Deputy Secretary General and Spokesperson of the Presidency Ambassador İbrahim Kalın held a press conference at the Presidential Complex.
Spokesperson Kalın stated:
I am here to share some topics on our agenda. First of all, I would like to express our condolences for martyr Ömer Halisdemir’s mother, who passed away last night. As you know, Mr. President called the family last night and offered his condolences. Our Governor and other units are taking care of the funeral and other procedures. I wish Allah’s mercy upon both Ömer Halisdemir and his mother, who passed away yesterday. I offer my condolences to the family and our nation.
As you know the process regarding the referendum on April 16 continues apace. Relevant efforts, city visits, opening ceremonies, rallies, hall meetings have been continuing intensely so far both in Turkey and abroad. In accordance with what a civilized, democratic debate calls for, both sides, both yea-sayers and naysayers are running comprehensive campaigns. This is an elating picture for Turkish democracy. Both sides freely voice their views, arguments and theses.
As you know, Mr. President has a very busy schedule. He continues to meet with citizens during his visits to provinces and attends opening ceremonies. Last Tuesday, he paid visits to both ‘yes’ and ‘no’ campaign booths before flying to Samsun for a visit. He met and talked with citizens at both booths. This was indeed a very nice democratic gesture. Maybe our citizens at the ‘no’ campaign booth did not expect such a visit, but this visit presented a nice opportunity to exchange views. It also showed campaigns can be run –whether you are on the side of ‘yes’ or ‘no’- in line with the principles deliberative democracy requires. By doing so, Mr. President exhibited a very nice democratic example. Mr. President’s programs will be continued within the framework of the campaign.
As you know voting has started abroad. Our citizens living abroad can vote between the dates of March 27th and April 9th. Our citizens can vote at the moment in 7 countries. 3182 ballot boxes have been set up at 120 missions in 57 countries and for 14 days, our citizens will be able vote there. 2,972,629 citizens in total have the right to vote abroad. Intensive efforts are being exerted through our diplomatic missions and embassies in order to make sure that our electors can exercise their democratic rights freely. With this referendum, our citizens living abroad are exercising their right to vote for the fourth time following a recently adopted-arrangement.
Since all foreign countries are accepted as a single constituency, which is different from previous elections, our citizens can vote at any mission of their choice. This is also a significant arrangement for our citizens to exercise their most basic democratic rights freely.
As you know, the practice of voting abroad was brought into effect for the first time in the Presidential elections in 2014. When we look at the trend, we see a significant rise in participation. For example, the turnout was around 19 percent in the 2014 Presidential elections. Then, it rose to 36 percent during the 25th term general elections and to 45 percent in the 26th term general elections. In the last 4-5 days since the voting started, we see that there is a very significant interest in the polls. Our citizens go to the voting centers to vote and we expect a greater rise in the turnout. Given the incidents, experienced in recent weeks in countries like Germany and the Netherlands, I would like to underscore that our citizens’ interest in the polls has a distinctive significance. We witnessed the incidents together. We saw together what kind of obstacles our ministers, political representatives and members of parliament were faced with there. Our citizens will give the best answer at the polls to the efforts, which were against diplomatic practices and rules, to hinder those campaigning in favor of ‘yes’. Europeans sometimes voice criticism and say ‘Do not carry Turkey’s domestic issues to European countries’. However, they –let’s say this openly- have become a party to an issue in Turkey by supporting the ‘no’ campaign.
Therefore, it was not Turkey, the referendum or politicians in Turkey who carried the issue to European agenda. It was the choices of European politicians and certain circles. However, the people will make the final decision in the referendum, not the European media or politicians. Therefore, we expect them to respect that. We have made the necessary arrangements through our diplomatic missions in order to make sure that voting takes place without any hindrance, any irregular or illegal treatment.
Regarding economy, the Turkish Statistical Institute announced an important data today and said Turkey’s growth rate in 2016 was 2.9 percent. It was expected to be 2.2 percent. Therefore, the growth rate surpassed expectations. Especially, the growth rate of the final quarter, which was nearly 3.5 percent, is very pleasing since it shows the rising trend. Given the growth rates of world’s great economies such as the US, Europe, Eurozone, which were below 2 percent, our growth rate of 2.9 percent is very pleasing. Our national income has increased by over 10 percent and reached TL 2,590 billion. According to the Turkish Statistical Institute’s data, our income per capita is $10,807.
