EU Minister Volkan Bozkır, highlighting that Turkey is doing its part in the fight against terrorism warns that it will spread unless EU countries collaborate on terrorism and share the responsibility of sheltering refugees
Saying that as long as EU countries do not cooperate on the issue of immigrants and terrorism, the problem will continue to spread to the whole world, EU Minister and Chief Negotiator Volkan Bozkır highlighted that Turkey, which currently has 2 million refugees, will have a hard time if another refugee influx happens as it is nearing full capacity. Bozkır said the government regards terrorist organizations such as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), al-Qaida, the PKK and the Revolutionary People's Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C) as equally threatening to the Turkish state and they were fighting against all of them, adding that seeing the EU as a Christian union will cause terrorism to spread. He also said they were planning the return of refugees after establishing a safe zone in Syria and constructing housing.
Daily Sabah spoke with Bozkır about various subjects including terrorism and refugees, the EU expansion process and the Cyprus issue during his visit to Luxembourg for the ministers of European affairs meeting.
Daily Sabah: You gave a speech regarding Turkey's refugee policies and fight against terrorism at the ministers of European affairs meeting, which was a part of Luxembourg's EU term presidency. Could you please elaborate on this subject?
Volkan Bozkır: At this meeting, we expressed our country's disposition and concerns regarding immigrants and terrorism. Europe's "a terrorist organization that does not harm me is more preferable" kind of attitude is wrong and unacceptable. In our opinion, the PKK, DHKP-C, ISIS and al-Qaida are all the same. Turkey has never made a distinction and we consider all of them to be terrorist organizations and we will never allow them to act freely. We expect the same attitude from European countries. If they continue to discriminate one from another, the results will be dire. This issue is not only Syria, Iraq and Turkey's problem. As long as the U.S. and EU countries do not cooperate to eliminate the causes of refugee problems and fight terrorism, it will spread. In our campaign, we want Western society to be on our side. If the Syrian issue lingers and refugees continue to exist in Syria's neighboring countries such as Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, there will be other forthcoming issues. In the fight against terrorism, Western society has to correct the misconception that terrorism is terrorism and terrorists are terrorists. A distinction among terrorists and terrorist groups constitutes one of the causes of today's issues. Terrorism should be fought with a single definition and without any distinction. Therefore, we caution European countries on two points. Do not make a distinction between terrorist organizations and do not regard the European Union only as a Christian union, as it will only fuel the growth of terrorism. The fight against terrorism and racism should be simultaneous. Both terrorism and racism are unacceptable, but when these two come together it causes other issues. In the fight against racism, Islamophobia and fundamentalism, it is important to improve the environment the people live in and be more inclusive.
DS: Does the EU's disposition towards the PKK please Turkey?
VB:The PKK is still categorized as a terrorist organization by the EU, there are not any changes in this aspect. However, especially after what transpired in Kobani, they questioned why Turkey did not make a distinction between the PKK and ISIS. According to us, they are both terrorist organizations. We expressed that we found their views incorrect. The recent events indicate that there are no differences between terrorist organizations. As long as they do not operate on European soil, European countries allow the existence of terrorist organizations. These countries do not prohibit terrorist organization's publications or scrutinize their financial sources. They even allow murderous members of the terrorist organizations to wander in their cities without obstruction. When these terrorist organizations become a threat for them as well then they start to act. Terrorist activities also have an economic factor of millions of dollars. Some countries take this financial aspect into consideration and do not act. The Middle East has always been a center of attraction for European countries. Even if they claim they are not interested in the region any longer, these statements should be regarded with suspicion. Taking this situation into consideration, it is among our country's policies to take the necessary stand in order to protect our interests.
DS: Does border security mostly constitute cooperation between Turkey and the EU against terrorism?
VB: The talks regarding border security and integrated border management have been ongoing for a long time. The opening criteria for Chapter 24 of the ascension process to the EU includes integrated border management, biometric passports and the readmission agreement. In this context, when the readmission agreement with the EU was signed, it was acknowledged that the cooperation on fields such as integrated border management was coming close to a desired level. We always say that Europe's security depends on Turkey's security. We have been expressing our concerns on these issues and we are not happy to see that our concerns are materializing. I believe that the scope and the crucial nature of the situation are comprehended better. I expect to see Western society and European countries on our side.
DS: At the meeting you also talked about Syrian and Iraqi refugees. How does the EU approach this subject?
VB: Turkey continues to host 2 million refugees and provide for their needs. Turkey has spent approximately $6 billion for refugees. We did not demand money from other countries. We did this as our duty to humanity, but we continue to express that this is not just an issue plaguing the region. Every country has a certain capacity. When the time comes, countries in the region may not continue to accept any more refugees. Naturally, they will have to seek refuge in other countries. We assert that we have to discuss and try to solve this issue. If this is not done today, there may be dire consequences for tomorrow. While Turkey and neighboring countries have taken in almost 5 million refugees, the EU is trying to implement a refugee quota system that is incomprehensible. It is a reflection of their understanding, they do not see the issue as being their own. I hope that they do not suffer for their indetermination in the times to come.
DS: After signing the readmission agreement with the EU, the process of lifting visa requirements with the EU started last year. What are the recent developments on this?
