Interview with Sevim Dagdelen, spokesperson on international affairs for Die Linke (The Left Party) of Germany and member of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the German Bundestag, aired and published on RT.com‘s program ‘Sophie and Co’, March 4, 2016
‘… The way to fight terrorism is not by bombing countries; it is by giving up the policy of enforcing regime change, the way governments in the Middle East have been overthrown by secret services or illegal terrorist groups, as was attempted in Syria. I believe that the people in this region have a right to solve their problems on their own, without any foreign intervention into their domestic affairs.’
‘… We see hostilities, killings, in Syria and in other places – we need to cut support for ISIS and other Islamist gangs, we need to make sure people can get medication and food again. We need to lift the oil embargo against Syria, we need to lift it right now, you can’t let ordinary people suffer from sanctions. That’s why I welcome the cessation of hostilities that has taken place in Syria.’
Europe is living through troubled times. Waves of refugees strain the socio-economic situation in the union’s countries – already riddled with financial and job crises. Turkey is playing its own game in Syria, threatening to destabilize the fragile ceasefire in the devastated country – and yet Europe stays silent on the matter. Why is Brussels so willing to turn a blind eye to Ankara’s adventurism with jihadists? Is the refugee crisis more worrying for Europe than the deadly threat from jihadists? And, finally, will the European Union, and especially, Germany, be able to persist under the weight of millions flowing in? We ask Member of the German Bundestag Foreign Affairs Committee, spokesperson on international affairs for The Left Party, Sevim Dagdelen.
Sophie Shevarnadze: The EU has promised to renew EU membership talks with Turkey – in exchange for helping to solve the refugee crisis. You’ve highlighted Turkey’s support of the Islamic State many times – is the EU going to ignore that in exchange for help with the refugees?
Sevim Dagdelen: Yes, unfortunately, the fact is that the European Union and the German government are ready to place the future of refugees into the hands of criminals, that is, the Turkish government and president Erdogan. Erdogan’s government has been supporting terrorist gangs for the last few years, supplying them with arms. The entire 100-kilometer Turkish-Syrian border is left without control, and that’s how ISIS keeps getting supplies of arms and manpower.
According to the New York Times, the entire bulk of the Islamic State’s illegal oil trade operation is also run through the Turkish border. This border hasn’t been controlled for several years now, despite the fact that the Turkish Armed Forces rank as the second largest military force in NATO, counting 900 thousand troops. This proves that the Turkish government simply does not wish to close off the border, although they have enough resources to do that.
And despite all this, the EU wants to step up the EU membership talks with Turkey. I believe this signifies the EU’s moral bankruptcy. The EU has lost its values. That’s why we cannot take the EU membership talks with Turkey seriously. By placing the responsibility for the future of refugees in the hands of a criminal – president Erdogan, the EU has forfeited its standing in these talks. Erdogan is the reason why we have a refugee crisis in the first place.
SS: Does this mean Europe is more worried about the refugee crisis than ISIS?
SD: It seems to be so. The EU has chosen to turn a blind to the issues of fighting ISIS and other terrorist organizations, such as Al-Qaeda branches and others. Erdogan is supporting these Islamists but keeps it under cover. Instead, he is telling stories about the supposedly moderate militant groups that are allegedly under attack of the Syrian Army and the Russian Air Force… while these same militants are in fact acting under the names of ISIS, Al-Qaeda, Al-Nusra. Yet, the EU prefers not to see all that for the sake of the so-called protection from the refugees. One can say that with this, Europe has met its moral demise.
SS: Is the EU ready to start the process of Turkey’s accession to the Union – or will the promise just remain a promise and nothing more?
SD: According to the agreement signed by the EU and Turkey, the European Union has already pledged 3.5 billion euros to Turkey, and the lion’s share of that money will be paid by the German taxpayers, because some of the European countries are not willing to share such huge expenses while others, such as Greece, simply cannot pay that much. This way, they are going to just give Erdogan that money and keep stepping up the negotiation process, the way it had already happened before, despite the bloody Gezi Park crackdown in Istanbul two years ago.
