Deputy Secretary General and Spokesperson of the Presidency Ambassador İbrahim Kalın held a press conference at the Presidential Complex.
Spokesperson Kalın stated:
“We have received information that nearly 100 lives were lost during the earthquake in Indonesia. I would like to take this occasion to convey our condolences to Indonesian people and state.
I also would like to offer our condolences to the family and friends of Mr. İsmet Sezgin, a doyen of Turkish politics who passed away, and to all political community in Turkey. As you know, Mr. President issued a condolence message and also called his family to offer his sympathies.
As you know, our country, along with all our security forces, continues its efforts in a determined manner in the fight against terror. Today, Turkey, a NATO member, puts up an effective fight against 3 terrorist organizations; the PKK, DAESH and the FETO. There is no other NATO member, fighting against 3 terrorist organizations at the same time which are attacking both from inside and abroad. In the aftermath of the July 15 coup attempt, staged by the FETO, the struggle to clear all FETO cells from different units of the state continues in a determined manner. As you know, declaring state of emergency was a decision taken in this scope.
5 weeks after the heinous coup attempt on July 15, Turkey launched Operation Euphrates Shield with its own national means and capabilities. And on its 107th day, the operation continues determinedly as planned. You are all aware of the activity around Al Bab in particular. Due to the massive build-up by DAESH inside Al Bab, acting very carefully there is of great importance. So far, about 1,800 square kilometers, from Jarabulus to Azaz, and south of Azaz, and up to the al-Bab region has been completely cleared of terrorists. It bears great importance both to our national security and to the Syrian people living in the region. Our efforts on this matter will be continued as planned and decided.
About the fight against the PKK terror, all our security forces, including soldiers, policemen, guards, civilian authorities, are putting up an all-out struggle. Especially during the period of stronger solidarity between the people and the state after July 15, a great blow has been dealt to terror, its organizational extensions, political and media elements. The struggle will be continued in a determined manner. Observing freedom-security balance is of great importance and sensitivity in the fight against terror. Mr. President voices this sensitivity on all occasions and decisions are made accordingly. In this regard, this struggle will continue to be conducted with great sensitivity and care in terms of protecting equal citizenship, fundamental rights and freedoms and also our citizens’ lives and properties.
The economic aspect of the attacks against Turkey in the aftermath of the July 15 coup attempt has been on our agenda for a while now. Those, who could not achieve their aims and through military methods and perception management operations, are now trying to weaken Turkey by putting into action different instruments. This is a known fact. Measures taken by our state and government against that have foiled these plans. Especially, we have started to see the results of the campaign, launched upon Mr. President’s call to protect and support the Turkish Lira. We thank our citizens, businessmen and institutions that have supported our national currency, the Turkish Lira. We will resolutely maintain our stand on this matter.
Turkish economy has a strong constitution. It maintains its strength in all areas with investments, foreign trade, industry, foreign capital and international capital. Mr. Prime Minister will announce the decisions of the Economy Coordination Council at 15:00 today and the scope and continuity of these efforts will be maintained. Measures that will be taken in line with Mr. Prime Minister’s statement will surely reassure our economy in terms of protecting our national currency and economy.
Presidential system has recently been one of the topics on our domestic agenda. As you know, there is an ongoing negotiation process on this matter between the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). We know that the talks have been positive so far, that they have agreed on fundamental points but negotiations are still ongoing. Chairman of the Nationalist Movement Party Mr. Devlet Bahçeli and the Nationalist Movement Party has led a critical step that will pave the way for Turkey.
We are going through a historic process to bring into effect a more effective administration model which, in a clearer manner, puts forth separation of powers. As a result of the talks, which will be concluded in the upcoming days, constitutional amendments will come to the Parliament as a package. If it garners the necessary support, 330 votes, there will be a referendum process in the upcoming months. We, as the Presidency, continue to follow this process closely. As I said, there is an ongoing process between the ruling party and the Nationalist Movement Party under the roof of the Parliament. We are sure that our nation will fully support the referendum process and other stages.
I also would like to touch upon a few foreign policy matters. Especially the incidents taking place in Syria, Aleppo gravely concern us all. The regime continues to openly commit crimes against humanity and war crimes in Aleppo. Thus, the regime is not open to any cease-fire, any formula, as we saw in the today's statements of the person in charge of the regime. This has revealed clearly the regime's actual intention in Aleppo and other regions. The international community must act to put an end to this humanitarian tragedy.
