PRESS INFORMATION NOTE
2 March 2020
-Since May 2019, the regime in Damascus intensified its already brutal military campaign against millions of innocent Syrians trapped in Idlib province and is indiscriminately targeting an entire population. In this context, the regime is perpetrating gross violations amounting to war crimes and crimes against humanity.
-The regime’s ultimate aim is to nullify the prospect of a political solution in accordance with the UN Security Council Resolution 2254.
-Sharing a 911-km land border with Syria and being an immediate neighbor of Idlib province, Turkey has been directly exposed to all repercussions of the regime’s atrocities.
-Hosting two-thirds of the entire Syrian refugee population in the world, Turkey has practically assumed the burden of a total of almost 9 million Syrians on its own soil as well as in the north of Syria. We spent around 40 billion US Dollars to meet their needs.
-The regime’s indiscriminate attacks caused a new humanitarian crisis in Idlib as well as mass displacement towards the Turkish border. Already over capacity in terms of accommodating additional displaced Syrians, Turkey has been obliged to act as the first responder to these challenges.
-The regime’s military campaign on the Idlib de-escalation area and as a result of at least 20,000 ceasefire violations since May 2019 more than 2000 civilians were killed. The attacks displaced more than two million people, mostly women and children, since early-December 2019 towards Turkey’s border.
-The Assad regime is exclusively responsible for the current dire humanitarian situation in Idlib. This must be stopped.
-Turkey has made utmost efforts in order to contribute to the establishment of a nationwide ceasefire as called for by the UN Security Council Resolution 2254.
-In agreement with the other two guarantor states of the Astana platform, i.e., the Russian Federation and Iran, Turkey supported the creation of “de-escalation areas” under the Memorandum of 4 May 2017. We signed a supplementary Memorandum with the Russian Federation on 17 September 2018 to stabilize the situation in the Idlib de-escalation area.
-Under the Memorandum of 4 May 2017, Turkey established 12 observation posts along the boundaries of the Idlib de-escalation area to ensure compliance with the provisions of the ceasefire regime.
-However, the regime continued to act in blatant breach of all these agreements and previously declared ceasefires.
-Despite numerous provocations and harassment attacks by the regime forces targeting the Turkish military servicemen deployed in these posts, Turkey displayed utmost restraint to avoid a direct military confrontation.
-The regime forces increased the frequency of their attacks by directly and deliberately targeting the Turkish military servicemen in Idlib. In the afternoon of 27 February 2020, a Turkish military convoy deployed to reinforce a Turkish observation post was deliberately targeted south of Idlib de-escalation area. In the following attacks which continued for 5 hours, even ambulances which were evacuating the wounded, were deliberately targeted and hit by the regime forces. We lost 34 soldiers as a result of a series of airstrikes. Our losses since early February reached 48 in total.
-Retaliating in self-defense, Turkey was compelled to launch “Operation Spring Shield” on 27 February.
-Turkey’s response is proportionate, measured and responsible. Only regime elements, military positions are targeted. All precautions are taken to avoid collateral damage to the civilian population.
-Since the outset, the ultimate aim of our presence in Idlib has remained same:
(i) protect civilians by ending the regime’s aggression on the civilian population,
(ii) ensure the security of the Turkish military servicemen deployed under the Memorandum of 4 May 2017,
(iii) preserve the de-escalation area status of Idlib by restoring its boundaries as of 17 September 2018,
(iv) contribute to the establishment of a nationwide ceasefire as called for by UNSCR 2254,
(v) ensure rapid and uninterrupted humanitarian access to those in need, and
(vi) prevent mass displacement movements into Turkey and beyond.
-We intensified our diplomatic efforts to mobilize the international community against the regime’s current aggression in Idlib.
-Upon our request, the NATO Council convened under Article 4 of the Washington Treaty. Allies condemned the indiscriminate air strikes by the regime and its backers targeting Idlib province, and called on them to stop their offensive, to respect international law and to back the UN efforts for a peaceful solution.
-NATO Allies now stand in strong solidarity with us. Together with our Allies, we are looking into the options to for a range of measures, including augmenting our air defenses.
-Turkey is committed to the territorial integrity and political unity of Syria. Turkey will do its utmost to contribute to restoring Syria’s territorial integrity and political unity once the Syrian-led and Syrian-owned, UN-facilitated political process establishes a credible, inclusive and non-sectarian governance.
-We are now at a turning point in Idlib. International community should not remain indifferent to the events unfolding in Idlib, which might have broad repercussions stretching across Turkey and the rest of Europe. We expect the international community to stand by Turkey in its efforts to end the regime’s aggression in Idlib as well as to provide humanitarian assistance to the IDPs in Idlib.
-Turkey is under a very heavy migration burden.
-We are home to more than 4 million refugees, including almost 3.6 million Syrians (Turkey is the largest refugee-hosting country in the world). Since 2011, more than 526.000 Syrian babies are born in Turkey. The population of Syrians in Turkey is increasing constantly.
-We practically assume the burden of more than 9 million Syrians.
-We apprehended over 1.2 million irregular migrants since 2015.
-Only last year we apprehended almost 455 thousand irregular migrants. [This number was 268.003 in 2018. This is 70 % increase compared to 2019.]
-It is obvious that Turkey cannot shoulder this burden alone.
-In fact, we have been calling for a more equitable burden and responsibility sharing for a long time.
-Latest developments in Idlib, which resulted in the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people, further increased the migration pressure on us.
-We expect the EU and the international community to extend the relevant support to Turkey in this context.
- All in all, there is no change in our policy towards refugees and asylum seekers in Turkey.
-Turkey will continue to provide all the necessary services to refugees as well as Syrians under temporary protection.
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