When we take into consideration what we went through in 2016, these figures are remarkable in terms of showing Turkish economy’s structural strength. Because, we repelled a bloody coup attempt in 2016. We still continue our fight against terrorist organizations such as the PKK, DAESH and the FETO. Turkey has also formed a serious safe zone by conducting the Operation Euphrates Shield. We also inaugurated the third bridge over Bosphorus, the Eurasia Tunnel. We also completed the bidding process for the 18 March Çanakkale Bridge and its groundbreaking ceremony was held.
Given all that, we see that Turkey displays a strong will to realize great projects and acts with a financial discipline. Therefore, it is beneficial to mention these figures which show Turkish economy’s power despite domestic and foreign plots and financial operations. It also shows how important stability is for economic growth. Therefore, it would be helpful to evaluate the emphasis on political stability with economy as the April 16 referendum nears.
Another critical issue long on our agenda is the fight against terror. Major progress has been made within the framework of the comprehensive terror operations recently conducted both by the police and the Turkish Armed Forces. I would like to once again express that all our security units, including police, military, gendarmerie and village guards, are working selflessly for the defense of the homeland. We hereby thank each and every one of them. We see that our citizens are able to have a major sigh of relief thanks to the operations conducted especially in the last period in Eastern and Southeastern Anatolia regions, the regions where the separatist terrorist organization is active. Without doubt, you are also closely following this issue as journalists. I would like to underline that this is a fight against a terrorist organization. Let me remind an issue which Mr. President has underscored throughout his entire political career: We are making a very clear and absolute distinction between the separatist terrorist organization and our Kurdish citizens. Those, whom we are fighting against, are the members of a terrorist organization and can never represent our Kurdish citizens or brothers and sisters.
The operations we are conducting in Turkey, Syria and Iraq are within the scope of the fight against terror and never target the Kurds of Turkey or those of Syria or Iraq. No matter what its race, religion or language is, it is terror in the last analysis and it must be fought against. I would like to note that Mr. President will give messages in this regard during his speech in Diyarbakır tomorrow.
The fight against FETO is another issue high on our agenda. Our fight against FETO, which emerged as a gang of treason and invasion and attempted a coup on July 15, is continuing intensely. We all know what sorts of plots and smear campaigns FETO members have been conducting abroad despite the fact that their coup attempt was repelled on July 15 and their structure has been brought down inside Turkey. FETO, a network of treason and invasion, whose all resources and means inside Turkey have already run out, is now working to launch a series of anti-Turkey campaigns by mobilizing all the resources and means it has abroad. Let me stress that we will maintain our fight against this network of treason on every platform across the world.
Another important issue is the completion of the Operation Euphrates Shield, an issue which was also mentioned in the press statement released following the National Security Council meeting the previous day. As you know, this was an operation we launched on August 24 last year with Turkey’s own means and capabilities with an aim to establish a terror-free safe zone on Turkey’s Syria border. I can gladly state that the Operation Euphrates Shield has achieved success as of March 29, 2017.
What has happened over this span of time? Turkey has cleared the elements of DAESH and other terrorist organizations from an area of 2,100 square kilometers extending from Jarablus to al-Bab. The myth of ‘the YPG-PYD is the only effective power in the fight against DAESH’ has collapsed with the success of this operation. The native citizens and residents of these regions, i.e., Jarablus, Azaz, al-Rai and al-Bab, have started to return. And a process of intense rebuilding is currently underway in these regions in the aftermath of the security operations.
Of course, the conclusion of the Operation Euphrates Shield shouldn’t lead anyone to infer that Turkey will from now on remain indifferent to the security risks here or that it won’t engage with this region any longer. On the contrary, our security measures in the region continue at the highest level. Turkey will maintain its active fight against terrorist organizations both in the border region and in other regions within the framework of the Article 51 of the United Nations Charter as well as in line with its own national security priorities.
Before proceeding to your questions, I want to stress one more issue, which I think it is important to place on record. Although we have conveyed our concerns to Israel via diplomatic channels as I have previously said on various occasions, the ban on announcing adhan via loudspeakers still remains in place unfortunately. According to information we have, the ongoing negotiations at the commission have reached the second stage.
We have expressed our concerns on the issue via diplomatic channels. However, I hereby would like to place it on record once again. Implementing such a regulation will mean banning adhan in the holy land, which cannot be justified by any means. This is an unacceptable situation for the Palestinians, Muslims and other Arabs living on Israeli lands, too. We hope that Israel corrects this mistake immediately. This ban has nothing to do with disturbing peace or silence at night. The adhan doesn’t disturb anyone in any place of the world. And those who have submitted this bill shouldn’t get disturbed by it because adhan is a call for peace. We hope that they return from this mistake immediately.