We are conducting intense talks with the Russian Federation for establishment of a ceasefire in and delivery of humanitarian aid to Aleppo. Mr. President had 3 phone conversations with Mr. Putin regarding this matter. Mr. Prime Minister, who returned from Russia yesterday, discussed these matters with Mr. Putin and Mr. Medvedev there. Today, we call for an end to clashes and attacks, delivery of humanitarian aid, and taking the necessary steps, in a broader sense, for a political transition process. We continue to do our part in providing humanitarian aid. Whether the international community and regional actors take a step on this matter, Turkey will continue to fulfill its humanitarian and conscientious responsibility.
Regarding Raqqa and Manbij, where we stand on the issue of YPG/PYD’s all elements pulling out of Manbij is very clear. We discuss this issue with our American counterparts, officials on a regular basis. Within the framework of the promises made to us, all YPG elements should have withdrawn from Manbij by now. We will maintain our persistence on this issue until we verify the withdrawal with our own sources. However, the fact that Manbij has been cleared of DAESH, just like Jarabulus is in general a pleasing development. It is the primary objective that Manbij be governed by Manbij’s local city council. Normalization of daily life in Manbij and the people of Manbij taking over the governing of the city along with members of the Free Syrian Army and other Syrian opposition are our primary objective.
In order to achieve that, it is of great importance that no terror-linked group is there. As we have expressed before, it is not possible to eliminate DAESH by using another terrorist organization, the YPG or any other similar structure. Consistency and determination are of the essence in the fight against terror. Our view regarding Raqqa is also the same. There is an ongoing operation to isolate and surround Raqqa. However, as you know, Raqqa is DAESH’s most important base in Syria. Any operation to this city must be conducted with great care.
Regarding Mosul, the fight against DAESH is going on intensely in Iraq. We are closely monitoring activities along the line between Mosul, Tal Afar, and Sinjar. We continue to contribute to these operations through the Peshmerga and the Mosul volunteers, who we trained at Camp Bashiqa. Our relevant colleagues express that they contribute to this process in contact with Iraqi authorities. We are also in close contact with them. The majority of the East of Tigris has been cleared of DAESH. When we look at the West of Tigris, where the actual population density is, it appears that the clash will be more difficult and intense there, which is happening right now. Maximum sensitivity is needed to avoid civilian losses in Mosul.
About Tal Afar, we have already expressed our sensitivity regarding the possibility of Hashdi Shabi entering Tal Afar. Because, If Shia militia groups enter Mosul, it would escalate sectarian tension there and lead to new conflicts instead of peace. The fact that Mr. President’s warnings have been taken into account is also pleasing. The Iraqi authorities have also made statements that Hashdi Shabi will not enter Tal Afar and we also see they have taken steps towards this end. The decision to form a 2000-people force of Shia and Sunni Turkmens in order to govern and rebuild Tal Afar after it has been taken back from DAESH is also pleasing. We fully support this decision.
Yesterday, Mr. President received a large delegation of Iraqi Turkmens at the Presidential Complex. The unity and solidarity of this delegation of Shia and Sunni Turkmens is of critical importance to Turkmens’ presence in Iraq, to their peace and unity. We left yesterday’s meeting with very promising and pleasing outcomes. It is of great importance in terms of protecting their fundamental rights and freedoms in Iraq that Turkmens, whether they are Shia or Sunni, whether they are from Tal Afar Kirkuk, Tuz Khurmatu or Erbil, act in unity and solidarity.
We have special relations with Turkmens. We share a relation with deep historical, cultural ties. Within the integrity of Iraq, we will surely maintain our close relations with our Turkmen brothers and sisters. Especially, our sensitivity regarding Iraq’s territorial integrity and sovereignty is very clear. We have had close, friendly, brotherly relations with different religious, sectarian and ethnic groups in Iraq, I mean with Arabs, Sunnis, Shias, Kurds, Christians Yazidis. And I would like to express that we will maintain this policy with all groups, including the Turkmens.
The PKK’s presence in Sinjar continues to greatly concern us all. the PKK’s attempt to gain ground there under the guise of defending the Yazidis against DAESH is by no means acceptable. As we have expressed before, Turkey will never allow Sinjar to be a second Qandil. We continue our contact with Iraqi authorities and local actors there.
Regarding the EU process, it is saddening that the already planned and declared calendar did not work. Within the framework of the Readmission Agreement and the Turkey-EU Refugee Agreement, the process of including Turkish citizens in Schengen visa system was supposed to be completed within 2016. Moreover, transfer of the 3-billion-euros fund to Turkey, the EU promised for Syrian refugees, was supposed to be completed. However, today with only 3 weeks to the end of 2016, we see that these promises have not been kept yet.
