Deputy Secretary General and Spokesperson of the Presidency Ambassador İbrahim Kalın held a press conference at the Presidential Complex.
Spokesperson Kalın stated:
“As it is stated in the General Staff’s statement, the number of terrorists who have been neutralized in Operation Olive Branch carried out in Afrin has reached 2 940 as of this morning. Besides, an important part of the targeted area, which constitutes nearly 40% of it, has been taken under control. More than 100 residential areas are now governed securely under the control of Free Syrian Army (FSA) and Turkish Armed Forces.
The fight against terrorism within the framework of Operation Olive Branch in Afrin will continue with determination. As you know, the operation is being conducted under the extremely successful coordination of Turkish Armed Forces, Ministry of Interior, Gendarmerie, National Intelligence Organization (MİT) and village guards. Once again, we wish success from Allah to our soldiers in this fight; offer condolences to our martyrs and wish a speedy recovery to the wounded.
As you know, highly dynamic developments are occurring on the ground. When we launched Afrin Operation, we shared with the whole world that first of all this is a fight against terrorist organizations and that it is transparently carried out together with the legitimate opposition forces in Syria, which is FSA. I would like to reiterate that especially MİT is intensely working on the ground in terms of the coordination of FSA and other units affiliated with it.
“AFRIN OPERATION IS NOT AN OBSTACLE TO THE FIGHT AGAINST DAESH”
We see in the statements of various circles from time to time that Afrin Operation delays or distracts the fight against DAESH. I would like to reiterate once again for the record that the fight against terrorism in Afrin is never an obstacle to the fight against DAESH. In fact, Afrin Operation is a sincerity test for the Western countries. Because, if we are really sincere and consistent about the fight against terrorism, all countries and all circles which are against terrorism should unconditionally support Operation Olive Branch. Because the aim is to clear the Syrian lands of all terrorist organizations. Since there cannot be a hierarchical distinction between the terrorist organizations such as, ‘These are good but those are bad,’ actions which are in total harmony should be taken in terms of completely clearing the Syrian lands of the terrorist organizations such as PYD/YPG and DAESH. Our expectations from our allies are in this direction.
“YPG/PYD SEEKS TO TURN AFRIN INTO SECOND QANDIL”
There are also some obstacles that YPG has recently created in terms of evacuation of civilians from Afrin. UN Spokesperson also voiced this yesterday. I would especially like to underline this issue. Because YPG/PYD has sought to turn Afrin into a second Qandil for some time now. We see within the framework of the intelligence that has reached us and of the information we obtain now and during the operation that this effort has been intensely continuing. But thanks be to Allah, with this intervention, Mr. President’s conduct and the intense works of Turkish Armed Forces, Afrin has been prevented from becoming a second Qandil. And under no circumstances will it be allowed from now on. However, we must underline the PYD/YPG terrorist organization’s attempt to block the evacuation of the civilians especially in Afrin. It is obvious that the reason for this is to use the civilians as human shields and this, as we all know, is a war crime. Therefore, our allies, instead of criticizing Turkey and Afrin Operation, should pay attention to the war crimes that the YPG/PYD terrorist organization has committed on the ground.
“US SHOULD BLOCK THE RELOCATION OF YPG/PYD FORCES FROM MANBIJ TO AFRIN”
As we all follow recently, another important development within this framework is the reports on the relocation of a group of YPG members around Manbij to Afrin. We have made our initiatives for this issue via the necessary official channels and will continue to do so. It is expected especially from the US that it should in any case intervene and block the relocation of the YPG/PYD forces, which act under its control, from Manbij to Afrin. This is our most natural right. They might or might not do it but we have taken necessary measures on the ground. Let them try to send reinforcements from Manbij or other places to Afrin all they want; we have unwavering determination on this issue. As you know, nearly two weeks ago some groups that are said to be tied or close to the regime attempted to infiltrate Afrin from the south around Aleppo. They were disrupted, as well. When this was seen, they were pushed back with the artillery shelling and the intervention of both FSA and our ground forces. Therefore, YPG/PYD terrorist organization should take some lessons from this. I would like to underscore this, as well.
