Bo Lidegaard og Michael Jarlner
Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is Wednesday on an official visit
to Denmark, where he and his ministers will be discussing a range of issues,
such as the civil war in Syria, the European Union and Danish-Turkish
Politiken has interviewed the Turkish leader, who has much invested in the
Syrian civil war. He was once a personal friend of Syria’s President Assad,
but as the bloodletting of the past two years has increased; he has become
one of his greatest opponents.
As a neighbour to Syria, Turkey is also host to more than 250,000 Syrian
refugees as well as parts of the Syrian rebel army FSA. As such, Erdogan is
a central actor in a Middle East in which Turkey is both trying to build
bridges to the European Union as well as being part of a regional power game
with such important regional players as Iran, Iraq, Syria and Kurdish
rebels. The interview was carried out by e-mail.
QUESTION: According to Reuters (March 14), Iran is secretly stepping up
its military support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, flooding the
country with weapons. Iran’s increasing aid puts it in line with Russia as
one of Syria’s strongest allies in an increasingly messy civil war and
border battle with Turkey. On the other hand, the US is still reluctant to
deliver substantial weapons to the Syrian opposition forces. What
consequences do you foresee from such a policy?
ANSWER: The conflict that has been on-going for the last two years in
Syria has led to the massacre of innocent civilians and poses a serious
threat to regional peace and security. The heavy toll for these two years is
more than 70.000 deaths, hundreds of thousands of wounded, 1.5 million
refugees of which 300.000 are hosted by Turkey and close to 3 million people
who are displaced.
We see a human tragedy unfold before our eyes in Syria. It may be considered
normal, up to a certain point, for regional and global actors to have
different points of view with respect to the developments in Syria. But it
is the Syrian people who suffer as a result of the indifference of the
international community, especially the UN Security Council, to the
massacres and the support extended by some to the Assad regime. The regime
continues to indiscriminately massacre its people, including women and
children. No country that claims to adhere to universal values can turn a
blind eye to the violence targeting the Syrian people.
Assad has blood on his hands; his regime is on its last legs and has lost all
legitimacy. Supporting such a regime cannot be reconciled with political
responsibility on any moral ground.
QUESTION: Will Turkey argue for a lifting of the EU weapons embargo on
the Syrian opposition? Could you imagine any situation in which Turkey
decided to arm the Syrian opposition forces unilaterally?
ANSWER: Although the weapons embargo of the EU is a part of a broader
approach towards Syria, it is only the opposition who is affected by it.
Some countries continue to provide weapons and ammunition to the Assad
regime while the Syrian people who suffer from the cruelty of the regime are
deprived of the possibility to defend themselves.
The UN Security Council should no longer remain an observer to the spiral of
violence that is going on in Syria. The embargoes on Syria are currently
having an impact not on the regime, but on the opposition. Therefore, it is
necessary to question to what extent the current embargoes serve their
purpose. The implementation should be reviewed so as to ensure that it
provides support to the struggle of the people there.
QUESTION: How long do you give President Assad?
ANSWER: This will depend on the developments that will take place.
However, one thing is clear: the Assad regime does not exist morally,
legally and politically. That they resort to terrorism and violence to
maintain their de facto existence is a clear indication of this fact. Our
assessment is further strengthened by the fact that the opposition is better
unified within a more inclusive structure and has made progress in becoming
a reliable alternative to the Assad regime.
The humanitarian and conscientious duty of the international community is to
stand with the Syrian people in their justified resistance. It is necessary
to support the transition to a pluralistic political system based on
constitutional equality and democracy in Syria.
QUESTION: In some quarters, your recent remarks on Zionism have been
understood to imply a questioning of the very legitimacy of the state of
Israel. Is this interpretation correct?
ANSWER: I understand that my statement in Vienna led to some debate.
But no one should misunderstand what I said.
Everyone should know that my criticisms on certain issues, especially Gaza and
the settlements, are directed at Israeli policies. And it’s entirely natural
for us to continue to criticize Israel, as long as it will not give up its
approach of denying the right to exist of the Palestinian state.
