Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, speaking to journalists from Turkey during his trip to New York to attend the United Nations summit, criticized the significant support provided by the U.S. to the terrorist PKK's Syrian wing, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), calling on the American leadership to act in accordance with its principles against terrorist groups. Supporting all people and groups irrespective of their criminal affiliations merely because they fought the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) is misguided, said the prime minister, noting that the PKK is recognized as a terrorist group by the U.S., EU and the wider international community and that it was providing its affiliate, the PYD, with personnel, weapons and logistics.
"For Turkey, there is no difference between the PKK and the PYD." Davutoğlu said the PYD's animosity toward ISIS did not preclude its terrorist affiliations, asking, "If al-Qaida-affiliated al-Nusra, which is recognized as a terrorist group by both the U.S. and Turkey, was currently fighting against ISIS in Syria, would that legitimize the group in the eyes of the U.S. administration?" He also reiterated his conviction that Syrian leader Bashar Assad cannot have any say in the country's future.
The prime minister also talked about his meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and his view on the changing European stance on the growing refugee problem. He said the EU seemed to have ignored the Syrian crisis at first, deciding to help the neighboring countries that are hosting millions of Syrian refugees only when tens of thousands approached its borders.
One of the most important developments of this year's U.N. summit is the raising of the Palestinian flag in front of the U.N. headquarters, said Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, recalled the 2012 decision by the U.N. General Assembly to admit Palestine as an observer state. "At the time, there were two foreign ministers at the assembly. I told the assembly that the Palestinian state should be recognized. The Canadian foreign minister took the podium and said the opposite. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas always mentions that. 'Only you were there to support us,' he remarks. In my speech I said, 'God willing, one day we will all see the Palestinian flag rise in front of the U.N. and at that moment humanity will have paid their debt of burden to the Palestinians. 'Hopefully, we will see the flag rise on Wednesday."
Q: Did the issues of migrants, aid to Turkey and the number of refugees Germany is willing to accept come up during your meeting with Chancellor Angela Merkel?
DAVUTOĞLU: The refugee issue, along with how the Syrian crisis can be resolved and terrorism was discussed during the meeting. We decided to form a work group between Turkey and Germany on refugees. First it will involve the two countries, later on it may also include Greece. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras called me three or four days ago to seek a meeting on the refugee issue. In a previous telephone conversation with Merkel, we were contemplating forming a group with Turkey, the EU and U.S. But for now, we have agreed to go forward with Germany.
Our constant warnings about the humanitarian consequence of the Syrian crisis for the past several years were being ignored by the international community, which forced Turkey to carry the load. What is encouraging is that with the recent developments, it was recognized that this tragedy will spread out from Turkey. Now, everyone is focused on sharing the burden.
Now we need a three-step strategy.
1. How will new refugee movements be prevented? Today, many more world leaders are now agreeing with us to form a safe zone in Syria. Aerial attacks by the Assad regime and ISIS have exasperated the refugee issue. They both need to be prevented. Many Western leaders are suffering from the Srebrenica trauma. They fear not being able to protect the civilians in the safe zone. I ask them whether we should just leave them to die because of this fear.
2. How will we manage the refugees on their way to the West? Most of them believed they would stay for a short while in Turkey, before going back home. Once they realized that the war would not end anytime soon, they decided to travel to Europe to build new lives. Now, everyone realizes that this is not Turkey's problem. However, we are faced with such a huge influx that there is no single solution to the problem.
3. It is imperative to plan ahead for the eventual return of refugees to Syria.
Q: Are there any new developments concerning financial aid?
D: The EU offered 1 billion euro in aid. They are offering to extend funds from the pre-accession financial support funds. We don't want to accept. They are offering funds that are supposed to be used to develop candidate countries as if it is aid. If the area between Jarablus Azez was emptied, we can build three cities with a capacity of 100,000 each. We built similar ones after the 2011 Van earthquake. The EU can finance it.
Turkey succeeded in hosting 2 million refugees without a huge problem. Europe is just coming to realize what an achievement that is.
Q: Did Merkel seem sincere?
I found her sincere because of the recent increase in compassion toward refugees. There is a broad effort to resolve the issue. The U.N. Security Council is divided on the matter, but the U.N. Refugee Agency and its head António Guterres are working hard.
Q: Russia's Syria policy is plain to see. Is there a change in Turkey's stance?
Our position on Assad went through three stages. We did not rush to call for his ouster. In 2011, we worked hard to formulate a solution that would have included Assad. From February until September, we tried to persuade him to implement reforms. From September until July 2012, we suggested Assad and representatives of the opposition to jointly govern a transition process. However, once a huge refugee movement occurred after aerial and chemical attacks began, it became obvious that Syrians would not accept continued Assad leadership. Assad rules only 14 percent of the country. There are 7 to 8 million people internally displaced and another 5 million refugees outside the country. We can accept anything Syrians would agree to but most have no intention to accept Assad. His continued leadership deepens the crisis and allows ISIS to strengthen.
Russia's decision to support the Assad government with air crafts is worrying. We are in consultation with Russians on the matter. The Syrian crisis should be seen as an international problem that hurts all sides, not as a zero-rum game where countries choose their own sides.
A transition government supported by all sides followed by the formation of a democratic government is the only solution to resolve the refugee and terrorism issues.
Q: What does the U.S. want? Are they OK with Assad staying?
The interesting thing is that when we asked Assad to reform, the U.S. wanted his ouster. The last time I went to meet with Assad, we requested the U.S. to wait two weeks before they declared Assad illegitimate. They told us they could wait no more than a week. After the ISIS threat became real, we saw the opinion that Assas could be used against ISIS spreading. In 2011, Syria was a problem that could be resolved within a few months. In 2012, it had degraded into a problem that could be resolved in a year. Now, because they didn't support Turkey's suggestions at the time, several years may not be enough to address the matter.
