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Treason allegations over Idlib explode into a brawl in Turkish parliament

Violence erupts and insults fly as fissure over Erdogan's Syria policy are blown wide open in public
A mass brawl was triggered by volleys of insults in Turkey's parliament in Ankara (Screengrab)
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Ankara

Roiling political tensions over the Idlib crisis between the Turkish government and opposition parties exploded in parliament on Wednesday night when a mass brawl was triggered by volleys of insults.

The fight broke out during a speech by Engin Ozkoc, the main CHP opposition party's whip, on the parliament floor. Before Ozkoc began speaking the room was already tense, due to remarks the speaker made earlier in the day accusing Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of being an "honourless, lousy traitor".

Ozkoc said he was forced to give this speech because Erdogan himself accused CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu of treason for his criticisms of the government's policy in Syria.

The war of words is not new, and accusations have been flying since late last week when pro-Syrian government forces killed 34 Turkish soldiers in an air raid in Syria's Idlib province.

Turkey, which backs Syrian rebels in and around northwestern Idlib, has poured arms and men into the province in an attempt to halt a pro-Damascus forces assault that has displaced a million people towards the Turkish border.

That has led to violent and deadly confrontations between Turkish troops and Syrian government forces.

There was a notable lack of senior Turkish officials responding publicly to Friday's attack, with only the governor of southern Turkey's Hatay addressing the number of casualties, raising eyebrows within the opposition.

'He is laughing in the first speech he has given before even our martyrs being buried. Why did these soldiers die?' 

- Kemal Kilicdaroglu, CHP leader

When Erdogan emerged last weekend for the first time since the attack, he made a speech full of jokes and laughs, angering Kilicdaroglu.

“He is laughing in the first speech he has given before even our martyrs being buried. Why did these soldiers die? Why don’t you do something to stop this?” Kilicdaroglu asked on Saturday.

Turkish society has been always divided on Syria policy. With 60 percent of the public having anti-Syrian sentiments, Turkish military confrontation against Bashar al-Assad's forces remains a tough sell.

CHP and all the other opposition parties, one way or another, have called for direct engagement with the Syrian government to find a suitable solution for the refugee issue - apart from the hundreds of thousands displaced in Idlib, Turkey already hosts some 3.5 million refugees.

Assad, too, has intimated he is open for dialogue with Turkey. “There are common interests with Turkey and historical ties between cultures, so it is not logical for us to have differences,” he said in an interview earlier this week.

yeni safak erdogan kilicdaroglu idlib
Pro-government Yeni Safak daily on its 5 March edition featured Erdogan's remarks against Kilicdaroglu: "Dishonorable, traitor and scum"

However Turkish officials have no intention to make nice with Damascus, especially considering its forces have killed 40 Turkish soldiers since last month.

Turkish attacks that downed at least three Syrian military jets, a number of helicopters and destroyed dozens of Syrian tanks and howitzers have had a positive impact on the Turkish public’s morale and created a sense of relief that Turkey is capable of avenging its deaths. Erdogan has declared the attacks will stop only when Assad's forces return to 2018 ceasefire lines.

A recent poll conducted by Adil Gur Research between 29 February 29 and 1 March indicated that 63 percent of the public believe Turkey is in Idlib to prevent an external threat emerging from Syria against Turkey's existence.

Meanwhile, 71.5 percent of respondents see Assad-ally Russia as responsible for the attacks against Turkish soldiers, and 65.2 percent said Turkey must stay and continue its operations.

The Turkish government has no intention to let Ozkoc's remarks go.

The Ankara chief prosecutor's office has already started to launch a case against the CHP whip over insulting the president, and Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul said that the summary of proceedings would be swiftly delivered to parliament.

Turkish MPs have legal immunity, and the government doesn't have the numbers in parliament to lift Ozkoc's.