On the other hand, we have recognized and continue to recognize the Israeli
State, within the framework of the 1967 borders and on the basis of the
two-state solution. One should not forget the fact that in the past we have
hosted many Israeli Presidents and Prime Ministers in Turkey to reach peace
towards a two-state solution. Today as in the past, Turkey supports all
international and regional efforts to find a just, lasting, and
comprehensive resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict on the basis of
the two-state vision.
My several statements openly condemning anti-semitism clearly display my
position on this issue. In this context, I stand behind my remarks in
The Turkish leader’s visit to Denmark comes as President Obama is in Israel
– another of Syria’s neighbours – to revive the Middle East peace process.
QUESTION: What will happen in the Middle East if the present stalemate
continues and a breakthrough in the peace process is not achieved?
ANSWER: The current stalemate in the peace process is not sustainable.
It leads to instability in the region and beyond. The Israeli attack on the
Gaza Strip on the 14th of November caused the death and injury of many
innocent Palestinians and created new chaos in the region.
These recent events have proven that there is no substitute for peace and that
such escalation is inevitable until true peace is established, Israel’s
occupation of Palestinians territories comes to an end and an independent
Palestinian State with East Jerusalem as its capital is established.
It is necessary to immediately revitalize the peace process which is
constantly delayed based on one pretext or other. As Turkey, we will
continue to support efforts for restarting the peace process. Lastly, we
cannot ignore the fact that Muslims under the age of 50 are not allowed to
enter the al-Aqsa Mosque.
Turkey still wants Europe
While Turkey is trying to position itself in relation to the many
changes taking place in the Middle East, the Turkish government is
maintaining its membership application to the EU.
QUESTION: Is EU membership still a top priority for Turkey?
ANSWER: We continue to view our membership to the EU as a strategic
goal because we believe that there will be new opportunities for both sides
with our membership to the EU. In this framework, we consider our relations
with the EU as a win-win situation and aim to develop this relationship
Our membership will make a positive and strong contribution in our region in
the context of its global implications.
QUESTION: In how many years from now will Turkey be a EU-member? 5, 10,
20, 50 years?
ANSWER: We would like to see Turkey as an EU member in the shortest
time possible. The fact that Turkey’s membership process has already taken
50 years is a clear indication of the delay.
Furthermore, blocking more than half of the chapters for negotiation by EU
member states either collectively or individually since 2006 after the
beginning of our accession process in 2005 has seriously harmed our
relations with the EU. This is not sustainable. The accession negotiations
whose aim is full membership were initiated by a unanimous decision of all
EU member states. The EU should stand by its commitments and not undermine
the negotiation process.
The fact that France has recently lifted its block on Chapter 22 is a positive
step. However, I should also say that this is not sufficient; we expect the
accession talks, stalled for the last 2 years, to be revitalized and believe
that complementary steps should be taken in order to achieve progress
towards our EU membership which shall be to the benefit of both sides.
If there is political will in the EU, then our country is in a position to
rapidly open chapters on economy, monetary policy, education, culture and
energy as well as all others for negotiation. In our estimate, it is
possible to technically open 10 chapters in 12 months and 15 chapters in 18
When Recep Tayyp Erdogan as in Denmark in 2005, he angrily cancelled a
news conference at the prime minister’s office as he would not accept the
presence of a journalist from the Kurdish Roj-TV. According to the Turkish
government, the TV station is a tool of the PKK, which Turkey sees as a
Kurdish terrorist organisation.
QUESTION: In spite of court cases and large fines, ROJ-TV still upholds
its permission to broadcast from Denmark. What are your comments to that?
ANSWER: The Danish court decision on January 10, 2012 on ROJ TV is very
important. On the other hand, we were disappointed to see that the channel’s
broadcasting license was not revoked. We follow the appeals procedure
closely. We expect a decision at the end of this process that is in line
with international conventions and obligations for fighting against
Unfortunately, we do not get the support we expect from Europe in the fight
against terrorism. The EU member states who want Turkey to implement reforms
in line with EU criteria are probably not aware of the fact that terrorism
constitutes a big obstacle in the reform process. We must, in any case,
cooperate fully in fighting against terrorism as friends and neighbors.
Housing cells of the terrorist organization does not go hand in hand with
the European criteria for democracy and transparency.
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