President al-Assad: Foreign Interference is Red Line (2)

20130406-220224_h476159 (2)President Bashar al-Assad said that foreign interference is a red line, adding that if the unrest in Syria leads to the partitioning of the country or if the terrorist forces take control of Syria, or both of the above, the situation will inevitably first spill over into neighboring countries and then create a domino effect throughout the Middle East and beyond.

The second part of the interview goes as follows:
Question: When we ask Mr. Erdogan about what happened to the Syrian-Turkish relations, he claims that he was honest with President Bashar al-Assad and offered him proposals about reform, but President al-Assad rejected these proposals. Why didn’t you take into account the proposals made to you by Mr. Erdogan?

President Assad: Regrettably, Erdogan has never uttered a single truthful word since the crisis in Syria began. None whatsoever and I’m not exaggerating. The proposals he put forward were very general to the effect that the Syrian people should decide who should be president and what type of political system should govern them. I had previously spoken about these proposals in much more depth in many of my addresses.

We are currently in the midst of preparing for a National dialogue in which all the political groups in Syria will meet and decide on the best way forward. No matter how important Erdogan’s proposals, they will not be more important than what the Syrian people want. Can there be anything more important than this? Whatever the Syrian people decide will be implemented.

There is however a simple question that we should ask. If Erdogan claims that he put forward proposals to solve the problem in Syria, then what is the relationship between those proposals and supporting the armed groups? Today, Erdogan is recruiting armed groups with Qatari financing, providing them with weapons, medical equipment and other logistical support on Turkish territory, and then sending them into Syria. Was this proposal part of those which he presented to me, or were those proposals a mere facade which he used in order to reach his objectives.

He knows that we supported dialogue; from day one, we announced that we agreed to conduct a dialogue with all Syrian parties. When the first stage, which was often referred to as ‘the peaceful stage’ failed, they shifted gear and started to support the armed groups. Erdogan lies and uses those proposals as a mask; we accept advice from any party, but we do not, under any circumstances, accept intervention in internal Syrian affairs. It seems that Erdogan misunderstood our position; he understood that the brotherly relations between Syria and Turkey allow him to interfere in internal Syrian affairs with the objective of overthrowing the Syrian state. But the situation was clear to me from the very early days.

Question: There are news stories in some media channels in Turkey to the effect that there are Turkish officers and security services personnel involved in the terrorist acts and help the terrorist organizations, that they entered the Syrian territories and they were involved in direct activities in support of these terrorist organizations. Some media say that Syria will respond in kind against Turkey as long as Turkey is involved to this degree in these operations. What do you say to all these claims?

President Assad: As I said, the present Turkish government is directly contributing to the killing of the Syrian people. Some people expect Syria to retaliate but we will not do it. Firstly we are against crime and therefore we reject criminal acts. Secondly, we believe the Turkish people are a brotherly people. Thirdly, this is what Erodgan wants; he wants to create a conflict between the peoples of Syria and Turkey, in order for him to get popular support for his policies and restore some of his popularity. We will not fall into this trap for both considerations of principle and because our interest lies with the Turkish people. A conflict between our two peoples will not be in the interest of either Syria or Turkey; it will only make things more complicated. What we have done in the past 10 or 12 years since President Cezar visited Syria in 2000 was to annihilate the bad history between the Arabs and the Turks. Now Erdogan is trying to jeopardize it. We will not commit any act against the Turkish people.

As for the Turkish intelligence services, up until this point, we have not captured any member of the Turkish intelligence services or the Turkish army. This doesn’t mean that they are not involved; the intelligence services are providing support from outside Syria. They provide all the training, the equipment, the communications and other forms of political and media support as required. From the confessions of many terrorists, we know that there are individuals in Turkey who are involved, but the basic principle of this involvement lies in the policy adopted by the current Turkish government. The fact that there is no intelligence personnel on the ground does not mean they are not involved.

Question: Your statements, Mr President, have been clear concerning Turkish polices. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said “I would rather resign my position than shake the hand of President al-Assad if he remained in power.” What does that say about the relations between the two countries.

President Assad: I am not going to dignify that with a response. Suffice to say that I was given an appropriate upbringing in my home and clearly this is not true in his case.

