60 years ago the Turkish parliament building was inaugurated. The architect of the Türkiye Büyük Millet Meclisi was the Austrian Clemens Holzmeister. The Speaker of the Turkish Parliament, Mustafa Sentop, who took advantage of this birthday to pay an official visit to Vienna, also took time to talk to “Krone” about Turkey’s role in world politics. Sentop described the most recent relations with Austria as a “heyday” in their shared history.
Crown newspaper: Turkey is currently a geopolitical crossroads. How do you see Turkey’s role in the world?
Mustafa Sentop: Turkey has always held an important place in the history of Europe. Sometimes more, sometimes less, but always an important one. Take the Cold War, for example. It was the flanking state of Europe and the main element of its defensive architecture. Although we have been part of NATO since its inception and are an inherent part of the European security strategy, an unfair game of double standards is being played with us, for example in the EU accession process. We started the process 60 years ago. After the collapse of the Eastern Bloc, countries were admitted that made much less effort than Turkey. Only in times of crisis are we remembered and valued to the highest degree. Of course we are happy with that. We don’t need to revisit the old stories. We are for peace and peaceful coexistence in our region.
Peaceful coexistence sounds somewhat cynical given the Turkish attacks on Kurds in northern Syria and Iraq.
Why are you talking about attacks? It’s a military operation. For more than 10 years, a war has been raging in Syria, creating a vacuum on our border. There is no political authority to ensure that there is order. Terrorist organizations take advantage of the chaos. We expect some empathy when our compatriots are killed by terrorists such as the PKK. Article 51 of the UN Charter gives us the right to self-defense and we make use of it.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced military intervention in May. The US and Russia were and are against it. Was that the reason for the hesitation?
There is no hesitation and we don’t have to ask permission to defend ourselves. We decide when and to what extent we respond. A five-year-old child was killed in the recent attacks. Or a teacher who wanted to protect his children. Should we watch as terrorists are armed and trained across the border and then attack our citizens in Turkey? No serious state can afford such a thing.
But the procedure is different: it is the fourth military operation of this kind: 2016, 2018, 2019 and now. And yet different: the last time the air raids were followed within a day or two by a ground offensive. That didn’t happen this time.
It always depends on the circumstances. Intelligence information plays a role in this, as do developments in the field. As for the last operations you mentioned, Russia and the United States initially promised us to create a safe corridor free of terrorists.
Do you mean the 30 kilometer long security strip on the Turkish border?
Precisely. Accordingly, we’ve been waiting to see what our allies and friends are up to. Not a single promise was kept. Then Türkiye took matters into his own hands.
The Kurds helped defeat ISIS. Turkey is taking action against the Kurds. This begs the question: who is the worst terrorist for Turkey? Kurd or IS fighter?
Both the PKK and IS pose a threat to Turkey. And Turkey is the only country that actually has a serious fight against both terrorist organizations and is threatened by us and has caused many victims. We then also made an offer to our allies: let’s eliminate the terrorists together. But they preferred to support the PKK. Turkey can take on both terrorist groups, we have the power to do that.
Turkey has also accused NATO accession candidates Sweden and Finland of supporting the Kurds. That is why the accession has not yet been ratified in the Turkish parliament. When will this happen?
We as Parliament are in the evaluation phase. Why do Finland and Sweden want to join NATO? Because they fear for their own safety. We joined in 1952 for the same reason. But if a candidate country supports a terrorist organization that poses a threat to our national security, how can that country be part of this alliance? We cannot accept that. Two weeks ago, the Swedish Prime Minister paid a visit. We had very good conversations. But we are still waiting for concrete steps. In principle, we are not against the accession of these two countries. If it was, we would have ruled that out at the Madrid summit from the start.
Erdogan recently popped up at the Shanghai Corporation Organization flirting with membership. After all, an organization that has written the limitation of NATO’s sphere of influence into its charter. Should we be concerned about Türkiye’s loyalty to the alliance?
no We are a staunch NATO ally. We have one of the two largest armies in the Alliance and make an important contribution to security. We contribute to safety and not just consume it. The Shanghai Corporation is not a military organization, it is actually a trade or business organization in terms of economic cooperation. There is nothing to prevent a NATO country from maintaining relations with such organisations. Other countries such as the US or Britain are also involved in many non-NATO organizations, but no one questions their loyalty to the alliance. Again, two measures are used.