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The friendship between Russia and Turkey must not be frittered away

Turkey and Russia are two friends, rather than merely two neighboring countries, that have managed to get along ever since the leadership of Ataturk and the era of the Soviet Union. The downing by Turkey of a Russian plane this week therefore profoundly shocked the peoples of both.

Analysts attributed the incident to several factors. Was this really imperative, or a mistake?

The aforementioned analysts claimed that the incident had been retaliation for Russia’s attacks on the Turkmen in Syria. The reason for that was the fact that Turkey had previously issued several warnings to Russia concerning attacks on areas where its own kin lived, and declared publicly that some of the areas bombed harbored no radical elements.

If the aim behind the downing of the Russian jet was really to issue a warning to Russia on this matter, then Russia should have realized its error and pulled out of Turkmen areas. However, contrary to what was being claimed, in the immediate wake of the crisis Russia continued its bombing of Turkmen areas and even restricted the air space around it by moving in its air defense system, thus limiting Turkey’s ability to act in the region.

The second allegation of some analysts commenting on the incident had been that Russia and Turkey support different sides in the Syrian civil war and will - sooner or later - come into direct conflict. First, it is illogical for the two sides to have waited five years. Moreover, a diplomatic initiative has been taken aimed at a solution in Syria. Although these diplomatic steps hadn’t been put into practice on a large scale, the Vienna talks were perhaps of most concern to Turkey. The questions of the Turkmen of Georgia, Crimea and Syria, also of close concern to Turkey, had previously been resolved by diplomacy and negotiation between the two countries.

Looking at the subject once again in the light of all this, it appears that the action was aimed, not against Russia, but against an identified bomber for the defense of national borders. The border violation consists of a number of details:

Following the downing of an unarmed Turkish jet with its identification system turned on by the Syrian regime on June 22, 2012, Turkey changed its rules of engagement. Accordingly, any military element approaching the Turkish border from Syrian territory, would be regarded as a threat and treated as a military target.

Let us remember that Russia is the country most responsible for so many violations. Russia commenced its aerial campaign in Syria on September 30, and committed 13 violations in the space of just seven days. These violations increased when Russia started its attacks on Turkmen areas but were not directly made public. Although such violations had frequently happened, Turkey and Russia, two good allies, always managed to solve these problems amicably.  

This current insistence on violating a country’s borders - despite all the previous warnings - will therefore put the leader of that country in a difficult position. But should it respond by shooting down a plane? Of course, not.

Although escalating the rules of engagement to war conditions is permissible under international law, shooting a plane down endangers the lives of the pilots and people on the ground. We cannot therefore possibly approve of such a course. The important point here is citing the information given here is to emphasize that there was no irregularity under international law and that we have no hostility toward Russia. Indeed NATO, and countries such as the U.S., France, Great Britain, Germany, Spain and Holland have declared that there was no breach of the law in the application of the rules of engagement.

We are in a very sensitive time. It is essential for leaders to avoid harsh words and an angry tone that they will later regret. People know that I have long bravely opposed the policy of isolating Russia by other states in my writings and other statements. Harsh words may strengthen that isolation worldwide and that is not what we desire. Commentators on both sides must act with reason, use a language of peace and love and avoid language of anger and hatred. Angry words may come to one’s tongue very easily for a moment, but they are exceedingly hard to retract. It must not be forgotten that such intemperate language can push ignorant, loveless and vengeful types totally out of control, and that this would seriously damage both communities. Those who strive for peace must now become engaged.

The Turkish and Russian peoples do not desire any falling out. That is one of the main reasons for the approval our peace messages in Russian newspapers have received. Turkey is an important doorway through which Russia and the Islamic world can come together and interact more strongly. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s rational policies have strengthened that solidarity. This valuable friendship we enjoy with Russia must not be frittered away through harsh rhetoric that cannot be retracted.

Is the Quran more violent than the Bible?

Unseeing eyes, unhearing ears