Deputy Secretary General and Spokesperson of the Presidency Ambassador İbrahim Kalın held a press conference at the Presidential Complex.
Spokesperson Kalın stated:
Particularly the refugee issue, emanating from the Syrian crisis, has been at the top of our agenda as well as of the agenda of the region and the world throughout 2016.
Turkey took a series of measures aimed at curbing illegal crossings within the framework of the refugee agreement we signed with the EU, and these measures curbed the number of illegal crossings substantially. However, we learned with sorrow that according to a report released last week by the United Nations, around 5 thousand refugees lost their lives throughout 2016 while trying to illegally cross the border into various countries. This finding once again shows that the world, especially the European countries are not working on the refugee issue decisively, systematically and efficiently enough.
Turkey, for its part, has so far excessively fulfilled its responsibilities within the framework of our agreement with the EU. On this occasion, we repeat our call on the EU countries and institutions to immediately fulfill the requirements of the Turkey-EU refugee agreement dated March 18.
Another important item on our national agenda in 2016 was the start of the normalization process in relations with Russia and Israel.
After the plane crisis with Russia, a critical step was taken and the normalization process was launched as of June. It is clear that this bears critical importance both in terms of Turkey-Russia relations and for the regional dynamics. In this respect, our joint efforts with Russia, both in the aftermath of the July 15 coup attempt and toward finding a solution to the Syrian crisis, as you know, resulted in the evacuations in Aleppo in the past few weeks.
Normalization process of relations with Israel was also one of the important subjects in 2016. On this occasion, it would be beneficial to draw attention to an aspect of this normalization process. The normalization process with Israel doesn’t mean that there is a change in our Palestine policy. It is out of the question for Turkey to make any change to its principled stance on the issue, which is that a fully independent, sustainable and fair Palestinian state must be established and permanent peace must be secured. Our stance on such topics as the legitimization of illegal settlements, increasing their numbers, geographically expanding their areas and maintaining the blockade against the Palestinian people both in the West Bank and Gaza, all of which damage this peace process, is clear and obvious.
Of course, one of the most critical incidents in 2016 was the treacherous and heinous coup attempt on the night of July 15, which was probably one of the biggest breaking points in terms of the modern history. Repelling this treacherous coup attempt thanks to the unwavering leadership of Mr. President and the government, our nation shortly thereafter declared with the Yenikapı spirit to the entire world that it would never give in to such coup attempts.
Mr. President’s recent call for national mobilization should actually be interpreted as a continuation of this process because putting up a struggle against terror attacks, as well as against financial assaults and perception operations in a spirit of national mobilization is the key for Turkey to overcome obstacles standing in its way.
Of course, in the aftermath of the July 15 coup attempt, Turkey has taken and continues to take a series of measures aimed at eliminating the effects of the coup attempt and at preventing the repetition of any such incidents in the future. As we have stated before, Turkey is the only NATO-member country fighting three terror organizations simultaneously. We determinedly continue to fight DAESH, PKK – as well as its extensions such as YPG-PYD - and FETO.
Another important topic of 2016 was the discussions on a new constitution and the Presidential system. This issue has reached a certain level of maturity under the roof of the parliament. Discussions are going on at the relevant commission. Completing these works at the parliament as soon as possible and then finalizing the process with a referendum will constitute one of the most critical steps for Turkey to reach its 2023 goals.
Meanwhile, Mr. President and the government continue to work determinedly to implement Turkey’s megaprojects despite the coup attempt, terror attacks, financial assaults and all other challenges.
As you know, the Yavuz Sultan Selim Bridge was put into service on August 26, just 6 weeks after the July 15 coup attempt. The Eurasia Tunnel was opened on December 20. And today, December 26, the Ilgaz Tunnel will be inaugurated. All these developments prove how strong a structure Turkey has, and clearly show that our country is maintaining this struggle in unity and solidarity in a spirit of national mobilization despite all these coup attempts, terror attacks and perception operations. Likewise, the separatist terror organization’s efforts to present our anti-terror fight as if it were against our Kurdish citizens ended in failure. They themselves got buried in their own politics of ditch-digging.