Back then, the EU ignored the situation in Turkey because we didn’t want to weaken our economic cooperation with it. Germany traditionally invests and exports a lot into Turkey. Today, the refugee crisis is forcing Europe to ask Erdogan for help because the EU believes that Turkey is the key to the solution of this problem. But we can already see Turkey deporting Syrian refugees back to Syria, which violates international conventions!
By taking up Erdogan’s side the EU is betraying everything that was believed to represent European values.
SS: ISIS has been using bombs in Turkish cities, provoking conflicts and international pressure on Turkey – why would Ankara support these terrorists when they threaten and harm Turkey itself?
SD: Indeed, we have seen some major terrorist acts in Ankara and Istanbul, but no one associated with ISIS has so far claimed responsibility for the most recent bombings, so ISIS is not hurting Turkey. A friend of mine, editor-in-chief of the Cumhuriyet newspaper was recently released from prison.
He was arrested after publishing a report last year about Turkish arms being supplied to terrorist groups under the supervision of the Turkish secret services. Turkey is actively pursuing an Islamisation policy not only inside the country, but also as part of its foreign policy. Erdogan’s government supports and supplies Uzbeks and Turkmens in Syria with arms. All this is done in order to contain Russia and Iran. Turkey wants to create its own Sunni sphere of influence in the region. This is why I believe we should not think of Turkey and ISIS as different players. They are in agreement, and the living proof of it is the 100-kilometer stretch of the borderline between Turkey and ISIS on Syrian territory that is used for illegal arms exchange and oil trade.
SS: Turkey wants to start a military intervention in Syria – if that happens, will Germany back Ankara?
SD: I am not in the government and therefore cannot say whether the Turkish campaign would receive support or not. I hope that the German government will see that military intervention will only cause an endless escalation of the conflict, which means that Germany will be dragged into this endless war as Turkey’s NATO ally, thus giving support to Turkey’s imperial designs.
I believe that Turkey’s military invasion of Syria would not only constitute a gross violation of the international law, but it would also increase tensions on the international arena by getting all NATO countries involved in this conflict even more. Turkey had already tried to drag NATO into this conflict – for instance, they lied about Syria bombing the Turkish military. NATO reports have since exposed these lies. Yet, NATO keeps sending in its troops to support Turkey.
SS: Chancellor Merkel has proposed a no-fly zone over the north of Syria – something Turkey talked about long ago. To me, a ‘no-fly zone’ evokes memories of Libya, where it led to an actual armed intervention and the toppling of the regime. Does the chancellor’s proposal mean that Berlin wants the same for Syria?
SD: The Turkish president has been demanding a no-fly zone over Syria for many years now, but so far the allies have refused to back him. And yes, recently Angela Merkel indeed made a statement that a no-fly zone should be established over the north of Syria, just like Erdogan wanted.
Take a look at Libya to see how a no-fly zone worked out for it. Is this what they want now for Syria? Those who want the war to end in Syria cannot be advocating a no-fly zone. ISIS has no air force, that’s why the West and the Gulf states, such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia, want to support the terrorists with a no-fly zone regime. Talks about a no-fly zone mean that someone wants to protect both ISIS and other terrorist groups.
Fortunately, Washington said that it’s against the no-fly zone, understanding that it will increase tensions, including those in relations with Russia. That’s why German government’s proposal to introduce a no-fly zone is mere nonsense and I believe they will see in the end that it should not be enforced in Syria at this stage.
SS: Gerhardt Schindler, head of German intelligence, has warned about the rising threat of ISIS militants coming into EU posing as refugees. You’ve talked about the looming threat of terror attacks in Germany – is this threat connected to refugees?
SD: I don’t think that the growing terrorist threat is connected with the growing numbers of refuges. The main reason why the terrorist threat is growing is the bombings of Libya and Iraq and Afghanistan, which has been being bombed for the past 15 years. All these bombings are carried out under the slogans of fighting terrorism, but instead they only produce more terrorism. This makes the terror threat spread to Europe.
