Turkey will eradicate terrorism at its source, Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said Saturday, adding that the country has no interest in the territory of other countries.
The minister met with representatives of the press in the capital Ankara at the annual assessment meeting. Expressing that Turkey is working intensively in its region and in critical geographies, Akar, aware of the country’s geopolitical and geostrategic importance, said that it is seeking to maintain its national security and foster peaceful relations with its neighbors and allies.
Turkey entered the new year with increased motivation, Akar stressed, emphasizing that it has adopted the method of ending terrorism at the source in accordance with the new security concept, and in doing so, has no eye on other countries’ territorial integrity and sovereignty.
From July 24, 2015, up until today, 33,275 terrorists have been eliminated, whereas this number from Jan. 1, 2021, is 2,795, Akar noted.
“Turkey has torn apart the terror corridor that was intended to be created in Syria, and the terrorists have been buried in the pit they dug,” Akar said, who also added that more than 1 million Syrians have voluntarily returned to terror-free areas to date. Stating that Turkey has mobilized all the capacities at its disposal to normalize the lives of Syrians, Akar noted that Turkey is in constant contact with its Russian counterparts regarding the Bashar Assad regime and Russian airstrikes and that it has made necessary warnings in a timely manner.
Akar said that it was observed that the cease-fire has been largely complied with in Syria, especially after the meeting between President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his counterpart Vladimir Putin on Sept. 30, 2021.
Akar noted that Turkey cannot bear the burden of a new wave of migration that would occur with regime attacks, stressing that the continuation of the cease-fire and stability is very important until the creation of a new constitution for Syria. Akar went on to say that the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) have responded and will respond in kind to harassment from areas controlled by the PKK terrorist group’s Syrian branch YPG.
Turkish forces have launched three cross-border operations in the last five years – Euphrates Shield in 2016, Olive Branch in 2018 and Peace Spring in 2019 – to secure hundreds of kilometers of the border strip and have pushed around 30 kilometers (20 miles) into northern Syria. Russian jets, Iran-backed fighters, Turkish-supported opposition groups, United States troops and Syrian regime forces also operate across the patchwork of territories in northern Syria, as well as the YPG. Despite its NATO ally Turkey’s major security concerns, the U.S. views the YPG as a key ally in the fight against Daesh in northeast Syria. Russia has forces in the area to support the Assad regime.
Akar said that Turkey’s borders are being protected with the most efficient measures, including physical barriers and facilities, equipment and additional troops. “There is a serious effort, intensive technology is being deployed, and this is reflected in the numbers. Since Jan. 1, 99,602 have been held for illegally crossing the border. An additional 314,586 have been prevented,” he said.
The minister noted that among those captured, 495 were linked to terrorist groups, including 248 from the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ), 92 from the PKK, 68 members of Daesh, 36 from Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), four from the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C) and three Marxist-Leninist Communist Party (MLKP) members.
Greece resumes violations, provocation
Speaking on the relations between Turkey and Greece, Akar said that Athens was pursuing expansionist policies in the region, violating international law.
“Our Greek neighbors are continuing their provocations and violations. Our Greek counterparts ignore the facts and their injustices, but we are right and, therefore, we are strong,” he commented.
Akar said the two countries were at odds on a number of issues, including Greece’s aggressive armament policy, its arming of demilitarized islands in the Aegean Sea, the policy of suppression of its Turkish minority and unfounded claims in the Eastern Mediterranean violating the rights of Turkey and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC).
Disputes on maritime delimitation, air space and flight information, were also among the major issues between Ankara and Athens, he said.
“Despite all these problems and provocations, we urge them to negotiate. We want negotiated solutions based on good neighborly relations,” Akar underlined.
Greece has often been embroiled in tensions with Turkey over a range of issues, from competing claims over hydrocarbon resources in the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas to the demilitarization of islands. Greece’s burgeoning arms program is designed to counter Turkish interests in the Eastern Mediterranean, against which France is among the few EU states to have offered public support in past months.