And of course another important issue is the approval of new settlements in West Bank near Nablus. We see this approval as a blow dealt to the two-state solution process. It will contribute to neither the solution of the Palestine-Israel dispute nor the regional peace and stability. We call on Israel to put an immediate end to such practices.
Question: As you have noted, the written statement released following the National Security Council announced that the Operation Euphrates Shield ended. What we wonder is what kind of a planning is envisaged in the operation zone now. Will the units of the Turkish Armed Forces will withdraw? Or will there be a military camp or deployment like Bashiqa base in Iraq?
Spokesperson Kalın: The goal of the Operation Euphrates Shield was to solve the terror problem in the region on the basis of Syria’s territorial integrity. We launched the operation last year to achieve this goal. The goal remains unchanged. This security issue still bears the same importance both for us and the Syrians. Therefore, the next steps are of course planned, whether it be a new military operation or any other similar steps. Yet, it wouldn’t be right for me to divulge here any military details. The Turkish Armed Forces already makes necessary statements on this topic. As I have noted, the struggle on the ground is still underway in terms of both the reconstruction and the security measures. Our ultimate goal here is to save both our citizens living in the border region and the Syrians from the scourge of terror in line with Syria’s territorial integrity. This operation has been concluded successfully with respect to the fight against DAESH. However, Turkey will always be ready and poised to take necessary steps from now on as well so long as security risks continue to be present. Necessary statements are made by the relevant authorities when the military operational details of the issue become clear.
Question: IKRG President Barzani has announced that he will put the independence on referendum. IKRG Spokesperson Safeen Dizayee said ‘We will speak these issues with our neighbors.’ If the referendum results in an independence decision, what will Turkey’s response?
Spokesperson Kalın: We addressed this issue of independence referendum with Kurdish Regional Government officials previously on various occasions. We don’t find it right to bring up an issue like this at a time when Iraq is currently going through a fragile process and the risks are at the highest level within the context of both the war on DAESH and our fight against PKK. What is more, any step like the division or breakup of Iraq along ethnic or sectarian lines doesn’t remain limited only to Iraq, spreading to other regions as well and then everyone pays the price for this. We hope that they evaluate the issue in a more cool-headed, rational and constructive manner taking into account sensitivities of the entire region. And our Foreign Ministry also made a statement on the issue. As you know, a flag hoisting issue occurred in Kirkuk with the decision of the Provincial Assembly. We consider it wrong and conveyed this to the relevant authorities. Such a step sparks new tensions not only in the vicinity of Kirkuk, but also in other regions across Iraq on ethnic or other grounds. Our expectation is that the authorities there put an immediate end to this practice.
Question: U.S. State Secretary Tillerson, in response to a question about Assad’s future, said, ‘Syrian people will decide on this.’ Likewise, U.S. representative to the United Nations stated, ‘Assad leaving office is not a priority for us.’ Where does Turkey stand on this issue? And my second question: Is Turkey planning any sanctions on the Netherlands with regard to the incidents that took place there?
Spokesperson Kalın: During his visit to Turkey, U.S. State Secretary Tillerson was received by both Mr. Prime Minister and Mr. President. Thereafter, he and our Foreign Minister Mr. Çavuşoğlu came together and chaired a meeting between delegations. During this meeting, we had the opportunity to address in depth both the Turkey-U.S. relations and other issues, particularly the fight against DAESH in Syria and Iraq.
We also discussed FETO leader’s extradition to Turkey and FETO members’ illegal activities in the U.S. targeting Turkey. Whenever we raise the FETO issue, our American counterparts tell us that this is a legal process citing the judicial independence. And in response, we stress that we don’t have any objections whatsoever to the independence of the judiciary, but remind them that we have supplied them with lots of documents and thus they should do what is necessary.
I hope the U.S. State Minister has fully understood our sensitivities and concerns about this issue. We expect him to convey this message. With respect to FETO leader’s extradition and FETO’s other activities, there are certain things the U.S. leadership can do within their administrative discretion. That is to say, there are steps they can take before the judiciary reaches a decision. As such, we know that FBI is conducting an investigation into FETO’s charter schools in the U.S. We are following this from the media. Yet, we don’t find this sufficient. They should also take steps regarding FETO members’ other criminal activities against Turkey. We expect them to take these steps as soon as possible.
As regards the Syria issue, we have been expressing since the beginning that this war can be ended through a political solution. However, the situation on the ground has changed so much and so different actors got involved in the process on the ground that hundreds of thousands of people have been massacred by a murderous state before the eyes of the entire humanity. A political solution cannot be achieved so long as this reality is ignored. Second, we have stated many times that DAESH and Assad are the two monsters of this war feeding each other. The tragedy and massacre we have been witnessing in Syria every day prove the rightfulness of our thesis.
