Dr. Khalid Al-Shafi / Editor-in-Chief / The Peninsula
Doha, Qatar – Qatar and Turkey are two brotherly countries with deep-rooted historical, cultural, and political relations. The bilateral ties of the two countries have witnessed a continued development since 1972, helped by joint efforts to enhance bilateral cooperation in different areas of common interests.
Both the friendly countries also remained engaged in consultations on various regional and international issues having a wide spectrum strategic relationship ranging from economy, industry, defense, security, investment, and energy.
The total value of the projects undertaken by Turkish companies in Qatar stands at $18.5bn. Qatar and Turkey have also signed over 50 agreements so far within the scope of the High Strategic Committee mechanism established in 2014.
H E President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in an exclusive interview with The Peninsula Editor-in-Chief, Dr. Khalid Mubarak Al-Shafi during his visit to Doha yesterday, spoke about a wide range of issues starting from the bilateral strategic cooperation between Qatar and Turkey, which offers the “best example of cooperation on a win-win basis”.
According to H E President Erdogan, the Turkey-Qatar Combined Joint Force Command is the symbol of brotherhood, friendship, solidarity, and sincerity between the two countries. He spoke about negative propaganda about the Turkish military base in Doha and rejected the claims as “baseless” as “Turkey’s military presence serves the stability and peace not only for Qatar but the whole Gulf”.
With regard to the ongoing 8 year-long civil war in Syria, he said his country can not remain indifferent to the crisis which has claimed lives of one million people and displaced some 12 million.
In this interview, H E President Erdogan touched upon many issues including Turkey’s special bond and friendship with Saudi Arabia, the current Gulf crisis, the strategic cooperation with the United States in areas such as the fight against terrorism, democracy, instability and the termination of conflicts.
H E also spoke about “the deal of the century” for settling the Palestinian issues, describing it as “a plan that ignores the acquired rights of Palestinians, rejects a two-state solution on the basis of the borders of 1967, and legitimizes the policies of occupation and annexation”. Therefore, H E said, the deal has no chance of success.
Along with his clear vision on regional issues like Libya, Turkey’s relations with Greece and the ongoing military clashes between Azerbaijan and Armenia have also been covered in the interview.
Furthermore, H E spoke about the efforts made by the Republic of Turkey to combat COVID-19 and its support in the shape of medical supplies to over 150 countries without any discrimination and the strong healthcare infrastructure which the country has built over the last 18 years.
The close cooperation Qatar and Turkey has established in many different areas for 47 years is remarkable. Bilateral relations have improved significantly in the last 8 years. What are the factors that enable the leaders of the two countries to establish such strategic relations?
Turkey and Qatar are two brotherly countries that have deep-rooted historical, cultural and human relations. We have strategic relationships in a wide spectrum ranging from economy, industry, defense, security, investment, and energy. We have signed more than 50 agreements so far within the scope of the High Strategic Committee mechanism established in 2014. We held the 5th meeting of the Committee on November 25, 2019, in Doha.
Turkey offers attractive opportunities in many areas like real estate, finance, technology, defense, and communications to Qatari investors. In 2019, our exports to Qatar increased by around 10 percent compared to the previous year. Currently, 500 Turkish companies are operating in Qatar. The total value of the projects undertaken only by our contracting companies is $18.5bn. I believe that Turkey and Qatar offer the best example of cooperation on a win-win basis. We will deepen our cooperation with joint projects especially before the World Cup to be held in Qatar in 2022.
What kind of a role can Turkey play as a country and with its private sector in the preparations of the 2022 World Cup which will be held for the first time in the region by Qatar?
The 2022 World Cup requires serious preparatory work not only in terms of infrastructure investments but also in a wide range of areas from security to organisation. We are sure that our Qatari friends will successfully carry out this organisation. In the past, we also hosted several sports events in Turkey. We have a lot of experience in this field. We have different projects to offer this experience to our Qatari brothers. With the permission of Allah, we will work together with the Qatari Government particularly on security and infrastructure. We will extend all kinds of support for the success of this important sports organisation.
The solution to the Gulf crisis has been progressing very slowly. Some parties see the relationship between Turkey and Qatar and Turkey’s military presence in Qatar as an additional obstacle to resolve the crisis. How will Gulf reconciliation affect Qatar-Turkey relations and Turkey’s military presence in Doha?