In the way he speaks, he does not embody the high moral standards of the Turkish people, which I witnessed all too clearly during my visits to Turkey. I, on the other hand, have learned from the high moral standards of the Syrian people, and hence I do not feel the need to respond.

As to the bridges, my relationship with Erdogan was meant to be reflected on the Syrian-Turkish relations. But when the Prime Minister, his government, or members of his government are involved in the bloodshed in Syria, these bridges have no place, neither between us, nor between them and the Syrian people who have no respect for them at all.

Question: As you might have noticed, when President Barack Obama was in Israel, suddenly Prime Minister Netanyahu said that he apologized to Turkey concerning what happened on the Marmara ship. How do you read all these developments?

President Assad: There is a clear and obvious question in such a situation. The same person, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu was Prime Minister when the Marmara massacre took place 3 years ago, he is still Prime Minister today. Why didn’t he apologize during these past years? What has changed? Erdogan is the same and Netanyahu is the same. What has changed is the situation in Syria. This confirms very clearly and precisely that there is a Turkish-Israeli agreement over the situation in Syria. This also confirms that Erdogan is now in alliance with Israel in order to aggravate the situation in Syria. Erdogan failed in the past two years to achieve his objectives in mobilizing Turkish public opinion concerning Syria to his satisfaction and he also failed in achieving the collapse of the Syrian state; Syria was steadfast despite the ferocious battles. He had no ally to help him except Israel and Israel is our obvious enemy who occupies our land. I believe this is a clear indicator of the alliance between them, at the same time, maybe this apology also helps Erdogan restore some of his status and credibility which he had also lost inside Turkey.

Question: I want to pick up on something which happened in the recent past. There has been a meeting between Erdogan and Ocalan on March 21st. During that meeting the two sides talked about the formation of a new Middle East consisting of Arabs, Assyrians, Kurds and Turks. Have you followed these meetings and statements?

President Assad: What we have at the moment is the information available through the media. We have not received official details from any party as of yet. Since the initial steps taken in Turkey a few years ago to solve the Kurdish problem, our declared position has been to support any solution between the Turks and the Kurds because we do not want to see more bloodshed in Turkey which will no doubt have a negative impact on the region. Any genuine solution in this direction has our support, because the Kurdish people are a natural part of the fabric of the region. They are not guests or new immigrants; they have been living in these lands for centuries, for thousands of years. But the vision for the solution of the Turkish-Kurdish relations depends on the credibility of Erdogan. I don’t trust this person, and I doubt that he will fulfill his promises. All the steps he is taking are temporary measures aimed at winning him political support. Here again we ask the same question. Why didn’t he take the same steps a few years ago? Again, this is related to the Syrian situation. But let’s not prejudge the situation. Let’s wait and see.

Question: You said that finding a solution to the Kurdish problem is one of the important issues for the region. Can we hear from your Excellency a broader vision and in detail about how we can solve this issue?

President Assad: We need to be clear, nationalism is different from ethnicity. We live in a mixed region; the fact that you are Turkish doesn’t mean that you can’t be Kurdish or Armenian or Arab in origin with your own culture and language. This is the situation in Turkey as well as in Syria. When I say Arab, it is not necessarily linked to an Arab ethnicity or race. Both nationalisms, Turkish and Arab, exemplify highly civilised and all encompassing nationalistic models that are meant to be inclusive of everybody.

The problem with this concept in the past, was perhaps that the adopted mentality was one of rejecting and eliminating other cultures. I believe the most beautiful aspect of this region is its diversity and the most dangerous aspect is for us not to see this diversity as enriching and empowering. When we regard it as a weakness, we invite foreign forces to play us against each other and create conflicts.

This was the case at the beginning of the last century when the conflict started between the Arabs and the Turks during the final days of the Ottoman Empire. Many of the Arab nationalist groups wanted Arab nationalism within the Ottoman Empire. However things moved towards conflict as a result of mistakes made by both the Turks and the Arabs as well as the result of intervention from foreign players.

That’s why we need to look at the situation today in the same way; we are made from the same fabric weaved from many different colours.