And there are also the ongoing processes in Geneva and Astana. We are involved in and support both of the processes. As part of the Astana process, we were one of the monitors and guarantors of the ceasefire. We are conducting a very intense diplomacy on this issue with the U.S., European states, Gulf states, the Russian Federation and Iran. Of course what sort of a Syria will emerge at the end of the political solution process is a decision to be made by the Syrian people. But it is not realistic to expect a political solution so long as such a person, who has committed war crimes, used chemical weapons, and led to the bloodshed of so many people, remains in office. Let me underline the fact that bringing the anti-DAESH fight into the forefront but ignoring the regime problem means the continuation of the bloodshed in Syria for a much longer time. I would like to add that we will take part in all the constructive and inclusive initiatives and efforts aimed at stopping this tragedy.
As regards the incidents in the Netherlands, we all have followed these incidents and the treatment displayed against our ministers, especially our Minister of Family and Social Policies, and against our diplomats in violation of diplomatic rules, treaties and conventions. We know expect the Dutch authorities to assume responsibility and take constructive steps. We don’t expect them to exhibit an attitude which would harm our 400-year-old relations and would destroy the multi-dimensional aspects of this relationship. They were also going to have elections, which are now over. However, we have seen how much power the far-right and racist-populist movements have gained even there unfortunately. We have also seen that such populist attempts to gain favor through animosity against Turkey don’t pay off much in the Dutch or European politics. Anyway, we hope that the authorities that will now form the government in the Netherlands draw necessary lessons from these incidents and take constructive steps. Once they take such steps, Turkey also takes constructive steps.
Question: Can we expect a concrete step for an end to our allies’ cooperation with the groups which Turkey designates as a terrorist organization? And likewise, will there be any concrete step for Fetullah Gülen’s extradition to Turkey in the short term?
Spokesperson Kalın: We know that the new U.S. administration has been holding negotiations on the issue for a long time. They had already stated some views before they took office in January. This continued afterward. We have offered them a very clear plan. We can easily carry out the Raqqa operation and other terror operations against DAESH with the support of the Free Syrian Army and other forces under the umbrella of the coalition. They still couldn’t put forward a credible argument against our offer. Sometimes the numbers are questioned as to whether they would be enough to carry out the fight. However, as I have already expressed, Turkey has proved with the Operation Euphrates Shield that the plan we offered is feasible. This should be heeded.
Any plan other than the one we offered, in other words any operation to be conducted in cooperation with various groups, which come together under such titles as the YPG, PYD or SDF, is bound to cause very serious problems in the medium and long run in terms of Syria’s territorial integrity, ethnic balance, social harmony and of course its relations with Turkey. We therefore warned many times that they should take these aspects into consideration while planning their acts. The U.S. State Secretary took note of these and I suppose he will share these evaluations with the relevant authorities in his country. We expect the implementation of an action plan which pays regard to these sensitivities of Turkey.
Currently we have two basic disagreements in Turkey-U.S. relations. One is the FETO and the other is the support provided to the PYD-YPG. Turkey-U.S. relationship, which is based on the concept of a strategic and model partnership, is of high importance in every aspect from energy to economy and from regional peace to bilateral relations. However, these two problems should be eliminated in order to further advance these relations. I think we own the necessary means and capabilities to achieve this.
Question: How do you evaluate the statement the U.S. Consulate General made regarding its call to a phone belonging to Adil Öksüz?
Spokesperson Kalın: The Akıncı Base indictment amounts to six thousand pages and this shows in what a comprehensive manner our prosecutors address the issue. This will shed light on many details regarding what occurred on the night of July15. Mr. President, Mr. Prime Minister and Mr. Speaker are also involved in the trial as plaintiff. We will continue to follow the issue closely. The U.S. Consulate General Istanbul telephoning Adil Öksüz, suspect number two in the Akıncı Base indictment, has given rise to many question marks. Does the Consulate General telephone anyone whose visa has been cancelled? Considering that this person in question is a wanted person, how can they explain such a call just six days after the coup attempt? We don’t find the statement made by the U.S. Consulate General very satisfactory. We are of the opinion that they should divulge more details. I am saying this especially in that context: Since the FETO is acting so freely in the U.S. and no step has been taken yet regarding its leader, a perception in the public opinion has emerged that ‘the U.S. is providing shelter, lending support or turning a blind eye to this organization or its members one way or another.’ We should thus evaluate this phone call within this picture. We hope that they make a more satisfactory statement on this issue.