Deputy Secretary General and Spokesperson of the Presidency Ambassador İbrahim Kalın held a press conference at the Presidential Complex.
Spokesperson Kalın stated:
Dear Friends, I greet all of you with respect. Welcome to our press conference. I want to make some statements on the current issues and then we can continue with your questions. First of all, I congratulate all the women of the world on the occasion of the International Women’s Day, which we marked yesterday. I offer my condolences to the 7 women citizens of ours who lost their lives in a traffic accident on their way from Bursa to Ankara. As you know, Mr. President also conveyed his condolences both via social media and at a television broadcast he attended last evening. In fact a big event was going to be held here but we had to postpone it because of this saddening incident.
Mr. President is going to pay a one-day visit to Russia tomorrow. The 6th Meeting of the Turkey-Russia High Level Cooperation Council (HLCC) will take place in Moscow. A series of agreements will be signed there. The delegations will address in depth all the issues during the meeting, including economy, energy, transport, tourism, visa, regional developments, etc.
The visit tomorrow will also see a series of talks concerning the normalization process going on since July of last year. We are planning to make progress on issues such as visa, transport, export and import of food products from Turkey, etc. We will also have an opportunity to discuss regional issues in detail. Mr. President and President Vladimir Putin of the Russian Federation will discuss in detail the Syria and Iraq issues as well as the fight against terror during their meeting tomorrow.
It is a favorable coincidence that the visit to Russia takes place in the immediate aftermath of the trilateral meeting between Turkish, US and Russian military chiefs earlier this week in Antalya. The issues that were on the agenda of the military chiefs in Antalya will be reevaluated in depth by the two Presidents tomorrow. I hereby would like to underline the crucial importance of the Antalya meeting. Our General Staff has already released a general statement regarding the agenda of the meeting. I would like to note, in reference to the statement released by the General Staff, that this meeting in Antalya was of special importance, having taken place at a time of critical developments in the region. That is because each of these three countries is engaged in anti-terror fight in the field of Syria and thus it is of critical importance to prevent any accident that might be caused by a lack of coordination, the examples of which we have seen in recent months. The details of a coordination mechanism, which had already been planned to be founded before, were reviewed during the meeting.
As regards Syria again, the political solution process is going on especially under the roof of the UN. As you know, a series of meetings have been held as part of the Astana process, which has been launched under the leadership of Turkey and Russia, and the ceasefire that was implemented as of December 30 is still holding on the ground despite certain violations by the regime. A trilateral mechanism has been established between Turkey, Russia and Iran to monitor the implementation of this ceasefire and prevent any violations of it. We are in close coordination with both Iran and Russia to ensure that this trilateral mechanism duly functions. In this regard, Mr. President brought up this issue again during his meeting with President Rouhani of Iran in the margin of the 13th ECO Summit in Islamabad.
And concerning the Geneva process, the fifth round of talks is due for March 23. The statement made yesterday by Mr. de Mistura is important in terms of the continuation of the process. I hereby would like to express once again that we see Astana and Geneva as two processes that complement each other.
As you know, the referendum we are going to hold on April 16 is high on our domestic agenda. Mr. President shared quite satisfactory information on the issue during a TV broadcast he attended yesterday, drawing up the framework. I would like to underscore once again that the April 16 referendum is of vital importance for Turkey to attain a more effective and faster system of government. A Presidential System of Government is being established with the constitutional amendment; hence the concentration of the state authority in one hand and fast decision-making.
As one of the most important features of this constitutional amendment, a mechanism is being established which makes sure that the judiciary is not only independent, but also impartial. What is more, the appointment of the members of the high court jointly by the President and the Parliament will ensure strong checks and balances within the context of the judiciary.
As you know, another item of the amendment is the increase of the number of MPs to 600. We see some arguments like ‘Is this increase aimed at creating new opportunities for 50 new MPs,’ which shouldn’t be taken seriously. But the essence of the issue is to ensure fair and equal representation. When you look at the population distribution of Turkey, you notice that while 14-15 thousand votes are enough to elect an MP in some provinces, 80-90 thousand votes don’t suffice to do so in others. The demographic distribution of Turkey requires such an arrangement, which will further strengthen the Parliament in terms of fair representation. In other words, this will lead our citizens across Anatolia, in every corner of Turkey, to enjoy a stronger representation.
