Turkey summons Lebanese ambassador over flag defacing

Turkish Foreign Ministry summoned Lebanese Ambassador Ghassan Al-Mouallem to Ankara and reported Ankara’s unease about the incident.
Updated 07 September 2019

Turkey summons Lebanese ambassador over flag defacing

  • The Lebanese-Turkish diplomatic crisis worsened when some people wrote anti-Turkish expressions on a Turkish flag

Five Lebanese lawyers have filed a legal complaint at the Beirut prosecutor’s office against several citizens, accusing them of defacing the Turkish flag.  

“Tony Orian and those who will be found as perpetrators, accomplices or instigators by the investigation, to be prosecuted with the offence of harming and disrupting the Lebanese relations with friendly Turkey.”

The five lawyers stated in their report that “Orian and others defaced a Turkish flag and hung it on the gates of the Turkish Embassy” in Rabieh, near Beirut, on Wednesday. They enclosed a CD containing photos of the incident.

Lawyers Mohammed Ziad Jaafeil, Jihad Abou Ammo, Wissam Al-Halabi, Firas Shraiteh and Noor Al-Din Baalbaki said that the report aims to “maintain the brotherly relationships between the two countries.”   

The Lebanese-Turkish diplomatic crisis worsened when some people wrote anti-Turkish expressions on a Turkish flag. The Internal Security Forces agents in charge of protecting embassies tried to prevent the perpetrators from hanging the flag, but they persisted, an act that was caught on camera by activists who published what they filmed on social media platforms.

According to Anatolia News Agency, following the flag incident, the Turkish Foreign Ministry summoned Lebanese Ambassador Ghassan Al-Mouallem to Ankara and reported Ankara’s unease about the incident.

The people who hung the defaced flag belong to a group that calls itself the “Omega Team,” a group that supports the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) which was founded by Lebanese President Michel Aoun and is currently led by Minister Gebran Bassil. 

In 2014, the same group stormed the Al Jazeera television office in Beirut, in response to the journalist Faisal Al-Qassem’s comments which it viewed as “offensive to the Lebanese Army.” 

The deterioration of Lebanese-Turkish ties was sparked by President Michel Aoun’s speech a week ago, which was delivered on the centenary of Greater Lebanon’s establishment.

“All attempts at liberation from the Ottoman yoke were met with violence, killings and the sowing of sectarian discord”, he said.

“The state terror practiced by the Ottomans against the Lebanese people, especially during World War One, caused hundreds of thousands of victims between famine, conscription and forced labor,” he said in his speech.

On the following day, the Turkish Foreign Ministry condemned Aoun’s words and said that his speech implied “malicious and biased signs related to the Ottoman rule, along with accusations against the Ottoman Empire of practicing state terror in Lebanon.”

The ministry considered that Aoun’s speech came “one week after Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu’s visit to Lebanon, and is not consistent with the friendly relationships between the two countries.”

“It is an unfortunate and irresponsible speech,” it said.

Turkey’s Foreign Ministry defended “the Ottoman era during which the Middle East was marked by a long period of stability.” The ministry considered that “President Michel Aoun’s alteration of history, disregard for what happened during the colonial period, which is considered the source of all disasters today, and attempt to blame everything on the Ottoman rule, is nothing but a tragic manifestation of his passion for surrendering to colonialism.”

In response, the Lebanese Foreign Ministry summoned the Turkish Ambassador. The Lebanese ministry said: “President Michel Aoun’s speech reflected true historical events that happened in Lebanon during the Ottoman rule, that both the Turkish and Lebanese people have overcome. The two peoples aspire to better political and economic relationships in the future.”

The Lebanese Foreign Ministry said that “addressing the Lebanese president in this manner is unacceptable and the Turkish ministry must rectify the error.”

However, the pro-FPM group’s actions exacerbated the crisis between the two countries and created a rift on social media with Tweets and counter Tweets, especially by Armenian Twitter users accusing the Ottoman state of committing massacres against Armenians in Turkey, as this community is still demanding an official apology from Turkey until today.

Krikor Ekmekgian tweeted: “Turkey was and still is a disgrace to all humanity”.

Hala Haddad asked the Lebanese people who are justifying the Turkish attack against the Lebanese President “whether they were doing it to spite him or out of love for the Ottoman rule.” She said: “Those who love Turkey this much should go there as soon as possible.”

Lebanese presidential spokesperson Rafiq Chelala told Arab News: “There are people who want to create a problem out of nothing. President Michel Aoun spoke about a previous period and did not speak about the Turkish state. And regarding his words on the Ottoman Empire, President Aoun talked about facts and martyrs. Otherwise, why is there a Martyrs’ Statute in the heart of Beirut? Don’t we have martyrs anymore? Didn’t famine exist on Mount Lebanon? Did Seferberlik (Ottoman conscription) never happen? President Michel Aoun did not speak in the sectarian or religious sense.”

