Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has slammed his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron over his criticism of Turkey’s military operation in northeast Syria, saying that he was suffering “brain death”.
Erdogan’s comments on Friday – just days before a NATO summit that both leaders will attend – came in response to Macron’s much-publicised claim from a November 7 interview that the alliance was suffering “brain death” owing to the lack of strategic cooperation among members.
“I am talking to France’s President Emmanuel Macron, and I will also say this at NATO. First of all, have your own brain death checked. These statements are suitable only to people like you who are in a state of brain death,” Erdogan said in a televised speech.
“You know how to show off but you cannot even properly pay for NATO. You are a novice,” Erdogan said, addressing Macron.
Following Erdogan’s comments, the French foreign ministry said in a statement that Turkish Ambassador Ismail Hakki Musa was summoned on Friday to explain “unacceptable statements … that have no place in Turkish-French relations and cannot substitute for the necessary dialogue between the two countries.”
War of words
Erdogan appeared particularly angered by Macron’s criticism of Turkey’s operation in neighbouring Syria, which began on October 9 with the stated aim of driving Kurdish fighters – considered “terrorists” by Ankara – away from its border and establish a “safe zone” to house some of the 3.6 million Syrian refugees living in the country.
In support of his “brain death” comment on NATO, Macron had cited the earlier decision by the United States, which had been allied with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) group, to withdraw its forces from the frontier with Turkey.
The SDF is dominated by the People’s Protection Units (YPG), labelled “terrorists” by Ankara because of its ties to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged a 35-year war inside Turkey that has led to tens of thousands of deaths.
Separately, during a news conference alongside NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg in Paris on Thursday, Macron said he understood the security concerns of “our Turkish ally, which has suffered several attacks on its soil”.
But it was unacceptable for Turkey to present its allies “with the fait accompli of a military operation that endangers the actions of the anti-ISIL coalition of which NATO is a member,” he added.
In response to the remarks, 65-year-old Erdogan accused 41-year-old Macron of being “very inexperienced”.
“He doesn’t know what fighting against terror is. That is why yellow vests invaded France,” he added, in a swipe over the protests that badly rattled Macron’s government last year.
“What is your business in Syria?” Erdogan said, addressing Macron.
“Jump up and down as much as you like … you will respect Turkey’s right to fighting against terrorism sooner or later. There is no other way.”
Erdogan and Macron next week will join other NATO leaders in Britain for events to mark the alliance’s 70th anniversary.