And at the same time, the rising far-right populist policies in Europe are also a source of concern to us. I mean, the fact that far-right, racist, xenophobic, anti-migrant, Islamophobic, anti-Turkey circles and discourses dominate the mainstream politics in Europe particularly in pre-election atmosphere is a source of concern to us and to Europe. It began today with the referendum in Italy. There will be many elections in Europe in the next 8-10 months. Mainstream politicians, reasonable political leaders in Europe should put an end to this trend and put the process back on the reasonable track instead of giving credit to political populism. We believe sensitivity should be preserved regarding this matter.
I would like to underline three points about how the Turkey-EU relations will proceed from now on.
The first one is the conclusion of Schengen visa liberalization process. Being included in Schengen was a right citizens of the Republic of Turkey should have gained years ago. However, it has been delayed constantly. At least at this point, it is of great importance that the Schengen issue be resolved and Turkish citizens be allowed visa-free travel.
Secondly, we expect Europeans to do their part about sharing the burden when it comes to the refugees. We, as Turkey, have been doing our part. As Mr. President expressed, Turkey will continue to implement its open-door policy whether we received support from the EU or elsewhere. It is our fundamental humanitarian and conscientious responsibility. However, we also think that it is also the humanitarian, conscientious and political responsibility of other countries and actors to share the responsibility.
Regarding the 3-billion-euros fund for refugees, some 670 million euros have been transferred so far. It is said that 1.2 billion euros have been collected but not transferred yet. As we said before, this money does not go to Turkey’s vault. It is spent of refugees in Turkey. Therefore, this is not a favor to Turkey. On the contrary, the Europe is undertaking this responsibility to ensure its own safety, to protect its streets from an influx of refugees. However, we see that they are unable to act swift and efficient enough here. I hope the EU bureaucracy will pick up the pace and take positive steps to resolve this problem.
Thirdly, European politicians should act more responsibly against extremism and rising far-right populist trends. European politics cannot achieve anything by opposing Turkey and by presenting Mr. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as a target for their domestic political gains.
Another foreign policy matter we are following with concern is the incidents in Arakan. It is not possible for us to approve of violence and human rights violations in Arakan that took place following certain recent incidents. We, as the term president of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), have taken the necessary initiative to call the OIC Myanmar Contact Group to meeting under the chairmanship of Mr. President. We also expect the international community to act. We are ready to do our part in terms of humanitarian aid for the resolution of the Arakan crisis that has been going on for years. I hope our official counterparts will provide the necessary convenience and we can deliver humanitarian aid to the people in need through the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TIKA) and the Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD).
Now we can continue with your questions.
Question: Mr. President Erdoğan drew attention in his speech yesterday to the maltreatment displayed by Germany against Deputy Speaker Ayşe Nur Bahçekapılı of the Grand National Assembly of Turkey (TBMM), and later on Germany’s Ambassador to Turkey was summoned to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Likewise, Mr. President said yesterday, ‘We will duly respond in line with the rule of reciprocity.’ What will be done in that direction?”
And my second question; you stated that the process of dialogue with Iraq was underway. Is there any reconciliation with regards to Bashiqa? In addition, a quintuple conference is in question regarding the peace negotiations on Cyprus. At what level Turkey will partake in the conference and do you believe that this conference might enable a settlement?
Spokesperson Kalın: We condemn the treatment displayed in Germany against Deputy Speaker of TBMM Ayşe Nur Bahçekapılı. By no means can this treatment be justified. Such a behavior against a deputy speaker, a lady, a lawmaker, a person who is in Germany on an official visit, cannot be accepted by any means. Irrespective of whether the officer at the site knew her or not, or of whether she had the required documents with her or not, German authorities should have displayed the necessary sensitivity on the issue. As you know, German ambassador was summoned to the Foreign Ministry yesterday and the sensitivity of the issue was conveyed to him.
You also have listened to Mrs. Bahçekapılı’s statements. It is evident that an offending and unbecoming incident took place there. First of all, we are waiting a satisfactory explanation from German authorities. We expect them to investigate the incident and take necessary action with regards to their personnel involved in the incident.
In answer to your second question, our negotiations with the Iraqi authorities are going on concerning the Bashiqa camp. Our camp is continuing to help and give support to the Iraqis there as part of the fight against DAESH. There are ongoing negotiations and an exchange of papers aimed at establishing its legal framework. Our relevant friends are conducting these works together with Iraqi authorities.