Another important subject is incidents occurring in eastern Ghouta. As you know, a 30-day ceasefire has been declared in eastern Ghouta within the framework of UN Resolution 2401. But, unfortunately, the incidents which occurred in the last 10-12 days show that this ceasefire is not entirely respected. The violations of the regime are continuing. Mr. President has once again started an intense diplomacy initiative to put an end to this. He spoke with President Macron of France the other day and yesterday he spoke with Mr. Putin. And today, Mr. President will have a phone call with Mr. Rouhani in the afternoon. There might be more phone calls. Our aim is to comprehensively and consistently implement this ceasefire within the framework of the Resolution 2401. Of course, first of all, the regime should end these attacks. Secondly, establishment of a security corridor or corridors and the passing of the humanitarian aid should be allowed. Until now, a convoy of 50 vehicles arrived in eastern Ghouta, but it is not enough. Also, our initiatives to increase the daily ceasefire duration from 4-5 hours to 24 hours are continuing.
“WE HAVE MOBILIZED ALL OUR RESOURCES FOR HUMANITARIAN AID TO EASTERN GHOUTA”
With regard to eastern Ghouta, I would like to underline that we have mobilized all our resources for humanitarian aid to eastern Ghouta within the framework of works we have carried out so far and the diplomatic efforts made by Mr. President. In this respect, the conscience of the humanity beats in Turkey. Turkey has taken action with all its means in order to stop the ongoing humanitarian tragedy that is raging in eastern Ghouta and Idlib as well as other regions of Syria.
Another important issue I would like to mention in this regard is the ‘Conscience Convoy,’ which has taken to the road a few days ago and is slated to arrive in Hatay tomorrow. The ‘Conscience Convoy,’ which has come into existence as a civil society initiative under the leadership of various NGOs in Turkey and is comprised of participants from nearly 50 countries will go to Hatay tomorrow. There, the participants of the convoy will carry out works to protest against and raise awareness about the injustices, persecution and maltreatment the women suffer especially in Syria. And Mr. President will shortly receive a delegation of this convoy at the Presidential Complex. I especially would like to note that this initiative is highly important since tomorrow is International Women’s Day.
We should be highly vigilant so as to prevent women all around the world from being subjected to violence not only on the 8th of March, but all the time. We will continue to support efforts to this end especially because of the fact that women and children are among the biggest victims of the ongoing tragedy in Syria.
Therefore, our initiatives with regard to eastern Ghouta will continue in the upcoming days as well. Our expectation and request is that the ceasefire be implemented consistently and that humanitarian aid be provided. As Turkey, we have made all the necessary preparations for the delivery of humanitarian aid via the Turkish Red Crescent, the Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD) and our relevant NGOs, alongside the UN’s aid efforts. As you know, we have previously offered the transfer of a group of civilians from eastern Ghouta to Turkey for medical treatment but these attempts of ours have not come true. However, let me once again state that our offer is still valid. We have already completed the necessary preparations for the transfer of the wounded and the civilians from Ghouta to Turkey for medical treatment.
“MR. PRESIDENT IS THE WORLD LEADER WHO VISITED AFRICA THE MOST”
Another important issue on our agenda is the visits Mr. President paid to four African countries last week. More than 20 agreements were signed during the Africa tour. The tour was very fruitful and constructive for the strengthening of relations between Turkey and African countries in every field. Mr. President’s visits to Africa will continue in the coming period, as well. As of now, Mr. President has visited 26 countries in Africa, and given the total number of his visits, including the repeated ones, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is the world leader who visited Africa the most. In accordance with our Africa vision, we might have a second Africa trip this year. Our objective is to further deepen Turkey’s relations with African countries and expand the scope of the works we might jointly undertake in diplomatic, cultural, political, humanitarian and other areas. Thanks be to Allah, Turkey comes to the fore as a model in this regard. We don’t carry the burden of a colonialist past in any of the countries we go. This is openly seen in the official authorities and ordinary citizens of these countries. Our intense talks and cooperation with Africa will continue in the upcoming period, as well.