Refugees have nothing to do with this. I don’t think that ISIS terrorists will get on a boat to sail across the Mediterranean to get into Europe. Terrorists will fly business class because they have connections and money. They will also find other ways. The way to fight terrorism is not by bombing countries; it is by giving up the policy of enforcing regime change, the way governments in the Middle East have been overthrown by secret services or illegal terrorist groups, as was attempted in Syria. I believe that the people in this region have a right to solve their problems on their own, without any foreign intervention into their domestic affairs.
SS: Europe wants Turkey to control the flow of refugees into the EU – is Turkey even capable of that, does it have enough resources to catch refugee boats in the Aegean sea?
SD: First of all, you cannot just round up refugees and send them back. If a NATO warship takes refugees aboard in the Aegean Sea, they have the right to submit a political asylum request. It’s against international law, you can’t just send them back.
The problem is that the governments that support Islamist murderers in Syria, like Erdogan does, for example, are the real reason why people are fleeing the region. I was in the refugee camps in Lebanon. People there told me that they are fleeing those violent gangs in Syria and Iraq. It’s absurd to think that the only reason for refugees is the government in Damascus or the terrorists.
Turkey is now responsible for more than 2,000 Kurds fleeing the region. Just recently, a boat with Kurds was intercepted in the Aegean Sea for the first time. This is evidence that Erdogan unilaterally broke the ceasefire and launched a war against Kurds. Hundreds of thousands of Kurds will eventually have to leave their country. I think we need to tackle the root cause of the refugee problem. You can’t just fight against refugees.
SS:Germany’s Minister of Development has proposed that Europe adopts something similar to the Marshall Plan for Iraq, Syria and Libya – which will cost 10bn dollars. Do you feel that European states might agree to such measures?
SD: I don’t think 10 billion are going to help. We need a bigger sacrifice. We need to get ready for a long recovery… To help Syria, for example, we need to make sure that the EU and all the Western states, as well as Turkey and Saudi Arabia, stop their support for terrorist groups — al-Nusra and ISIS and all the other groups. They need to stop their support for them.
We need to launch the peace process without any preconditions for the Syrian government. Kurds need to be part of the talks – this is how we can get a grip on this war and make sure that people live freely in their home countries.
SS: Wikileaks has recently published a secret EU report about its operation against human traffickers. It says that whatever measures the EU forces take, human smugglers will find ways around them. Do you agree with that? Has the policy to defend Europe’s borders failed?
SD: It has failed! First of all, in the past several years Germany has been acting like a European policeman, imposing its arbitrary rules on countries like Greece and Spain. It was this policy by Germany that pushed Greece and other countries to the state of collapse. These are the countries that are now hosting refugees. They are not able to handle the flow.
It’s wrong to fight against refugees when they are fleeing. We need to tackle the reasons behind their flight. We need to stop the policy of regime change. This is the major reason and this is the only way to resolve the migrant issue.
While in Lebanon, I was told that even if the border is sealed by Turkey and other countries, even if NATO patrol ships start rounding up refugees, they would still find ways to get to where they want to go. People are fleeing hunger, devastation and torture. They will just have to look for more difficult routes but they will find them anyway. Fences, walls or border patrol won’t stop them because they are fleeing death itself. It’s wrong to try and stop them. Right now refugees are going to Northern and Central Europe. It’s inhumane to introduce migrant quotas or limit their flow otherwise. People from Libya, Afghanistan, Iraq are fleeing countries which became the victims of Western interventions, from places where Western weapons are being exported. People are running from devastation and war to the countries where the devastation and war came from.
SS: Will the whole ‘Schengen’ zone eventually fall apart? Will shutting borders help stop the flow of refugees?
SD: Fences and walls are not going to stop refugees. The previous policy, when they tried to curb the migrant flow – that was wrong. As long as there’s a war going on, people will continue to run from it and come here – what else are they supposed to do? Do you think they should face death and say: ‘I’m a mother of six children, please, shoot me’? No, as a mother, I must make sure that my children live freely, in peace, and if it’s not possible here, then I would take my children to Europe where there are no bombs. Any parent would do it. Nothing will stop people from fleeing this misery.
In this case, Europe is showing the world what kind of laws do we have – are they barbaric or humane. Germany has so much capital, so much wealth that it can afford to keep its borders open.
