Full Transcript Of Foreign Minister Feridun Sinirlioğlu’s Interview To Cnn International On 27 October 2015
Full transcript of Foreign Minister Feridun Sinirlioğlu’s interview to CNN International on 27 October 2015
HALA GORANI: Foreign Minister, thank you so much for joining us on CNN. We really appreciate it. It is an absolutely crucial time right now in your part of the world. You are in Paris. This evening you have a working dinner with your counterparts from Saudi Arabia among other countries, hosted by Laurent Fabius, the French Foreign Minister. What are Turkey’s proposals to try to bring an end to this crisis in Syria?
FM SİNİRLİOĞLU: You know, from the very beginning, what we brought to the table is that there is no military solution to the crisis in Syria. We have to find a political settlement that will transit Assad out. Why Assad out? Because he is the source of all the problem.
HALA GORANI: Assad? But you are saying there is no military solution. Your country is very much engaged militarily now. Bombing targets in Syria… There are accusations that you are going more after more Kurdish militants than ISIS positions. How do you respond to those accusations?
FM SİNİRLİOĞLU: We are not bombing any targets in Syria other than DEASH at the moment. What we have been doing is we are fighting against all the terror groups that have its origins in the two unstable countries to our south. And that is Syria and Iraq. And the PKK terrorists are stationed in the Kandil Mountains and these are the areas where we have problem.
HALA GORANI: So you have targeted those areas but your Prime Minister in fact confirmed saying that Kurdish militants in Tel Abyad and Syria were in fact targeted by the Turkish military. So there are targeting operations going on against Kurds inside Syria now. Is that a change in strategy?
FM SİNİRLİOĞLU: As you know, there is an Amnesty International Report about Tel Abyad. What has been done to Tel Abyad is ethnic cleansing. They are demolishing homes, uprooting people and basically doing ethnic cleansing.
HALA GORANI: You’re saying that Kurds are doing this?
FM SİNİRLİOĞLU: This is not the Kurds. I would say YPG. YPG is an offshoot of PKK. They are under direct command of the PKK up in the Kandil Mountains.
HALA GORANI: So you see them as one as the same. However YPG fighters cleared Tel Abyad, they expelled ISIS, they’re fighting against ISIS and the United States is relying on them on the ground. So how is Turkey’s targeting of these fighters making sense globally, as a strategy?
FM SİNİRLİOĞLU: Listen. Of course the situation is very complex in Syria. When the whole thing started four and a half years ago we told that if it lasts too long, this country will turn into a safe-haven of terrorists. And this is what’s happening. And fighting a terror group doesn’t make a terror group a legitimate group.
HALA GORANI: …so you’re saying those Kurds are terrorists…
FM SİNİRLİOĞLU: … Nusra is also fighting DEASH. But that doesn’t make them a legitimate group, as we all say. And these are not Kurds per se. I mean the Kurds in Syria, in the Northern Syria are under the oppression of that group. Actually this is all very well depicted in the report of the Amnesty International.
HALA GORANI: So you believe this makes the YPG, those fighters in the Northern part of Syria who have registered some victories against ISIS legitimate targets by the Turkish military.
FM SİNİRLİOĞLU: So did al-Nusra. Al-Nusra also registered a lot of victories over ISIS. But they are still a terrorist organization.
HALA GORANI: So that makes them legitimate targets you believe.
FM SİNİRLİOĞLU: We are not targeting them in Tel Abyad yet. We have set three conditions actually. We said if they do not cross to the West of Euphrates, if they do not target Turkey or if they do not attack Turkey we will not target them. But if they do that, then they are our legitimate target.
HALA GORANI: And it appears as though that’s what happened. They tried to cross West of the Euphrates and there was a targeting on…
FM SİNİRLİOĞLU: Yes. They did try to cross to the West of Euphrates and then we targeted them. But it happened once. They didn’t try again.
HALA GORANI: Right. It seems as though at least now the situation has calmed down and… So you are meeting with counterparts, of course you the Turkish Foreign Minister, Saudi Arabia, we have the UAE et cetera et cetera. Isn’t it futile though to discuss solutions for Syria when really some of the main actors who have the most sway right now in Syria and I’m talking of course about Russia and Iran are not present. Does it make sense even?
FM SİNİRLİOĞLU: This is actually the Friends of Syria Group. A smaller version of the Friends of Syria Group. We will have another meeting this week in Vienna on Friday. And there Russia will be present.
