Turkey will soon meet with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to join forces against jihadists in Syria, the leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) has claimed, describing the government’s five years of fruitless attempts to topple al-Assad as the worst defeat in the country’s foreign policy history.
“Turkey guaranteed the territorial integrity and unity of Syria. In the near future, it will also sit around the same table with al-Assad under Russia’s auspices. Turkey will cooperate with al-Assad against ISIL [the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant] in Raqqa, al-Bab and elsewhere. They will shake hands with al-Assad,” CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu told Ankara bureau chiefs in a meeting late on Dec. 27.
“They went to Moscow willy-nilly and signed the agreement [on Syria]. Now, they will also go to Astana and sign another agreement. It has become clear that the only leader in our region is Russia,” Kılıçdaroğlu said. “That’s why I call this ‘worst defeat ever in our foreign policy.’”
The CHP leader referred to a joint declaration announced by the foreign ministers of Russia, Turkey and Iran on Dec. 20 in Moscow that labeled the three countries as guarantors of maintaining the territorial integrity and unity of the Syrian Arab Republic as well as of providing a peaceful solution to the unrest. Turkey’s participation has been interpreted as a major U-turn on its Syria policy that was focused on ousting al-Assad from power.
Although Turkey agreed with Russia and Iran over Syria, it remains alone in fighting ISIL in northern Syria, he said. “Why are only our soldiers in the battlefield? Why don’t they support us? We have made a deal with Russia but where are Russian forces? If they don’t provide land forces, why are they hesitating in providing aerial backing? We are in agreement with them but still alone [in the field].”
‘10 years to escape swamp’
Recalling that AKP officials in the past described Turkey as the game-setter in the Middle East and in the world but now could not even determine who is killing its troops in Syria, Kılıçdaroğlu said: “If the objective is to provide Turkey’s security, we of course support the establishment of a safe zone and the operation on al-Bab. But what’s the objective in al-Bab operation? Fighting ISIL or preventing a Kurdish corridor? What are we doing in farther south?”
Kılıçdaroğlu also forecast that it would take nearly 10 years for Turkey to extricate itself from the Middle East swamp.
Charter changes to lead us to darker age
Kılıçdaroğlu also addressed ongoing works to implement partial changes to the constitution that will shift the governance model to an executive presidential system. Explaining why the CHP was not supporting the process led by the AKP and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), Kılıçdaroğlu said the amendments were being imposed on just one person’s demands and in the absence of a societal contract.
He also repeated that the amendments would mean a change in Turkey’s system of governance and was therefore tantamount to treachery to democracy.
“What are the objectives of the charter changes? To introduce more democracy? No. To strengthen the rule of law? No. Constitutions cannot be amended upon a single person’s wishes,” he said.
All AKP lawmakers signed the draft changes without even seeing them, he said.
“Will this constitution bring democracy to Turkey? No. But it will bring about a much darker period for Turkey. Why darker? Mr. President, as the head of a political party, will appear at political rallies and will criticize the opposition parties. And, afterwards, if elected as the president, he will take an oath that he will remain impartial,” he said.
Such developments will put the president in a controversial situation as the head of the nation has long functioned as an insurance policy within the state system and as a trouble-shooter, Kılıçdaroğlu said.
“However, this change negates this function of the president. Instead of resolving problems, the president becomes part of the problem.”
Parliament will vote against amendments
Although the AKP and MHP have enough seats to ensure the amendments are approved in parliament to prompt a referendum in spring 2017, Kılıçdaroğlu expressed his belief that there would be some defectors from the two parties.
“We think it won’t be approved in parliament thanks to lawmakers with common sense,” he said, recalling the parliament had not even given Atatürk the right to dissolve it in the early years of the formation of the Republic of Turkey.
The CHP will stand against the charter changes but it should not only be the main opposition’s task to oppose them, Kılıçdaroğlu said, hinting the party would try to mobilize democrats, intellectuals and those who are pro-democratic. In parliament, Kılıçdaroğlu said he had demanded that former CHP chair Deniz Baykal defend the party’s position when the draft is introduced to the General Assembly.
Like post-Sept 12 coup period
Comparing what Turkey was currently experiencing to the era after the Sept. 12 coup d’état, Kılıçdaroğlu said measures imposed by the government in the former were heavier than in the latter.
“No healthy charter can be made under the rule of a state of emergency. If there is going to be a change, it should be discussed freely by all segments of society. The state of emergency rulings are similar to those after the Sept. 12 coup [in 1980],” he said, recalling that the junta banned opposing vote on the new constitution in 1982.
“Isn’t it the same now? Can’t they arrest all of us on charges of being a member of FETÖ? Yes, they can,” he said, referring to the Fethullahist Terror Organization, which is blamed for the bloody July 15 coup attempt.