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Hulusi Akar: Turkey targets terrorism, not ethnicity in Syria

Turkey’s counter-terrorism efforts do not target any specific ethnicities in northern Syria, but focus solely on the terror groups, the defense minister said on Sunday.

Hulusi Akar’s remarks came at the 19th Doha Forum held in Qatar where he delivered remarks on international efforts against terrorism and its impacts on the political environment.

He also spoke about the Turkish government’s fight against terror groups Daesh/ISIS and the YPG, the Syrian offshoot of the PKK terror group.

“We don’t have any problems with Kurds or any other ethnicity,” Akar said, adding terror groups like YPG/PKK and Daesh terrorists -- were Turkey’s only concern.

"YPG/PKK can never represent Kurds, like Daesh cannot represent Islam. Kurds are our brothers and sisters. We will never allow the formation of a terror corridor in the south of our borders but a safe zone," he said.

Stating that terrorism gave birth to unprecedented political and social consequences, Akar said it also paved the way for radical ideologies, collapsed states, proxy wars, conflicts and mass migration.

He noted that extremist groups not only posed a threat to their own countries, but also harmed the international community.

Akar went on to say that every weapon given to the YPG was transferred to the PKK, which has waged a terror campaign against Turkey for decades killings tens of thousands of people.

The Turkish defense chief stressed that Ankara warned the international community not to wage a war on Daesh terrorists through the use of another terror group, the YPG/PKK.

Referring to Turkey’s counter-terrorism operation in northern Syria, dubbed Peace Spring, he said the operation was based on the 1998 Adana agreement – which was struck by Turkish and Syrian governments as a result of the former’s terror concern.

He stressed that Turkey did not seek to change the demographic structure in the region, or perform an ethnic cleansing on Kurds -- contrary to what has been depicted by some Western media outlets -- but only aimed to combat terror elements.

Instead, Akar said, Turkey only aims to protect all civilians regardless of their ethnic background, the region and the civilian infrastructure in Syria.

“We repaired a hospital and water reservoir damaged by the YPG/PKK,” he said, adding Turkish security units have still been clearing the improvised explosive devices (IEDs) left by the terror group.

He noted a recent survey held in northeastern Syria showed most of the participants supported Turkey’s operation in the region.

On Oct. 9, Turkey launched Operation Peace Spring to eliminate terrorists from northern Syria, east of the Euphrates River in order to secure Turkey’s borders, aid in the safe return of Syrian refugees, and ensure Syria’s territorial integrity.

In its more than 30-year terror campaign against Turkey, the PKK -- listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the U.S. and the European Union -- has been responsible for the deaths of 40,000 people, including women, children, and infants. The YPG is the Syrian offshoot of the PKK.  

Turkey on NATO

In a separate session, Akar answered the questions of Wolfgang Ischinger, the head of Munich Security Conference, on Turkey's position on NATO and purchase of the Russian S-400 missile system.

“We are still at the center of NATO,” he said. “We are not going anywhere.”

Akar said the country since 1952 has actively participated in the alliance's activities, including military exercises and operations.

"We are always in contact with the other NATO members," he said and added the Turkish government's decision to obtain an advanced Russian defense system was because some "allies" -- including the U.S. and France -- did not give a satisfactory response to Ankara's defense concerns.

Referring to U.S. President Donald Trump's remarks regarding Turkey and S-400s amid the G20 summit held in Osaka city of Japan, Akar said even the American president himself acknowledged that Turkey was left with no other option than buying the Russian system due to failure of the Barrack Obama administration back then.

Asked about F-35 fighter jets, which has become a topic of dispute between Ankara and Washington, the defense chief said Turkey would continue working "patiently" to resolve this issue.

"We still hope to find a solution because we are not a client of F-35 issue, we are a partner. We paid almost $1.5 billion for this partnership, and we are expecting the U.S. side and other members of the membership to act as we did,” he said.

"Otherwise," he warned, "as it happened with S-400, we will search for some other ways to find a solution to [meet] our needs."

On the political solution to the Syrian civil war, Akar said he was "hopeful" about this matter.

He pointed out that the terror threat emanating from Syria could pose a risk to both NATO and the EU, however, Turkey was abandoned in resolving the Syrian crisis.

The defense minister went on to say that Turkey, in addition to its defense-related ties with the EU and NATO members, also evaluated ideas on if it could have defense alliances with countries in the Asia-Africa region. 

However, he said these defense pacts were not an alternative to Turkey’s ties with NATO or the EU.

Notably, in response to a question on nuclear weapons, Akar said the international media bodies and academics should pressure related organizations to slow down and control nuclear armament.