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August 30, 2012, Thursday

Forget Assad, bash Turkey

Let’s get it straight by adding crucial nuances: As justified as it is to scrutinize and criticize the Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) domestic policies, it is unjust to try to invent arguments for demolishing its Syria policies.

For some time now, a chorus of voices -- domestic and international -- has been doing just that: By depicting a picture of Turkey “doing everything wrong” vis-à-vis the Assad regime, they somehow surface the hope that it will weaken Ankara’s image to the point of appearing “untrustworthy” to its key Western allies.

The interesting part is, many of those loud voices are the same ones that raised the roof with the claim that Turkey was in the course of changing axis by knitting very close ties with Iran and Russia. This bare fact is proof enough with which one can judge their honesty.

In such clear-cut cases -- such as Bosnia, Sudan and, nowadays, Syria -- where one’s conscience is tested, it becomes very easy to see whether arguments for or against saving human lives and getting rid of cruel regimes are stretched beyond limits or not.

In this sense, the new era of “Turkey bashing” is a test case for many pundits. All of them that join this new fashion obviously believe that weakening the AKP on all fronts is far more important than helping the international community stop President Bashar al-Assad and his thugs to kill and destroy.

In this tactical -- and, arguably orchestrated -- campaign, every phase of Turkey-Syria relations under the AKP governments is wrong. It was wrong for the AKP to turn friendly with Assad, it was wrong to open itself politically and economically, it was wrong to show trust, it was wrong to presume that Assad would be able to lead change. Then it was also wrong that Turkey failed in its efforts to persuade him to do that. It was also wrong to show frustration when he did not listen. It was wrong to act on self-confidence towards Syria. It was wrong to pretend -- as it were -- that Turkey belongs to NATO as its front state.

Others are now also enthusiastically quoting Fouad Ajami -- the author of “The Syrian Rebellion,” a neocon apprentice (adviser to Condoleezza Rice and Paul Wolfowitz) and known for his Turkey allergy (because of its stand on the invasion of Iraq in 2003) -- declaring that “the Erdoğan legend is now over in the Arab streets.” He is claimed to have argued also that Ankara had to slow down because the US did not give the go-ahead (for further military action). This one is used in columns as proof that Turkey has “reached it capacity” in its regional policies.

Others, linked with the staunch Kemalist flanks, blame everything on the Ahmet Davutoğlu doctrine of “zero problems with neighbors,” which they see as the mother of all troubles. (This segment of society’s Schadenfreude is, without a doubt, what they see as the “growing Kurdish threat to us” and its usefulness to wear out the government in Ankara.)

In the midst of all this cacophony, it becomes tempting to believe that Assad is right when he said that “Turkey is fully responsible for all the blood that is shed in Syria.”

Now that the refugee flow has reached over 200,000, the spillover of violence in the entire neighborhood is increasingly worrisome and priorities have become clear. As such, the exposure of the irrationality and immorality of Turkey (or the AKP) bashing is inevitable -- and despicable.

Davutoğlu is certainly right when he reacts to it by arguing that “it [the criticism] is all about regional conjuncture, not about our principles. It was the Syrian people that took to the streets; we did not tell them to. They feared no more… When we were friendly with Assad, we were accused of Ottomanism, now of something else… Also, if we had an aim to support only the Sunnis, we would not have told, for example, [Hosni] Mubarak to leave.” (Hürriyet, Aug. 20)

Yet, there are a few serious points in this messy pile of bashing. One point is “Turkey acting impatiently, forcing the pace.” Is it so, or is it simply trying to adopt the speedy changes in neighboring Syria, as its affiliation with the Western institutions requires? This one really needs to be addressed by the critics honestly.

Another point is that it was a “step too far” to engage in training the armed opposition and assist it militarily. This is open to debate, but I would argue that Syria is not just an ordinary neighbor; it has been known for its transfer of arms and terrorism to its adjacent regions, so at this stage a deterrent move seemed inevitable.

Turkey’s policies so far -- not standing indifferent to human suffering and cruelty -- have been what it has done best. One must add, without propagating anything at all for imperial ambitions, that modifying its policies for becoming (eventually) a democratic regional power will have to be costly, including human losses. This is a gamble, for sure: As the Americans would confirm -- no pain, no gain.

What Ankara should do at home is, of course, another story, but with a very high priority. Honest, not tactical, criticism is therefore called for -- but for many, it seems, the AKP is much more dangerous than Assad and his thugs.

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