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Turkey at a Turning Point; Plans to Carve Out "Safe Area" in Syria; Kurdish Militants Targeted in Turkish Military Campaign; Imagine a World. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired July 27, 2015 - 14:00:00   ET




CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST (voice-over): Tonight: is big change coming to the war in Syria? The United States and Turkey create a de facto

safe area. My exclusive interview with the Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu


AHMET DAVUTOGLU, FOREIGN MINISTER OF TURKEY: . if that was done before, Assad regime wouldn't be killing so many people or pushing them to

Turkey, Jordan or Iraq or Lebanon. There wouldn't be anyplace or power vacuum for daish, for ISIS to be active.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): Turkey wants to fight Assad, too, but doesn't partner in Washington? I'll ask the U.S. State Department's point man.



AMANPOUR: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour.

Turkey is conducting the biggest air campaign in its history against combined terrorist organizations, giving access to air bases that will

bring American jets dramatically closer to Syrian targets in its anti-ISIS campaign.

The aim is also to form a safe area just inside the Syrian border for refugees fleeing both ISIS and the Assad regime and for arming and training

modern Syrian forces. And weekend, the Syrian president gave his most pessimistic view yet of his own grip on power.


BASHAR AL-ASSAD, SYRIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): We must define the important regions that armed forces hold on to so it doesn't

allow the collapse of the rest of the areas. Everything is available, but there's a shortfall in manpower.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): So is this a chance to transform the Syrian battlefield? The United States and Turkey still have slightly divergent

views and first, my exclusive interview with the Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who joined me earlier from Ankara.


AMANPOUR: Prime Minister Davutoglu, welcome back to the program.

DAVUTOGLU: Thank you.

AMANPOUR: Let me, first and foremost, ask you, you are late to this party, if you like, you're late to this fight.

Why this sudden turnaround by Turkey?

DAVUTOGLU: It is not a sudden turn, in fact. We have been very active against any terrorist presence on Syrian soil but this time ISIS

killed 32 civilians, Turkish citizens, in Suruc. That's Monday. And Thursday they killed one of our -- one soldier on the border and it became

a necessity to get rid of ISIS from our border. And we started this operation immediately.

AMANPOUR: Mr. Prime Minister, could you explain to me this idea of a safe area?

DAVUTOGLU: From the early stages of the Syrian crisis, we have been suggesting this idea, to have a safe area for two basic reasons. One is to

have a place where refugees can stay inside Syria. Today we have 2 million refugees in Turkey coming from Syria alone. Therefore, that was one of the


The second is to have an area where terrorist groups cannot come in and in that area, civilians could feel safe against regime attacks and

against terrorist groups. Now it is time to have such an area against ISIS attacks especially.

AMANPOUR: What do you imagine also this safe area will do for the opposition against Assad, against ISIS? Do you believe that they will be

able to arm and train in this safe area?

DAVUTOGLU: Yes, I think we need to have an integrated strategy right now, eliminating ISIS is, of course, a strategic objective. But there

should be some other elements. The last week, we agreed with the United States to open our air bases as well as to work together with the coalition

to fight against ISIS, against any terrorist presence in Syria, but at the same time, we have to have a strategy about the future of Syria.

There we need to support moderate opposition forces, moderate opposition forces means all those forces who are tolerant to other Syrian

citizens, who do not commit any terrorist crime and who do not collaborate with the Syrian regime, which is responsible for all these humanitarian

tragedies in last 4-5 years.

AMANPOUR: When you say the future of Syria, I'm assuming you mean the fight against President Assad as well, because you told me several months

ago when I asked you that this had to be a two-pronged fight. This is what you told me in October about the crimes, as you call them, of President

Assad --


AMANPOUR: -- and what it had led to. Listen and then we'll talk about it.


DAVUTOGLU: And now, because of these crimes -- there was no reaction -- these radical organizations, I mean ISIS, misused this atmosphere and

told these people, the international community doesn't defend you. Nobody defends you. Only I can defend you by my own means. This was the source

of ISIS.


AMANPOUR: You were basically telling me that Assad and his atrocities and the West's failure to confront Assad is what led to the rise of ISIS in


Is that what you were saying?

