A recent set of e-mails by the family of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have revealed a deep rift between former good friends, Syrian first lady Asma al-Assad and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s wife Emine Erdoğan, as the Syrian first lady refused to share her e-mail with Emine Erdoğan.
The Guardian published some of the e-mails written by Assad’s family and inner circle, which it says are contained in more than the 3,000 documents downloaded from private accounts belonging to Assad and his wife by activists. The report said the messages were reportedly intercepted by members of the opposition Supreme Council of the Revolution group between June and early February.
Daughter of Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, Al-Mayassa Al Thani told Assad in a personal email that Emine Erdoğan had asked for her e-mail during a recent trip to Turkey. “She would like to write you,” Al Thani told Assad in an e-mail dated Dec. 7, 2011.
Asma Assad then responded by saying she would prefer it if Emine Erdoğan did not know her personal e-mail. Al Thani had apparently told Erdoğan that she needed to ask Assad before sharing her personal contact information. “Please let me know if you would like me to pass on your details,” Al Thani had asked.
In a response written on Dec. 11, 2011, Assad told Al Thani that she would prefer it if Erdoğan did not know her personal e-mail address. “I use this account only for family and friends,” she explained.
She then added in the e-mail that it would be difficult for her at this stage to consider Erdoğan’s wife as falling in either the category of friend or family after the insults “they have directed towards the president [Assad],” referring to frequent statements by the Turkish prime minister decrying and harshly slamming her husband.
Turkey, once a close ally of the Syrian president, has gradually toughened its criticism of the Syrian regime for its brutal crackdown on anti-regime protests. The Turkish prime minister, who had regarded Bashar al-Assad as a “good friend” earlier last year, frequently criticized the Syrian leader. He also suggested that Syria would be the next country on the Arab Spring list and that the Syrian president would eventually be ousted by his own people.
Bashar al-Assad has shrugged off broad international condemnation and calls for him to step down, insisting that armed gangs and thugs are behind the violence, not true reform-seekers.
Asma Assad added that she does not mean typical political accusations when speaking about the Turkish leader’s comments, which come with the job. “Should she require anything, her team has my office’s contacts,” Assad concluded in the e-mail.
The Turkish prime minister has reiterated on many occasions that what happens in Syria is an “internal affair” for Turkey, not an issue of foreign policy, given the 850-kilometer-long border between the two countries and deep cultural and historical ties. Turkey is Syria’s largest trading partner with bilateral trade worth $2.5 billion in 2010, and investments by Turkish firms in Syria reaching $260 million.
Turkey also hosts and meets with the main Syrian opposition and has given refuge to defecting Syrian soldiers. It has also thrown its full support behind an Arab League resolution demanding Assad step down.
Several weeks before the e-mails were written, pro-Assad protesters armed with sticks and stones had attacked Turkish diplomatic missions in Syria, burning the Turkish flag. “I once again strongly condemn the attacks on Turkish officials and on the Turkish flag. We expect the Syrian administration to undertake, immediately, all necessary steps to apologize and take responsibility,” Erdoğan said.
“Bashar,” Erdoğan had said, “you are required to punish those who attacked the Turkish flag. We want the Syrian administration to not only respect Turks in Turkey and the Turkish flag, but also to respect their own people -- we especially want this.”