In spite of provocative statements made from time to time regarding Bashiqa, there is a complete agreement among the Peshmerga, that is the Iraqi Kurds, as well as among the Sunnis whom we call Nineveh volunteers, the Turkmens and among other groups on that the services and educational activities undertaken there contribute to the fight against DAESH. However, negotiations on the issue of the legal status are currently underway.
As regards Cyprus, 2016 is a critical year for the solution of the Cyprus issue and for the unification of the Island on the basis of a bi-zonal and bi-communal status. We have very little time left before the end of 2016. Our expectation was to reach a settlement on the issue at the end of the negotiations held in Mont Pèlerin but this didn’t happen and thus negotiations were extended to 2017. As you know, Mr. Akıncı and Mr. Anastasiades will meet again between Jan. 9-11 and will try to finalize their negotiations on chapters such as property, rotating presidency, security, guaranties, and the like. And on Jan. 12, a quintuple meeting will be held with the participation of guarantor states and the United Nations. Participation in this meeting will be at the presidential level and the UN is currently arranging schedule of the meeting.
As Mr. President has expressed, we have always been one step ahead on this issue since the very beginning, since the Annan Plan. Today, we follow the same policy and continue to be one step ahead on the Cyprus issue. During negotiations in Mont Pèlerin as well, the Turkish side has maintained its constructive stance, putting forward enabling proposals. Other issues that remain unresolved will continue to be discussed by Turkish and Greek sides until Jan 9, by which date we expect negotiations to advance further.
However, as I have mentioned at the beginning, it is of critical importance here to establish a bi-zonal and bi-communal governing model that is based on political equality of the two sides. Achieving this bears historic importance for unifying the Island and ensuring the security, peace and welfare of both the Turkish and Greek sides on the Island. We are preserving our constructive stance on the issue and I can say that we are very close to the resolution if the right steps are taken.
Question: There have been intense clashes in Aleppo lately and opposition forces have sustained critical losses. There have recently been comments in the foreign press claiming that during this process, Turkey and Gulf countries, primarily focusing on the Operation Euphrates Shield, have fallen short of providing enough support to the opposition. Do you agree with these comments? Do you think that opposition forces have been left alone during this process? And what will Turkey’s strategy be towards Aleppo in the upcoming period?
Spokesperson Kalın: As I have just expressed, it is Mr. President that has exerted over the latest period the most intensive diplomatic efforts for the cessation of clashes and for ensuring access to humanitarian aid. Aleppo was one of the most important topics of the three telephone conversations Mr. President has held with President Putin of Russia. As I said yesterday, Mr. Prime Minister as well discussed this issue with his Russian counterpart in Moscow. Likewise, our Foreign Minister and his Russian counterpart Mr. Lavrov addressed the issue during their meeting in Antalya at the beginning of this month. We will continue our diplomatic efforts. We have an unwavering determination for the provision of aid to the opposition and especially to civilians there. Therefore, we reiterate this call of ours on the parties. And these incidents in Aleppo unfortunately constitute just the final stage of the humanitarian tragedy going on in Syria for the last five years. Indifference and insensitivity of the international community have led to escalation of the situation up to this level. Nevertheless, no matter how harsh the conditions are, we preserve our determination for cessation of clashes in Aleppo, for ensuring access to humanitarian aid and for initiating a transition process. We will carry on with our intensive diplomacy to that end with Russia, Gulf countries, the Europeans and the Americans.
Question: News agencies shared half an hour ago news stating that six soldiers were wounded in clashes in al-Bab. Can you share details of this incident? My next question; are there any developments regarding the whereabouts of the two Turkish soldiers? They are said to be in Raqqa. Could you please indulge any further details about them? And finally, there are news reports claiming that Turkey is having great difficulty in al-Bab operation failing to advance to the extent it wants. What do you say on the issue?
Spokesperson Kalın: Let’s start with your last question. As you know, we have launched the al-Bab operation with the aims firstly to ensure the security of our borders and secondly to eradicate terrorist elements present right to our south. It continues as was planned. Of course, military plans are being revised and updated every day in parallel with developments on the ground, and steps are being taken accordingly. Our military authorities had already stated that after the encirclement of the city, the operation would last for a while because of the build-up by DAESH inside al-Bab. No change is in question there.
This is an operation we carry out in cooperation with the international coalition. The Turkish Armed Forces, our Chief of General Staff and other officials are holding intensive consultations and contacts with especially the military authorities of the U.S. Within this scope, our Chief of General Staff Hulusi Akar met in Adana with his U.S. counterpart and we are acting in cooperation to ensure coordination. As I have noted, the pace of the operation might be updated depending on developments in the field, but there is no change as to the goal of the operation.