HALA GORANI: So Russia is saying, President Assad who you say is really the source of all problems is the legitimate President. They have even acknowledged that some of their bombing campaign in Syria is designed to preserve this regime. Could Turkey accept a scenario in which Bashar Al-Assad remains President for a transitional period if it means stabilizing the situation in Syria?
FM SİNİRLİOĞLU: You know, for us, the source of the problem is Assad. Why Assad? We are not fixated with Assad. We had very good relations before he launched a war against his own people and killed 366.000 Syrians. It’s a huge number. And, almost half of the population are now homeless. 8 million of them are internally displaced and over 4 million are refugees. You know, how one can imagine that a “President” can continue to govern his country after killing 366.000 of the people and making 12 million of them homeless because of his policies, because of his actions. This is impossible. We as a neighbor with 911 kilometers border wish a stable, prosperous, democratic Syria. This is what we want. This is also what the Syrian people want. You know, the dictatorship in Syria was ruling on the basis of fear. The Syrian people’s consent was taken from them by fear, by coercion. When they overcome their fear then they stood up against this dictator and that was actually their goal. They just wanted to have their rights as all other people to decide for their own future.
HALA GORANI: So the answer sounds like it’s no, that Turkey would not accept the scenario? Or would not support a scenario in which the current leadership of the regime is a part of the transition?
FM SİNİRLİOĞLU: You know, it is not us. It is the Syrian people. They’ll have to decide. Everywhere, where there is a government, you need to obtain the consent of the people. You can obtain it either by election, or by fear and oppression. And when you obtain the consent of the people by fear and oppression and the people overcome their fear, then it means that you are no longer legitimate in the eyes of your people. And this is what is happening in Syria. And what we want to see in Syria is a non-sectarian, united, secular, democratic Syria that will keep its multiculturalism and the unity and territorial integrity of the country.
HALA GORANI: Do you think the country will remain one?
FM SİNİRLİOĞLU: The main obstacle in front of the unity is Assad. What Assad now trying is actually carving out a mini state out of the existing borders of Syria. This is what we see on the ground about what he is doing. You know in July when he said that “I can no longer extend my authority or my defense lines all over the country”, he in a way confessed that he is going for a plan B. This is what we understand.
HALA GORANI: So you think the territorial integrity of the country is very much at risk, it sounds like?
FM SİNİRLİOĞLU: It is. Because of Assad.
HALA GORANI: And do you think that therefore the country can’t survive in its current form, as its most important neighbor to the north.
FM SİNİRLİOĞLU: You know for us the unity and the stability of Syria is extremely important. First and foremost for the Syrian people, and also for us. Because we have a long border with Syria, 911 kilometers border and any instability there affects us.
HALA GORANI: Can I speak of democracy and the freedom and there are critics, I mean I don’t have to tell you this, of current Turkish government, the government you’re the cabinet minister of right now – who are very unhappy with the jailing of some journalists. There is one in particular Muhammed Resul of Vice, he has been in prison for two months. Ahmet Hakan beaten and intimidated. Some journalists are saying we can’t keep track of how many people are being sued for “insulting the President.” What is going on in Turkey with regards to press freedom?
FM SİNİRLİOĞLU: All these issues are openly debated in Turkey. There is nothing hidden and nobody is in prison because of what he’s writing, or because of journalistic activities. The person who is in jail, whose name you have mentioned now, has some connection to terror groups. And you know public order comes first.
HALA GORANI: Even Ahmet Hakan who is one of the most..
FM SİNİRLİOĞLU: Ahmet Hakan was beaten..
HALA GORANI: respected journalist.
FM SİNİRLİOĞLU: … by some people and there is already a police investigation going on and there is a court case against the suspects.
HALA GORANI: Ok. And Muhammed Resul is very unhappy. They’re saying he’s a 25-year-old who was a fixer, who was assisting two British journalists. He has been in prison two months. Are any of these situations of journalists being in prison, are any of the critics right to be concerned do you think?
FM SİNİRLİOĞLU: Of course there are concerns. And people are talking about it. But I’m telling you, there is clear evidence that the guy you are mentioning has direct connection to the terror group which is responsible for a lot of terror attacks in Turkey.
HALA GORANI: I guess because they were covering them. And you are talking about the separatist, the PKK here in this case.
FM SİNİRLİOĞLU: Yes.
HALA GORANI: But it’s difficult for journalists not to be in contact with groups they’re covering. I guess that’s some would say. If you’re covering them you have to be in contact with them.
FM SİNİRLİOĞLU: No no this fixer you are talking about is not covering them. He is a member of PKK. He is connected to PKK. And the journalists who have worked with him, I don’t know whether they know it or not but I mean, this has nothing to do with the journalistic activity that they have done.