Our joint projects with Qatar in the field of military, security, and defense industry constitute the backbone of our bilateral relations. The Turkey-Qatar Combined Joint Force Command is the symbol of brotherhood, friendship, solidarity, and sincerity between our countries. Those who carry out negative propaganda about our base are definitely not well-intentioned. Turkey’s military presence serves for the stability and peace not only of the brotherly nation Qatar, but also of the whole Gulf. No one except for those making plans of chaos should be disturbed by Turkey and the Turkish military presence in the Gulf.
As Turkey and the Turkish nation, we can never forget Qatar’s solidarity with our country following the July 15 coup attempt. We have also put in every effort to defeat the unjust blockade and sanctions against our Qatari brothers and sisters and are still doing so. We hope that the crisis that has been going on for three years will be resolved as soon as possible. We are also very pleased to see Qatar coming out of the blockade stronger despite all forms of injustice.
What will be the course of Turkey’s relations with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates?
Turkey develops its relations with all states on the axis of justice, equality, respect for interests, and integrity. We always keep our door and heart open for everyone who does not have a hostile feeling towards our nation and who does not devote special efforts to undermine the interests of our country. We have a special bond and friendship with Saudi Arabia, especially with the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Salman bin Abdulaziz. Thus far, we have tried to fulfill the requirements of this friendship and the law of brotherhood between us, regardless of current issues. We will continue to show the same sensitivity from now on. On the other hand, the activities carried out by the United Arab Emirates administration both in the Gulf region and in different Islamic geographies from Libya to Syria and Palestine are unfortunately extremely negative. In Libya, it is not possible for us to approve the hostile attitude towards the Government of National Accord recognized by the United Nations. The biggest supporter of the putschist Haftar in terms of weapons, ammunition, and finance is the United Arab Emirates administration. These policies, which are of no use to anyone except those who feed on the instability and Muslim blood in our region, should be abandoned as soon as possible. It is obvious that United Arab Emirates’ efforts to escalate the tension through provocative steps with its position at the anti-Turkey front, which cannot acknowledge our activities in the Eastern Mediterranean in line with our rights and interests, do not serve the peace in the region.
Whenever Turkey takes a step to make its Syrian border safe from the threats posed by terrorist groups, the United States threatens to impose economic sanctions on the Republic of Turkey. Does this mean that the relations between the two strategic allies (Turkey and the United States) are evolving from a coalition protecting their common interest to competition in the region?
We have deep-rooted, multidimensional and strategic cooperation with the United States. It is against the nature of international relations that the countries with different interests think the same on every issue and act in the same way. The main issue here is to maintain relations on the basis of bilateral interests, despite differences of opinion. Although we have taken separate positions with the United States on various issues from time to time, we have placed great importance on not undermining the strategic partnership between us. However, in recent years, we have had some difficulties with the American administration with regards to supporting the PKK-YPG terrorist organisation in Syria and extradition of FETO ringleader, the perpetrator of the July 15 bloody coup attempt, to our country. It is evident that not only the United States, but also some NATO allies continue to cooperate with the PKK/PYD/YPG terrorist organisation and protect the members of FETO, and it poisons the alliance solidarity. As an ally, our expectation was to see strong solidarity with our country on both issues; unfortunately, our expectation was not met. Even the PKK-YPG terrorist organisation was seen as a partner in Syria, supported and protected by some circles under the American administration. Especially the remnants of the former administration displayed an uncompromising attitude in some military and security bureaucracy issues.
On the other hand, we have acquired a positive atmosphere in our bilateral relations with Mr. Trump taking office. Our attitudes are increasingly overlapping, both on regional issues and on many other issues ranging from trade to investments. We focus on our common interests rather than disagreements. Mr. Trump and I have set a goal of increasing our bilateral trade to $100bn, and we are committed to achieving this goal. We will continue to work together with the United States in all platforms, including NATO, on such issues as the fight against terrorism, democracy, instability and the termination of conflicts.
Some circles accuse Turkey of carrying out operations in northern Syria to achieve their goals. What would you say about such accusations?
