The official rhetoric in Ankara is that the Damascus administration has lost its legitimacy by oppressing and killing opposing citizens. The incumbent Turkish government is taking a serious risk in setting an example in the face of its own Kurdish imbroglio.
If one wonders why the Turkish government is so adamant in shaping the future of the Syrian regime, there appear to be two reasons. One is the deep anxiety that the Kurds in Syria will establish a Syrian Kurdistan with the help and under the leadership of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). It is a pan-Kurdish outfit harboring a grand design of bringing together the different Kurdish populations living in Iran, Turkey, Iraq and Syria to establish a united and greater Kurdistan. Needless to say, this is the nightmare of the Turkish establishment.
The second is to help the formation of a religiously friendly government, securing the southern flank as well as enhancing Turkey’s influence in the Muslim world. Turkish foreign policymakers have often declared that they want to be the shapers of the future of a new Middle East. Does Turkey really have the power to do so in the midst of a political theater that is flooded with other actors with clout? It is true that Turkey’s democracy, precedence of popular rule over the military, political reforms that brought it closer to the EU and its middle-class culture that bridged modernity and Islam were of considerable attraction to Arab-Muslim countries. What the new rulers of Turkey did not understand is that none of these countries want their former master coming back as the “new Ottomans.” In the meantime, Turkey is trying to bring the Assad government down “for the sake of the Syrian people.” But the Syrian people are an amalgam of religious, ethnic and political affinities.
The downing of the Turkish jet plane gave a clear excuse for Turkey to turn to NATO. But a credibility problem arose when the Pentagon revealed the plane was downed by Syrian anti-aircraft artillery off the Syrian coastline. The Russians offered “undeniable radar data” to this effect. Hence Turkey’s de facto introduction of a buffer zone of four miles along the Syrian-Turkish border remains a one-sided act. Ankara has also dispatched tanks, missile batteries and heavy artillery. Syria is now “a hostile state” for Turkey in contrast to what it was a year-and-a-half ago: a brotherly country.
Turkey had adopted a policy of befriending its neighbors. It was a new initiative to return to its past and cultural environment. Now Turkey seems to be in the reverse mood.
On July 3, Turkey met with France, the UK, the US, China, Russia, Kuwait, Qatar, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Arab League head Nabil El-Araby and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton to decide on the future of Syria in Geneva.
At the end of the meeting Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was delighted that the signed agreement between the parties did not openly state that Syrian ruler Bashar al-Assad would have to step down. The countries, including Turkey, agreed to the formation of a transitional government. This government would be composed of members of the present Syrian government and opposition elements. The primary task of the “new” government would be preparing the country for free and popular elections.
The international jockeying concerning the Syrian imbroglio is an indication of the complexity of both the power structure in Syria and its regional ramifications, as well as the intricate nature of foreign state interests that overlap or contradict each other. Turkey’s justifying its intervention as purely humanitarian makes it painful to watch the brutal repression of the opposition and suffering of innocent civilians next door.
While some of the regional states are supplying arms and vital support to opposition forces, they would be vehemently opposed to a regime change in their own countries that would put an end to their rule. One such country is Turkey. By now Turkey has learned that NATO will not go to war in Syria as long as Russia is directly (China and Iran are indirectly) involved. There will be, at best, a “transitional government” with a weakened Assad family in charge. The US has consented to this plan at least until the presidential elections to take place in autumn.
Given these circumstances, shall we rattle our saber and watch the opposition being minced or should we act alone? The last decision will be a determining factor in whether Turkey becomes a power in regional politics or is strong and cohesive enough to maintain its own unity.