President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has defended the shooting down of a Russian warplane by Turkish jets on Tuesday.
“Everybody should respect Turkey’s right to protect its own borders,” said Erdogan, addressing a group of educators in the Turkish capital Ankara as the country celebrates Teachers’ Day.
“This incident happened within the framework of the rules of engagement that Turkey had already announced,” Erdogan said. “No one should have any doubt that we have done our best to avoid this incident.”
A Russian warplane was shot down at the Turkish-Syrian border earlier Tuesday after repeatedly ignoring warnings that it was violating Turkish airspace.
On Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said: “This tragic event will bear serious consequences for Turkish-Russian relations.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov cancelled his scheduled visit to Turkey in the wake of the shooting down of the Russian warplane.
Putin alleged that Russian warplanes had been launching an operation against ISIL north of Latakia.
Noting that Turkey was supporting opposition groups in Syria, Erdogan said that the region where Bayirbucak Turkmen live was not an area where ISIL is present.
Syrian regime forces, backed by Russian air forces, conducted a ground offensive on the predominantly Turkmen villages in the Bayirbucak area in the northwestern Latakia province last Friday.
This led Turkey to summon Russia’s ambassador to Ankara to the Foreign Ministry on Friday. More than 1,500 Turkmens sought refuge in Turkey this weekend.
Turkmens are a Turkic ethnic group based largely in Syria and Iraq, where they live alongside large Arab and Kurdish populations. The Turkmen community, which includes Sunni and Shia Muslims, shares close cultural ties with Turkey.
“With this practice, we are aiming to provide an opportunity for the refugees who want to continue their lives in their homeland as well as to prevent that a humanitarian tragedy occur in the region,” Erdogan added.