Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu reiterated calls for Syrian President Bashar Assad to be removed from power, saying that Turkey would oppose any political transition involving Assad while also expressing skepticism that the embattled leader would ever willfully leave power. The announcement, made during the United Nations General Assembly Wednesday, came as Russia began airstrikes in Syria likely meant to bolster the Syrian president.
"Anyone thinking about a solution to the Syrian crisis must think of a solution without Assad," the Turkish leader said. "Every moment he stays in power adds to the shame of the countries that support him."
— Public Diplomacy, TR (@TROfficeofPD) September 30, 2015
Turkey has been one of Assad's strongest critics since the country first descended into a civil war in 2011. As host of the world's largest population of Syrian refugees, now around 2 million people, Turkey has expressed urgency in finding a solution to the Syrian conflict that would allow refugees to return home. Davutoglu Wednesday reiterated the severity of the refugee crisis in front of world leaders.
Russia announced Wednesday that its forces had begun airstrikes against the Islamic State group, although sources within Syria have said the country has targeted areas where other rebel groups are fighting, not ISIS. Russia has said Assad is necessary to the fight against ISIS, as his removal would create a void of power that extremists could fill.
Turkey has seen tensions steadily rise in its restive southeast in recent months amid a spillover of conflict from Syria. A suicide bomb carried out by an ISIS supporter killed dozens of left-wing activists in a southern town of Suruc in July. Kurdish and revolutionary left-wing organizations immediately blamed the attack on Turkey’s failure to stem the spread of ISIS, and launched a series of retaliatory attacks against Turkish security forces.
— Osman Sert (@osmansrt) September 30, 2015
Since then, the Turkish government has diverted its attention from fighting ISIS to a stepped up campaign against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has carried out deadly attacks on Turkish soldiers. The country has allowed the U.S. to use the Incirlik air base to launch attacks against ISIS in Syria, and has arrested ISIS fighters within its borders.
"This is a threat that has potential to spread to the whole region and beyond," Davutoglu said Wednesday, speaking of fighting near Turkey's border. "Terrorism can have no justification it should be condemned unconditionally."
Turkey has vowed to fight alongside any country, even Russia, to combat ISIS, but has also emphasized the importance of ousting Assad. Davutoglu has attributed the rise of ISIS to the bombing of moderate Syrian rebels by Assad’s regime.