“We do not view Syria through a sectarian lens,” Davutoğlu told Today’s Zaman on Tuesday to brush off claims voiced by oppositional parties in Turkey that the government’s harsh reaction to the Syrian leader stemmed from sectarian differences. “Assad has been a Nusayri all along, wasn’t he one when we were friends?” the foreign minister rhetorically asked to highlight that Turkey, a country populated by a Sunni majority, had a volatile relation with the Syrian regime, but that its course of action was motivated by actions and not religious backgrounds.
Davutoğlu’s comments come a day ahead of a Turkish-Arabic gathering on Wednesday in Rabat, where the fourth Turkish-Arabic Cooperation Forum is to be held with an agenda that is expected to focus on Syrian developments after the Arab League’s decision on Saturday to suspend Syria as member. For the last two years, the Turkish-Arabic forum followed significant events, as last year’s annual gathering was held during the aftermath of the Mavi Marmara flotilla raid, where Israeli commandoes killed nine peace activities on board the Gaza-bound ship. This year, the meeting coincides with the league’s decision that sent the harshest signal to Syria by suspending its membership of the league, a move that might pave the way for other international bodies to follow suit and increase sanctions on the country.
In Morocco, Arab foreign ministers are also scheduled to meet the Syrian National Council (SNC), representatives of which met with Davutoğlu during an urgent session on Sunday. “We told the council that we would not engage with them [the SNC] unless they had the capacity to represent [the Syrian opposition],” Davutoğlu said of the oppositional council, which was unified in İstanbul through a number of gatherings in the city. “But we did [talk with the SNC] when they were unified at last, and the oppositional councils set up in villages [in Syria] confirmed that they deem the council formed in Turkey as their [rightful] representative.” Davutoğlu added.
“When we first set out to support the opposition, we thought we would make peace between Assad and the opposition once Assad gave reforms a go,” the foreign minister said in an attempt to clarify the reasons why Turkey was logistically supporting the council while it refrained from intervening in its political agenda. Davutoğlu also acknowledged that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told Assad that if he opted for elections, he would probably emerge victorious because his people loved him. “Instead of going for elections and asking for his people’s support, he decided to point guns at his people,” Davutoğlu said, and blamed armed gangs in Syria for massacring civilians, a problem he relayed to Assad, who refused to acknowledge they [armed gangs] even exist in Syria.