ASHARQ AL-AWSAT INTERVIEW: TURKISH PRESIDENT ABDULLAH GUL

Asharq Alawsat (The Middle East)
January 15, 2012 Sunday

Ankara, Asharq Al-Awsat - In an exclusive interview, Turkish President
denied that his country has abandoned the Syrians, stressing that it
supports the legitimate demands of its people.

Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, Gul sharply criticized the policy of
"repressing demands by tanks and heavy weapons", adding that "when the
barrier of fear collapsed and the masses began to take to the streets
and make their legitimate demands yet you begin by repressing demands
by tanks and heavy weapons, the reaction to this will also be strong".

He expressed apprehensions that there were quarters preparing for
civil war in Iraq and Syria but said he was confident of "the ability
of the nationalist forces and the politicians in the two States to
surmount and evade the crisis". He said his country was concerned
and condemns "terrorist operations in Iraq whatever their sources or
their causes". He stressed that his country "regards equally all the
hues in Iraq and Syria so does not support a party against another,
a sect against another sect, or a camp against another camp and wants
all sides to enjoy accord".

The text of the interview follows:

[Asharq Al-Awsat] During your term you revived the orientation towards
the east. What were the results of this policy?

[Gul] This is very important, and it is the secret of our success in
Turkey by preserving our traditions and the teachings of the Islamic
religion. We are also at peace with ourselves, our history, and
our historical and religious values. We are also in concert with the
dominating public feelings in Turkey in support of these inclinations.
We are told that we have become in a situation where the State and
the people embrace each other. We also had a big role in making Turkey
embrace its milieu. We became a country that cares about its region.
We have entrenched these tenets in our relationship with these States.
The Arab States--and also the States of the region--became aware
of our convictions about this matter. This is why there was also an
embrace between these States and Turkey.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Does Turkey still feel what is described as
"betrayal" from the Arab world?

[Gul] I do not believe so. We have lived a very long time with the Arab
peoples. Perhaps there were some ideas proposed to the new generations,
whether here or in the Arab world, but these were temporary ideas
that have become part of the past. We must trust ourselves and trust
our tenets. We lived with this [Arab] people a very long time and
we coexisted as best as can be. So the new generations must feel the
blessings of this situation.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What do you want from the Arab world?

[Gul] There are States in the Arab area which we want to be strong and
impregnable, and we want their peoples to be prosperous and aspiring
to a better future. To explain how happiness should be reached,
I say that peace and stability must prevail in this region so that
these peoples would enjoy stability, peace, and prosperity. The
more entrenched stability is in the region, and the more solid the
situation of these States, the more solid the conditions of the entire
region will be. There are a lot of natural and human resources that
have not been dealt with properly in the crises the region has gone
through. This is why we give a lot of attention to the factors of
stability and peace in the region. These two factors must prevail so
that the people can enjoy their resources.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Concerning your southern neighbor Syria, some aspired
f or a major role for you to the extent that they felt disappointment
that you were not up to the level of their aspirations ...

[Gul] We have established normal and sincere relations with Syria
over the past 10 years because we have 900 kilometers of joint
borders. We consider the Syrian people to be fraternal and friendly
neighbors without discriminating among any of their hues. We have been
truthful in our discussions over these issues with the brothers in
Syria. We are not a country and I am not a leader to impose opinions
on others or dictate to others what they should do. When we talked
with them, we always talked about what we did in our country; how we
accomplished certain reforms and how we reached these reforms. We
said that there were shortcomings we must redress and that we must
work in this direction.

It was with this approach that we talked with the Syrian leadership
headed by President Bashar al-Assad. We told them that you have to
seek these reforms inside your house so that the Syrian people might
enjoy prosperity and happiness and so that Syria should become a
strong State. So you must take the initiative for these reforms from
your side.

The latest events had not erupted in this region when we were talking
about these issues for many years. This is why these events did not
come as a surprise to me. They were very expected in the Arab world.
In a 2003 speech I delivered at the Islamic Cooperation Organization
in Tehran I said that we must reform our internal house and seek to
solve all the internal problems we have otherwise there will be a
popular explosion and there will be foreign intervention.

In a world dominated by social communication through the Internet,
mobile phones, and social networking sites, you cannot hide what is
going on in this country or this region. Mistakes committed here or
there cannot be hidden. We would have wished President Al-Assad would
lead himself these reforms and undertake a qualitative shift in the
country by carrying out these reforms in a real and constructive
manner. We believed that this could happen in Syria. But as you
have seen, when the barrier of fear collapsed the masses started
to go out on the streets and call for their legitimate demands,
when you begin to repress the demands with tanks and heavy weapons,
the reaction will also be strong. We support the Syrian people and
we support the legitimate demands.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is your opinion about the latest speech by
President Al-Assad? Is there still hope for reform from him?

