Erdoğan’s radical ideology is the issue, not Turkey, Assad says

Syrian President Bashar Assad blamed Turkey’s leader, not his country, for the heavy Turkish involvement in Syria’s almost nine-year-old war.

In an interview with state-run TV channel Rossiya-24 broadcasted on Thursday, Assad said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan built his policies surrounding Syria based on his Muslim Brotherhood affiliation, a political Islamist group that the governments of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates consider to be a terrorist organisation.

The Syrian president has called Erdoğan a Muslim Brotherhood member in the past.

“Erdoğan is a member of the opportunistic Muslim Brotherhood and so it is normal for him to do what he has done,” Assad said, referring to the Turkish president’s policies. “That’s how the Muslim Brotherhood are: they have no political, social, or religious ethics.”

Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is often described as Islamist, and has long supported the Muslim Brotherhood. In recent years, many Brotherhood members forced to leave Egypt after the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi have found refuge in Turkey.

Turkey has supported Syrian rebel groups since the early days of the uprising against Assad, supplying them with essentials and military equipment and allowing them to pass through and recuperate on Turkish territory. Their relationship became formalised over the years as rebel groups acted as proxies to the Turkish Armed Forces in three cross-border operations in northern Syria and then assisted in governing the territories Turkey captured.

“There is no cause [for deploying Turkish troops], even Erdoğan himself is unable to tell the Turks why he is sending his army to fight in Syria,” the Syrian president said.

Turkish polling firm Metropolls said that 48.8 percent of Turks saw the Turkish military’s presence in the northwestern Syrian province of Idlib as unnecessary, compared to just 30.7 percent who approved of its presence.

Assad said “there were neither differences nor conflicts of interest” between the Turkish and Syrian people.

“Of course, we used to describe them as brotherly people, even now, I ask the Turkish people: what is your issue with Syria? What is the issue for which a Turkish citizen deserves to die? What is the hostile act, small or large, carried out by Syria against Turkey during or before the war? There is none.”