Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ said on Saturday that the U.S. cannot justify PKK ringleader Abdullah Öcalan's posters being hung up in Raqqa by the People's Protection Units (YPG), describing the incident as a tragic mistake that damaged U.S.-Turkey relations even further.
Speaking to Daily Sabah, the deputy prime minister and government spokesman reminded everyone of the U.S.'s previous statements, which alleged that they were not cooperating with terrorists. Bozdağ stressed that the latest incident contradicted everything that the U.S. has been claiming.
Regarding the ongoing visa crisis between the two countries Bozdağ said the last week's meetings were very constructive, while he adding that this process should not be prolonged as it is harmful for the citizens of both countries.
The minister also commented on the issue of the resignation of some AK Party mayors. He said the AK Party has change at its core and public demand should not be neglected. Underlining that the AK Party is a cause, Bozdağ said its advocates are expected to act in accordance with the public's will and not allow any harm to them.
To resolve the visa crisis, a U.S. delegation has visited Turkey's Foreign Ministry. While Turkey is on a more positive note, the spokesperson of the U.S. Department of State said relations with Turkey are tense, but they hope to mend it. What is your take on this issue?
It is true that there are certain issues in the relations between Turkey and the U.S., as the two countries' positions regarding certain events in Syria do not completely overlap. For instance, both Turkey and the U.S. are members of the coalition against Daesh, however, Turkey is against both the periodic or tactical employment of the YPG and the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the Syrian offspring of the PKK terrorist organization. The U.S. is continuing to make this mistake. This is a point of divergence; Turkey desires the implementation of a political resolution in the region and states that it will not allow the formation of a terrorist corridor. U.S. officials are ensuring that this is not the case. Yet, Turkey has the right to be concerned. Intelligence reports suggest that the YPG was provided with 3,500 truckloads of armament.
The Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) is also another issue between Turkey and the U.S. FETÖ is an organization that has attempted a coup, killing 250, while wounding thousands; thus, it has inflicted great harm to Turkey. Fetullah Gülen is to Turkey what Osama Bin Laden is for the U.S., however, this person still resides in the U.S. and continues to terrorize Turkey. Our demands were not met; moreover, the U.S. Department of Justice has not transferred the documents we sent to the officials of the judiciary, always making some excuses. On the other hand, the U.S. judiciary system surrendered to FETÖ through the Reza Zarrab case; FETÖ is trying to realize what it couldn't during the Dec. 17-25 operations.
In this respect, do you believe the Reza Zarrab case is FETÖ's doing?
It's definite. I believe FETÖ provided forged documents to U.S. officials, even though they claim it was approved by an FBI agent at the consulate. Richard Berman, the judge of the Reza Zarrab case, attended a conference organized by FETÖ on Dec. 17-25 and made statements defending FETÖ's discourse along with speaking to their media outlets.
Meanwhile, the vice president of Turkey's Halkbank was not arrested despite visiting the U.S. many times, however, he is now as a part of the case. On the other hand, just before President [Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan's visit to the U.S., a warrant was issued for a minister of Turkey. Similarly, while they were tasked with protecting President Erdoğan, U.S. officials failed to provide adequate security during Erdoğan's visit in May, allowing supporters of a terrorist organization to get close to him. When Erdoğan's bodyguards took the necessary precautions, a brawl ensued. Then, those who failed to provide security open an investigation on Turkish bodyguards and include four people who were not even there in the case.
Considering all of this along with all FETÖ escapees being welcomed to the U.S., relations between the two countries have been affected negatively. For this reason, as the U.S. State Department spokesperson expressed, it complicates relations. Nevertheless, Turkey and the U.S. continue to cooperate in certain matters, despite the issues in relations. We're trying to improve our cooperation while trying to resolve existing issues.
Returning to the visa crisis, U.S. officials are expressing that they want to see concrete evidence for the arrest of the consulate employee. What is your response?
All those who are accused have the right to attorney in our judicial system. The statement of the accused is taken by the police while an attorney is present. If the accused is arrested, a judge of the Criminal Court of Peace takes their statement again in the presence of the attorney. Therefore, an attorney is present in all of the processes and knows what the accused is accused of along with the evidence. Could the attorney share this information with U.S. officials? Yes, they can; families of the accused are also informed about this process. Moreover, by demanding a meeting with the accused through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Justice, embassy or consulate officials can see the accused. It isn't legally barred. Nevertheless, the attorney met with the arrested consulate employee and made some statements afterward. I believe Washington was misinformed about this issue.
Does the U.S. demand the two consulate personnel be released?
As you know, it was claimed that this issue was caused by Turkey's alleged reluctance in keeping its promise in terms of security. However, we all know that this legal procedure is about Turkish citizens without diplomatic immunity who work at the U.S. consulate. Turkish officials and institutions don't need the approval of others to carry out certain processes on Turkish citizens; this is the requirement of being a sovereign state. Moreover, it is ensured by international law. These persons in question are our citizens; they don't have diplomatic immunity. They are going through the same processes an ordinary Turkish citizen goes through.
So, the U.S. can't demand anything regarding these personnel?
Turkey is a state of law. Turkey is doing what the U.S. would do if one of its citizens was accused of being affiliated with a terrorist organization. The U.S. is stating that its judiciary system is independent and that it's a state of law. We say the same. We have the right to protect the rights of Turkish citizens worldwide along with legally trying our citizens per the international law. In this sense, Turkey's position is strong. The executive cannot interfere with this process; this is all about the judiciary.