I hereby would like to once more underline that Turkey’s fight against the PKK separatist terror organization inside Turkey, and against such terror organizations as the PYD-YPG inside Syria, in no way targets our Kurdish citizens, or our Kurdish brothers and sisters in Syria, Iraq or anywhere else. On the contrary, it is our Kurdish citizens that have sustained the gravest harm from these terror organizations for years, and they now clearly put distance between themselves and these terror organizations since they see the true face of these terror organizations. It is of critical importance that we all be careful and vigilant against perception operations to that end.
Mr. President had a very busy schedule in 2016 regarding all these items I have raised so far. In this regard, I want to share a few figures with you: Mr. President visited 20 countries in 22 foreign visits, and 24 provinces in 31 domestic visits throughout 2016. 52 foreign heads of state and government came to Turkey. Mr. President came together with them in Ankara and Istanbul either at bilateral meetings or in the margin of various summits or events. Our friends will give you more detailed figures later in the day.
Turkey also hosted a large number of international events in 2016. Three of them should especially be mentioned here.
The first one is the Organization of Islamic Cooperation Istanbul Summit. As you know, Mr. President hosted this leaders’ summit as the term president of the OIC. Decisions of critical importance were taken at the summit. As the term president of the OIC, Mr. President is currently following, and will continue to follow next year, a very busy schedule for the solution of political, economic and social problems of the Islamic world.
Shortly after the OIC Summit, the first-ever World Humanitarian Summit was held in Istanbul. The summit saw a high-level participation. The humanitarian crisis, which is getting more and more chronic, was addressed, and decisions aimed at solving refugees’ and displaced people’s problems were taken during the summit. Turkey hosted this summit with a positive record of helping the victims and the oppressed way more ahead of other countries.
As regards the latest developments in Syria, as you know, some 44 thousand people have been evacuated from Aleppo as a result of intense diplomatic efforts of our relevant units, including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, National Intelligence Organization and our other institutes. These people have been carried to Idlib and all measures have been taken to meet their basic needs. You also know that this is not an easy operation. At least, these people have been transferred to a more secure location for now despite harsh winter conditions and militia forces’ attempts to undermine the ceasefire and the evacuation process. Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency (AFAD), Turkish Red Crescent (Kızılay), our relevant governorates, and our NGOs are all working hard in order to meet the basic needs of the Syrians that have been transferred to Idlib.
We of course don’t see this enough and continue our intense diplomatic efforts so as for the ceasefire reached in eastern Aleppo to be expanded to the entire Syria. As you also know, Mr. President has talked this issue over phone with Mr. Putin many times. Likewise, Mr. Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs have talked the issue over phone with their Russian counterparts many times. And eventually an Astana process has come up with Russia’s offer.
Its preliminary works are currently underway. We will inform you as such issues as the modality of the meeting, its participants, the level of the participation and its date are determined.
Our goal here is to first enable a comprehensive ceasefire and then to ensure its systematic implementation in the entire Syria, including east Ghouta, Damascus, rural Aleppo, and other regions. And our ultimate goal is to enable a political transition period. As Mr. Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu stressed during the tripartite meeting in Moscow, the most important point in the Astana meetings is that the names that will represent the opposition during these meetings should be comprised of trustworthy opposition segments, and that the opposition and their representatives shouldn’t be diluted by any means. We don’t have any time to waste here.
The Astana process has been put forward as an addition to the ongoing UN Geneva process, which was launched earlier, not as a substitute for it. Likewise, UN Special Envoy for Syria De Mistura has previously called for a meeting on February 7 or 8. Consultations regarding the date of this meeting are going on. It might be brought forward, as well. We also want this meeting to take place in coordination with the UN.
