SP leader Mustafa Kamalak is the first Turkish political leader to make such a trip to neighboring Syria since the Bashar al-Assad government started a violent crackdown on a 10-month long civilian protest movement. The group was also accompanied by a number of Turkish journalists, including Today's Zaman Ankara bureau chief Abdullah Bozkurt.
Kamalak told Today's Zaman that the mission is purely a humanitarian one and should not be interpreted as supporting the Assad regime, though he hopes to talk with Assad himself. “We are first and foremost trying to verify what has been happening on the ground. It is a fact-finding mission,” he said, adding that his party has real concerns about a possible Western intervention in Syria. “We will give our suggestions and warnings. We hope the current stalemate can be resolved through dialogue and peace,” he remarked.
The SP leader also noted that the Syrian government should embark on reforms and democratization if it means ending bloodshed in the country and preventing outside interference, which is looming large on the horizon.
The trip was jointly organized by the SP outreach committee and the Turkey-Syria Friendship Committee, a nongovernmental organization that has members in both countries. The trip was approved by the Syrian government.
Mustafa Yılmaz, deputy chairman of the SP, told Today's Zaman that the SP had organized similar trips to other Muslim countries in the past, the last one to famine-stricken Somalia. The meetings were planned with Syrian Vice President Najah al-Attar, Speaker of the People's Assembly Mahmoud al-Abrash, Deputy Foreign Minister Ahmad Arnous, Grand Mufti Sheikh Ahmed Hassoun, scholar Sheikh Sai'd Ramadan al-Buti and members of the opposition.