“Bashar Is Politically Dead”
An interview with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
R.E.: We have determined our own policies.
L.W.: That is what I said—you tried to give Assad a chance to reform.
R.E.: We told President Assad from January 2011 onwards that we would provide support to him if he wanted to engage in reforms. I had a three-hour meeting with him myself at that time, and then I sent my envoys. And we also had telephone conversations. Syria asked for our help, and we sent that help, but nothing changed. Unfortunately, he kept killing his own people by using his tanks, artillery, helicopters, and aircraft.
L.W.: There are rumors that you want to become president after your term as prime minister is over and that you might want to change the constitution to enhance the powers of the presidency. Do you have an interest in becoming president?
R.E.: So far, I have not come to any of the positions that I have filled through wanting to be there. I was sought—people wanted me to come to those posts. I am talking about all my positions: mayor of Istanbul, chairman of the party, prime minister.
With respect to the presidency, depending on the demand, if there is one, from the people and depending on what my political party decides, we will see. This next presidential election will be the first in Turkey when the president will be elected by popular vote.
L.W.: Everywhere I go in this country, I hear about journalists being in jail with no charges. Why don't you let them out of jail? This is not good for Turkey. Why don't you allow them to say whatever they want?
R.E.: I don't know what your source of information is about this subject. I think it is sad that your publication should take these unfounded ideas and allegations as the basis of a question like that.
These journalists are not journalists who have the yellow press [identification] card. There are nine of them. These are people who have been in touch with or worked with terrorist organizations. The others are people who are in prison for reasons like being a member of a terrorist organization or for carrying guns. Are you saying they should be released because they are journalists? Even if these are not people who hold the yellow press card?
I was put in prison simply because I recited [an Islamic] poem.
L.W.: Yes, but that was wrong, too, don't you agree?
R.E.: So I know what it means to be in prison. But what these people have done has nothing to do with my action of reciting a poem.
In my case, I was not involved in injuring or killing someone or carrying arms. I was the mayor of Istanbul, and I was reciting a poem that was approved by the Ministry of Education—and that is why I was jailed.
Today, Turkey is very different than Turkey was 10 years ago, when we first came to government. We are now going through a period where freedom of expression is at its peak.
L.W.: What worries you when you think about the future of Syria?
R.E.: The deaths are very sad. So seeing the scenes that we see in Syria—the destruction of historical sites with bombs—this is very sad. Son Assad is doing what father Assad did 30 years ago. His father massacred children, and now the son is doing the same thing again.
L.W.: As you know him so well, do you think President Assad will go down with the ship or leave? You have spent hours with him.
R.E: I hope that he will opt for the most ideal way out for him. And so the people of Syria will be free of his persecution in the shortest time possible.
L.W.: Is there a country he could go to if he wanted to?
R.E.: There would be.
R.E.: Yes, and Tunisia made an offer.
Lally Weymouth is a senior associate editor of the Washington Post.