Our country has a nearly 911-kilometre border with Syria. We are one of the countries that are most affected by the conflicts that began in 2011. We could not have remained indifferent to a crisis in which one million people lost their lives and 12 million people were displaced. So far, hundreds of our citizens have been martyred in attacks that originated from Syria. Turkey has undertaken a heavy burden in both humanitarian and social, and also material aspects. We are currently hosting 3.7 million Syrian asylum seekers.
No state would allow a terrorist organisation to flourish across its borders. We have carried out a determined fight against both DAESH and the PKK-YPG terrorist organisation. With the Operation Euphrates Shield, we removed Daesh terrorists from Jarablus, Azaz and Al Bab. We are the only country which has been engaged in close combat with Daesh and whose soldiers have been martyred for that cause. Likewise, with the Operations Olive Branch and Peace Spring, we removed the YPG-PYD terrorist organisation, namely, the Syrian extension of the PKK, from our border line. We cleansed an area of 8,300 square kilometres that was under the occupation of Daesh and PKK-YPG from terrorism and handed over these territories to their real owners. Thanks to the efforts exerted by Turkey and the Free Syrian Army, stability and peace have been restored in regions once associated with terrorism, cruelty and oppression. 411,000 Syrian refugees have returned here so far. Turkey is never permanent in the Syrian territory. We have no eye on anyone’s territory. When the crisis is permanently resolved, our presence in Syria will come to an end. Nevertheless, until that stage, we will continue to combat terrorism and attacks against our country within the framework of our legitimate right of self-defense and the Adana Agreement. We will not allow Idlib or the remaining Syrian territories to become a threat to the security of our country.
Turkey is very clear and determined regarding “the deal of the century.” In your opinion, what will follow this agreement? Will it be fully implemented?
When the plan was announced, as Turkey, we became one of the countries that reacted in the strongest manner. It is impossible for us to accept a plan that our Palestinian brothers and sisters did not approve, no matter in what packaging it is marketed. A plan that ignores the acquired rights of Palestinians, rejects a two-state solution on the basis of the borders of 1967, and legitimises the policies of occupation and annexation, has no chance of success. Indeed, it has been a stillborn plan as of the moment it was announced. We do not see the prospect of implementing such a plan.
The memorandum of understanding signed by Turkey with Libya concerning the delimitation of maritime jurisdiction areas was officially registered by the United Nations. What would you say about this development?
The Government of National Accord, led by Mr. Sarraj, is the only legitimate structure in Libya that is recognised by the international community. Turkey and Libya, which have the longest coastline in the Mediterranean, signed two memoranda of understanding concerning the delimitation of maritime jurisdiction areas and military cooperation. The registration of this memorandum by the UN proved that the step we took did not pose any problem in terms of international law and established practices.
In line with the legitimate government’s request, the Turkish Armed Forces are carrying out training and support activities in Libya. The putschist Haftar, on the other hand, has neither legitimacy nor international recognition. It is waging a dirty and bloody war with legionnaires and foreign militias against the legitimate government of Libya. He (Haftar) is also a mercenary. Through his uncompromising stance both in Moscow and at the Berlin Conference, he showed the entire world that he had no intention of reaching a ceasefire and a solution. The legitimacy will succeed in Libya, and the putschists will lose. The opportunity that has emerged thanks to peace established on the ground as a result of Turkey’s initiatives and that will maintain peace and stability both in Libya and in the region must not be wasted.
What is your take on the latest developments in the Eastern Mediterranean and Turkey’s “Blue Homeland” approach?
Turkey has always supported an equitable allocation of the riches of the Eastern Mediterranean by the littoral states. We have emphasized this in all of our diplomatic initiatives. However, states disturbed by the presence of Turkey, in particular Greece, have adopted a stance that causes tension by taking unilateral actions. Behind the stance of France, known for its colonialism, which provoked Greece, the Greek Cypriot Administration of Southern Cyprus, and now Armenia, is the fact that Turkey has played an active role in the region.
The issue of the Aegean and the Mediterranean is one that Turkey will never take a step back from. We have voiced loudly on all platforms that we will not accept any solution that disregards Turkey and the TRNC and that confines us to the shores, and we will continue to do so. We will resolutely continue to protect and defend our rights and interests at all times and under all circumstances.
