Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has slammed the administration of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, saying that Turkey would evaluate options for sanctions that might come soon, following a projected visit to Syrian refugee camps set up in southern Turkey.
“We already had a sensitivity regarding arms shipments to Syria, but we will move on to evaluate options other than shipment interceptions,” Erdoğan told press members on Sunday during his flight from New York. Erdoğan also noted that he was planning to visit refugee camps in the border province of Hatay, where thousands of Syrians fled, seeking shelter by the Turkish government.
“The most crucial step will be opening up refugee camp to the media,” Erdoğan said with reference to recent allegations disseminating by media sources in Iran and Syria that Syrian refugees were being mistreated and abused at the Hatay camps. “People will be able to tell the truth to the world and Syria is afraid of it. The Hatay visit will be a turning point in our Syria policy,” Erdoğan said.
Erdoğan also slammed the Syrian leader, saying Assad had not been honest with him and added that he was worried about sectarian violence sparking up in Syria. “I told Assad he could turn the fact that he is Nusayri while his wife is Sunni into an opportunity [to promote sectarian tolerance], but this had no result,” Erdoğan said, adding, “He constantly lied.” Erdoğan also suggested that Assad would eventually lose the support of the Nusayri, a 10 percent minority in Syria.
The prime minister also acknowledged that oppositional forces from Syria would open up an office in Turkey, and that he informed Assad that Turkey would not block the group from organizing in the country, since it was a democratic country.
Erdoğan previously suggested that Syria would be the next country on the Arab Spring list and that Assad would eventually be ousted by his own people.
"This process might be extended a little bit more, but sooner or later in Syria if people take a different decision, that decision is going to be catered to... People want to be free," Reuters quoted Erdoğan as saying on Saturday, citing a CNN interview transcript as the source.
Erdoğan suggested that dictatorial systems were being buried all over the Arab region, as he commented on the Arab Spring and the course Syria might take in the process. "You can never remain in power through cruelty," he said, reiterating his stance against leaders resisting demands for reform in their countries. Erdoğan's words were particularly aimed at Assad, who was a close personal friend of the Turkish leader prior to the uprising.
Erdoğan also told reporters late on Friday that Turkey had seized a ship flying a Syrian flag in the Sea of Marmara, Reuters reported on Saturday. However, he did not elaborate on the exact date and place of the interception or whether the ship was carrying arms.
The Turkish leader called the Syrian administration's attack on Lazkiye from the sea an indication that Assad was not justified in calling demonstrators terrorists and carrying out armed assaults on large numbers of Syrians. “You bomb the entire city of Lazkiye from the sea and call the people terrorists. How can an entire city is filled with terrorists?” Erdoğan asked. He noted that the Syrian people as well as the rest of the world had lost faith in Assad's good intentions.
Erdoğan and Ahmedinejad discuss Syria, PKK in private meeting
Erdoğan met with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad later on Friday, accompanied by officials from both countries, including Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, Economy Minister Zafer Çağlayan and Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioğlu. The senior officials reportedly discussed Syria and terrorism problem stemming from the activities of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and its Iranian offshoot, the Party for a Free Life in Kurdistan (PJAK).
In response to reporters' questions about the meeting, Erdoğan said that there was more Iran and Turkey could do to cooperate in combating terrorism. The Turkish prime minister acknowledged that the countries were already sharing intelligence.
PKK panicking after cross border operations
Erdoğan expressed his belief on Sunday that the PKK was in a panic and “looking to retaliate for the grave losses they suffered at the cross border operations” that Turkey carried out earlier. He highlighted that Turkey could not stop the operations unless the PKK laid down arms. He also added that Turkey informed Iraqi officials of their intensions to root out terrorism, by saying, “Either you finish it, cooperate with us on this, or we will do it.”
Erdoğan also added on the sidelines that in his talk with Ahmedinejad, struggle against PKK was high on agenda and the countries had ample grounds to cooperate in terms of intelligence sharing and military operations.
The prime minister also announced that the first batch of frontier units, consisting of 5,100 members, will conclude their training in March or April next year and will greatly assist the country in its fight against the PKK.