We need to have a close look at this problem and tackle its causes. We see hostilities, killings, in Syria and in other places – we need to cut support for ISIS and other Islamist gangs, we need to make sure people can get medication and food again. We need to lift the oil embargo against Syria, we need to lift it right now, you can’t let ordinary people suffer from sanctions. That’s why I welcome the cessation of hostilities that has taken place in Syria.
SS:Head of Bavaria, Horst Seehoffer, recently said that Germany won’t be able to deal with another million refugees this year. Will Berlin have to introduce quotas to limit those entering the country?
SD: We should not introduce any quotas for refugees. We currently have some in place, allowing just 1,000 refugees a day. But when a refugee number 1001 comes to the border and says “I need political asylum, I’m fleeing the persecution in my home country”, what should Germany do? It must let that person file his application. But currently it’s does not work like this. Currently Germany will say that the quota has been exhausted, come tomorrow or the day after tomorrow.
It’s absurd, it’s not feasible, it’s an illusion. Is this the way to resolve the migrant crisis? We need a reality check — are we humane? Or are we callous people, oblivious to their suffering, forgetting that it’s us and our foreign policy that are the cause of their hardships.
SS: Does Germany have enough resources to accept all of the refugees?
SD: Sure, Germany can accept all those refugees. Germany is one of the wealthiest countries on the planet. Certainly, it’s the wealthiest people in Germany that need to assume responsibility for that, as well as the military industry which enjoys immense revenues from arms exports. It can also provide the resources to host refugees.
As I said, when I was in Lebanon, I saw that 25 percent of Lebanon’s population are refugees from Syria. Every fourth person is a refugee. Germany has a population of 82 million people and just one million refugees – it’s a completely different proportion in Europe’s most economically powerful country.
SS:Germany has registered more than a thousand crimes against migrants over the past year, anti-migrant parties are staging rallies, etc. Is the huge flow of refugees provoking the growth of xenophobic, right-wing sentiment in Germany?
SD: We see that every day about 3 refugee centers are set on fire. Radical right wing and xenophobic groups are on the rise in Germany. I think Germany can do more for refugees, it needs to strengthen its social policy. In the past couple of years, there was a trend to cut social expenditure – that was a wrong policy and because of it the poor have become even poorer.
They said it was not possible to increase pensions or minimum benefits – the budget all of a sudden ran out of money. It turned out that there’s no money to increase the numbers of police or school personnel. A stronger social policy could improve the state of the German society, ultimately benefitting refugees, too.
SS: The mayor of Molenbeek, which is a borough in Brussels where there are a lot of migrant families, told me in an interview that governments in the EU are struggling to integrate refugees. That they feel alien in European cities, even those born and raised there. Do you agree with that? You, as a politician with Turkish roots, have you experienced something like that?
SD: All the mistakes that were made in relation to migrants in the past should never be made again. I am a daughter of a Turkish worker who came to Germany as a foreign labourer in 1973. I believe that these migrant workers should not be exploited like some cheap labour. There should be no racism or discrimination. I used to feel it. No one offered anything to us, they only demanded things from us. That’s why I believe we should not repeat the mistakes of the past. How can you go with bad social and economic policy and then wonder why aren’t people in Parisian suburbs or in Belgium or elsewhere integrated?
Why do we have ghettos or ‘parallel societies’? We must create opportunities for migrants to learn the language, get education, and study in universities. This should be done not just for migrants and refugees. We need to invest in all people. Current policies only create more poverty, pushing people out of their jobs. If we really want to resolve this issue, including the migrant issue, the community must stand united in solidarity. Otherwise, our German hospitality will soon disappear.
SS:Elections in Germany aren’t too far away – can an unsolved refugee question cost Angela Merkel her position as Chancellor – seeing that even some of her influential allies in the country have been critical of her refugee policy?
SD: I don’t think there’s any threat to Angela Merkel personally. There’s no alternative to her either in the Christian Democratic Union or in the Christian Social Union.
Indeed, her position has weakened, there’s more internal resistance, but I think it’s only temporary – the number of ministers from the CDU is expected to increase after the March elections, changing the balance of forces.
Sevim Dagdelen is the daughter of a Turkish family of labourers that moved to Germany in 1973.
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