HALA GORANI: Okay. And just lastly I want to ask you a little bit about Russia now. Russia has really entered over the last I believe now it’s been a little more than a month that they started bombing in Syria. They authorized the bombing in Iraq that hasn’t happened yet. Why do you think Russia has entered this war now? What do you make of the timing?
FM SİNİRLİOĞLU: That question should be asked to them of course. I do not want to answer that question on their behalf. But for us, this was a mistake and we told them so. I mean we told them that what they are doing is a big mistake. They are becoming part of a civil war, which is not to their interest, which is not to the interest of Syria, which is not to the interest of the region as a whole. And I don’t see any reason for Russia being involved directly.
HALA GORANI: But they are supporting the regime.
FM SİNİRLİOĞLU: Yes they do support the regime. But the regime is just a party in the civil war.
HALA GORANI: But are they not in a way shaping events a lot more than the US has? And has tried a few training of rebels but that kind of didn’t amount to anything. And Russia is very clearly engaging itself in a conflict where it’s having an impact. Like it or not it’s doing that inside of Syria.
FM SİNİRLİOĞLU: You know, United States is our ally and friend. We have been working on many issues together including Syria. Of course they can do more in Syria. And this is what we have been telling them all along. For instance we have been advocating the establishment of a no-fly-zone and a humanitarian safe zone. I think they were not ready to go along with those suggestions. But I think they were able to do more and we are continuing to ask them to do more.
HALA GORANI: And then no-fly zone… Do you think that’s going to happen? That will require some military intervention…
FM SİNİRLİOĞLU: This is with regard to the humanitarian needs. People do not feel safe in their own country. That’s the reason why they have been migrating. All this flow of migration is not out of choice. This is out of desperation, because there is no safe place in their country where they can stay and stay alive. They are escaping their country just to stay alive. You know, everybody was deeply affected and disturbed by the fact that Aylan Kurdi washed up on the Turkish shore one day and realized that something is awfully going on in Syria and this is one of the results of this tragedy.
HALA GORANI: Yeah. And you are going to talk with your counterparts about the refugee situation. Today what will you ask for?
FM SİNİRLİOĞLU: What we have been asking is burden sharing. Because we are now hosting 2.2 million Syrians and 300 thousand Iraqis in our country. And 260 thousand of them are in the camps. 900 thousand of them are children. And we have approximately 600 thousand school-age children. And only 250 thousand of them can go to school. We have provided health services to them, 480 thousand of them were hospitalized. It is a huge humanitarian tragedy and when our friends are talking about helping Turkey I always remind them that you are not going to help Turkey, you need to help the Syrians. They are in need, and we need you to help them. We are going to help them without you, but if you help, we can do better.
HALA GORANI: Finally, I want to ask you about the ISIS situation inside your own country, because now this is all shifted from being outside of your borders to inside of your borders with that terrible attack in Ankara. And there was a rounding up of dozens of ISIS suspects as well inside Turkey. I mean is this war spilling over into your country now?
FM SİNİRLİOĞLU: You know, of course, when you have 911 km border with a broken country like Syria, you are affected definitely; it is a direct security threat to you. And all the terror groups that have some roots in that country are a threat to us. And ISIL is one of the biggest threats to us. And of course ISIS is not only a threat to us, but to everybody. What happened in Ankara could happen anywhere. We know that, and we are fighting back and the only way to win over those terrorists is to stay together and fight together against them. ISIS was created, this is a Frankenstein, man-made one, created by the regime. We have seen this unfolding in front of our eyes.
HALA GORANI: The Syrian Regime?
FM SİNİRLİOĞLU: The Syrian Regime. You know, in 2013, you would remember, ISIL started an operation from east to west. And they’ve taken one by one, all the cities and towns that were under the control of the Free Syrian Army. Do you know how the operation was conducted? The regime was bombarding from the air and they were coming in from the ground. And that tactical alliance enabled DEASH to expand from the east to the west. They came up to the Mara-Hercele line and then they stopped and turned eastwards again and attacked Iraq. You know, all the terror groups; YPG, DEASH all have some connection with the regime. And when you talk with the representatives of some countries who have close ties to the regime, they say in this type of wars tactical alliances could happen. Of course, this is not a defense that is acceptable at all.
HALA GORANI: Thank you very much, Foreign Minister. We really appreciate it. We are going to put this in our prime-time show this evening so we really appreciate it.
FM SİNİRLİOĞLU: Thank you very much.
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