DAVUTOGLU: Exactly. If there is one person who is responsible for all these terrorist crimes and humanitarian tragedies in Syria, it is

Assad's approach, using chemical weapons, barrel bombs against civilians and because of that power vacuum, daish, terrorist organizations like ISIS,

was able to be active in Syria on -- in Syrian territories.

AMANPOUR: So let me just put it this way then. You know, both Turkey and the United States have not been fighting Assad for all these years of

the war. With this minimal new step, such as allowing Incirlik, allowing a safe haven, do you believe that ISIS could have been prevented much, much

earlier if what you were doing now had been done several years ago?

DAVUTOGLU: Yes, I agree, if that was done before, Assad regime wouldn't be killing so many people or pushing them to Turkey, Jordan or

Iraq or Lebanon. There wouldn't be anyplace or power vacuum for daish, for ISIS to be active.

So ISIS is a product of the crisis, not on the cause of a problem. They are cause of problem now; it is a much bigger problem than Syria. It

is a threat to Turkey. It is a threat to Europe. It is a threat to United States and to the world. But now in order to eliminate this threat, we

have to fight against ISIS, yes. But we have to create new situation in Syria so that there wouldn't be any base for any terrorist organization to

reactivate this type of terrorist activities.

AMANPOUR: Let me turn to what you're also doing with this air campaign and that's pounding your Kurdish fighters. You're pounding the


And there are a lot of critics inside Turkey, who are saying that this new anti-terrorist campaign, as you call it, is mainly directed at your


DAVUTOGLU: No. First of all, not at our Kurds. This fight is against PKK, yes, but not against Kurds.

In last four days, in the early days of this week, PKK killed several police, several soldiers and civilians. So in a high-level secretive

meeting, we instructed our security forces that there should be a synchronized fight against terror. Whoever is committing terrorist

activity in Turkey, we must be active against them.

AMANPOUR: So this is not about your domestic political situation. As you know, many critics are saying that it's somehow to diminish the Kurdish

politicians. They are the party; certainly the HDP that denied the AKP, your party, a majority in the last elections.

A lot of people are saying this is all about domestic politics and are you gearing up for new elections in November?

DAVUTOGLU: This is -- we are -- this is against the realities on the ground. Seventh of June election created a new political future and now we

are trying to form a new coalition government. All political actors should be united against terrorism. Therefore, as the prime minister, I called

after these ISIS attacks against Turkey, I called all political leaders to make a joint declaration against terrorism.

Only HDP rejected this request because they had some links with PKK. And therefore, we -- I, again and again, called them to work together

against all type of terrorism. This is against PKK, not against HDP. But in any democratic society, all political leaders have one choice: either

democracy or terror. Either peace or violence. Now HDP has a dilemma here. They are not rejecting PKK terrorist activities. They are not

condemning them. When civilians and policemen were killed by PKK, we ask them to make a condemnation, they were not able to condemn, even to condemn

PKK terrorist activities.

AMANPOUR: Prime Minister Ahmed Davutoglu, thank you very much indeed for joining us tonight.

DAVUTOGLU: Thank you. Thank you very much.


AMANPOUR: And after a break --


AMANPOUR: -- we get the view from the State Department.

And later, the president of Turkey's biggest Kurdish party on bombs and election politics. That's all ahead.




AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program.

So is the new agreement with Turkey a game-changer? It's clear that Turkey and the United States are still at odds about how far to take this

fight, as Brett McGurk, the U.S. deputy special envoy in the fight against ISIS, told me from the State Department today.


AMANPOUR: Brett McGurk, welcome back to the program.


AMANPOUR: The United States has wanted Turkey to allow you to use Incirlik to really get into the fight for a long time.

How much does what they've agreed with you now affect the fight against ISIS?

MCGURK: That's a very significant development because, of course, we're hitting targets in this area. We're hitting targets very close to

the Turkish border, often targets that Turkey has asked us to hi. These are ISIL targets that are threatening some of their critical border


But we're, of course, flying from Bahrain or from the Gulf.

So to fly out of Turkey will have a really dramatic impact and that's why we're quite encouraged to have reached this important agreement with


AMANPOUR: As you know, the Turks did not come into the fight because the United States didn't agree that the fight should be against Assad as


Tonight the Turkish prime minister has told me that they fully are on board with the United States and you all agree that there should be a fight

against Assad as well.

Are you on board with that?