Question: Mr President, one of the most important issues being discussed currently in Turkey is the question of the PKK. There are discussions about organizations operating on Syrian territories which are cooperating with the PKK and that the PKK has great influence over these organizations. They say that this organization is interested in creating a military vacuum in northern Syria so that it can be filled by these new Kurdish forces. How do you read all these reports, Mr President?

President Assad: When there is chaos in any state, as is the case in Syria at the moment, certain groups are bound to appear in order to fill the vacuum created. Sometimes these groups are gangs with the only purpose of killing and stealing. Sometimes these are political groups, and other times they might be parties with certain policies. There’s no doubt that there are some groups which seek separation; they exist in Syria, Turkey, Iraq and other places. But we cannot generalize this situation to include all Kurds based on the agenda of small groups. Most Kurds are patriotic people who want to live in Syria. So, the emergence of certain cases should not lead us to generalize the situation or even to assume that things are moving towards separation. Separation needs a certain environment, be it widespread public support or external factors, which is very different from the circumstances prevailing in Syria at the moment. I’m not concerned about this issue at the moment.

Question: Mr President, this is a very important issue. Since the beginning of the events in Syria, certain parties and research centers started to talk about a new project involving the separation of northern Syria, northern Iraq and southeastern Turkey and separating these regions from their central states. Do you think there is a danger of northern Syria separating from the central state?

President Assad: As I said, the current circumstances in Syria are not conducive in this respect particularly in terms of public opinion at large. This notion of separation is completely rejected by the Syrian people and the Syrian state; no sovereign state accepts for a part of its territory to be cut out or separated from its mainland. This position is categorically unacceptable and is not subject to any discussions with us in Syria.

Question: Based on our questions and your answers, there seems to be a clear plan put forward by western countries in cooperation and coordination with some regional countries to create a greater Kurdistan by separating northern Iraq, western Iran, northern Syria and southeastern Turkey. They seemed determined to achieve this goal. Are we moving in the direction of achieving this goal?

President Assad: I don’t believe that the four states in question – Syria, Turkey, Iran and Iraq – would agree to this proposition. Independent states in today’s world seek integration rather than separation. Unfortunately our region is an exception which is a sign of backwardness. Today, large countries come together, the BRICS being an example. States seek to come together and form larger blocs because this is a requirement in the age we live in. So, why should we go in the opposite direction in our region and seek fragmentation? What is there to prevent people who belong to different nationalities, ethnicities, religions and sects to live with each other? Therefore if we accept the notion of separation then this means we have to live with the consequences – namely fragmentation into small mini-states based on ethnicities and sects in an area that is extremely rich in its diversity; this creates a dangerous situation that would precipitate wars in the future. This is why I don’t think that this is a sound proposition. Every one of these four concerned states should do its utmost to make sure all its people feel that they are first-class citizens with equal stakes in their state. This solution is therefore, clear and simple. On the other hand, when a citizen feels that he is second or third class, he is bound to think of separation or even act against his own state.

Question: You used to have an interesting project, Mr President. You talked about the political and economic unification of the five seas and the countries lying among these seas. How can we benefit from such a project? Can you please explain that to the Turkish audience?

President Assad: This is what I meant when I said that in this age we need to unify. This doesn’t mean becoming a single state in the same way that old states existed in the past, in large extended empires. Today we can unify through our interests at least. For instance, we can build railways, different forms of land transport, gas, oil, electricity, all forms of energy, hence creating networks between our countries in this extremely strategic region of the world which lies between the five seas. This in itself will bring a lot of investment into the region, creating a great deal of prosperity and making these states and their peoples strong enough to face any foreign intervention.

This vision needs will and independent decision-making, especially since many western states have no interest in the creation of such projects in the Middle East. This also needs security and stability. I don’t believe that the right conditions exist now for such a project, because there are problems in Syria, in Lebanon, unrest in Iraq, most of which are a result of western intervention; there is a government in Turkey, which I don’t consider to be independent or to have such a vision, and Turkey is essential for this project due to its strategic position. This doesn’t mean that we should cancel this project. It should remain in our minds, because the future of this region depends on grand projects like this. If we each remain confined within our national borders, we will be considered small on a global scale, even large countries such as Turkey and Iran. We cannot be powerful unless we create such strategic trans-border projects.

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