VB: EU committees come to Turkey periodically and evaluate the situation. In accordance with their evaluation, a report was published in March that gives their expectations. Except for nine articles, there are improvements and some are complete. They are continuing to evaluate and they will publish another report in October. When it is published, we will have the chance to compare it to last year's report. According to my impression, along with realized improvements, it will be better. The EU had committed to lifting the visa requirements if Turkey could fulfill the conditions of the readmission agreement. If it is not lifted in three years, Turkey has the right to abolish the readmission agreement. It is not about calculations, it is about fulfilling commitments. The European Commission has expressed that Turkey had fulfilled its duty, but the European Council did not lift the visa requirements. This is an injustice. I believe that we can fulfill the conditions of 72 articles in three years. For example, when the law of protection of personal data passes, four of the expectations will be satisfied.
DS: Chapter 17 was expected to be opened in the previous months, but it did not happen. What is the current situation?
VB: The last EU term presidency, which was administered by Latvia, was unsuccessful in meeting Turkey's expectations. We had accomplished the procedure of Chapter 17 by March and there was no reason to delay the opening of the chapter. Because of Latvia's filibuster, it did not reach the council by June 15, which made the opening of the chapter impossible at the end of June. There are certain periods for opening chapters: June, October and December. Unfortunately, the opening of Chapter 17 cannot happen until October due to this reason.
DS: How do you evaluate the priorities of Luxembourg, which has the EU term presidency?
VB: During the previous term presidency, the EU got off on the wrong foot. They made statements that disregarded expansion. While we are concerned with these kinds of statements, many countries' stability depends on expansion. For example, Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia, Balkan countries and Moldova foresee a future for their countries through the hope of expansion. When you disregard expansion, it will cause unrest among these countries. After our warnings, they reinstated the word "expansion" to the title of "Commissar in charge of expansion." Luxembourg's EU term presidency puts expansion back on the priority list, which is pleasing.
DS: Cyprus negotiations are continuing in a positive manner. How will this development affect Turkey's EU process?
VB: In our opinion, the negotiations on Cyprus are going well and, hopefully it will yield a successful result. If this issue is resolved, we will be able to open 14 chapters that are blocked due to this issue. During this eight-year period we became able to open all of the chapters. If the Cyprus issue is resolved, we will be able to open 10 chapters in one year. We have the advantage to open these 10 chapters in just two months. Chapters 23 and 24 are the most important ones. While Chapter 23 is about political criteria, Chapter 24 is about refugees and border security. At the moment, we are not able to open these chapters. Whenever it is made possible, we will be able to open it on the shortest notice. The EU not opening these chapters takes the EU's right to criticize Turkey from them. If the chapters are opened, there will be more meetings and there will be platforms to relay criticism. The current mode of communication that is conducted by sending notices is problematic. They should not expect us to bow our head because Turkey and the EU are equals. Even if the EU does not have relations based on equality with the other countries, this does not mean they can force Turkey into subordination.
DS: You had criticized this year's EU progress report severely and did not accept it. What was the reason behind your attitude?
VB: The progress report is not a platform to punish or to make accusations. It has to be constructive and it should be prepared together. It is not possible for us to accept a report when they avoid communicating with us. While I believe that European Parliament's Turkey rapporteur, Kati Piri, has good intentions, she was not able to utilize the mechanisms very well when compared to the previous rapporteur. A total of 85 out of 420 motions suggested in the report came from the same person. This person is the president of the Joint Parliamentary Commission. The Joint Parliamentary Commission along with the Association Commission was established with the Ankara Agreement to improve relations. The president of the Joint Parliamentary Commission is Greek and his vice president is a Greek Cypriot; they suggested 85 motions combined. This year when they submitted the report, which was full of extreme criticism, we returned the report without accepting it. If they refer to this action in the following reports, we will continue to return the reports.
DS: In your previous statements you had said that there were certain lobbies that work against Turkey. What kind of measures have been taken against these lobbies?
VB: This issue coincided with a period of time when Turkey was occupied with internal affairs. Our parliamentarians could not make adequate contact with European Parliament. During the preparation of the report everyone was occupied with the election campaign. When there was a reference to the 1915 incidents, we sent a committee, but the committee did not suffice. Our ministers were also in a similar situation. Unfortunately, I think that we could not fight against these groups that try to harm Turkey's reputation. I hope that in the coming term we will be able to establish more mechanisms on this issue.
DS: As you know, İncirlik Air Base is opened for U.S. aircraft as a part of the fight against ISIS. How do you evaluate this agreement?
VB: This agreement can be considered as the next step of the train-and-equip program in the fight against ISIS. In this manner, the agreement states that the U.S. will be able to use İncirlik Air Base if necessary. The train-and-equip program has started to yield results. While it is not at a desired level, it is getting better. When these forces are ready to be sent into Syria, there is another requirement to be fulfilled, which is air support. If Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces bomb them when we send them to fight ISIS, unfortunately, they will not be able to survive. At the moment, Assad only has his air force; he has lost his land superiority. Therefore, he has been abusing his air force to destroy cities. He will definitely use his air force against the forces we have been training. Because of this we have been saying that a no-fly zone should be established. With the no-fly zone, the forces we have been training will be able to be successful against ISIS. After establishing a safe zone and constructing housing, we are planning to return the refugees. In addition, however, there are concerns about who will replace Assad if he is deposed. This is a problematic perception. This is caused by the irrational fear that the ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi may replace Assad after he is deposed. However, we can see in various news outlets that the Western world is becoming more inclined toward Assad's ouster. Yet they want the changes in Syria to happen without affecting the existing mechanisms.
Resource: Daily Sabah, July 27, 2015