The Çankaya Köşkü has been the official residence of the president of Turkey since the era of Atatürk, the founder of the modern republic. The presidential compound is comprised of a number of buildings, most famously Pembe Kösk, the iconic “pink villa.” This building was expanded, at Atatürk’s request, by renowned Austrian architect Professor Clemens Holzmeister. Atatürk later died at his presidential residence in 1938, which has served as the home of every Turkish president ever since, including the present incumbent, Abdullah Gül.
It was in these impressive surroundings that Asharq Al-Awsat met with President Gül this week for a wide-ranging interview. Seated beneath a portrait of Atatürk in his small but neatly-ordered office, the president spoke via an interpreter about his view of the crisis in Syria, relations between Turkey and Iraq, Iran’s nuclear ambitions and a number of other pressing regional matters, as well as his fond memories of his time in Jeddah and at the UK’s University of Exeter. Below are two questions on Syria:
Asharq Al-Awsat: Turkey is hosting the “Friends of Syria” summit, and it has shouldered many burdens and witnessed first-hand the suffering of the Syrian people. In your view, what should be done? What is the international community’s responsibility in this regard?
Abdullah Gül: Before anything else, let me say that we are suffering regarding what is happening in Syria. The country is destroying itself with its own hands in front of our very eyes. We, as friends of Syria, have warned of this since the beginning. We warned that the situation could deteriorate and that things would move from bad to worse unless we see a move towards radical reform. We shared these concerns with the Syrian administration, but it refused to listen, and instead it resorted to violence and arms.
At this point, it became incumbent on us to stand with the oppressed, and that is why we took the decision to stand with the Syrian people and opposition. Of course, all those who consider themselves friends of Syria and who are currently meeting in Istanbul are not content to simply watch what is happening there, namely the terrible bloodshed that is taking place across the country.
Therefore, there must be huge international pressure to reach a solution which allows Syria to recover.
Q: Do you think the situation in Syria could allow for the survival of Bashar Al-Assad or the ruling Ba’athist party? Do you think international military intervention is now necessary to put an end to the conflict?
Our major desire is for Bashar Al-Assad to act realistically, and not to remain detached from reality. His persistence in his current approach means bringing greater and greater ruin to Syria. At the same time, I do not support foreign military intervention because we do not know how this, or other such proposals, will end. I am of the view that the Syrian people will do what they must do to draw up their own roadmap.