Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat – In an exclusive interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, senior Turkish presidential adviser, Arshet Hormozlo, spoke about his view of the Syrian crisis, his hopes for the future of the country, as well as Turkish fears regarding the presence of “terrorist” groups in northern Syria. He stressed that it is not enough to provide relief for those fleeing the brutal al-Assad regime, and called for an international initiative outside of the framework of the UN Security Council. The Turkish presidential adviser also called on Syria’s neighboring countries to shoulder their responsibilities and take action to resolve the crisis.
Hormozlo is a senior adviser to Turkish President Abdullah Gul.
The following is the text of the interview:
[Asharq Al-Awsat] How do you envision a peaceful transition of power in Syria?
[Hormozlo] The international community should have taken full responsibility over this issue a long time ago. I think it is an embarrassment to the international community to be silent over what is happening in Syria, in terms of human rights abuses and systematic killing. This is something that must stop, and there should be certain mechanisms outside of the scope of the UN Security Council and the right of veto, to ensure this. We must deal with this reality in this manner…namely, saving the Syrian people by any means necessary. We must place all the alternatives put forward by friendly and allied countries on the table, including the establishment of humanitarian corridors and buffer zones in Syria, as well as any attempts to rescue Syrian civilians from the oppression of the al-Assad regime.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What role can Turkey play in this regard?
[Hormozlo] All neighboring countries must shoulder their responsibilities in this regard. There are 4 countries surrounding Syria, not just Turkey. These are countries that are prominent members of the international community, and they must shoulder their responsibility. It is not enough to provide relief to some of those fleeing the oppression of the al-Assad regime; rather we must see effective movement to rescue Syrian civilians, not to mention the implementation of international proposals that have previously been put forward in this regard.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] In light of the international community’s inability to reach a decision within the framework of the UN Security Council, would it be possible for Turkey to take an effective initiative in coordination with regional allies? Could such an initiative include the establishment of buffer zones in Syria, for example?
[Hormozlo] Many people are relying on foreign intervention, but it is the Syrian people who possess the key to the solution of the Syrian crisis. With the comprehensive and committed movements towards democracy, there will be a happy resolution for the Syrian people. The Syrian people are now holding the reins of the initiative, whilst there are also many national Syrian forces that do not approve of foreign intervention in Syria, or the militarization of the crisis.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] However, wouldn’t you agree that the situation in Syria has already clearly moved towards militarization?
[Hormozlo] What is happening in Syria does not have the features of a civil war or the militarization of the crisis, rather this represents steps towards self-defense. As we are all well aware, all the protests that occurred over a period of several months were peaceful, however the suppression that has flattened Syria’s cities and struck the people pushed them towards self-defense. The Free Syrian Army [FSA] has excelled at this, and they are a means of defending the Syrian people in their villages and districts. There has been no militarization of the crisis, but rather the establishment of groups for self-defense. I believe that when the people take the initiative to embrace such movements, this will lead towards the desired results in Syria, despite the fact that these incidents have cost a lot of blood and tears.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Is Ankara providing the FSA with any military support? Could Turkey seek to do so in the future?
[Hormozlo] The FSA is a purely Syrian group…therefore we must refer to the FSA as to whether it is asking for assistance from any foreign state. However protecting civilians and families remains a top priority for the FSA, and this is also something that international organizations are pursuing. Therefore, there is an intersection of objectives and goals regarding this issue.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Last month witnessed Turkish military build-up along the border region. Was this a message to the al-Assad regime or was this movement in preparation for future military activity?
[Hormozlo] A few months ago, Turkey said that it was braced for the worst. When a country is prepared for the worst case scenario, it must take every precaution to guarantee its own security, not to mention the security of its own citizens and territorial integrity. Therefore this military movement was to defend Turkish territory from any potential threats against national security or the safety of Turkish citizens. At the same time, there have been hostile movements from a certain party on Syrian soil. Here, I must stress that we differentiate between Syrian Kurds and terrorist organizations. Turkey explicitly stated that it would not allow Syrian territory, particularly northern Syria, to become a launching pad for acts of sabotage against Turkey by terrorist organizations, regardless of whether these groups are Kurdish or non-Kurdish in origin.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] There have been talks about the “Kurdish card” being played to prevent Ankara from supporting the FSA? What is your view of this?
[Hormozlo] We have always stated that the hand that holds the terrorism card would also be burned by this…any country or group that attempts to play this card will also be burnt by this. It is very clear that the Syrian regime has begun to utilize this, leaving a part of Syrian territory open for terrorist groups to disrupt Turkey. This is something that cannot be allowed. We cannot allow this to pass without holding those responsible accountable, and this will be dealt with seriously.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] By “seriously”, does this also mean military action?
[Hormozlo] All international norms and conventions allow Turkey to track terrorist elements outside of its border if the country’s national security, not to mention the safety of its citizens, is at risk.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Is Ankara in possession of any confirmed information or documentation regarding this “Kurdish card”?
[Hormozlo] This is very clear, and is something that can be deduced from the statements of the leaders of these groups, as well as the banners that have been raised in this part of Syrian territory. We must be aware that there are media embellishments regarding northern Syria, for northern Syria is not all Kurdish areas, there are also…Arab, Turkmen and Kurdish tribes present there. In addition to this, not all Kurds are part of terrorist organizations. Indeed many are honorable citizens who believe that it is in their own best interests to remain within the unified Syrian state; therefore we must not act on this issue based on emotion, but rather after serious and careful study.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is the truth regarding the so-called secret “Adana agreement”, which some parties are saying grants Turkish authorities the right to pursue subjects within Syrian territory?
[Hormozlo] If this agreement is secret, then it must remain that way! Much has been said about this issue, however we must recall that international norms and conventions, not to mention international law, allows a country to defend itself and track subjects across borders.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] How has Ankara’s relations with Tehran been affected by the Syrian crisis, particularly following the traded criticism that we have heard?
[Hormozlo] Turkey – and Turkish officials – has frankly stated that the countries that are supporting the Syrian regime should reconsider their position; for it is not in any country’s interests to support a regime that is terrorizing and waging war against its own people. There is ongoing dialogue and open channels with Iran. International relations must be based on dialogue, and that is what is now taking place with Iran.