Mr. Chairman, Brother Rafik,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
As we stand at a historical threshold in the Middle East and North Africa with a promise of transformative paradigm change and a serious risk of chaos at the same time, it is full of historical significance and symbolism that we hold the first meeting of the “Group of Friends of the Syrian People” here in Tunisia.
The Arab Spring was first set in motion in Tunisia by a street vendor called Mohammed Bouazizi whose outcry for freedom and dignity continues to resonate throughout the region and beyond. On this occasion, I would like to pay tribute to late Mohammed Bouazizi and all other courageous people who have sacrificed their lives for this noble cause especially in these days all our brothers and sisters in Syrian cities.
On behalf of Turkey, I would like to express our gratitude to Tunisia for generously hosting the first meeting of the “Group of Friends of the Syrian People”.
We have gathered here for a cause. We are here today to express in the strongest terms our solidarity with our Syrian brothers and sisters. We are here to convince the people of Syria that they are not alone, that they are not forgotten, and that they will never be left to their fate.
None of us could hide the disappointment which struck all of us on February 4th when the UN Security Council failed for the second time to respond to the alarming situation in Syria. At a time when the Syrian people were suffering under an iron fist and crying for help, the message sent to the Syrian people was far from encouraging.
Today, we have an opportunity to correct a false image: An image which suggests that the international community is incapable of and unable to respond effectively to the deteriorating crisis in Syria.
We came one step closer to this goal about 8 days ago when the UN General Assembly adopted a strong resolution on Syria. This resolution, in essence, reproduced the language of the Security Council draft resolution which was vetoed early this month. As such, the adoption of the UN General Assembly resolution with an overwhelming majority not only delivered a strong message, but also revealed a serious gap: A gap within the UN between its Security Council as the main body responsible for the protection of international peace and security, and its General Assembly as the body which represents the conscience of the international community.
The “Friends of the Syrian People” have now a challenging mission to bridge this gap and to develop a broad-based response through a unified stance vis-à-vis the crisis in Syria.
We see the “Group of Friends of the Syrian People” as an international platform which should function to exert collective diplomatic efforts for the protection of civilians in Syria. Our efforts should, first and foremost, focus on implementing the Arab League’s plan for political transition in Syria.
In this vein, I would like to commend the Arab League and its distinguished Secretary General for their leadership in responding to the Syrian crisis. Displaying an exemplary ownership of an essentially Arab issue, the Arab League has come up with a courageous stance to end the bloodshed and to open the way for peaceful democratic transition.
I would also like to welcome the appointment of former UN Secretary-General Mr. Kofi Annan as the joint Special Envoy of the UN and the Arab League on the Syrian crisis. Given his impressive career and vast experience in international politics, I am confident that Mr. Annan is the perfect choice for such a challenging good offices mission. He will have all full support. I invite all relevant parties, in particular the Syrian Administration, to fully cooperate with Mr. Annan for the successful implementation of his mission.
In this Conference, we must give a number of key messages to the Syrian people and the international community.
First and foremost, we must commit ourselves to end the bloodshed in Syria at all cost. There should be no letup in our efforts to this end. We have to build upon the momentum built by the Arab plan and take bold steps accordingly.
Our resolve should be firm and unwavering. We should not let ourselves fall into some sort of psychological fatigue. Only through sustained concerted action could we convince the Syrian Regime that its policies have no chance of success and nothing but further international isolation awaits it. We must make it clear that the Regime’s brutal crackdown and indiscriminate shelling of the besieged cities will neither be condoned nor tolerated.
We should work on denying the Regime the means with which to perpetrate atrocities against the Syrian people. To this end, we must seek ways and means of enforcing an arms embargo upon the Regime. A significant portion of the participating countries in this meeting, including Turkey, have already put into effect such strict measures. We can now develop this into a much broader enforcement.
More urgently, we must develop a joint response to the compelling humanitarian crisis in Syria. We must make it very clear that we will not ignore the outcries of our Syrian brothers and sisters. We cannot let the Syrian Regime turn entire neighborhoods into open-air prisons. We cannot stand idly by as people perish out of hunger or due to lack of medicine.
In responding to the humanitarian crisis in Syria, the UN should assume the leading role. We should coordinate our efforts with the relevant UN bodies in order to ensure unimpeded humanitarian access to those in need in Syria. In this respect, we welcome the establishment of the “Syrian Humanitarian Forum”. To complement these steps, we should also set up an urgent humanitarian fund with a view to responding effectively and promptly to the humanitarian needs of our Syrian brothers.
Last but not the least; we should concentrate our efforts on empowering the Syrian opposition which will be the backbone of a democratic Syria. For the success of the Syrian opposition, “unity” and “inclusiveness” will be the key. We should thus encourage all opposition groups to join their forces around the Syrian National Council which we see as the broadest and most inclusive opposition platform.
The Syrian National Council should act as a harmonious political platform within which all components of the Syrian society are adequately represented. As such, it should be recognized as “a legitimate representative” of the Syrian people.
As a neighboring country of Syria, Turkey is on top of the list of the countries which are most likely to be directly affected by the instability in this country. Since the outbreak of the street protests in Syria almost a year ago, more than 22.000 Syrians have fled to Turkey in search of refuge. Today, we are hosting and providing temporary protection to more than 10.000 Syrian nationals. They are our most welcome guests and they will remain so as long as they wish to stay on our territories. Turkey will always be ready to receive our Syrian brothers and sisters who may be forced to run for their lives due to growing insecurity in their country.
Given our deep-rooted historical and cultural bonds as well as kinship ties, the Syrian people have never been an ordinary neighbor to us. On our part, as we have resolutely done up until today, we will continue our strong support for the realization of the legitimate aspirations of our Syrian brothers and sisters for a free and democratic Syria.
I believe that the mere presence here today of more than sixty countries and international organizations has already sent a very strong message. I believe that we have shown that the conscience of the international community cannot be taken hostage. We have shown that the conscience of the international community will always prevail.
Before I conclude, I would like to thank you, Mr. Chairman, as our generous host and for your warm hospitality which brought together the “Friends of the Syrian People” for the first time in such a setting.
I have the pleasure to announce that Turkey will host the second meeting of the “Group of Friends of the Syrian People”. I look forward to seeing you all next month in İstanbul.