Of course the most important feature of this system is that it will put an end to the period of coalitions in Turkey. As was expressed yesterday by Mr. President with examples, Turkey has lost a great deal because of coalitions. Over the past some 50 years, we have witnessed governments with an approximate lifespan of 16-17 months. This has changed thankfully after 2003. Coalition governments have always caused Turkey to go back economically, politically and socially. That is the general trend with coalition governments. However, with the concentration of executive power in one hand, the legislature and the executive will get clearly separated from each other. In strong democracies, the clear separation of powers between the legislature, executive and judiciary determines the democratic character of the system. In the new system, the legislative organ, i.e., the Parliament, will focus on the legislation, clearly manifesting the separation of powers, and the office of the President will focus on the executive as you already know.
Regarding the issue of checks and balances, we see some arguments that claim the existence of ‘arbitrariness or one-man rule.’ When you read the articles carefully -- by the way we are unfortunately witnessing that even some politicians are making comments without first reading the articles seriously -- you will see a very strong mechanism of checks and balances. The President has the power to issue presidential decrees but they cannot contradict with the laws legislated by the Parliament, that is the legislature, as clearly set out in the 18 articles. In such a case, the laws enacted by the Parliament are binding. What is more, the Presidency is not entitled to issue decrees on matters about which the Parliament enacts laws. The Presidency can issue decrees only on matters that concern the executive based on the needs. In fact, this is a power which is vested in the Prime Ministry in the current Prime Ministerial System of Government.
The issue of the abolition of the Parliament is also mentioned very often. It is said that ‘the President can abolish the Parliament whenever s/he wishes so.’ This is out of the question. In the new system, in the event that the Parliament is abolished, the President must also go to elections. In either case, the system requires going to the people for a solution if a deep conflict or crisis breaks out irrespective of whether it results from the Parliament or the Presidency. At the bottom of this system lies confidence in the nation. All the mechanisms of vote of confidence or interpellation are already applied in the new system by resorting to the nation.
From the budget issue to decrees, elections to the abolition of the parliament, in fact this system is giving one message to the Parliament and the President, i.e., the legislature and the executive: ‘Reach a consensus! If you fail to do so, go to the nation and it will make the decision.’ These items are very clear. Once this system is adopted, we will be able to implement a system which eliminates double-headed governance, coalition setbacks or any form of tutelage.
Mr. President will continue his works on this issue, coming together with our citizens in the provinces. He will hold meetings with the young and other segments of the society and talk about the issue in depth at various TV broadcasts.
Another important issue on our agenda is the attempts made, especially over the last week, by some European countries to block our ministers and politicians from meeting, as part of the April 16 referendum campaign, with our citizens in Europe. We are faced with thought-provoking scene. We see some countries in Europe take certain steps and actions in a bid to prevent our ministers and politicians from meeting with our citizens there. It seems that some countries, politicians, circles and media outlets in Europe are making strenuous efforts to make sure that ‘yes’ doesn’t come out of the referendum in Turkey. Our message to them is very clear: Your efforts are to no avail; it is the nation that will make the decision. By such restrictions, you can neither break our ties of affection with our almost 5 million citizens in Europe nor deprive them of using their democratic rights. As Mr. President said yesterday at the TV broadcast, we have no doubt whatsoever that our citizens will give the best answer to such practices by going to the polls, feeling the enthusiasm of the referendum process and using their democratic rights.
However, we should also note that we are highly concerned about the general course of events in Europe. We see that racist, rightist, anti-immigrant, Islamophobic segments, which should be categorically and unconditionally rejected and condemned under normal conditions, have started to deeply influence the mainstream politics in Europe. This situation presents an alarming scene regarding Europe’s future and basic values. This is a scene that undercuts Europe’s claims on democracy, human rights, pluralism and inclusiveness.
We also hear such statements by some Europeans as ‘Don’t bring the domestic political conflicts of Turkey into our countries.’ I have to note that this is a very though-provoking sentence in that those countries which welcome, sugarcoat and give support to many anti-Turkey organizations and to their activities are now saying, in reference to the referendum, ‘Don’t bring the domestic political conflicts of Turkey into our countries.’ In fact this stance of theirs is laying bare what is going on. If you have any such demand as ‘not to bring the political disputes or differences into our countries’ you should first stop the activities of these anti-Turkey organizations in your own countries.