Is it possible to resolve the visa crisis in the short term?
Our Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials have expressed that last week's meetings were very constructive. I've been told it was quite positive. Both parties parted from the discussions to convey their findings to their respective governments. We'll see what is to happen. I believe this process shouldn't be prolonged as it's harmful for the citizens of both countries. I hope it will be resolved in a rather short time.
How do you evaluate PKK/PYD militants hanging up posters of PKK leader Öcalan around Raqqa?
It's an absolute disaster. We have always expressed this to our ally, the U.S.; this event indicates the tragic results of cooperating with a terrorist organization to eradicate another. We're wondering what more it would take for the U.S. to understand that the PYD and YPG are terrorist organizations. The exhibition of the PKK leader's posters damages relations between Turkey and the U.S. Therefore, the U.S. is risking Turkey and Syria's futures along with being in cooperation with terrorist organizations.
Moreover, this poster-hanging incident contradicts everything claimed by the U.S. They have disclaimed the statements of the U.S. which alleged that they weren't cooperating with terrorists, but rather with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). This event clearly shows that SDF is of the same essence with the PKK, PYD and YPG. It's a confession. It's a tragic mistake that damages relations between Turkey and the U.S. In the face of this event, I hope the U.S. will revise its policy and won't make the same mistake again.
Regarding domestic policies, the state of emergency was extended once again. How many more times will it be extended?
The state of emergency was declared out of necessity; it was not an arbitrary decision. When we came to power in November 2002, there was an ongoing state of emergency, however, we chose not to extend it and it expired within the first 10 days of our government. Until the July 15 coup attempt, we never declared a state of emergency; yet, this heinous attempt along with our country being threatened by a dangerous terrorist organization revealed that our country's security and survival was at stake.
We were able to thwart this terrorist organization attempt through the will of our people. Despite this victory, a state of emergency was required to eradicate the terrorist organization. It was expected to be concluded within three months, however, it was revealed that we were only dealing with the tip of an iceberg. It's not possible to eradicate these terrorist organizations in the short term, thus, the state of emergency is a necessity. For this reason, it was extended for a fifth time. It should be underlined that civil rights and freedoms aren't restricted. The state of emergency was announced in order to be more decisive and efficient in the fight against these terrorist organizations. Thus, Turkish citizens who aren't affiliated with terrorist organizations are able to continue their everyday routines without any constraints.
In the past few days, some AK Party mayors have resigned and a few were requested by AK Party Chairman Erdoğan to step down. What is your take on this situation?
Two factors should be taken into consideration. Firstly, the AK Party has change at its core. This change is observed by the public and the media. The cabinet along with party's the central administration was changed after April 16. There are ongoing changes in the party's youth and women's branches along with some of its local administrations. This change is shaped by the expectations and assessment of the public. We're successful because we adhere to the will of the public.
As President Erdoğan has expressed, if one doesn't satisfy the public's demand for change, they will exact the change through voting. We're a party that relies on the public. For this reason, we care about what the public wants and President Erdoğan has relayed what the public wants. The AK Party is a cause; the advocates of this cause are expected to act in accordance with the public's will and not allow any harm to them. This is the moral action to take.
These colleagues will find other tasks to perform in the party after resigning from their posts. There are numerous fellow party members who are tasked with other responsibilities. For this reason, their resignations will strengthen our party on the road to 2019, while simultaneously opening new possibilities for them.
Is it politically acceptable to demand the resignation of the said mayors?
We're talking about a political party; these mayors were the candidates of this party. We worked together for their elections, so that they can resolve the issues of the public and satisfy their demands along with needs. Let's assume there are certain hiccups in this process; won't you intervene? If you don't, people will rightfully complain about your party, as these mayors are our members.
What AK Party does is to listen to the demands of the public in the name of democracy. We always lend our ear to the public. Meanwhile, we have never offended any of our colleagues and will never be; they have contributed to the development of our country through successful projects. When they relinquish their posts for the new generation, our colleagues will continue to serve Turkey with other titles. This doesn't mean that they are forsaken. It's similar to what a coach does during a game; they substitute certain players who will take different parts in following games. If a coach feels the need for change, it must be done; otherwise the spectators will stir up. Therefore, these changes are a natural part of the course.
The regulation which allows muftis to marry couples was ratified by Parliament last week. Some are criticizing this legal regulation for being against secularism and that it may lead to early marriages. How do you evaluate this situation?
This regulation allows the possibility for provincial mufti's offices to perform official marriage ceremonies. When the Ministry of the Interior implements the law, the marriage ceremonies carried out by muftis will be considered official.
On the other hand, it won't lead to early marriages as the marriage criteria dictated by the civil law are still the same. Moreover, this doesn't change the criteria. This is a step that will improve official marriages. It's definitely not a regulation that is against secularism; it's the requirement of secularism. Secularism doesn't decide in what people should believe. It ensures their preferences. It's not obligatory, but optional.
Therefore, those who desire could go to the nearest municipality or mufti; it is their choice. In Europe, church officials have the authority to perform official marriage ceremonies. It does not cause issues there, so, I don't believe it will cause any here.