Faced with criticism from opposition deputies, foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu defended his government's policies in Syria and the wider Middle East on Tuesday, asserting that the government wants to lead global and regional processes of change, not to be a pawn of more powerful countries.
Setting a tone of criticism, opposition deputies greeted Davutoğlu carrying banners that read “No to war” as he arrived for a meeting of Parliament's Planning and Budget Commission, where he briefed members on activities of the Foreign Ministry. The banners were a reference to Davutoğlu's strong pro-opposition stance in Syria, which Turkish opposition parties say could drag Turkey into the conflict.
Opposition deputies accused Davutoğlu of pursuing unrealistic ambitions not on par with Turkey's actual capabilities. Davutoğlu said in response that the crisis in Syria was not of his government's making and that Turkey has worked tirelessly for several months to convince Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to not use violence to suppress demands for reform. “You don't have the option of maintaining ties with a regime that launches air strikes on its own cities,” Davutoğlu said.
Mahmut Tanal, an İstanbul deputy from the main opposition Republican People's party (CHP) objected, saying the AK Party committed the same act in Uludere, referring to the killing of 34 civilians thought to be Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) terrorists in a botched air strike last year. Tanal's comments angered ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) deputies, who accused their colleague of “lacking manners” and urged him to apologize for the analogy.
Davutoğlu said the Turkish government has stood by the people of the Middle East against Muammar Gaddafi, Hosni Mubarak and Assad, just like it stood against Slobodan Milosevic and Nikolae Chaushesku in the 1990s.
The government says it had no choice but to side with the anti-Assad opposition after its months-long effort to convince the Syrian president of reform failed. Turkish opposition parties have accused the government of supporting the Syrian opposition to a degree that endangers Turkey's national interests. They claim that the government's strong support for the opposition in Syria is driven by the AK Party's sectarian affiliations, not a desire to bring democracy to Syria – a charge the government denies.
Davutoğlu said the Syrian regime is collapsing not because of its sectarian, religious or ethnic characteristics, but because of the fact that it is a remnant of the Cold War era. “The Cold War is coming to an end in the Middle East only now in the 2010s. All the archaic structures are now collapsing,” he said.
He also dismissed criticism that the government has bitten off more than it can chew in its policies toward the Arab Spring revolts, saying countries with consistent strategies achieve progress while others who wait to see what big countries have to say turn into their pawns. “This has never been a feature of our foreign policy and it will never be,” said Davutoğlu.
The opposition deputies, however, did not seem to be impressed with Davutoğlu's speech. “We set out with the goal of having no problems with neighbors. Today we have no neighbors that have problem-free ties with us,” said CHP's Aydın Ayaydın, comparing the Turkish foreign policy to a plane about to crash because of bad piloting.
“Listening to the foreign minister, I was wishing he had remained an academic,” said Osman Korutürk, another CHP lawmaker.