Our General Staff and National Intelligence Organization are closely following developments concerning our soldiers. Of course, we are also following these developments. I kindly request you to pay heed to official statements on this issue. There is no development as of now other than what I have already mentioned. Intensive efforts are underway in order to find and bring back to Turkey our soldiers safe and sound.
DAESH terrorist organization levels threats against Turkey just like the PKK and the FETO, as you also should know. Despite these threats, Turkey will exert every effort and carry on its fight against DAESH determinedly so as to eliminate DAESH terrorist organization, this monster. I hereby would like underline this once again.
Question: In the statement released by the Turkish Armed Forces following the attack that martyred 4 Turkish soldiers on Nov. 24 while the al-Bab operation was going on, the expression of ‘assessed to have been conducted by Syrian regime forces’ was used in reference to the attack. It was reported in some of the news that the origin of the UAV employed in the attack belonged to a different country. Could you please share with us the latest information you have on the perpetrator of the attack?
Spokesperson Kalın: The information we have is the same. Based on the statement released by the General Staff, I say as a reaffirmation: The attack against our soldiers in the vicinity of al-Bab was carried out by the Syrian regime. This is the information we have now. This incident once again shows clearly what the true intention of the regime is in Syria, Aleppo, al-Bab and in all other regions. In other words, we are now talking about a regime engaged in state terror. And unfortunately, in the north of Aleppo, YPG/PYD forces, especially those moving further down, are acting in cooperation with the regime. We are faced with a situation there which reconfirms our thesis that ‘you cannot overcome terror in Syria by cooperating with the YPG/ PYD,’ which we have repeated many times. I also would like to underscore that YPG units moving southward and eastward are acting there with the regime by encircling Aleppo from the north.
Question: My question is about the decision that Greek courts handed down this week for FETO-member soldiers who sought asylum in Greece. The court approved the extradition of three soldiers while rejecting the extradition of three others. How do you asses this decision? Will Turkey take a new diplomatic step? And my next question is that following the European Parliament’s decision, some European countries, especially some companies from Austria and Germany, decided to impose embargo on weapon sales to Turkey. How do you asses these decisions?
Spokesperson Kalın: As you know, Mr. President has been closely following the process related to the coup-plotting soldiers who fled to Greece, since the first day. Mr. President has conveyed our extradition request to Mr. Tsipras at their talks. This request has also been conveyed through official channels. There is an ongoing legal process in Greece, which is completely related to its domestic legislation. Our expectation is that Greek authorities extradite these coup-plotting soldiers to Turkey as soon as possible. We expect the related process to be completed and these people to be brought to justice in Turkey without delay. This is what the law requires because these people got involved in a coup attempt, which claimed 248 lives and wounded over two thousand people, and they thereafter fled to Greece jumping into a Turkish helicopter blatantly; everybody has seen this. Their extradition to Turkey is both a necessity of the law and of Turkey-Greece relations. We hope and call on Greek authorities to take necessary steps swiftly in this direction.”
We also have received some information regarding some European countries imposing embargo on weapon sales; but they are yet to be confirmed. First and foremost, these are actions or thoughts that cannot be accepted by any means. There aren’t any concrete actions yet. If these companies or countries have any such intention or opinion as to undermine Turkey’s fight against terror, they should know that Turkey will continue its fight against terror determinedly with or without them. Such decisions only reveal true intentions and agendas of these countries or companies. Turkey will maintain its determination on the issue.
Question: It is probably the first time the expression of ‘Syrian regime’ has ever been used in such a clear manner concerning the airstrike. Which diplomatic steps is Turkey taking on the issue? Secondly, following Mr. President Erdoğan’s call to exchange foreign currency, a debate has broken out in the political arena. The main opposition asked if Mr. President converted his 200 thousand dollars that was stated in his declaration of property. Mr. Minister of Justice showed a receipt from away but the debate didn’t stop. Could you put an end to the debate? Has Mr. President converted the foreign currency stated in his declaration of property into Turkish Lira?
Spokesperson Kalın: As I have noted, I have shared the statement issued by the General Staff on the attack against our soldiers. There isn’t any other different information.
As regards your question as to whether Mr. President converted the foreign currency stated in his declaration of property, Mr. President converted all the foreign currency in his account into Turkish Lira. Expecting, or even thinking the opposite would be nonsense. It is out of the question for Mr. President not to do something himself which he asks others to do. With this campaign, all our citizens and institutions have defended the Turkish Lira, our national currency. Thank you very much. Have a nice day!