Turks’ resistance against coup set a global example, UN’s Feltman says

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The Turkish people and political parties who defied the July 15 coup attempt set “an example to people around the world, striving for freedom to live in peace and dignity,” according to the United Nations’ undersecretary-general.

In a written interview with the Hürriyet Daily News following a visit to Ankara on Aug. 30-31, Jeffrey Feltman also said he was “devastated by the destruction he saw” at the parliament building caused by those members of the armed forces attacking their own people and representatives.

Calling for the perpetrators of the coup attempt to be brought to justice in respect to their rights and freedoms, Feltman welcomed the unanimous vote to launch a parliamentary investigation into the coup attempt.

The assistant secretary of state for Near East affairs and the number two in the U.N., Feltman said Turkey’s role in “achieving political agreement and transition” in Syria was “essential.”

Here are Feltman’s answers to HDN’s questions:

Why did it take one-and-a-half months for a U.N. top official to visit Turkey after the bloody coup attempt of July 15? Was it not possible at all for Mr. Ban Ki-moon to insert a Turkey stopover in his busy schedule to demonstrate his solidarity with the Turkish people?

The Secretary-General was among the first, if not the first international leader, to fully and unequivocally condemn the coup attempt while it was unfolding, clearly underscoring that military interference in the affairs of any state is unacceptable and that it was crucial to quickly and peacefully affirm civilian rule and constitutional order in accordance with the principles of democracy.

The secretary-general spoke to both President [Recep Tayyiğ] Erdoğan and Foreign Minister [Mevlüt] Çavuşoğlu as soon as their time permitted immediately after this horrific and inexcusable attempt to topple Turkey’s democratic system and institutions.

The secretary-general had very much hoped to find an opportunity to visit Turkey. He deeply regrets that there was no flexibility in his extremely tight schedule in his last year in office and the run-up to the high-level week of the 71st General Assembly. He thus asked me to postpone my presence on his current trip to Asia to visit Ankara on his behalf and directly brief him on my consultations when I joined him in Sri Lanka.

And just this weekend, the secretary-general met President Erdoğan at the G-20 Summit to reiterate in person the U.N.’s solidarity with the government and people of Turkey through these trying times. He expressed his admiration for the Turkish people, rallying to defend their democracy. In their love for democracy and their nation they are an inspiration for people around the world.

Were you able to talk to the opposition leaders, besides government members in Ankara? What did they tell you about who was behind the failed coup attack?

Let me first express my shock at what I witnessed during my visit to the parliament building in Ankara – it is inconceivable that a group within the armed forces of a country would attack their own people and their representatives in parliament. I was devastated by the destruction I saw and can only imagine to what extent it must have shattered trust among people.

I am therefore even more heartened and inspired by the fearlessness and determination with which the Turkish people defended their constitution and democracy in response to the coup attempt. The unity among the people and all political forces is setting an example to people around the world striving for freedom and a live in peace and dignity.

Following my visit to Parliament, I had the privilege of discussing developments and being updated on the ongoing investigations by H.E. Binali Yıldırım, prime minister of the Republic of Turkey. I also held comprehensive consultations with senior officials at the Turkish Foreign Ministry on international and regional developments given Turkey’s essential role in addressing many of today’s most intractable conflicts and challenges like migration.

While my time in Ankara was unfortunately limited, back in New York at U.N. Headquarters, we are not only following developments in Turkey closely, as well as in the region, but are also in regular touch with the Turkish Permanent Mission and representatives of various political forces in the country, including most recently, a senior inter-party parliamentary delegation.

What is your opinion after your discussions in Turkey about the perpetrators of the coup attempt? As a diplomat who has served in the higher ranks of the U.S. government, and now as a top U.N. official, what can you say about the role of Fethullah Gülen and his followers?

As I mentioned, the secretary-general in his public statement on the day of the coup attempt, underscored that military interference in the affairs of any state is unacceptable. Accordingly, we believe that the perpetrators of such actions should be brought to justice with full respect for human rights and freedoms, including fair trial and due process guarantees, as enshrined in international human rights law, as well as democratic rules and principles.