Chelala considered what happened in front of the Turkish embassy in Rabieh “a reaction and not a political decision.”

Russian forces deploy at Syrian border under new accord

Updated 5 min 54 sec ago

Russian forces deploy at Syrian border under new accord

  • Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin reached an agreement Tuesday that would transform the map of northeast Syria, installing their forces along the border
  • The Kurdish fighters were given a deadline of next Tuesday evening to pull back from border areas they have not already left

AKCAKALE, Turkey: Russian military police began patrols on part of the Syrian border Wednesday, quickly moving to implement an accord with Turkey that divvies up control of northeastern Syria. The Kremlin told Kurdish fighters to pull back from the entire frontier or else face being “steamrolled” by Turkish forces.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan echoed those warnings, saying his military would resume its offensive against Kurdish fighters if the new arrangements are not carried out.
Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin reached an agreement Tuesday that would transform the map of northeast Syria, installing their forces along the border and filling the void left by the abrupt withdrawal of American troops. The Kurdish fighters, who once relied on the US forces as protection from Turkey, were given a deadline of next Tuesday evening to pull back from border areas they have not already left.
Iraq, meanwhile, closed the door on the US military’s attempt to keep the troops leaving Syria on its soil. Iraqi Defense Minister Najah Al-Shammari told The Associated Press that those troops were only “transiting” Iraq and would leave within four weeks, heading either to Kuwait, Qatar or the United States.
Al-Shammari spoke after meeting US Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who earlier this week had said the American forces from Syria would remain in Iraq to fight Daesh. Iraqi’s military quickly said they did not have permission to do so.
The clumsy reversal underscored the blow to US influence on the ground in the wake of President Donald Trump’s order for US troops to leave Syria. Those forces were allied to the Kurdish-led fighters for five years in the long and bloody campaign that brought down Daesh in Syria.
Now a significant swath of the territory they captured is being handed over to US rivals, and the Kurds have been stung at being abandoned by their allies to face the Turkish invasion launched on Oct. 9.
The Kremlin pointedly referred to that abandonment as it told the Kurds to abide by the Russian-Turkish accord.
“The United States was the closest ally of the Kurds during the last few years, and in the end the US ditched the Kurds and effectively betrayed them,” leaving them to fight the Turks, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, according to Russian newswires.
“It’s quite obvious that if the Kurdish units don’t withdraw with their weapons then Syrian border guards and Russian military police will have to step back. And the remaining Kurdish units will be steamrolled by the Turkish army,” he said.
Turkey considers the Kurdish fighters terrorists because of their links to Kurdish insurgents in Turkey. It has demanded they retreat from the entire border region, creating a “safe zone” where Turkey could also settle some of the 3.6 million Syrian refugees on its soil.
Ankara would gain that goal under the new accord with Moscow along with the agreement last week with the US that put a cease-fire in place.
Kurdish forces completed withdrawing on Tuesday from a stretch of territory 120 kilometers (75 miles) wide along the border and 30 kilometers (19 miles) deep between the towns of Ras Al-Ayn and Tal Abyad. That pullback, allowing Turkish-backed forces to take over, was required under the US-Turkish accord.
The new agreement with Russia allows Turkey to keep sole control over that area. For the rest of the northeastern border, Russian and Syrian government forces will move in to ensure the Kurdish fighters leave. Then after the deadline runs out Tuesday, Turkish and Russian forces will jointly patrol a strip 10-kilometers (6 miles) deep along the border.
The Russian Defense Ministry said a convoy of military police had crossed the Euphrates River and deployed in the Syrian border town of Kobani.
“The military police will help protect the population, maintain order, patrol the designated areas and assist in the withdrawal of Kurdish units and their weapons 30 kilometers away from the border,” it said.
The Turkish military said it would not resume its offensive “at this stage” after the US-brokered cease-fire expired Tuesday night. However, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusolgu said that Turkish forces would “neutralize” any Syrian Kurdish fighters they come across in areas that Turkey now controls.
President Erdogan said the attack would start again if the Kurdish pullback does not take place.
“Whether its our agreement with the United States or with Russia, if the promises given are not carried out, there will be no change concerning the steps we need to take,” he told journalists, according to the newspaper Hurriyet.
Erdogan said he had also asked Putin what would happen if the Syrian Kurdish fighters donned Syrian army uniforms and remained in the border area. Putin responded by saying that he would not let that happen, Erdogan said.
Cavusoglu, Turkey’s foreign minister, said the deal with Russia would continue until a lasting political solution for Syria is reached. He also said that Turkey agreed not to conduct joint patrols in the city of Qamishli at the eastern end of the border, because of Russian concerns they could lead to a confrontation between Turkish troops and Syrian government forces in the area.