MCGURK: Well, Christiane, I think our position's been very clear, that we're all working towards a political transition process in Syria,

that there's no military solution to the Syria conflict. I think that is something that we share.

Military operations will be against ISIL. That is something that we very much have agreed with Turkey about. We've discussed this in quite

depth with them.

AMANPOUR: You've got this area now, which is being described as a safe area; I realize that that's not a technical term. I realize the

United States is not calling it a no-fly zone.

Do you think that this area will de facto become somewhere where the moderate opposition forces can go and be trained and equipped and sent out

into the fight, which is against ISIS and Assad?

MCGURK: Well, Christiane, there's about -- really about a 90- kilometer stretch of border that ISIL is controlling, the Northern Syria border with Turkey that ISIL is controlling, that it is in our mutual

interest -- and Turkey's very concerned about that.

So we're looking at a number of ways to help clear ISIL from that border region.

Of course, flying missions out of Turkey will help and -- because we'll be able to strike those targets with great effect.

But how we coordinate with the moderate opposition groups on the ground and how we do that, how we maneuver is something that we still have

to work out with Turkey. But we're going to be sitting down with them in the very near future and we'll try to work out those details.

AMANPOUR: As you know, the Turkish military is also attacking various Kurdish groups.

What is your reaction to that, as the United States government?

But also, these have been the people, the boots on the ground, that have done some of the biggest fighting against ISIS.

MCGURK: Well, I think it's very important to step back and kind of look at what happened. We actually reached the agreement with Turkey about

10 days or so ago.

Shortly before our two presidents spoke, the PKK launched a number of attacks inside Turkey and killed a number of Turkish police officers and

soldiers. PKK from Northern Iraq took credit for those attacks.


MCGURK: They promised more attacks. And when such a thing happens, our ally, Turkey, has a right to respond.

But we've also, Christiane, we've called for a deescalation from both the Turkish government and the PKK. But most importantly, the PKK has to

stop these types of attacks inside Turkish territory which are totally unacceptable and which really distract from the common fight against ISIL.

AMANPOUR: And finally, the prime minister also said to me that, had there been some kind of safe area in Northern Syria, then ISIS would not

have been able to flourish. It was the atrocities that the Assad regime, that created a vacuum that allowed ISIS.

That's what he said to me.

Do you agree with that, that you're a little bit late?

MCGURK: No, Christiane, I think the historians will sort out this period and what may have led to -- from A to B to C. What is really

important is where we are right now.

Turkey has declared that they want to fight ISIL and get ISIL off of their border and we're very much going to help them. But they have opened

up their bases to our aircraft. We are working now through our DOD channels to begin that process.

You might remember, Christiane, not long ago really, about seven months ago or so, ISIL was about to take the city of Kobani. And had they

taken Kobani, the entire northern border of Syria would have been controlled by ISIL.

We made a decision -- President Obama made a decision to try to help the Syrian Kurds and Kobani fight back, where we agreed to open up a

corridor for Kurdish Peshmerga to bring heavy weapons into Kobani. And the history now, you can see what has happened. The Syrian Kurds not only held

Kobani, they defeated ISIL quite massively there.

So I can't really -- it's hard to overemphasize how complicated this is. But you know, we're all partners here. We're all in constant

communication and we'll be -- we look forward to really continuing these very good discussions we've had with the Turks over recent weeks. And

those will continue over the coming days.

AMANPOUR: Brett McGurk, thank you very much for joining me from the State Department.

MCGURK: Thank you, Christiane. Thanks so much.


AMANPOUR: So that's for the joint fight against ISIS.

But what about Turkey's fight against its Kurdish fighters? It's resumed bombing the PKK targets, as we said, after a two-year truce. And

you've just heard the U.S. view that Turkey does have the right to respond to terrorist attacks. But it's complicated. The PKK has fought alongside

Peshmerga forces, against ISIS in Iraq.

And also Turkish critics say their government is playing politics, trying to damage the largest Kurdish political party whose president,

Ertugrul Kurkcu, joins me now from Ankara.


Mr. Kurkcu, welcome to the program. As you know, you heard Prime Minister Davutoglu say this has got nothing to do with domestic politics.

What is your answer to his view that your party has not criticized and condemned the PKK's terrorist attacks?