“EU MEMBERSHIP IS A STRATEGIC PRIORITY”
On the 26th of March, a Turkey-EU summit will be held in Varna with the participation of Mr. President. Turkey’s admission process into the EU, other aspects of the relations between Turkey and the EU, visa liberalization, aid provided to refugees, opening new chapters, and other rising topics in Europe such as rising racism, Islamophobia, hate crimes, will be discussed in detail. As we have expressed on numerous occasions before, we see EU membership as a priority. However, in order for that to happen, the EU also has certain responsibilities. We know that there are some serious delays caused by the EU regarding the implementation of the articles of the Turkey-EU Refugee Agreement of 2015. There is an ongoing process concerning the transfer of the funds allocated for Syrian refugees but it is not as swift and effective as we desire it to be. About the swift transfer and delivery of the second €3-billion-fund to refugees, we, as Turkey, actually have completed our work and coordination. We will continue to work with EU authorities to deliver these funds, which will come from the EU, to Syrian refugees. We will discuss this matter thoroughly during the Turkey-EU summit in Varna.
Also, the rising hate crimes, racism, Islamophobia, discrimination in Europe continue to be an alarming development. For example, a recent statement by official German authorities noted that the number of assaults on Muslims, Muslim individuals, places, businesses, houses of prayers, mosques was approximately 950 in 2017, which is quite alarming. It means nearly 3 assaults took place per day. Can you imagine that? If such intense assaults were made against a minority in Turkey, the Western world would probably cause quite a stir. Hundreds of reports, interviews, statements would be made. We are concerned about the rising racism and hate crimes in Europe. The European countries, which consider themselves to be the home and heart of democracy, pluralism and tolerance, must seriously address this issue. Because, such racist, discriminatory, Islamophobic movements have begun to take Europe’s mainstream politics captive. If these trends continue like this in the next 5, 10, 20 years, maybe Europe will be impossible to recognize. Therefore, wise political leaders in Europe should address this issue.
“VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN MUST BE STOPPED”
Tomorrow is the 8th of March, the International Women's Day. I would like to take this occasion to congratulate the International Women's Day of not only women but men. Because, I believe all must uphold that day. Violence and maltreatment against women must be stopped. Necessary legal steps must be taken to ensure women are treated humanely and also social and cultural sensibilities must be constantly kept alive. I would like to take this occasion to congratulate once again the International Women's Day. I hope it will help create a global awareness about stopping violence and maltreatment against women.
As you know, very significant steps have been taken on that issue in Turkey in the last 10 years. Maybe the most important one of them was a clause added in 2004 to Article 10 of the Constitution. According to that article, women and men have equal rights. The state is obligated to ensure that this equality is put into practice. As you know, numerous legal amendments have been made within the framework of the constitutional amendment of 2004. Significant arrangements have been made in Turkish Penal Code, Turkish Civil Code and Labor Code to ensure women’s rights. Turkey is among the first countries to sign the Council of Europe Convention, i.e. Istanbul Convention on increasing women’s employment, ensuring equal opportunity, preventing and combatting violence against women and domestic violence.
Within the framework of the 3rd National Action Plan on Combatting the Violence against women which covers the period between 2016 and 2020, many legislative arrangements have been made. As you know, some of them have been put into practice. Significant improvements have been made in terms of developing cooperation and policies between institutions and organizations, regulating healthcare services, empowering victims, offering protective and preventive services, raising awareness and changing mentalities.
Surely, it is not possible to deal with all these issues through legal arrangements. Social awareness, cultural medium and moral maturity are needed. Therefore, great responsibility falls on the shoulders of all segments of the society. Significant efforts have been made to ensure women have access to education and equal opportunities. Led by First Lady Emine Erdoğan, a literacy campaign has been launched to reach a 100% literacy level, which continues in a very successful way. Nearly 300 thousand people have applied for the program over the last few weeks to learn or enhance their ability to read and write. We hope that the campaign will greatly contribute to empowering and raising awareness among women, and to expanding this awareness to various segments of the society.”