All sides should revise their position

Speaking about the ongoing tension in the Kobane region in Syria amid heavy clashes between ISIL and Syrian Kurds from the People’s Protection Units (YPG) belonging to the Democratic Union Party (PYD), known as an affiliate of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), Akdoğan urged the PYD to revise its position. Criticizing the group for allegedly being in cooperation with the al-Assad regime, Akdoğan said, “It’s time for all sides in the region to revise their positions over ongoing processes,” without naming which groups he meant.

Resolution process won’t be affected

One of the most important questions that has emerged amid the clashes between Syrian Kurds and ISIL militants, which has caused an uproar among Kurdish political groups in Turkey and northern Iraq, is whether the tension in the region will affect the ongoing Kurdish resolution process in Turkey. 

“The developments in Kobane are not incidents that will directly affect the resolution process. It has an indirect link. Turkey regards the resolution process as an attempt to resolve one of its internal issues. Such developments outside our border are not relevant,” he said.

Akdoğan stressed that the government was continuing its efforts to resolve the Kurdish issue in line with Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s promise to successfully conclude the process by the end of 2015.