ERTUGRUL KURKCU, PRESIDENT, HDP PARTY, TURKEY: The matter in dispute is not how Turkey's going to fight against terrorism but how we are going

to resolve the decades-old conflict between the Turkish state and the Kurdish demands.

Whole other conflicts are arising out of this age-old conflict. Therefore, in our eyes, what we are facing is not a matter of security but

a matter of freedom; therefore, a matter of freedom cannot be discussed with the terms of security.

Therefore, we are expecting the Turkish government would respond to Kurdish demands in order to remove all kind of violence out of Turkish


AMANPOUR: Mr. Kurkcu, does your party condemn terrorist attacks, the killing of police or soldiers, the attacks that have happened in Turkey

over the last several days, over this past week?

KURKCU: Our president has already declared our sorrow for the deaths of every single individual, be they police officer, soldiers or civilian

people or PKK guerillas. Therefore we want all sort of violence to be stopped and negotiations within our party, the PKK and the -- PKK leader

Ocalan, to discuss with the Turkish government a very art of this decade- old conflict.

AMANPOUR: So I hear you saying expressing sorrow but not condemnation. So let me ask you, are you prepared now for another sort of

endless war, a continuation of the endless war between the state ---


AMANPOUR: -- and the PKK?

Do you think that's what's on the cards right now?

KURKCU: This has, once again, erupted after President Erdogan's denial of a negotiations process with the Kurdish demands. Therefore, we

are concerned that this conflict may continue with the (INAUDIBLE). But we have started an initiative for peace approach to country. And what we are

looking at, how we are looking at the problem is that this military attacks, airstrikes against Qandil Mountains are rather more for directed

at the Turkey's west than with an aim of direct strike on the Kurdish guerillas.

What I mean is the Turkish president is preparing the ground for early elections and therefore pushing forward further security demands and

seeking for a broader following after his security measures, tough-line policies.

Therefore, this is not an actual security measure against Kurdish guerillas, but a preparation of the elections stage with a world view

behind it.

AMANPOUR: So you're linking it to domestic policy.

Can I just ask you about the Kurdish contribution to the fight against ISIS?

KURKCU: Obviously, (INAUDIBLE) within Turkey and within Iran, within Iraq and within Syria, have fought against groups such as IS. And the

major contribution for the fight against IS has been provided by PYD forces, brethren of the Turkey's PKK guerrillas in Syria. And they have

become the principle savior of the Yazidi people to save from massacres of the IS in the Shengal Mountains. Therefore, what the Kurds are doing in

Syria and what are -- what their brethren in Turkey are assisting them for is bring an end to IS atrocities. Therefore, against IS. There is no

other ground force than the Kurdish movement in Syria as well as the Kurds in Turkey.

The defense of Kobani has been very strongly supported by the Kurds in Turkey. And Kurds everywhere have come to the aid of Syrian Kurds across

the globe. Therefore, the Kurdish movement, for the time being, is the major secular power within this hell of a Middle East.

AMANPOUR: Ertugrul Kurkcu, thank you very much indeed, honorary president of the HDP, the largest Kurdish party and successful in the last

elections in Turkey. Thank you so much.

And now the U.S. President Barack Obama negotiated the new military deal with the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, last week before he

flew off to Africa, where he's been making moves on another front and that is the battle for female equality. We'll explain all of this after a






AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, imagine a world where an emerging economy does make giant strides only to then hit a wall. That is what

happens to any country that holds back half of its population. And in his ancestral homeland of Kenya, this weekend, President Barack Obama made an

impassioned case for fully empowering women.

He said it Sunday and you cannot hear this often enough.


OBAMA: Treating women as second-class citizens is a bad tradition. It holds you back. There's no excuse for sexual assault or domestic

violence. There's no reason that young girls should suffer genital mutilation. There's no place in civilized society for the early or forced

marriage of children.

These traditions may date back centuries; they have no place in the 21st century.



AMANPOUR: And you can also probably hear half the population silently cheering. President Obama is in Ethiopia now and that is where we'll be

looking tomorrow on this program, when we speak to the country's foreign minister about economic progress and stumbling along the road to democratic

civil society. I'll also speak to an Ethiopian lawyer, who's fighting for women's rights.

That's it for our program tonight. And remember you can always see the whole show online at, and follow me on Facebook and

Twitter. Thank you for watching and goodbye from London.