Greece should refrain from testing Turkey’s patience with provocations, including with a threat to extending its territorial waters in the Aegean, the defense minister warned. He also slammed aerial and maritime violations by Greece, as well as provocative statements by Greek politicians against Turkey.
Noting that Greece continues to violate Turkey’s rights in its Aegean territorial waters, Akar said to Greece: “You will increase your territorial waters to 12 miles. You will do all the expansion illegally and unfairly. The island of Kastellorizo (Megisti-Meis), which is 1,950 meters (1.2 miles) from our waters, is 600 kilometers (373 miles) from Greece. Are we going to ask Greece for permission in our territorial waters? We will continue to bring this up. We will continue to protect all our rights despite incitement and violations. Even if this happens to another country, we will behave the same way.”
Akar also said Turkey wanted to resolve disputes with its neighbor and fellow NATO member Greece through dialogue and turn the Aegean into a “sea of friendship,” but he accused Athens of pressing ahead with what he said were provocative actions, including militarizing islands close to mainland Turkey, in breach of international agreements.
“They (Greece) should not miscalculate and think it’s the right time (to extend the territorial waters to) 12 miles,” Akar said. “They should not test us in any way, and should not embark on such an adventure. I hope they don’t make such a mistake,” he explained.
He added, “Let the two sides benefit from the riches, let both the Turkish people and the Greek people live happily and prosperously.”
Greece has undermined NATO by attempting to form alliances against Turkey within the bloc, the defense minister also said.
Emphasizing that Greece is also an ally of Turkey in NATO, Akar noted that Greece is illegally arming the demilitarized islands and is buying more weapons than it needs. “The formation of other alliances within NATO weakens NATO,” he said. “This would actually be a threat to NATO.”
Turkey, which has the longest continental coastline in the Eastern Mediterranean, has rejected the maritime boundary claims of Greece and the Greek Cypriot administration, stressing that their excessive claims violate the sovereign rights of both Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots.
Akar further criticized Greece’s policy to push back asylum seekers trying to reach its shores via the Aegean Sea, reiterating that these actions were a gross violation of international law, as well as basic human rights.
He also maintained that Athens was using its European Union membership as a tool and that the bloc overlooks Greece’s illegal and illegitimate claims.
Turkey remains resolute in protecting its interests and rights, as well as those of Turkish Cypriots, Akar added.
Greece and Turkey have long been at odds over a series of disputes, including territorial rights in the Aegean Sea and over energy exploration rights in the Eastern Mediterranean. Tensions flared in the summer of 2020 over exploratory drilling rights in areas in the Mediterranean where both sides claim their own exclusive economic zone.
Greece says it maintains its right to extend its territorial waters from the current six to 12 nautical miles around its Aegean islands. Turkey has long said it would consider the move – which would block its own access to the Aegean – as an act of war. Last year, Greece’s parliament voted to extend its waters along its western coastline, on the other side of the country, to 12 miles.
Turkish leaders have repeatedly stressed that Ankara favors resolving outstanding problems in the region through international law, good neighborly relations, dialogue and negotiations. Instead of opting to solve problems with Ankara through dialogue, Athens has, on several occasions, refused to sit at the negotiation table and opted to rally Brussels to take a tougher stance against Turkey.
In January 2021, the two countries agreed to resume talks after a five-year hiatus following months of tensions. Since then, Ankara and Athens have held two rounds of talks, with the last one in Athens in March.
Commenting on the NATO alliance, meanwhile, Akar lamented what he said was an “open or covert” arms embargo by some NATO allies on Turkey. He said those countries were “weakening” the alliance by not selling defense components to Turkey. Akar also stated that Turkey has completely fulfilled all the missions undertaken within the framework of NATO.
The United States slapped sanctions on some Turkish defense officials and expelled Turkey from the U.S.-led F-35 fighter jet program after Turkey purchased Russia’s advanced S-400 long-range missile defense system, over concerns that the Russian technology would put the safety of the fighter jets at risk.
