Erdoğan says Turkey's main concern in Syria is people, not oil

(Adds president’s comments, paragraphs 7-10)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Monday that Turkey was striving to improve lives in Syria, unlike other countries that pursue self-interest, the Turkish state-run Anadolu news agency reported.

"Our concern is saving people. We maintain our honourable stance on this issue while many states do not hesitate to ally with terrorist organisations for oil or political interests," Anadolu quoted Erdoğan as saying during his speech at the International Ombudsman Conference in Istanbul.

Erdoğan was referring to U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to leave forces in Kurdish-controlled areas of Syria to secure oil in the region after his earlier announcement of a full withdrawal.

Turkey sees the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and its affiliates as extensions of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party, an armed group that has fought for Kurdish self-rule in Turkey for over 30 years. But the SDF played a crucial role in the international fight against the Islamic State, and Washington continues to back the group.

“Turkey is a country that gives the biggest support to the least developed countries and (most) refugees in the world,” Erdoğan said.

Turkey currently hosts some 3.6 million Syrian refugees, and official figures say it has spent $40 billion on the Syrians since the beginning of the conflict. But the country's three major offensives in Syria since 2016 have drawn harsh criticism over allegations of war crimes and forced expulsions.

The Turkish president also touched on the importance of the bond between the people and their states, stressing that countries without strong ties with their citizens are susceptible to domestic and foreign interference.

"Countries which do not lend an ear to their own people and on the contrary, try to brutishly suppress opposition can be faced with great devastation,’’ Erdoğan said.

"There are many states and administrations who have made this grave error in our region in particular,’’ he added.

The Turkish president said that governance which is exempt from questioning was a thing of the past and a great state is one which  "can provide the safety and happiness of all people living under it’’.