Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, struck a confrontational note in a Thanksgiving Day interview with CNN, refusing to apologize for his forces shooting down a Russian warplane along the Syrian border this week. In fact, Erdogan said Turkey would take the same actions again, under similar circumstances.
“I think if there is a party that needs to apologize, it is not us,” Erdogan asserted. “Those who violated our airspace are the ones who need to apologize. Our pilots and our armed forces, they simply fulfilled their duties, which consisted of responding to… violations of the rules of engagement. I think this is the essence.”
CNN adds that during a meeting with community leaders in Ankara, Erdogan declared, “If the same violation occurs today, Turkey has to react the same way.”
Hurriyet Daily News reports that Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu echoed Erdogan’s remarks by saying Turkey would not apologize after conceding that he, personally, already did apologize to Russia’s Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov. What Cavusoglu means is that Turkey issued a general statement of sympathy to Russia for the loss of the plane, and death of its pilot, but maintains it was “in the right” to shoot down the Su-24 jet, and would not make a formal concession of error to the Russian government.
Hurriyet’s version of Erdogan’s community meeting in Ankara on Thursday is a bit more nuanced, with the Turkish president explaining that his country was right to defend its airspace with force and would do so again if necessary, but wished to avoid further conflict with Russia.
“We are exerting efforts to maintain peace and serenity in the region, not create new tensions. There is no reason to target Russia with whom we have multidimensional and very strong relations,” said Erdogan. “Our disagreement with Russia on Syria is one thing and the activation of our rules of engagement is something else.”
He also dismissed suggestions that joint projects between Turkey and Russia could be scuttled because of the incident. Instead, Erdogan called for Turkish and Russian officials to avoid “emotional statements” and “sit down and talk about where errors were made, and then focus on overcoming those errors on both sides.”
Erdogan seems to be running a bit of a “bad cop, good cop” routine with his Prime Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, who penned an editorial for the Times of London on Friday that struck a more conciliatory tone, while repeating essentially the same points about Turkey’s right to defend its airspace. Davutoglu did not quite “apologize” for the shootdown, but he leaned more heavily than Erdogan on the suggestion that Turkey might have handled the incident somewhat differently if they had known for certain they were dealing with a Russian aircraft.
For their part, the Russians seem adamant in demanding the admission of error and heartfelt apology that Turkey refuses to give. Hurriyet notes that Russian President Vladimir Putin complained on Thursday that his government has not received an unreserved apology from the Turks, or an offer to “make up for the damages.”
Putin and Erdogan are also working up a nasty little argument about what the Russian president describes as Erdogan spending the past few years “pursuing a purposeful policy of support and the Islamization of the country,” by which he means “indulging militant Islamist radicals,” and maybe even “collaborating with ISIS.”
Erdogan responded by accusing Putin of bigotry: “Turkey’s 99 percent Muslim, how can you say that? How can a phrase like that be used? Can I come up and say ‘The administration is exerting efforts at the Christianization of Russia’? There are 30 millions of Muslims living there.”