If the European countries and the EU are really sincere in fighting against terror, they should unconditionally stand with Turkey and shouldn’t give permission for the activities of such terrorist organizations as PKK, FETO (Fetullah Terrorist Organization), DHKP-C, etc., which are designated as terrorist organizations by the European countries as well. However, that is not case. We see that they are giving support to and setting into motion any elements which they can employ as an instrument against Turkey under such covers as democratic freedom of expression, etc.
On the other hand, we have seen what sorts of restrictions and obstacles are being put before our citizens in Europe following the July 15 coup attempt whenever they attempt to hold rallies or meetings in support of democracy. We have witnessed that they blocked Mr. President from addressing via video conference a rally there with a very quick ruling of the Constitutional Court. However, we have seen many times that the leaders of the separatist terror organization attended meetings in the same country via videoconference from centers like Qandil, from where they launch attacks on Turkey, and gave messages of ‘We will maintain terrorism against Turkey.’ It is very thought-provoking that the authorities who don’t block these terrorist leaders are working to deprive Turkey’s elected ministers and politicians of their most fundamental rights.
As the last topic, Mr. President received Prime Minister and Minister of Defense Hani Mulki of Jordan the previous day at the Presidential Complex. Turkey-Jordan relations as well as the latest developments in the Arab world and the Gulf were discussed during the reception. There is one issue I particularly want to share with you which was addressed in depth during that visit. There is a bill which bans adhan from being called out via loudspeakers after 11 p.m. especially on Palestinian lands and in the vicinity of Jerusalem. As you know, this bill passed yesterday at the First Committee of Knesset. I would like to express that this is a very alarming development first of all. This is, above all else, a violation of the freedom of worship. The adhan has been being called out freely at Masjid-al-Aqsa and in Jerusalem for hundreds of years. Any attempt to ban adhan by using such excuses as ‘putting limitations on adhan’s being called out via loudspeakers between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m.’ deeply saddens Muslims across the world and we are hereby placing it on record that Muslims take a clear and open stand against such a decision.
As you know, Mr. President clearly and openly conveyed our concerns on the issue to his Israeli counterpart during their telephone conversation which they held as part of the normalization process. We hope that the Israelis grasp the sensitivity of the issue and realize that this issue doesn’t only concern the Palestinians, but the entire Islamic world directly.
What is more, this is against the agreements on the foundations because the foundations in the vicinity of Jerusalem and Masjid-al-Aqsa are managed jointly with the state of Jordan according to the relevant agreements. Therefore, this kind of interventions and restrictions contravene the agreements made with Jordan. We hope that they act sensibly and drop this practice, which will lead to nothing but tension and animosity, from their agenda in the shortest time.
Question: As you said in your statement, Mr. President made remarks on Germany and said its practices reminded of a Nazi era. Today, a reaction came from Germany. Merkel said ‘We have a deep disagreement with Turkey. Turkey is an important partner but these remarks are sad’. How do you comment? In an event he attended yesterday, Mr. President said work was underway regarding his visit to Germany? Is there a set calendar?
Spokesperson Kalın: Now, what is really sad is the current picture of Europe. What set this process off was the blocking of our ministers’ –Foreign Minister, Economy Minister- and other politicians’ visits to Germany. When you look at the statements on this matter, the excuses, there is a truly tragicomic picture here. What is really sad is blocking politicians on the other side of the campaign while opening doors, turning a blind eye to and providing all kinds of means to those, campaigning for ‘No’, including terrorist organizations like the PKK.
Surely Germany is an important country to us. We have nearly 4 million citizens there. It is one of our biggest trade partners and Mrs. Merkel is right, we have some deep disagreements on certain matters. For example; the fight against terror... For the last 15 years, at every meeting, we have brought up the fact that members of the PKK terrorist organization roam free, operate, recruit, collect funds in Germany and other countries in Europe. We have asked ‘How can you not take measures against them?’ and every time, our questions have gone unanswered. That is what is really sad.
In Germany’s own official reports, prepared by the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, they say themselves how the separatist terrorist organization has gotten organized in Germany in the last 10 years, how many members they have, how and how much money they collect and how they move the money. These are not our allegations. This is the picture they draw. They have not taken any measures in spite of this picture. That is what is really sad. What is really sad is that Germany, one of the crucial countries in Europe, has been resisting to and blocking our accession process to the EU. What is really sad is Germany's systematic antagonism against Erdogan and Turkey despite all our historical, cultural and economic relations.