Those who see our determination in the Eastern Mediterranean and realized that they cannot make our country step back with empty threats and blackmails has eventually paid heed to our calls for dialogue. We have, however, kept diplomacy channels open from the very beginning. Turkey has demonstrated loud and clear that it is in support of reducing the tension and flavors dialogue in the Eastern Mediterranean, not just through its statements but also its actions. We have the assurance that we are right in terms of international law. In this regard, we are taking all our steps regarding the Mediterranean issue within the context of our win-win principle, in a way that will serve peace and tranquility and benefit all Mediterranean countries.
What is your take on the struggle of Azerbaijan to save its territories occupied by Armenia?
The occupation of part of Azerbaijan’s territory, particularly Karabakh, where Armenia massacred people, has been going on for nearly 30 years. Encouraged by the indifference of the international community for years in the face of these massacres and invasions, Armenia pursued its aggressive steps with new attacks on civilians. Azerbaijan then took action to save its occupied territories and is now reclaiming the regions that Armenia captured through banditry.
Turkey is and will be standing by Azerbaijan’s state and people in the just cause of “one nation, two states” motto as it has done so far. We will continue to support our Azerbaijani brothers with all our means.
The states and the international structures claiming that they took the so-called initiative to solve this regional problem, unfortunately, condemned the problem to a deadlock until today. The attitude of these states and institutions caused Armenia to be spoiled and to engage in new occupation activities. The Karabakh issue has been the most important crisis matter of the Caucasus for the last 30 years. Azerbaijan’s decision to solve this problem, which has been inconclusive for years and has become unbearable with the soaring attacks of Armenia, with an actual struggle, is a necessity of history, law, and the facts of geography. In order to solve this problem permanently, it is necessary to implement UN resolutions and to fulfill the requirements of international law.
Armenia, which does not hesitate to be aggressive and hostile towards the Turkish nation at every opportunity, is the biggest obstacle to peace, stability, and tranquility in the region. Armenia’s attempt to show Turkey within the conflict through various tricks after its heavy defeat during its last occupation effort has been proof of its confinement and despair. Even this attitude of Armenia is an indication that it wants to create a wide-scale conflict area in the region. The most recent process has revealed who truly stands for peace. I repeat my call for the international community to see this fact and abandon the double standards it has been implementing for years and take steps to end the occupation of Armenia on Azerbaijani territory.
What can you say about the progress that the world and Turkey have made in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic that is affecting the whole world?
In addition to being a global health problem, the coronavirus pandemic has become an issue with political, economic, and social dimensions for the whole world. We consider this pandemic, which affects all countries from east to west, from north to south without borders, as a great test that humanity has been subjected to. We believe that this test, which reminds us that the whole world has a shared destiny, can be overcome by working together shoulder to shoulder. With this understanding as Turkey, we have not only considered the health of solely our citizens but also sent medical equipment to more than 150 countries without any discrimination. We did not hesitate to share with our friends the critical healthcare supplies needed, especially the domestic respiratory devices and masks produced in our country.
Our country has made a much-appreciated difference in the pandemic period with its health infrastructure and the healthcare system as well as advanced diagnosis and treatment protocols. Turkey has become one of the countries to most readily respond to the pandemic thanks to its healthcare system, which we have strengthened in the last 18 years, 40,000 intensive care beds, 246,000 bed capacity, more than 4,000 treatment institutions and more than 1,100,000 healthcare professionals. In this process, we assured our citizens that we would protect both their morale and their health with the giant healthcare facilities that have completed rapidly as well as 16 city hospitals that have put into service throughout the country. In addition to the health measures we have taken against the pandemic, we have realized many projects that provide economic and social assurance to our citizens from all walks of life in this process and set an example to the world.
We have shared our country’s means as well as experiences in the fight against the virus with our friends. The determined and intensive efforts of the Turkish scientists on diagnosis, treatment and vaccine development continue. In this context, we committed to providing resources towards the rapid development of the vaccine with the G-20 Declaration, which we adopted on March 26, 2020. We strive to fulfill our responsibility as a party to the “Coronavirus Global Response” pledging event.
Many Arab and Islamic countries highly admire the accomplishments of the AK Party government today, as they have done in the past, however recent developments within the party are causing concern not only in Turkey but also in the Arab and Muslim world. In this sense, what would you say to relieve people’s concerns?
