During his state visit to France on Friday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan scolded two French journalists for enquiring into alarming reports on the Government’s support for terror groups in Syria and restrictions on freedom of expression.
The incidents took place at the Elysee during a joint press conference with his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron, amid tensions between Turkey and other NATO members due to the former’s crackdown on the opposition.
Intervention in Syria
A French journalist asked the Turkish president to comment on a report published in 2015 by Cumhuriyet newspaper regarding the issue that first erupted in January 2014 when “prosecutors in southern Turkey uncovered trucks heading to Syria that they said were National Intelligence Organization (MIT) vehicles stuffed with arms,” as France 24 reported.
After the story was published the newspaper’s then-editor-in-chief, Can Dundar, fled the country after he was handed “a five-year and 10-month jail term for divulging state secrets,” according to France 24.
Erdogan’s response defamed the journalist for having spoken like a member of the outlawed Fethullah Terror Organization (FETO), which allegedly staged the failed coup attempt against his regime in July 2017.
The Turkish President declared that prosecutors involved in the case in question are in prison for being allegedly affiliated with FETO, led by the U.S.-based Islamist Fethullah Gulen.
In 2015, Reuters reported that those prosecutors’ investigation consisted of a testimony from gendarmerie officers, which stated that MIT officials accompanied trucks carrying weapons – including rocket parts, ammunitions, and unfinished mortar bombs – from Turkey to Syrian territories formerly occupied by IS militants during late 2013 and early 2014.
As a result, prosecutors ordered the inspection of four trucks in the southern province of Adana in raids by police and gendarmerie, one in November 2013 and the three others in January 2014, according to Reuters. However, one truck was confiscated while the three others continued after the accompanying MIT elements threatened police and physically resisted the search.
Fury against the United States
Erdogan proceeded saying, “You ask me that question but why don’t you ask me why the United States sent 4,000 trucks with arms to Syria?”
It can be inferred that the Turkish President referred to the U.S. backing to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) dominated by the Kurdish Militia People’s Protection Units (YPG) identified by Turkey as a terror group.
Furthermore, in November the Turkish president accused the United States of funding the Islamic State (IS) a few days after the U.S.-led coalition Spokesman Colonel Ryan Dillon told the BBC that a deal took place between SDF (labeled by the U.S. as an opposition group) and the defeated IS fighters after Raqqa was captured.
Dillon explained that the deal entailed the evacuation of 3,500 people, 300 of which were identified as “potential IS fighters,” in addition to allowing the coalition to screen the “ISIS-aged males” and civilians. He added that a “Western officer” was present when closing the deal without taking an “active part.”
The BBC interviewed truck drivers who stated that they received thousands of dollars in return of secretly transporting hundreds of IS fighters and “tons of weapons and ammunitions” out of the city.
In December 2016, Erdogan announced that his country “confirmed evidence, with pictures, photos and videos,” of the U.S. supporting IS and Kurdish militias, outlawed as terrorist in Turkey.
Prior to his departure to France, the Turkish president told reporters in Istanbul that U.S.-Turkish ties and accords are “losing validity” commenting on the conviction of Mehmet Hakan Atilla, a Turkish bank executive at the majority state-owned Halkbank.
Manhattan Federal Court found Atilla guilty of five charges related to bank fraud and conspiracy to violate U.S. sanctions law. Turkey’s Deputy PM Bekir Bozdag condemned the court’s decision, saying it was “completely political.”
The case is part of a wider U.S. probe into a suspected Turkish conspiracy to evade U.S. sanctions against Iran. The high-profile case was earlier described by the Turkish president as “defamation and games” designed to “make Turkey kneel,” according to Russia Today.
Atilla, the deputy general manager for international banking at the Turkish state bank Halkbank, was described by prosecutors as a “fixer” who helped Iran “circumvent the sanctions and gain access to billions of dollars of restricted petrodollar funds that were being held at the bank,” according to The New York Times.
Blaming press and media for terrorism
During the press conference in France, the Turkish president was flooded with questions on media freedom that is being jeopardized following the failed coup attempt. The Turkish president’s response was that journalists’ writings give floor for terrorists to rise.
“Terror doesn’t form by itself. Terror and terrorists have gardeners. These gardeners are those people viewed as thinkers. They water … from their columns on newspapers… And one day, you find, these people show up as a terrorist in front of you,” Erdogan said, according to Russia Today.
According to the Telegraph, 130 journalists were arrested and 130 media outlets were shut down in the aftermath of the coup attempt. The Turkish regime has imprisoned hundreds of army, police, judiciary personnel, as well as dissidents, human rights campaigners and senior opposition lawmakers for allegedly being members of FETA.