Turkey reiterates warning of Syria intervention in response to PKK threat

17 August 2012 / TODAY’S ZAMAN, ANKARA

President Abdullah Gül says claims that the Syrian regime supplies arms to the terrorist PKK are ‘very likely’ to be true; warns whatever measures necessary will be taken if Turkey faces a terrorist threat emanating from Syrian territory. President Abdullah Gül reiterated a warning on Thursday that Turkey might respond with military action if it faces a terrorist threat from Syria’s north.

“Terrorist organizations may attempt to exploit the situation in such difficult times, but they will not be allowed to do so,” Gül told journalists in Mecca following a two-day extraordinary summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) that convened to discuss mainly Syria. “Whatever action necessary will be taken if extensions of the [terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party] PKK begin to pose a threat,” he said.

When asked a question over the claims about Syrian supply of guns to the PKK, Gül replied that such a thing was very likely to happen. “The stance of the Syrian regime is currently clear, therefore it is very likely to happen,” said Gül.

Turkey has recently been alarmed by the Kurdish control of five Syrian cities near the Turkish border. A military group linked to the Democratic Union Party (PYD) — a PKK offshoot — has been controlling the predominantly Kurdish cities after the Syrian army withdrew from the region in order to concentrate on the fight against insurgents in more central cities such as Aleppo and Damascus.

Touching upon the claims about the establishment of a Kurdish state in the Middle East, Gül stated that Kurds were the reality of the Middle East geography. “Turks were the supporters and protectors of Kurds. But terrorist organization must be distinguished from Kurds. Kurds in other countries must also disassociate themselves from terrorist organization,” said Gül, adding Turkey would not accept terrorist organizations to act opportunistically.

The two-day summit of the OIC in Mecca ended early on Thursday morning with a decision to suspend Syria’s membership in the 57-nation organization despite objections from Shiite Iran.

Gül said the Iranian side disagreed with the OIC decision to suspend Syria’s membership but added that it did not take that as a problem. Iran let everybody know about their position at the summit and they did not make the decision a matter of dispute, according to Gül.

Gül also said that Iran felt uneasy over the emergence of a new order in Syria. Gül added that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had not expressed his thoughts over the Syria crisis while he was speaking at the summit, adding, however, that he had no other proposal over the issue. “They [the Iranians] have no proposal [on what to do in Syria]. They have concerns but we are of the view that these concerns are unnecessary. They have concerns about the new order to be founded. They know that this will not go on like this,” he said.

Commenting on the rising tension between Turkey and Iran after the high-level Iranian officials’ statements over Turkey that Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar were responsible for bloodshed in Syria, Gül stated that Turkey was acting in line with policies and principles over the Iran issue, adding that a diplomatic, peaceful way is beneficial for everybody. The OIC suspended Syrian membership, citing President Bashar al-Assad’s suppression of the Syrian revolt. The rebuke is mostly symbolic, but it shows Syria’s isolation — as well as that of its ally Iran — across much of the Sunni-majority Islamic world.

Summit host Saudi Arabia has led the Arab efforts to isolate Syria diplomatically and has also backed calls for the Syrian rebel opposition to be armed, which Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal described in February as “an excellent idea.”

But there was little support at the summit for military action in Syria. Speaking to reporters after the summit, OIC Secretary-General Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu said he “did not see much support for external military intervention” in Syria during the summit. He described the decision to suspend Syrian membership as “a message to the international community … that the Islamic community stands with a politically peaceful solution and does not want any more bloodshed.”

The summit, which has taken place late on consecutive nights because of the Ramadan fast, had been billed as a diplomatic showdown between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shiite Iran, which have backed different sides in sectarian conflicts in the region.

Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi criticized Syria’s suspension as he left Mecca early on Thursday, saying it was contrary to the organization’s charter.”Before taking this decision, it is necessary to invite the Syrian government to the meeting so that it can defend itself and so that participants can listen to its official views,” the official news agency, IRNA, reported him as saying.

Saudi King Abdullah tried to conciliate Iran at the summit opening by placing Ahmadinejad at his side to welcome Muslim leaders in a gesture Saudi political analysts said was aimed at putting old grievances aside in the quest for a resolution to the Syrian crisis. He also suggested founding a center for dialogue between Islam’s sects, another move aimed at trying to defuse some of the region’s sectarian tensions. That proposal was adopted by the summit.

Drawing attention to sectarian tensions in the Islamic world, Gül warned that the Islamic world should not face what Europe experienced during the Middle Ages.

“Today I told about it to several presidents, including Iran’s president, Ahmadinejad. Over these issues, we are not acting as sectarian motivated. Saddam Hussein was a Sunni. Dictators can be Shiite or Sunni. [Late Libyan leader Muammar] Gaddafi was a Sunni. Iraq is the typical example for it. Half of Iraq’s public is Sunni and the other half is Shiite. If there was a sympathetic stance towards a Sunni dictator, we would be making a great mistake. Whoever performs cruelty, inhumanity and www.mesop.de  whoever administrates his country in a way that cannot be acceptable under today’s conditions, we are against them. That person could be Shiite or Sunni,” said Gül.

Gül said that the conference reached its aim and pointed out that all the leaders agreed over stopping the bloodshed in Syria. “They all stated individually as if they all agreed that the transitional period of Syria should start,” said Gül.

“I explained that Syria should not get into chaos and it should keep its territorial integrity. The membership of Syria to the OIC has been suspended. When Afghanistan was occupied by the Soviets, the same decision had been made. By carrying this forward, we know that the Syrian government is now illegitimate,” said Gül.