Canada canceled export licenses for drone technology to Turkey in April last year after finding the equipment had been used by Turkey’s ally Azerbaijan in the conflict with Armenian forces in Nagorno-Karabakh five months earlier. Arms control advocates had claimed the UAVs were using imaging and targeting systems produced by a Canadian company. In October 2019, Canada joined a handful of European countries, including France, Britain and Germany, in suspending arms exports after Ankara launched an operation in northeast Syria against YPG terrorists.
Akar said talks with the U.S. over a Turkish request to purchase F-16 fighter planes as compensation for the $1.4 billion it spent on the F-35 program before its ouster, were ongoing. Turkey is also looking to purchase kits to modernize its existing F-16 fleet.
He said that the second meeting of the joint mechanism talks will be held in the U.S. next month.
Akar emphasized that Turkey’s military and defense supply needs are sometimes blocked. “The weakening of the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) also means the weakening of NATO,” he said. “Turkey’s inability to meet its needs also puts NATO at risk.”
“Our main problem with the United States is the issue of the PKK and the YPG,” Akar added.
Asked about growing tensions over Russia’s military buildup around Ukraine, Akar said Turkey wanted the dispute to be resolved with the “maximum possible calm and caution.”
“Our vision from the very beginning is this: We are for peace, for the solution of problems through negotiations. Let’s not increase the tension, let’s stay away from any provocative behavior … That’s why we tell our interlocutors over and over that it is very important to act with caution,” he explained.
He said that Turkey is currently meeting with all parties to reduce tensions and find peaceful solutions, as in all areas, regarding the ongoing Ukrainian crisis. “We convey to all our colleagues that care and caution should be taken in this regard. The main thing is to ensure that the Black Sea remains a basin of peace. There is a status quo in the Black Sea and in the straits according to the Montreux Convention. As Turkey, we are doing everything necessary to ensure … that it is protected,” he said.
He also warned against “provocative acts” ahead of talks between Russia and the U.S. next week to quell tensions over Russia’s military buildup on the Ukrainian border.
NATO, of which Turkey is a member, has warned of real risks that Russia will invade Ukraine after Moscow amassed tens of thousands of troops on the Ukrainian border.
High-ranking American and Russian diplomats will meet on Monday in Geneva after Moscow laid down a list of demands for Washington and NATO.
Russia will then meet on Wednesday with all 30 NATO members – the first such encounter since July 2019.
Turkey stands with Kazakhstan, Kazakh people
Akar also said Ankara was ready to help the authorities in Kazakhstan after protests in the ex-Soviet country over rising fuel prices erupted into widespread violence.
Turkey has sought closer ties with Turkic-speaking Central Asian states such as Kazakhstan since the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991.
“We’re ready to give any kind of help and support to our Kazakh brothers and sisters, should we receive a request,” Akar said.
“Kazakhstan is an important ally of ours. There must be peace and order as soon as possible,” he added.
Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has already sought help from the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO), a military alliance of ex-Soviet states led by Russia.
It is not clear how many troops are being deployed under the force – which includes units from Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan – but media in Moscow have said the Russian contingent is expected to number less than 5,000.
In other foreign developments, Akar also pointed out that Turkey is working to establish security and stability in the Caucasus. Akar said that the Turkish-Russian joint mechanism established after the Karabakh war continues to work in coordination with Azerbaijan. “Our goal in the Caucasus is permanent stability and that it is a basin of peace with all countries,” Akar said.
Providing information about the activities of the Turkish army in Libya, Akar said that even the smallest hint in the air that the country is headed toward elections is a very big win for the country. “Turkey has never been a foreign power in Libya,” Akar said. “Turkey was there when no one was there. Our Libyan brothers and sisters know this very well.”
Regarding Afghanistan, Turkey is continuing negotiations with Qatar on the operation and security of four airfields, which is one of the country’s greatest needs, Akar said. He added that Turkey had won the hearts of its Afghan brothers during its stay in the country.