Turkey ramped up efforts in the fight against the outlawed PKK and ISIS after escalating security issues in its territory, expressing determination to wipe out the threat posed by both terrorist groups, fully supported by the U.S., its coalition partner, to the end
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, speaking to the editors-in-chief of national newspapers at a dinner late on Saturday, said the regional balance had changed the moment Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) militants attacked Turkish soldiers, adding that Turkey’s war on terror would persist until both ISIS and the PKK were eradicated. Turkey fully cooperated with the U.S. and the anti-ISIS coalition against terrorist groups, Davutoğlu said, adding that ISIS militants would not be allowed near Turkey’s border with Syria.
Turkey and the U.S. acted jointly with respect to Syria, especially concerning the use of İncirlik Air Base, the training and equipping of moderate Syrian opposition forces and that Syrian President Bashar Assad could have no future in Syria, Davutoğlu said. Turkey is a country that provided shelter to Syrian refugees, saving hundreds of thousands of lives in the process. “Turkey has also effectively combatted foreign militants who are citizens of Western countries, which continue to fail to provide necessary information on such individuals to Turkish intelligence,” he argued. Further measures to improve border security will be taken, Davutoğlu assured, and shared the government’s plan to place Syrian refugees in regions liberated from ISIS control.
Turkey would not differentiate Syrian Kurds from Turkmens or Arabs in Syria as long as the pro-Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) in Syria did not pose a threat, Davutoğlu said. On the issue of the escalating violence by the PKK, he said as long as such attacks did not end and PKK militants withdrew from the country, there could be no possibility of political delegations meeting with jailed PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan. He also said that the reconciliation process would include all relevant groups in the southeast and called on the Democratic Peoples’ Party (HDP) and its co-chair, Selahattin Demirtaş, to distance itself from PKK terror.
Prime Minister Davutoğlu, who was also a professor of international relations, briefed the editors-in-chief on Turkey’s position in the region and the problems faced by the region’s countries. “What is happening on Turkey’s borders with Syria and Iraq are proof that the Sykes-Picot Agreement is now bankrupt after a century,” he said.
Turkey continued to be a safe haven within a region of chaos, Davutoğlu said, adding: “While the countries in the region battle their ongoing problems, Turkey is strengthening its democracy.”
The PKK and ISIS were trying to pull Turkey into the region’s chaos after the June 7 parliamentary elections, he said, and cited that from June 7 until July 24 there had been 121 armed attacks, 15 kidnappings, 16 roadblocks, 59 vehicle burning, 53 bombings, 17 instances of extortion, all by terrorist groups.
When asked why the PKK had become a target for security forces, Davutoğlu said after last week’s attack in Suruç that killed 32 people, the PKK had tried to turn the funerals into propaganda tools with militants waving guns at ceremonies held in Istanbul and elsewhere. “The message they were trying to convey was, ‘There is no public order here. I can carry guns wherever I want.’ They then killed two police officers in their home. They assumed responsibility for the attack. Then they killed a traffic police officer. Once such a series of attacks are perpetrated, the state’s legitimacy is put into question. The PKK now shamelessly is declaring that the cease-fire has ended. It is responsible for 1,083 attacks. Doesn’t the HDP see this? The HDP is a political party. It’s a party that celebrates passing the 10 percent election threshold by firing into the air. How can this happen in a democracy.”
He said the state had to show its tender side and its strength. He added that without tenderness, the state becomes barbaric and that without strength, the state becomes weak. “The balance between freedom and security, as I have mentioned in my articles since 2002, is where this concepts fits. Democratization is transparent, with tenderness coming to the fore. And security can only be assured with strength. We will maintain the balance between freedom and security.”
When asked about the reconciliation process Davutoğlu said the Justice and Development Party’s (AK Party) 12-year rule had focused on showing the state’s tender face to Kurds, Alevis, Turks and all other communities. “That’s what we understand from the reconciliation process. The key is to ensure the state doesn’t view anyone as the other. Just have a look at the rights and freedoms granted to non-Muslims and Kurds. Alevis can proudly display their identities.”
Some had tried to exploit the tender face of the state that the AK Party had fostered, Davutoğlu said, adding that the PKK, which was supposed to withdraw its militants from Turkey by May 2013, had instead increased its numbers.
The PKK and HDP had threatened local AK Party officials, he said, accusing the groups of trying to dominate the southeast of the country. “What they said was there can be only a single party in this region. A typical Marxist, Stalinist mindset. Don’t be deceived by the freedom songs they sing in Istanbul. Our Kurdish citizens are also witness to this mindset. It was our Kurdish citizens who called on us to show the strength of the state.”
He accused the PKK of extortion and murder, and the HDP of bringing back the cruelty of the 1990s to the region. He said the outlawed Kurdish Communities Union (KCK), the umbrella organization covering the PKK and others, had declared an end to the cease-fire on July 11, after which the PKK had begun to kill soldiers and police officers.
He said: “As long as the PKK doesn’t disarm and withdraw from Turkey, we will not allow political delegations to meet Öcalan. First public order will be established and PKK terrorism will end. Only then can there be negotiations.”
TURKEY, AK PARTY BIGGEST ENEMY OF ISIS
He said the government viewed the ISIS attack in Suruç as both an act of revenge for their defeat in Kobani and a challenge to Turkey. “I said this before. ISIS views our administration as the biggest threat because the AK Party and Turkey are the antithesis of what they purport to be Islam. The AK Party unites respect for Islam, democracy and human rights. That’s why they felt the need to challenge it.”
He said the government wanted the Free Syrian Army (FSA) to move into the regions vacated by ISIS.
