On March 5, CHP parliamentarian Şafak Pavey boarded a plane in Istanbul that would carry her to the Syrian border. There she led a delegation of Mersin parliamentarian Aytuğ Atıcı and two other CHP lawmakers from Hatay province, Hasan Akgöl and Mevlüt Dudu, over the border and through war-torn Syria. On March 7, the group met for two hours with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and, later that day, Pavey had a private forty-minute meeting with his wife Esma Assad.
The main reason for their trip was to request the release of an American and other foreign journalists believed to be held by the Assad regime. They were told that there was no sign of Palestinian journalist Bashar Kadumi, who went missing in Syria about five months ago. The delegation was given the impression that Kadumi must be dead, since no passport or other documentation of his has been found. The delegation holds out hope, though, that this is incorrect. Assad claimed to have no information about the other journalists and also said that to his knowledge no Turkish military personnel were being held. Assad agreed that he would look into the whereabouts and welfare of any Turkish prisoners. Pavey also asked Esma Assad for assistance in finding and releasing the missing journalists. She also asked the president’s wife to step in personally to assist Syrian refugees.
Assad took the opportunity to send a message abroad (as related by Atıcı): “If the Syrian people win this war, two people will lose. Erdoğan and the Emir of Qatar. Because they’ve built their future on this war. If the Syrian people win this war, then Erdoğan’s dreams of the presidency and his charisma will have come to nought.”
Assad claimed that Turkey played a prominent role in the increase in terrorism within Syria. “Right now we have terrorists of twenty-three nationalities; previously there were only a few groups. The most terrorists come to us from Libya and Yemen. Turkey has come to act as a coordinator country. They took two thousand Libyans, trained them in Istanbul, then sent them here. Qatar isn’t our neighbor. Billions of dollars of money come through Qatar to aid Turkey. Where does that money go?” The solution, he suggested, was for Turkey to interdict weapons and money at the Syrian border, but “that train has left the station”. He claimed that “those who were armed opponents at the beginning have begun to return to us. And we’ve changed our constitution. We’ve changed the election law and the press law.” In a final dig at Erdoğan, he said, “Under Erdoğan’s rule, Turkey isn’t a secular country anymore.”
Assad claimed that Iraq’s Kurds were in discussion with Syria’s Kurds and that they were trying to also take Turkey’s Kurds and found a Kurdish state.”Erdoğan sees this and tries to use it.”
Atıcı explained that this was not a formal state visit, since the Turkish government had cut off relations to Syria, but rather that their party acted as a bridge between the Syrian and Turkish people. Assad had extended a permanent invitation to the CHP representatives because, as Assad put it, Erdoğan treated him as an enemy, but he did not wish for the Syrian and Turkish people to be enemies. “Governments come and go, they change, but if the people become enemies, that will be hard for us to to put right.”