The AK Party is a party that was founded in 2001 as the hope of the nation and came to power only 15 months after its foundation. When we look at our activities since the foundation of our party, it is full of achievements, reforms and services that few mortals could witness. Moreover, throughout our party history of more than 18 years and our periods as the ruling party, we have not only provided services and carried out activities, but also fought against various forces ranging from terrorism to tutelage. Thank Allah, we have managed to come out of all these processes with great success.
Besides, we have won all the elections that we have participated in the last 17 years. As the AK Party and the People’s Alliance, we again made a clean sweep in the Municipal Elections of March 31, 2019. Today, the AK Party maintains its first-day excitement with its 10.5 million members, dynamism, vision and passion for serving the nation. There is no inertia or weakening concerning our party’s cadres and its horizon.
On the other hand, politics is a dynamic process and the renewal of party cadres is only natural. It is natural to have changes of duty even break-aways in time. None of those who have broken away from the AK Party and shifted their grounds has so far succeeded. Our nation has never relied on those who set off with the flatters of media and international powers. That is why we look at ourselves, not others, and concentrate on our own agenda. We believe that we will continue to serve Turkey for long years ahead as long as we keep our bond with our nation strong.
Many leaders and representatives from Muslim countries came together at the Kuala Lumpur Summit held on December 19, 2019. As believed by some, was the purpose of the Summit to establish the core for an Islamic bloc alternative to the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation?
In the Muslim world, figures in almost all areas, from trade to politics, from foreign policy to industry and technology, are lagging well behind our potential. The total share of Muslim countries in the world economy is not even 10 percent. The income gap between the richest and poorest Muslim country is more than 200 folds. Today, 350 million sisters and brothers are struggling to survive under extreme poverty. Although the foundations of humanity’s current level of development were laid on the Muslim territory, we should think well of the reasons for the challenges that Muslims face today, analyse them and find solutions. For it is not possible to solve problems just by sitting and discussing, it is evident that we need mechanisms and will to eliminate injustice.
The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation is the most important tool that we have in this regard since it is a structure that brings together all countries with a Muslim population. If we can bring the OIC to the dreamed level with all its bodies and activities, I believe we can overcome our challenges altogether. From this perspective, the Kuala Lumpur Summit is definitely not an effort to seek an alternative to the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.
The absence of some Arab leaders at the Kuala Lumpur Summit was interpreted as marginalising Arab countries and discharging the leadership of the Muslim world for the sake of a new Islamic leadership. What is your take on this?
The theme of the summit was “The Role of Development in Achieving National Sovereignty”. The purpose of meetings held on the sidelines of the Summit was to find solutions to our problems in this framework. It was with this intention that we, as Turkey, accepted the invitation of Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. It is beneficial rather than harmful that Muslim countries come together through various platforms and mechanisms besides the works under the roof of the Organisation. I think we need it more especially during the painful period that we are currently going through. I believe neither Turkey nor other participant countries have the intention to leave other countries outside. Frankly speaking, I do not find such comments right and sincere.
For some observers, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation has turned into a hollow structure with no essence and has no role in enhancing cooperation between Muslim countries and addressing the challenges they face. Do you agree with this view? Why is not there any effort to enable the active role of the OIC? How do you think this organisation can be restructured and its role rendered more effective?
For three years during our Term Presidency, we made considerable efforts for the OIC to find solutions to our shared problems. We exerted efforts to overcome obstacles and bottlenecks caused by legal procedures through enhancing means of mutual trade and investment.
We established mechanisms such as High-Level Strategic Cooperation Councils, Joint Economic Committees and High-Level Strategic Committees with several countries including the members of the OIC. We organised comprehensive sessions on “Facilitating Trade and Improving Customs Risk Management Systems in the OIC Member States” and “Food Safety” during the 34th and 35th meetings of COMCEC respectively. We completed the foundation procedures for Istanbul Arbitration Centre. We hope that the restructuring of Islamic Chambers of Commerce and Industry will soon be completed successfully. It is extremely crucial to introduce the Preferential Trade Agreement System. I believe that the effectiveness of the Organisation will further soar when we put the decisions we take into practice and when we discuss and find solutions to our problems without falling into any complex.