[Gul] I have read some excerpts from it and its main headlines. These
statements might have had credibility six months or a year ago. We
have done everything we could in this domain and we have urged the
Syrian Administration to respond to the people's demand. But I think
that what he is doing now is too little too late.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Is it still possible for Al-Assad to lead the reform?

[Gul] This is up to the Syrian people. The people are the ones who
should decide on this matter. We are not in a position of dictating
our will and opinion on the Syrian people. This is their business
alone and they are the ones who decide it by themselves. We want to
see all the hues of the Syrian people happy and prosperous and to
see the Syrian State strong.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Has your last thread of contact with Al-Assad
been ruptured?

[Gul] Yes, unfortunately yes.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What can Turkey do to help the Syrian people?

[Gul] Our approach to the affairs of the Syrian people is
humanitarian. We also share with them part of our ideas.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] How do you view the situation in Iraq at present
in the light of the latest developments?

[Gul] When we see terrorist operations in Iraq we feel worried. We
denounce these criminal acts whatever their source and whatever their
reasons. We feel that all the Iraqi hues--as in Syria--are fraternal
and friendly and want them to enjoy security and stability. We look
at all of them equally without supporting a party over anot her, a
sect over another sect, or a camp over another. We want all of them
to enjoy accord.

After the withdrawal of the American forces, there have been tensions
on the political arena. These are regrettable matters. After the
withdrawal of the American forces there was supposed to be a spirit
of festivity and that all Iraqi sides should show cohesiveness,
cooperation, and solidarity. The Iraqis should understand the
importance of their unity and cohesiveness. After the withdrawal of
the American and foreign forces they should have basked under this
unity because we feel that all of them--Sunnis, Shiites, Arab, Kurds,
Turkomen and others--must be up to the level of responsibility in
building the united Iraq. The Iraqis have suffered since the Iraq-Iran
War and the First Gulf War from difficulties and torment. So after
all this, and after having reached this phase, they should be in a
situation in which they can save their country. Otherwise they will
be held responsible.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you fear a civil war in Iraq and Syria?

[Gul] We hope this will not happen. There are factors that push in
these directions. We hope it will not happen. At the same time we
hope that the Iraqi and Syrian leaders will rise to the level of the
responsibility and will not allow these fears to turn into realities.
It is possible that some are inciting to this from certain cells,
or from terrorist gangs in Iraq, or from those who do not want Syria
and Iraq to enjoy security and stability. But I trust the politicians
and the nationalist forces in this region and trust their wisdom and
shrewdness to avoid all these problems.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] How do you view the crisis existing with France?

[Gul] What we know about France is that it is the home of mental and
cultural liberties and so on. But the suspect moves currently underway
will lead to punishing any person who deviates from the official
French position, even if he is a scientist or historian. This would be
futile. In our country there may be ideas and principles that conflict
with the State's perceptions or my own perceptions. But we deal with
respect with these attitudes even if they contradict what we think.
But in France this will be forbidden. The Armenians say that the
Turks annihilated them in 1915 because they were Armenians. We
say this is not genocide but historical facts. There are things
that happened at that time when the Turkish State was fighting on
seven fronts including France, England, and Russia. Russian quarters
incited part of the Armenians to carry out acts that disrupt public
order. They were dealt with, but certainly not through genocide. There
were common pains which the Muslims and Turks suffered from and the
Armenians as well. But the Turks suffered more than anyone else from
the ramifications of World War I.

Many European capitals were Islamic cities. The Muslims suffered much
in that period. More than 500,000 were displaced by the war. In the
countries of the Balkans three million people were killed and an equal
number was displaced. The same happened on the caucas front. Where
are those Muslims now? We do not teach our sons or new generations
hatred and negative feelings toward things that happened in the
countries where the Ottoman Empire existed. We do not teach them the
principles of violence, hatred, and rancour. We tell the Armenians
frankly that if they want we can form a joint committee and open
our entire archives then accept the results of the historic research
that will be undertaken. We have opened all our dossiers and archives
including the existing military archives for any Armenian or Arab or
anyone else to see.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Are you going to impose penalties on France if the
draft is approved?

[Gul] Naturally, there will be an effect on our relationship.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Rupturing diplomatic relations?

[Gul] Our relations in various domains will be affected by this issue.