Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan is scheduled to deliver his first speech on corona outbreak on March 18, a week after the first case was spotted in Turkey on March 11. A night before, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca announced the first Corona-related death in Turkey; an 89-year-old man, reportedly living in Istanbul. The number of cas-es, which had been declared as 18 on March 15, had risen to 47 on March 16 and to 98 on March 17. Dr. Cemil Taşçıoğlu of the Istanbul Cerrahpaşa Medical Faculty is among these cases; he’s both the first healthcare professional identified to have the virus and the first patient to have caught the virus without international contact. Of course, aside from the recent Umrah returnees and those coming back from Europe, healthcare professionals are the most vulnerable group to virus exposure.
From the outside, it appears as though healthcare measures in Turkey and the initiatives of both the Health Ministry and the Science Committee are relatively successful. As it was proven in China, the aim must be to reduce the spread of the virus — to flatten the curve. Since, at the moment, there is no known way to treat the virus itself, social distancing and isolation are necessary to prevent its further spread. 2,807 Turkish citizens coming from European countries as well as the Umrah returnees were brought back into the country in a few-hours-long operation by the Turkish Airlines, then swiftly quarantined.
3 issues, 4 leaders: 1 hour and 15 minutes?
How Corona became the number-one threat also became clear after Erdoğan’s video-conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and British PM Boris Johnson on March 17. First of all, the reason this meeting took place digitally and not face to face is the Corona epidemic. Secondly, meeting via satellite means that any country with a spy satellite will by default be able to eavesdrop to what is being said as a live broadcast. This means there is very little chance of talking about anything secretive on that call. Lastly, to the subject of the call, which had initially been set as the situation in Idlib and Turkey’s call for solidarity, was then added Turkey’s opening of the borders and its effect on Greece. But it’s now clear, also from Erdoğan’s latest Tweet, that the man issue was the joint fight against the Coronavirus.
Think about it. This video-conference, where these four leaders who all like to talk, looked into three different subjects that could each amount to hours-long conferences, only lasted 1 hour and 15 minutes.
Erdoğan’s talk with Russian head of state Vladimir Putin, on March 5, about the Turkish soldiers killed in Idlib and its aftermath, had lasted 5 hours and 40 minutes. How could, then, these four leaders, all NATO members, two of whom are U.N. Security Council permanent members (U.K. and France) and two of the EU member states (Germany and France), manage to talk through all these issues in detail and reach a decision in only 1 hour and 15 minutes? Furthermore, it was announced that Corona-virus was among the conference team but Health Minister Koca, who is in charge of managing the crisis, was not present even though, for example, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) spokesperson Ömer Çelik was there. If we were to ask about it, Presidency Head of Communications Fahrettin Altun would say it was the “President’s decision.” And what else could he say?
Idlib claim by the US should be responded
However, there has been no announcement yet on whether the situation in Idlib, Turkey’s call for NATO solidarity or the situation of the refugees who passed onto Greece (which is getting worse due to the Coronavirus).
But a short while after this video-conference, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made a jarring statement. He said that “dozens of Turkish soldiers were killed by Russia in Idlib,” and that the U.S. “stands by Turkey.”
There was a contradiction here. Despite unofficial news that the attacks were carried out by Russian planes, Erdoğan and other government officials were holding the Syrian army responsible for the attack in Idlib where, on Feb. 27 only, 34 soldiers were killed. It was Erdogan who complained to Putin about it as if Russia was not behind the forces affiliated with Bashar al-Assad. They had spoken for 5 hours and 40 minutes but the only outcome was that new attacks were stopped; there was no mention of lifting the blockade around Turkish observation points.
Upon these developments, Turkey had called NATO for an extraordinary meeting. NATO had then declared that, with the support of the U.S., it stood by Turkey politically against Russia and Syria. The U.N. Security Council had convened upon the call of the U.K. Then, U.S. President Donald Trump sent U.N. representative Kelly Craft to meet with Erdogan and reiterated his support.
You might see Pompeo’s statement as an attempt to prevent Turkey and Russia from resuming their relations as if nothing had happened, and even as an attempt to drive a wedge between Erdoğan and Putin. But it’s impossible not to take it seriously. There needs to be a response to this claim. Were the planes that killed Turkish soldiers in Idlib Syria’s planes (also backed by Russia), or were they Russian planes? Both the Turkish public and the especially the families who lost their children deserve to know this. We are all in solidarity against Corona; both the state and the citizens must diligently do their part so that we get through this crisis with the least amount of damage. But this issue is not something we can sweep under the rug. Erdoğan should answer these claims during his Corona statement.