I am therefore encouraged that on July 28, Turkish lawmakers unanimously approved the formation of a parliamentary commission to investigate the failed coup attempt.

Thanks to regular updates by Turkish authorities, both in Ankara and New York, both the secretary-general and myself are aware that current Turkish investigations point to an alleged role of Mr. Fethullah Gülen and his followers in the coup plot. I am also aware of the reports of ongoing discussions with various representatives of the U.S. government regarding the Turkish request for Mr. Gülen’s possible extradition by the U.S. Obviously, the U.N. has no additional information on this bilateral issue.

Given the ongoing investigations into the circumstances of the coup attempt, I would not want to comment further on the alleged perpetrators. Given the many pressing challenges Turkey is facing, the United Nations sincerely hopes that normalcy will soon return to Turkish political life and that the strong sense of unity among social and political forces that developed following the coup attempt will be nurtured and maintained, and there will soon be an end to the state of emergency.

How do you evaluate the situation in Syria after Turkish military’s operation against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and supporting Free Syria Army (FSA) fighters against ISIL? Do you think Turkey has the right to fight against an organization which it considers as terrorist, as in the case of the Democratic Union Party/People’s Protection Units (PYD/YPG) in Syria?

Let me first and foremost once again reiterate the United Nations’ strong and unambiguous condemnation of all terrorist violence that has struck Turkey in recent times, including the most recent series of attacks in the southeast of Turkey. The secretary-general’s and my thoughts are with the victims, their families and the government of Turkey.

The United Nations has a clear and consistent position regarding counter-terrorism operations in Syria, which we have previously referred to when the U.S.-led coalition and the Russian Federation launched their respective operations: Counter-terrorism activities should be principally directed against those groups which are listed by the Security Council as terrorists and must be carried out with full respect for International Humanitarian and International Human Rights Law. They must in particular avoid the targeting of civilians and civilian objects such as hospitals, schools and markets.

Looking forward, we believe that the most effective way to combat terrorism in Syria is a political agreement leading to a transition to a new, credible and inclusive Syrian government in line with Security Council Resolution 2254 and the 2012 Geneva Communiqué. This would enable a unified international counter-terrorism effort that is coordinated and implemented together with the Syrian authorities. Turkey’s role in achieving a political agreement and transition in Syria is essential.

Is a Kurdish state, independent or autonomous, possible at the end of the civil war? How could that affect neighbors like Turkey, Iran and Iraq? How indispensable is the territorial integrity of Syria for you?

The Syrian civil conflict has brought about unfathomable developments and tragedy over the past five years. If the bloodshed and destruction are allowed to continue indefinitely it is very difficult to predict what will happen to the Syrian state in the future. Many Syrians that we speak to are extremely concerned about a possible fragmentation of their country if the conflict drags on.

What I can say with confidence is that the United Nations is promoting a political solution that ends the conflict and maintains the territorial integrity of Syria. The importance of Syria’s unity and territorial integrity has been repeatedly affirmed in Security Council resolutions and is one of the few elements that all Syrians agree on.

Can a transition government with the participation of rebel groups, with or without Bashar al-Assad to take the country to elections, be a sustainable solution to the civil war in Syria?

Based on the political road map set out by the Security Council and Geneva Communiqué, we foresee a political solution that includes the creation of a Transitional Governing Body (TGB) that could include members of the present government, opposition and other groups, and is formed on the basis of mutual consent.

I would like to point out an important aspect on which the Security Council resolutions and the Geneva Communiqué are silent: the future of individuals during the transition. These documents do not make any reference to the future of Bashar al-Assad. However, they do stipulate that the TGB will have full executive powers and control of security and intelligence institutions, and will operate in full compliance with international standards on human rights, accountability of those in government and rule of law. It will also be responsibile for creating a neutral environment for elections to take place.

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