Question: At the beginning of your statement, you said the meeting of military chief’s in Antalya went positively. Turkey conveyed its plan on Raqqa to its American counterparts. However, we know that Turkey’s redline for a possible Raqqa operation is ‘We are out if the YPG is in’. How did the American counterparts find Turkey’s Raqqa plan. We also know that the YPG maintains its presence in the region. How do you comment?”
Spokesperson Kalın: Since the very beginning, we have had a principle regarding the fight against DAESH terrorist organization in Syria. It was one of the points we could not agree on with the Obama administration. The principle is that terrorist organizations can only be fought against through the right actors. We actually have shown an example of this in the Operation Euphrates Shield. The operation, launched by Turkey with its own national means and capabilities, covering Jarabulus, Azaz, Dabıq and now Al Bab has put forward a concrete example, a model of how the fight should be conducted.
Trying to fight against DAESH through terrorist organizations such as the PYD/YPG, extensions of the PKK, would be like shooting yourself in the foot. Let me be clear; we see that there are several different views within the US administration. You can see that clearly in their statements. On one side, they say we should pay heed to Turkey’s sensitivities, but on the other side we see there is an ongoing effort to continue the operations through the PYD/YPG. The plan we have proposed is very clear. Our Chief of General Staff discussed it with his counterparts. Naturally, I cannot share the military, operational details here. However, detailed talks have been held on how this operation will be conducted if an agreement is reached. And they will be continued to be held.
At the moment, there is not a final decision on exactly how, with whom, with which groups the Raqqa operation will be carried out. The process of assessment and negotiation is still ongoing. However, as we have been promised before and as it was announced publicly, the YPG/PYD elements must leave Manbij and cross to the east of the Euphrates. If we are talking about Syria’s territorial integrity, if we want to avoid an ethnic conflict or clashes between different ethnic groups in Syria, what should be done is obvious. As I have said, Turkey has done it in Jarabulus and other areas and shown it as a good example. We hope the US administration will take the right steps while making assessments on this matter not only in the sense of paying heed to Turkey’s sensitivities but also to ensure the success of the fight against terror in Syria.
Let me underline something here; the separatist terrorist organization, in its statements, sometimes tries to conduct smear campaigns and say ‘Look, Turkey is taking a stand against the Kurds. It is trying to block the Kurds’ achievements’. I would like to underline that Turkey does not have a problem with the Kurds. Turkey’s fight is against terrorist organizations. Turkey’s fight is against organizations which claim to represent the Kurds but are nothing but terrorist organizations. That is the case for the PKK and the PYD.
We know how the PYD and the YPG were established in Syria. Occasionally some American officials make remarks- one was made yesterday- that ‘the PKK and the PYD are not the same. There is a difference between them’. They are aware that what they are saying is not true because, in their own official intelligence reports up until a year ago, even in the ones made public, they said the PYD and the YPG were the PKK’s extensions in Syria. Statements like ‘there is no connection between them, they are two different organizations’ despite all the evidence and obvious ties cannot be taken seriously. As I have said, they do not even believe in their own statements.
However, they cannot back down right now because they have invested so much in the PYD/YPG during the Obama administration. That is the essence of the matter. We have presented an alternative. The alternative method of fight is obvious.
The Iraq leg is crucial in the fight against terror. An important fight is going on in Iraq to clear Mosul of DAESH. As you know, we have been supporting this fight through the Bashiqa Camp and other means. It is a significant and elating development that the building, which had been previously used as Turkish Consulate in Mosul, was taken back from DAESH. We congratulate the Iraqi government and voice our support to them in this fight.
Question: I have two questions. First, is there a possibility that, after Mr. President’s visit to Russia, the Operation Euphrates Shield will turn toward Manbij? And also, you said the final decision has not been made on the Raqqa operation. However, we are hearing reports that the US has deployed 300 marines to the area. Have you received any information on that?
Spokesperson Kalın: They have made a reinforcement in Kuwait, and also a reinforcement of nearly a thousand men to there. These are steps taken in general to fight against DAESH in Syria and Iraq. As we have said before, we act in conjunction with allied countries in the fight against DAESH, and will continue to do so. As a country, fighting on the frontlines against DAESH, we have cleared an area of some 200 km2. And we are ready to cooperate with all actors, our allies to clear other areas of DAESH. However, we should do so with the right actors and groups. We will never allow a fait accompli there that will lead to the PYD/YPG’s cantons or a state-like formation of the PKK. If a formation emerges in Manbij and its environs that poses a threat to our national security, Turkey has the right to take all kinds of measures.