In a stunt that keeps the Syrian-Turkish crisis on a hair trigger for war, and now brings Russia directly into the equation, the Turkish Air Force forced a Syrian commercial airliner flying from Moscow to Damascus to land at Ankara airport yesterday, claiming it had intelligence that it was carrying weapons to Syria. After an inspection, all they found was "communications equipment," which they seized. The aircraft was then released along with its 37 passengers and crew.
Syria immediately announced it would intercept any Turkish plane in its airspace; Turkey then declared that its civilian aircraft will not cross Syrian airspace.
Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu claimed that aircraft was carrying "banned" equipment. and that Turkey had the right to inspect the aircraft. Appearing on TV tonight, PM Erdogan escalated and said the plane was carrying "military equipment," a charge the Russians vehemently deny.
Moscow asked Ankara for clarification on the incident, a Russian Foreign Ministry source said yesterday, adding that there were 17 Russians on board the flight. In a sharply worded statement from the Foreign Ministry, the Russians said the lives of their citizens were endangered. Russian consular and medical personnel were denied access for 5 hours, according to Ria Novosti.
Republican People's Party (CHP) deputy chair Faruk Logoglu, a retired ambassador and a former undersecretary of the Foreign Ministry, today denounced the government for forcing the aircraft to land. "This incident is the latest bitter fruit of the wrong and biased Syria policy which the AKP government has been following. With this incident, an air dimension has been added to the already-tense relations between the two countries." He added that the plane incident has displayed a "worrying and dangerous escalation full of unknowns."
Logoglu, however, said the political aspect of the issue was more important than its technical aspect, amid questions of whether the inspection was conducted in line with the rules of international civil aviation. "This development will also negatively effect our relations with Russia with which we already have an opposite approach" on Syria, in addition to the problems it will cause with the Arab republic, he said.
The Syrian government has demanded a return of the seized cargo and full restitution. The Russian media have unleashed a firestorm of reproach against Turkey, accusing its authorities of not only making false accusations, but claiming they tortured the pilots and mistreated the passengers.