“The operation against ISIS was in response to the murder of our citizens in Suruç and the killing of our soldier. It wasn’t a response to solely the murder of the soldier. We were going to ensure that the group dearly paid for the murder of 32 people so that they never dared repeat such an attack. The murder of our soldier only pushed us to act faster. I ordered an immediate response to the murder,” Davutoğlu said.
He said the bombing of ISIS positions in Syria had been done with the utmost precision. “The targets were specifically selected and nearby buildings were not damaged. Only a target used as an armory by ISIS resulted in a spreading fire. Our military targeted ISIS without crossing the border.” He described the air operation conducted against ISIS as the most effective and comprehensive one in Turkey’s history.
He said the PKK’s murder of two police officers and the ISIS attack in Suruç had resulted in the government launching a three-tier strategy to combat terrorism. “These attacks targeted Turkish democracy. The first angle of our strategy is the fact that the government is responsible for protecting freedoms and democracy. The second angle is the obligation to do everything within the bounds of the rule of law to establish public order. All known PKK targets in northern Iraq and ISIS positions in Syria were bombed. The third angle was to display Turkey’s strength and deterrence to all groups that could be formulating various scenarios. I believe they have seen it.”
Turkey’s stance on the PYD
Turkey’s stance on the PKK-affiliated PYD in Syria depends on it actions, Davutoğlu said. “In 2013 when I was foreign minister, we brought [PYD Co-Chair] Salih Muslim to Turkey. If armed militants withdrew to Syria and the PYD joined the Syrian National Coalition, Turkey was going to support the Kurdish groups in Kobani and Haseki, or at least won’t oppose them. In other words, we linked Syrian Kurds with the reconciliation process,” he said.
The PYD cooperated with Turkey until August-September of 2013, meeting with the Syrian National Coalition and professing their intention not to pose a threat to Turkey, Davutoğlu said. “However, once U.S. President Barack Obama decided not to punish the Syrian regime, which was guilty of chemical attacks, the PYD leadership came to the conclusion that the Assad regime was here to stay. They decided to approach the regime. Turkey only reassessed its stance on the PYD after the group started to pose a threat to security through what was happening in Kobani.” Davutoğlu said the violent protests sparked by Kobani and the statements by the HDP leadership had forced the government to reassess its policy on Syrian Kurds.
The HDP leadership accused the AK Party of being uncomfortable with the advances made by Syrian Kurds, Davutoğlu said. “Why should we be uncomfortable? If we had been, we would also be uncomfortable with the KRG. We have been helping the KRG with all sorts of aid for the past two years. If we are not concerned with what is happening in Irbil, why should we be concerned about what is happening in Kobani?” he asked. The only difference was that the KRG leadership was not doing anything that made Turkey uncomfortable, he said. “The key is which policies are being followed. They claim Kurds have no state. While speaking in Diyarbakır, I said Kurds have a state and it is the Republic of Turkey. Our historical ties with Kurds are as valuable as our ties with Arabs and Turkmens. Our cross-border operations do not target Iraqi or Syrian Kurds. If the PYD severs its ties to the Assad regime, creates no concerns within Turkey and joins the Syrian National Coalition, it can join in the process of forming a new democratic Syria. We would not object. However, if it tries to ethnically cleanse regions, divide Arabs, Turkmens and Kurds and interfere in Turkey in cooperation with the Assad regime and supports terrorism, things will be different. The source of the attacks in Turkey was not the PYD. That’s why PKK concentrations in Iraq were targeted by the Turkish military,” he said.
Deal on İncirlik Air Base
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said the agreement reached with the U.S. on the use of İncirlik Air Base was the result of a series of negotiations ongoing since the formation of the anti-ISIS coalition. “There were a few differences of opinion between us and the negotiations aimed to bridge these,” he said.
He said Ankara saw ISIS as a consequence of the chaos in Syria, a direct result of the power vacuum in the country. “We believe without a legitimate government that eradicates that vacuum and creates trust among the Syrian people, even if we destroy ISIS, some other group will rise up. There was no ISIS three years ago, there were other groups. We constantly warned the U.S. that Syria necessitated a comprehensive strategy.” Turkey also believed a solution that did not address the refugee problem could not truly resolve the chaos in Syria, he said, which he argued necessitated a safe zone where refugees could return to.
Thirdly, Turkey wanted the international community to voice open support for the moderate forces in Syria, he said. While Turkey and the U.S. differed on three issues, they were united in their determination to fight terrorism in all its forms and that the Assad regime had to go, Davutoğlu said. The deal reached with the U.S. addressed many of the concerns voiced by Turkey, Davutoğlu assured, adding that the train-and-equip program for moderate Syrian forces was gradually picking up speed. “We established a common ground that we can work from and that’s how the use of the İncirlik Air Base was included in the anti-ISIS measures. We will be taking the necessary measures in the coming days.”
KRG’s view on operation
When asked how the anti-ISIS air operation by Turkey was viewed by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), Davutoğlu said that some groups act in unison to try to unseat KRG President Masoud Barzani and that they were opposed to his closeness with Turkey. “Barzani himself said today that Turkey’s counter-terrorism efforts had made friends happy while creating consternation among enemies.” Davutoğlu said there were groups with differing priorities within the KRG and that diplomatic statements emanating from there would probably try to please all sides, he said, but noted that Barzani himself had approved the measures taken by Ankara and even offered support. He said Ankara’s relations with the KRG are good and that it supports Turkey’s efforts against ISIS.
Resource: Daily Sabah, July 27, 2015