Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has dismissed suggestions that the crisis in Syria stems from a sectarian rift between the Sunni majority and Alawites, and slammed Turkey’s main opposition leader for siding with President Bashar al-Assad, apparently due to sectarian affinities.
Speaking at his Justice and Development Party’s (AK Party) parliamentary group meeting on Tuesday, Erdoğan said the crisis in Syria is not an outcome of sectarian clashes between Alawites -- who belong to a branch of Shiite Islam -- and Sunnis, but a result of the government’s response to the Syrian people’s humanitarian demands.
Erdoğan drew attention to sectarian clashes that have occurred in Syria’s southern neighbor of Lebanon over the past few days, saying it is an unfortunate situation. He added that the crisis in Syria is not sectarian, but purely the result of the government’s reaction to Syrians’ demands.
“We always stand on the side of justice and oppose oppressors. We never look at the ethnic background or sect of the oppressed ones,” Erdoğan said.
He then slammed CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu for keeping quiet on the Syrian crisis and for seemingly supporting Assad’s regime. Erdoğan called on Kılıçdaroğlu to openly express his views on Syria, implying that the main opposition party supports the Assad regime for sectarian reasons.
“Mr. Kılıçdaroğlu, you should say openly what you really mean to say in regard to Syria. Say openly why you sympathize with the Syrian regime and why you are turning a blind eye to the oppression,” he said, warning that those who present the Syrian crisis as a sectarian rift will “pour oil on the fire.”
“God forbid, this might turn a spark into a devastating fire in the region,” Erdoğan said.
Assad’s family belongs to Syria’s minority Alawite sect. In Turkey, many Alevis vote for the CHP, and some CHP officials, including party chairman Kılıçdaroğlu, are known to be Alevis. However, Syrian Alawites and Turkish Alevis are distinct religious groups.
Kılıçdaroğlu has criticized the government’s anti-Assad policy and said Turkey should not interfere in the internal affairs of the neighboring country. In a speech last month, Kılıçdaroğlu lashed out at the government’s Syria policy, saying, “The Turkish republic has never done as much warmongering as it has today.”
Erdoğan’s government, which was once the closest ally of the Assad regime, has become increasingly critical of Assad’s brutal crackdown on anti-government protests. The government insists that Assad must leave power and plays host to Syrian opposition groups.
Moreover, Erdoğan criticized the CHP for isolating the country in the past. “In our nine-and-a-half years [in power], we have visited ... the countries that the CHP has turned away from, saying, ‘They’re Arabs’.”