Turkey continues to do whatever is necessary in northwestern Syria's opposition-held Idlib region and is responding with heavy weaponry, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Thursday.
Speaking to members of the Turkish press on his return to Turkey following his four-day three-nation diplomatic tour of Africa, Erdoğan said that Turkey will stand by and let things take their course in Idlib.
The Bashar Assad regime backed by Russia has recently intensified its attacks on Idlib in violation of a truce agreed upon last year by Moscow and Ankara.
The situation in Idlib was most recently discussed between Turkey and Russia during a visit by Erdoğan to the Russian Black Sea resort Sochi where he met with President Vladimir Putin. It was the two leaders' first face-to-face talks in 18 months.
Writing on Twitter, Erdoğan called the talks "productive."
Russia is the main ally of the Syrian regime, while Turkey supports groups that have fought to unseat Bashar Assad. However, Russian and Turkish troops have cooperated in Idlib, the final holdout of opposition forces, and in seeking a political solution in the war-torn country.
Russia joined Syria’s now 10-year conflict in September 2015, when the regime military appeared close to collapse. Moscow has since helped in tipping the balance of power in favor of Assad, whose forces now control much of the country. Hundreds of Russian troops are deployed across Syria, and the country also has a military air base along Syria’s Mediterranean coast.
During the past few years, Russian warplanes targeted the areas under the control of the Syrian opposition, initially launching attacks from Hemeimeem Air Base in the west of the country.
Human rights organizations have published several reports accusing Russia of the death of tens of thousands of civilians in Syria since its intervention in 2015, while the international community has taken some actions against the Russia-backed Assad regime’s war crimes.
The Idlib region is home to nearly 3 million people, two-thirds of them displaced from other parts of the country.
The Idlib de-escalation zone was forged under an agreement between Turkey and Russia. The area has been the subject of multiple cease-fire agreements, which have been frequently violated by the Assad regime and its allies.
The acquisition of schools by Turkey's Maarif Foundation in Africa proves that the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) is slowly collapsing on the continent, the president also said.
"At the moment, Africa sees very well that they say that your coming here is now pending the relations of the West with Africa. The African is satisfied," he added.
The presidents of Turkey, Togo, Liberia and Burkina Faso has pledged to fight terrorism, underlining that no distinctions will be made amongst terrorist groups like Daesh, al-Qaida, the FETÖ and Boko Haram in the fight.
As part of his African tour, Erdoğan met with Togolese President Faure Gnassingbe, Burkina Faso President Roch Marc Christian Kabore and Liberian President George Weah in the Togolese capital Lome on Tuesday.
According to the statement, the four presidents exchanged views on issues of common interest related to challenges arising from the fields of security, health, climate and development as well as cooperation between Turkey and African countries.
The leaders called on the international community to show greater solidarity, commitment and support so African countries can intensify their efforts in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic while avoiding the risk of the emergence of new variants. Developed countries were invited to fulfill their promises, particularly when it came to vaccine access.
Addressing the security issue, the four presidents underlined that terrorism poses the greatest threat to peace and stability in Africa and the world.
They reaffirmed their determination to fight terrorism, without differentiating how terrorist organizations are treated whether it be Daesh, al-Qaida or Boko Haram. In this context, FETÖ was listed as a terrorist organization in an international declaration.
The leaders strongly condemned the terrorist attacks in Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, Nigeria and Chad and expressed their solidarity with the countries and their peoples.
Erdoğan also slammed ambassadors of 10 countries, including the United States, Germany and France, over their call for jailed philanthropist and businessperson Osman Kavala's release, saying Turkey should not be hosting them.
"I told our foreign minister that we cannot have the luxury of hosting them in our country," Erdoğan told reporters.
"Is it within your boundary to teach such a lesson to Turkey? Who are you?"
He rejected any suggestion that the Turkish judiciary was not independent. "Our judiciary is one of the nicest examples of independence,"
In their statement, the United States, Germany, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway and Sweden called for a "just and speedy resolution to (Kavala)'s case".
Turkey's Foreign Ministry summoned Tuesday the ambassadors of 10 countries over their joint statement calling for the release of Kavala, accusing the countries of meddling in the Turkish judiciary.
Last month, the 47-member Council of Europe – of which Turkey is a member – said it would start infringement proceedings against Turkey, unless Kavala is released before its next committee of ministers meeting in November. The infringement proceedings could result in punitive measures against Turkey, including its possible suspension from the organization that promotes democracy and human rights.
The ECtHR called for Kavala's release in December 2019, claiming that the detention was aimed to silence him. The United States also previously called for his release in February.
Kavala and eight others accused of organizing the Gezi Park protests in 2013 were acquitted of all charges in February 2020 but an appeals court overturned that ruling in January. A court recently ruled that he will remain in prison until a hearing scheduled for Nov. 26 takes place to determine whether he will be released or not.
Kavala is also accused of involvement in the failed 2016 coup attempt. Those charges were combined with the Gezi case in February.
Ankara previously reprimanded Washington for once again attempting to intervene in its domestic politics and also called for the U.S. to respect the independence of Turkey's judiciary.
Kavala was first arrested on criminal charges related to the 2013 Gezi events, a small number of demonstrations in Istanbul that later transformed into nationwide protests that left eight protesters and a police officer dead. The businessperson was later remanded in custody by an Istanbul court as part of a probe into the 2016 defeated coup attempt, with prosecutors accusing him of spying.
The indictment against Kavala and the 15 other defendants accuses the suspects of financing and coordinating the actions and protests in 2013 and claims that they had been involved and directed aspects of an uprising since 2011.
Kavala has maintained his claim that he participated in peaceful activities to defend the environment and the park, which is near his office, and rejected the accusation that he organized and financed the protests.
Hundreds of thousands of people marched in Istanbul in June 2013 in what began as a peaceful protest against a plan to build a replica of an Ottoman barracks on Gezi Park, which is located near Taksim Square in the city's central Beyoğlu district.
Following the police response to control the protests, the movement grew with demonstrations and riots taking place across the country against the government of then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.