Q: Does Turkey and the U.S. have different views regarding the PYD?
In 2013, PYD head Salih Muslim came to Turkey. We tried to persuade them to join the Syrian opposition. We asked them to severe their links to the Assad regime. The failure of the international community to punish Assad after he used chemical weapons made the PYD think that the regime was here to stay. Once the Gezi Park protests began in Turkey, the PYD thought the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) was about to go. At the end of the day, the PYD gets its military power from Qandil in northern Iraq, where the PKK is headquartered. There is a direct link between the PKK and PYD. They are trying to create a zone of control in northern Syria. Our decision on July 23 to launch an operation spoiled their game. We started attacking ISIS with the U.S.-led coalition while also launching operations against the PKK.
We expect the U.S. to abide by its principles. Does the fact that al-Qaida-affiliated al-Nusra is fighting ISIS legitimize the group? The same is true for the PYD. Our priority is to protect Turkey's interests. We will also make sure Kurds outside our borders are not victimized by the PKK.
Q: Where are we on the issue of the safe zone?
The safe zone issue is of critical importance. The only way to establish it is to strengthen the moderate forces within the Free Syrian Army (FSA). ISIS had increased its strength on our borders in the past. They are now pushed back. The real aim is to push them south of the Jarablus-Azez line. We don't want to see ISIS near our border, nor do we want any regime soldiers.
SYRIAN TURKMENS AND KURDS THE SAME FOR US
We have no problems with Syrian Kurds. They are, like Iraqi Kurds, a brother community that receives Turkey's generosity when it needs it. In this respect, they are no different from Syrian Turkmens. However, we cannot accept Syrian Kurds having links with the PKK: We will continue to cooperate with Masoud Barzani and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), which are legitimate as per the Iraqi constitution. We will help Arabs, Kurds and Turkmens who support us. However, groups linked to the Assad regime and the PKK-PYD are threats to Turkey. We don't want ISIS near our borders either.
Q: Can the PKK and PYD separate?
I don't see this possible for now. If the PKK withdraws from Turkey's territory and disarms, as it promised to do in May, 2013, our stance toward the PYD will change. However as of now, there is nothing to differentiate between the PKK and PYD in terms of personnel and arms.
Q: You said "the back of terrorism is broken." Can you expand on that?
Counterterrorism operations were launched on July 23 against the PKK, ISIS and Revolutionary People's Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C). In operations against the PKK, there were four aims. Camps in northern Iraq, terrorized communities in the cities, illegal cells built around cemeteries in cities and terrorists in rural areas. Our first target was the camps in northern Iraq, with logistical corridors specifically hit. This was the basis of the counterterror operations with the country, with operations launched against certain critical areas. The effectiveness of those cells that defined themselves as urban guerillas were minimized. Secondly, there are those centers they built outside cities called cemeteries, with a cemevi built next to it. In the so-called cemetery in Varto, we seized all kinds of weapons and freed many kidnapped children. All these will be eliminated one by one. In operations launched in rural areas, results were satisfactory. Objectives laid out during that briefing on July 23 were achieved.
KURDS IN EAST DON'T SUPPORT PKK
We have severed PKK links between Qandil, rural areas, so-called cemeteries and urban cells. It is no longer possible for the PKK the deliver a child kidnapped in Diyarbakır to Qandil for training. However, the most important development that shocked the PKK is the fact that the public did not support them. The terrorist group expected the public to mobilize in support. Just the opposite happened. The public openly supported the operation or kept silent, giving tacit support. They called on the public to flood the streets but were able to mobilize only a few hundred people.
My orders to the security forces are to ensure no harm comes to civilians, protect yourself and eliminate terrorists.
A few days ago in Diyarbakır, thousands passed by me during the bayram prayer. Dozens came to me and whispered to my ear their support for the operations. The public is sick and tired of PKK pressure. This is why the PKK's back has been broken.
Q: What does the AK Party campaign manifesto have apart from counterterrorism?
The aim is to ensure Turkey has a bright future. We formed an election strategy group. Our aim before the June 7 parliamentary elections was to ensure no elections would be necessary for four years. We were hoping to implement serious reforms until 2019. Elections affect everything.
Our election manifesto will focus on long-term reforms and short-term pledges. We have to reinstate the public's trust in the economy. We will announce our manifesto for the Nov. 1 elections on Oct. 4. It includes mega projects. In the health sector, we will focus on increasing the quality rather than quantity. R&D investments will increase. Depreciation of the TL is a boost for exports but may have a negative effect on per capita income.
This is what makes the AK Party different from the opposition. We think about Nov.2. What happened after June 7 elections showed that governments cannot be formed based on negative attitudes.
Q: What about pensioners?
D: We seriously help pensioners. We will continue to do so. We implemented serious policies to improve income equality. According to OECD figures, we are one of the two countries that improved income equality the most. Our current priority is to increase employment.
Q: There were claims that you and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan did not see eye to eye during the AK Party congress and the selection of the Central Executive Board (MYK) members.
All opposition parties look for signs of disagreement between me and the president, which is an indication of how weak they are. They should concentrate on themselves. The congress and the selection of MYK members and the party's election candidates proceeded normally. I will not allow divisions within the AK Party. With the inclusion of former deputies who had served in Parliament three time before, the current candidates' list is richer.
Q: Is there a change in the electorate's preferences for the Nov. 1 elections. What do your surveys say?
Surveys indicate that votes that went to other parties on June 7 are reverting back to the AK Party. There are several different polls, none of which see the AK Party as attracting anything below 43 percent. The issue is not the level of support but four parties entering Parliament. In the past, parties won many more seats with less support. The trend is positive for us. Every new poll shows an improvement.