- Mr. President, thank you for the opportunity to have this meeting. We are talking literally hours before your visit to Russia, to St. Petersburg, where you are scheduled to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Kremlin’s Press Secretary, Dmitry Peskov, has already said that joint steps to restore relations between our countries, including a wide range of issues from the economy to Syria, will be in focus. There is a great deal for you to discuss. That’s Russia’s vision. What is your agenda? How do you foresee the forthcoming talks?
- Mr. Gusman, thank you very much. It is true that ahead of the visit scheduled for Tuesday I am very grateful for the opportunity this meeting offers to express our own viewpoint, how things look to us in Turkey.
It has been eight months since the tragic downing of the Russian jet. Over this period our cooperation continued along a number of lines. As you know, in the context of Russian-Turkish relations we had planned to build up bilateral trade to $100 billion. There’ve been difficulties with that. A number of our major projects, including the Akkuyu nuclear power plant, have been suspended. I am certain that we will have an opportunity to discuss all these aspects and that a new page in Russian-Turkish relations will be opened. This new leaf to be turned over will include cooperation in the military field, in the economy and in culture. Our countries are key players in the region and they are going to accomplish a great deal together. It is with this conviction that I will arrive in Russia on a visit. I don’t have the slightest doubt that Mr. Putin has been making preparations for the visit in the same fashion, and I would like to say this using the opportunities of your television channel.
I envision this visit as a new landmark in bilateral relations, a clean slate from which to start anew. On behalf of myself and the Turkish nation, I cordially greet Mr. Putin and all Russians.
- Mr. President, of course it is a great pleasure to hear what you’ve just said. You mentioned a tragic page in our relations – the death of our pilot. I know that this episode caused ache in the hearts of all Russians. You surely understand this, Mr. President. So my question to you is who in your opinion is to blame and will the perpetrators be punished?
- I’ve already had a chance to explain our stance in the letter I had sent. I said that this event was a great misfortune to us and it deeply upset us. The culprits in what happened in Syrian territory have been detained and brought to justice already. The investigation is continuing. In fact, I conveyed that in my message. As for the pilots, I ordered a probe into the circumstances that occurred beyond the bounds of our customary rules of response. You also know that the man who caused the Russian pilot’s death, who killed the Russian pilot, is now in custody. He is standing trial. I would like to emphasize that.
- Just recently Turkey, the people of Turkey, and you personally experienced a very dramatic moment, of course. There was an attempted coup against the government. As far as I understand, you managed to suppress the coup by relying on the will of the people, first and foremost. These days we can see rallies in your support. You managed to establish stability in Turkey. Very many people, tens of thousands are under arrest and investigation. In a situation like this how did you manage to quash the rebellion? On the other hand, the large number of those arrested may possibly indicate that “anti-government forces”, let us refer to them as such, could have taken deep root in Turkish society.
- Those who tried to stage this coup against the government and the people, failed to take into account key factors. Although they had penetrated deeply into government agencies, the army, the police and the judiciary, we have police and military servicemen who refused to join the coup plotters. There were also judges and prosecutors who refused to join, too. Yet, the most important thing that we have, is our nation, a people such as ours. The plotters never took into account the will of our people. They never even imagined that our people would not hesitate to stop tanks with their bodies. They failed to take that into account. Not once did the thought enter their minds that these people would stand firm despite bombs being dropped on them from planes, or helicopters opening fire on them. At the moment, 240 are listed dead and about 2,200 others injured. Some of the survivors are still in intensive care. These people’s hearts are filled with a burning love for their country; they were ready to sacrifice themselves. That’s why they took to the streets, women and even elderly people. The young as well, take a look at those killed –15-year-old youths were among them.
Amid these events, I received a phone call from Mr. Putin already on the second day. As we talked he said that he was against the coup and would remain on our side. I recall his high-principled position with gratitude and I thank him on behalf of myself and the Turkish people.
All world leaders must resist treason, government coup attempts and attacks on their own people. Mr. Putin acted quickly and practically without delay. Once again, I express my gratitude to him.
- In this connection there is one question I would like to make clear. As you may know some media outlets in and outside of Russia carried reports that Russia and its secret services had conveyed some sort of warning, that they had notified the special services that preparations for a government coup were underway. The question I want to ask you does this scenario conform to reality.
This is the first time that I have heard such a thing. Even if it had really been so, those concerned would have been obliged to inform me first thing. I received no such information, not from intelligence, nor through any other channels. We don’t know who said what and to whom. I believe that this is a groundless rumor.
- As far as I know, Turkey has asked the United States twice or possibly more to extradite Mr. Gulen, who, to my knowledge was one of the failed coup plotters. There’s been no response from the United States so far. If the US refuses to meet Turkey’s request, how do you see future relations with Washington?
- It would be wrong to approach this question from that standpoint. At the moment, the process of negotiations is continuing. Earlier, I addressed Mr. Obama with such a request. Whenever you demanded that we should extradite terrorists, I told them, we satisfied those demands. The head of the Fethullah Terrorist Organization (led by Fethullah Gulen) has been in your country (the United States) since 1999.
Regrettably, at a certain point we had provided full support for him and his team. They were saying that they were involved in some activities in the field of education, and that they worked for the future of our country. Regrettably, they did not proceed along these lines. It was a cover-up. Then we realized that they were moving in a different direction. I had suspected there was something wrong about that from the very start. They were opening private schools. Moreover, the activities at such educational establishments were far from positive. In fact they were working in a very negative way. Their activity was entirely centered on profit-seeking. We failed to pay proper attention to that when I was prime minister.
Starting from 2010 we had begun to crack down on this problem, by closing down such establishments, but much more of them were cropping up. When such schools were shut down, we arranged to compensate people by setting up weekend courses. Our people started going there because they did not have to spend much money. Many of them are poor and we saved them. Also, it was a source of extra income for our teachers.
In reality, even though we have demanded this man’s extradition. They say if you regard this man as a terrorist, then send us the documents. We will study them first and then take measures in accordance with US legislation. True, there are some documents we had sent them before. By now we’ve sent 85 boxfuls of paperwork on this case. In the near future, the Turkish justice minister, foreign minister, special envoy and a number of prosecutors and judges who were in charge of this matter will go to the United States and brief the American authorities in person.
- I know, Mr. President, that you pay much attention to creating Turkey’s new fundamental law, the new Constitution. You are the architect of the new legislation. What fundamentally new features will the new Constitution have? Should the people adopt it at your initiative? And how will this Constitution reconcile the traditions of a secular Turkish state with the Muslim religion?
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