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Davutoğlu clarifies ‘Assad lesser evil' statement

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“PM Erdoğan fans chant ‘Jihadist Erdoğan' in another public rally next to his home in İstanbul late Friday night,” Bozkurt wrote in a tweet on Dec. 27. Davutoğlu noted that he would also have a bilateral meeting with his French counterpart, Laurent Fabius, in the weekend.

Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has slammed the use of the word “jihadist” in an English translation for the Turkish word “mücahid” to describe the slogan employed by some of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's supporters, saying it is the reflection of a crusader and neo-Orientalist mentality.

Columnists and commentators in pro-government media have attacked Today's Zaman after its Ankara representative and columnist Abdullah Bozkurt translated on Twitter a slogan by Erdoğan's supporters at a rally in İstanbul as “jihadist Erdoğan.” The original slogan was “Mücahid Erdoğan,” the Turkish version of the Arabic word “mujahid,” which literally means “holy warrior” or “religious warrior.”

“PM Erdoğan fans chant ‘Jihadist Erdoğan' in another public rally next to his home in İstanbul late Friday night,” Bozkurt wrote in a tweet on Dec. 27.

Bozkurt instantly became the target of a wave of criticism by pro-government scribes on Twitter and later on in pro-government media, who claim that he intentionally attempted to present Erdoğan as a radical to the West and the US in particular knowing that the word “jihadist” has a very negative connotation there.

Burak Bekdil, a columnist for Hürriyet Daily News, also translated the same slogan as “jihadist Erdoğan” in a column published on Jan. 1, although it went largely unnoticed among the pro-government commentators.

Without openly naming Today's Zaman or Hürriyet Daily News, Davutoğlu on Friday said that the translation was an “attack which has no moral basis.”

“Referring to our prime minister by translating the word ‘jihadist' in an English translation for the Turkish ‘mücahid' is an aggressive attitude that does not have any moral basis. I am saying it openly; this is crusader mentality or the reflection of neo-orientalist mentality,” Davutoğlu said during a televised program aired on Kanal 24 TV on Thursday.

Davutoğlu maintained that it was an aggressive attitude not only against the prime minister but to the Islam civilization and its beliefs.

“Why shouldn't they [supporters of Erdoğan] chant? The names of the ones who resisted in Cyprus were also ‘mücahid.' The vital term of the operation conducted by the neo-orientalist in the recent times is the operation against jihad,” said Davutoğlu.

Davutoğlu also clarified his statement that "the wrong methods implemented by radicals in Syria have made the President Bashar al- Assad regime look like it is the ‘lesser evil'.”

Davutoğlu noted that in his statement there was no remark that meant Assad regime is the “lesser evil,” adding that it was hard to understand how media outlets made out such an understanding from his remarks.

“When reading the newspapers I was shocked. I find it beneficial for the press members to make evaluations within the context. What I have said is: Some circles are giving the violent acts of the al-Qaeda terrorist organization as an excuse and are trying to show Assad as a lesser evil. Today the Assad regime is the source of all evil in Syria. For the Syrian people, the greatest of all evils is the Assad regime, which is the source of any evil emerging in Syria,” said Davutoğlu.

The foreign minister noted that the Syrian people were facing great oppression from the regime, adding that in order to cover up the atrocities of the regime some circles were trying to keep al-Qaeda, particularly the the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) threat, on the agenda.

The foreign minister, responding to questions from Anadolu editors on Thursday, slammed radical groups in Syria whose brutality and radical ideology have dampened Western support for the anti-regime opposition. “The wrong methods implemented by radicals have made the regime look like it is the lesser evil,” said Davutoğlu.

Turkey is a staunch supporter of the moderate rebels aligned with the Syrian national coalition, the body recognized by countries supporting the opposition as the only legitimate representative of the Syrian people, but they have lost ground in Syria as ISIL, which originally was established in Iraq, and another al-Qaeda affiliate, the al-Nusra Front, have gradually become the predominant forces in the anti-regime camp.

Davutoğlu left Ankara for Paris on Friday to attend first a meeting of the Middle East members of a core group of the Friends of Syria scheduled for Friday and then a gathering on Jan. 12 of the entire core group, consisting of both regional countries and the Western nations supporting the Syrian opposition. The meetings come prior to upcoming Geneva II conference, which aims to bring the opposition and the Syrian regime together to find a solution to the crisis. The peace conference for Syria is scheduled for Jan. 22.

Speaking to reporters before departing for Paris, Davutoğlu noted that in the meeting scheduled for Jan. 12, countries would focus on two main topics. “Eleven nations of the core group will discuss how to end the clashes and what could be done to provide humanitarian aid to the areas needed,” said Davutoğlu.

The aim of the meetings, which bring together the main countries supporting Syria's opposition, is to determine a common attitude, strategy and roadmap prior to the conference that will determine the future of the war-torn country.

Davutoğlu noted that he would also have a bilateral meeting with his French counterpart, Laurent Fabius, in the weekend.

“We hope that the parties that have good will are going to participate in the Geneva II. We hope that in Geneva II the Syrian regime will stop the inhumane attacks and show their good will towards eliminating the pain of the Syrian people. Turkey has does its utmost and will continue to do,” he added.

Davutoğlu also said there has been no official criticism directed at the government from the European Union regarding the reassignment of hundreds of police officials and proposed changes to the structure of the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) -- the body responsible for appointments in the judiciary -- which has been criticized by the government since a corruption scandal erupted on Dec. 17 with detentions of officials, businessmen close to the government and sons of three ministers, who were later removed from their posts.

"There has been no direct criticism or statement [from the EU] directed towards us. I have had no contact [with EU officials]," said Davutoğlu in response to a question. He also defended proposed changes to the structure of the HSYK, saying they are designed to remove "gray areas" in relations between the judiciary and the executive branch of the state and prevent a possible "clash of jurisdiction" between the two.
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