Venue for PM’s address on Syria crisis sparks controversy

Prime Minister Erdoğan will address AK Party members in a parliamentary group meeting today. He is expected to disclose Turkey’s plans regarding the recent crisis with Syria. (Photo: AA)

June 25, 2012, Monday/ 17:52:00

An official statement indicating that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will disclose the government’s roadmap for the Turkey-Syria crisis, which reached its peak with the downing of a Turkish military jet by Syrian security forces last week, at the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) parliamentary group meeting has sparked a debate among Turkey’s intellectuals.

The meeting is scheduled for today, but many people say the prime minister should pick a more “embracing” venue for his address.

The parliamentary group meetings are usually occasions for leaders of political parties to make weekly addresses on issues related mainly to their parties. They are attended by the deputies of the political party and broadcast live on TV. Speech makers issue messages on behalf of their parties, and when the prime minister makes a speech at the parliamentary group meeting, he undertakes the title of the “AK Party leader” rather than the prime minister. According to a number of Turkey’s intellectuals who have backgrounds in international relations, the prime minister should make his much-anticipated speech on the Turkey-Syria crisis somewhere else, such as the General Assembly of Parliament or the Prime Minister’s Office. An address at one of those two places would, according to the intellectuals, be more “embracing” for the Turkish nation than an address at the parliamentary group meeting of the AK Party. The crisis between Turkey and Syria concerns all of Turkey and not solely the AK Party, they say.

“Symbols are very important in messages delivered in issues related to foreign politics,” stated Assistant Professor İhsan Yılmaz, an instructor at İstanbul’s Fatih University, when speaking to Today’s Zaman. He added that the crisis between Turkey and Syria is a matter that concerns all of Turkey, rather than solely the AK Party, and that Erdoğan should for this reason make his speech at the General Assembly of Parliament instead of the AK Party’s parliamentary group meeting.

An unarmed Turkish plane was shot down in international airspace on June 22 by Syrian security forces without warning. The plane was on a solo mission to test Turkey’s radar system and the mission had no connection with the crisis in the neighboring country, according to a statement released by Turkey’s Foreign Ministry on Sunday. The statement avoided what measures Turkey will take in response, saying Prime Minister Erdoğan will speak about the matter on Tuesday at the AK Party’s parliamentary group meeting.

According to Yılmaz, a statement delivered by the prime minister at the General Assembly of Parliament in a session attended by the leaders of the opposition parties will be “stronger” and that such a statement will solidify the atmosphere of “unity and solidarity” in Turkey against the Syrian attack. The associate professor also defined parliamentary group meetings as occasions in which leaders of political parties speak about issues concerning their own parties, and voice criticism about policies of other political parties and their figures. “Such a venue would not be appropriate for a speech which holds immense significance for Turkey,” he added.

Syria’s attack on the Turkish plane came shortly after Erdoğan attended the UN’s Rio+20 summit to discuss the political deadlock in Syria as well as the Syrian crackdown on regime opponents. The attack has added to already high tensions between Turkey and Syria, once allies.

For Turgay Oğur, a leading member of the Young Civilians, which is a pro-democratic NGO that has come to the people’s attention through its protests skillfully loaded with political satire, Erdoğan’s remarks on the downing of the Turkish plane will be the “strongest response” from the Turkish government, but he says the place should be the General Assembly of Parliament. “I think representatives from the General Staff and the National Intelligence Organization [MİT] should be among the audience,” he said.

Journalist Alper Görmüş, however, thinks that the venue for the prime minister’s message on the Turkey-Syria crisis should not become a matter of contention in Turkey. He said parliamentary group meetings have been used in the past to issue important messages related to Turkey’s domestic and foreign politics. The issue also became a matter of discussion among Turkish Twitter users on Sunday. Several users said Erdoğan is the prime minister of the entire country, not just of the supporters of the AK Party, and should therefore make his statement on the Turkey-Syria crisis at either the General Assembly of Parliament or the Prime Minister’s Office. Some others, on the other hand, said the prime minister should address the nation after the Cabinet meeting and inform the people about the government’s roadmap in the wake of the downing of the Turkish plane.

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