You just received strong support in local elections, but many say they fear a descent into authoritarianism. You shut down Twitter (TWTR) and YouTube (GOOG) earlier this year, for instance.
If I were a dictator, how could anyone direct such an insult at me? This Twitter does not have an office in Turkey. It’s an American company, [so]they are part of the informal economy. There are court decisions, for example. The court decisions have to be respected. If they don’t respect the court decisions [to close certain accounts], then what we do is we shut them down. [The ban on Twitter was overturned in early April by Turkey’s constitutional court.]
Following the Taksim Square protests of 2013 and the seven dead, do you have regrets? What about future protests?
It happens everywhere, unfortunately. If you resort to violence, then such unwanted consequences occur. Who is it that resorts to violence? It’s not the police. It’s the people in the square who believe in the games that the illegal organizations play. And when they attack the police using stones or Molotov cocktails, the police react. We never said no to protests. What we do is we provide places for demonstrations, but people say they want to demonstrate anywhere they like. They can demonstrate. I also can demonstrate and have such freedoms, but I go to the place that is designated.
Tell me about Fethullah Gülen, who lives in Pennsylvania, and his Hizmet movement, and what you believe has been happening.
We were aware that they were trying to infiltrate various organizations, but we were not aware of their ultimate bad intentions. The national intelligence is part of the police. We do international intelligence through our intelligence agency. And they were trying to infiltrate those, but we’ve been trying to do a significant cleanup. They placed a bug in my office. This group is in the U.S. It’s sad for us to see that such a group can exist there.
What do you hope the U.S. will do about it?
They can be delivered, or they can be expelled. It’s as simple as that. If, for example, someone is a threat to the United States and we get that information and we catch them, we hand them over. I have done more than 10 handovers like this so far, and I would expect the same thing from our strategic partner, the U.S., because these have been attempts to threaten our national security.
What happens to any accusations against you after you’ve done your “cleanup”?
When we came to the government, Turkey had a GDP of $230 billion, and our government brought it up to $820 billion in 12 years. How could corruption be the basis of such development? Germany has a growth rate of 0.8 percent. Turkey’s is 4 percent. How can a country with corruption achieve all this?
The road to EU membership has been long for Turkey. Describe the situation.
The Islamic world believes Turkey should be a bridge to the West, and we continue to think so. But the European Union is still not aware of this development. If these delay tactics continue to be the case, as far as the EU’s concerned, then we might have to look for other formations. There are a number of different organizations, and we may consider them.
You share a border with Syria. Tell me about the impact of its civil war and what you recommend for the future.
So far we have more than 700,000 refugees in our country, and we’ve spent $3.5 billion [helping] them. The support we’ve received for this effort is $150 million. I’m not fooled by the chemical weapons issue. Two thousand die in a chemical weapons attack, and that is considered a crime; 200,000 have been killed by conventional weapons, and that you totally disregard. Of course we have to do something against chemical weapons, but why don’t we act against conventional weapons?
What have you said to your friend Vladimir Putin about his moves in Crimea?
I told him that I didn’t agree with his actions. He said that they were there because the people in Crimea wanted to see them there. My reaction to that was that there could be other countries in the world who may look to somebody else to come in, but that cannot be justification for that action.