While we are talking about Syria, I also would like to share a few points regarding the general situation of the Operation Euphrates Shield. As you know, the goal of this operation, which has been launched with Turkey’s national means and resources, is, first and foremost, to clear our border region and the Azaz-Jarabulus line in Syria along with the area to the south of this line, of all terror elements. An intense fight against all terror organizations such as PYP and YPG, particularly DAESH, is being waged there.
As of now, an area of 1900 square kilometers has been completely cleared of DAESH terror organization and our adjacent border region has been secured. Our Armed Forces is waging a heroic fight there and we are suffering losses. However, we will continue to decisively fight these barbaric and bloodthirsty terror organization in every sphere. All our security units, including the military, police, gendarmerie and village guards, are altruistically fighting day and night in unity and solidarity against DAESH, the separatist terror organization and all other terror groups. Going down the field himself, our Chief of General Staff inspects our troops on-site, bolsters our soldiers’ motivation and commands the operation.
This last phase of the Operation Euphrates Shield we are currently carrying out around al-Bab, is a struggle we are conducting within the scope of anti-DAESH fight. Therefore I once again would like to underscore hereby that the international coalition should fulfill its responsibility, particularly on the issue of air support. It is of course unacceptable for those, who criticize Turkey regarding the anti-DAESH fight, not to provide the required support to the operations carried out first along the Azaz-Jarabulus line, then in Dabiq, and now in al-Bab. On this issue, our coordination with the international coalition continues. Our Armed Forces, taking the air conditions and the difficulties on the ground into consideration, will decidedly continue to conduct this operation with the support it provides to the Free Syrian Army.
Also within the scope of the fight against terror, the Mosul operation is currently underway. However, the operation seems to have slowed down a little because of the intense armament and mining of DAESH terror organization inside the city. We have already expressed in our talks with the Iraqi government officials our support for this operation. In this respect, an approximately 5-thousand-strong group, known as the Nineveh volunteers, whom we have trained at the Bashiqa camp and among whom are also the Peshmerga, are already actively participating in these operations. These issues were addressed in detail during a recent phone call between Mr. Prime Minister and his Iraqi counterpart, Mr. al-Abadi. Our further talks are going on at different levels.
It is of vital importance to abide by the principle we put forward at the beginning with regard to the Tal Afar issue. As expressed by Mr. President, ‘Tal Afar belongs to the people of Tal Afar.’ Letting other groups from outside enter Tal Afar will only sow the seeds of new conflicts and destructions. Both the Iraqi officials and other groups should exercise the utmost discretion and care on this issue. There are currently works underway to build up a group of Shia and Sunni Turkmens with the aim of first rescuing the city and then to administer it. We see a partial slowdown. We are in intense talks with both the Iraqi authorities and the coalition in order to speed it up.
And lastly, I would like to touch upon Sinjar. You know this is the third circle of the Mosul operation in a sense. We see efforts by the PKK to settle in there under the pretext of the Yazidis. As we have expressed before, never will we allow this. It is out of the question for us to allow Sinjar to become the second Qandil. I would like to note that we support IKRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani’s statements on the issue. PKK’s presence there poses a grave threat both to Turkey and to Iraq’s future. So will we continue our joint struggle against this.
Another issue is our fight against FETO (Fetullah Terrorist Organization). We are in an intense fight against FETO. We have made a certain level of progress with regard to the relevant investigation files and first trials have started. Our decisive fight against FETO as well as against its perception operations both in Turkey and abroad will continue in a spirit of national mobilization, just like our fight against the separatist terror organization and DAESH. Our intense efforts to curb the means and resources of FETO, which has increasingly turned into a global treason network, and to prevent it from giving harm both to Turkey and to the people of the region, will uninterruptedly continue.
In this respect, we once again stress that especially the western countries, NGOs, and politicians should be careful against FETO’s propaganda activities and perception operations. We warn them about this issue because we see some statements being made by Europe which serve FETO’s and the separatist terror organization’s propaganda purposes. If we are to fight terror, we can only do this in a consistent manner and in cooperation. I would like to underline this once again.