Davutoglu admits arms shipment to Syria, says ‘aid’ was intended for Turkmens

In what appears to be an acknowledgment of an arms shipment to Syria by Turkey’s intelligence organization’s trucks, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has said the “aid” carried by those trucks was intended for Turkmens in the war-torn country.

“Yes, I am saying this without any hesitation. That aid was going to the Turkmens. There will be a war next door and we will watch our Turkmen, Arab and Kurdish brothers being massacred. Really?” Davutoglu asked during a rally in Ankara on Saturday.

His statements come as a response to a Turkish daily’s damning publication of photos of weapons carried by Syria-bound trucks in a convoy run by the National Intelligence Organization (MİT).

The Cumhuriyet daily’s headline story on Friday discredited the government’s earlier claim that the trucks were carrying humanitarian aid to Turkmens in civil war-torn Syria.

The photos published, which were stills of a video, were obtained from files in the prosecutor’s office that is concerned with the ongoing case of trucks run by MİT, the daily said. The daily also uploaded video footage to its website on Friday.

According to the report, there were six steel containers in the trucks, which contained a total of 1,000 artillery shells, 50,000 machine gun rounds, 30,000 heavy machine gun rounds and 1,000 mortar shells. All of this is registered in the prosecutor’s file about the MİT truck case, the report said.

Upon the publication of the story, the İstanbul Chief Prosecutor’s Office quickly launched an investigation of Can Dündar, editor-in-chief of the Cumhuriyet daily, who is also the author of the report, for breaching the anti-terrorism law.

Commenting on Davutoglu’s statement on Twitter on Saturday, Dündar said the prime minister’s statements were a confession. “Davutoglu admitted the arms shipment. He said they were intended for Turkmens. The Turkmens also have something to say. For tomorrow,” Dündar tweeted, signaling that the Cumhuriyet daily will report on comments from Turkmens on Sunday.

Turkish government officials have often provided conflicting accounts on the contents of the trucks that were intercepted on their way to Syria.

When the news broke in January 2014 that the Turkish military had intercepted three trucks and searched their contents under the order of the lead and district prosecutors in the province of Adana, the government immediately dismissed claims that the trucks were carrying arms. Prime Minister Davutoglu, who was foreign minister at the time of the incident, asserted that the cargo was humanitarian aid destined for the embattled Syrian Turkmens on the other side of the border.

The official narrative was later revised to say the trucks were carrying unidentified aid to Turkmens in Syria. Then-prime minister and current President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on television programs and during public speeches that the trucks were carrying aid to Turkmens. Then-Interior Minister Efkan Ala also said the aid was for Turkmens and a public statement by MİT claimed the same.

Testimonials by gendarmerie intelligence officers who were involved in the interception confirmed, however, that the shipment’s destination was not an area that included any Turkmen group. The destination on the Syrian side of the border, as disclosed by the drivers, was often a target for reconnaissance by Turkish military personnel who secured the border.

However, the gendarmes said the area was populated by radical groups including al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

Syrian Turkmens also refuted claims that they had received either arms or humanitarian aid from Turkey at the time. Syrian-Turkmen Assembly Vice Chairman Hussein al-Abdullah said in January 2014 that no such trucks arrived from Turkey.

Earlier this month, Yasin Aktay, the AK Party’s deputy chairman responsible for foreign affairs, admitted that the trucks were in fact transporting arms, but said that the receiver was the Free Syrian Army (FSA), which is fighting against the Syrian government, not ISIL.

On the other hand, İbrahim Kalın, spokesman and adviser to President Erdogan, has claimed Turkey has never sent any weaponry to Syria.