Turkish President Abdullah Gül accused Syria’s government on Wednesday of using oppression and violence against its people, saying the situation there had reached a “point of no return.”
“We exerted enormous efforts in public and behind closed doors in order to convince the Syrian leadership to lead the democratic transition,” Gül said in a speech hosted by Wilton Park, a British foreign policy think tank. “Despite all this the Baath regime continues to use oppression and violence on its own people. Violence breeds violence. Now, unfortunately, Syria has come to a point of no return,” he said.
Gül, on a visit to Britain, has made it clear more than once in the past few days that change is inevitable in Syria. In an interview with The Guardian daily on Tuesday, Gül said it is too late to introduce reforms now, lamenting that Syria has reached a dead end.
He said in the interview published on Tuesday that he had spoken to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad regularly until a few months ago and advised him to allow free elections, release political prisoners and announce a clear timetable for reforms. “It’s quite too late for that sort of thing now,” he told the newspaper. “He seems to have opted for a different route. And frankly we do not have any more trust in him.”
Britain, which condemned the Syrian government’s actions as “appalling and unacceptable,” sees the possibility of Syria plunging into a civil war increasing. British Prime Minister David Cameron, who had talks with Gül on Tuesday, said civil war was a “real possibility.”
Gül, on the other hand, warned that a civil war could have devastating results. “Civil war is not something that anyone would want to see happen. Everything must be done to prevent it. It is very dangerous,” he told The Guardian.
Speaking in Wilton Park on Wednesday, he emphasized the fate of Syria is important for the entire region, since the country sits on sectarian fault lines. “Defining this democratic struggle along sectarian, religious and ethnic lines would drag the whole region into turmoil and bloodshed,” he warned.
Gül and Cameron discussed Syria against a backdrop of mounting criticism from Turkey and Arab states of Assad’s violent crackdown on anti-government protests, in which thousands have been killed. Gül repeated a warning that change should come from within Syria, not through external intervention. “We don’t believe the right way to create change is through external intervention. The people must make that change,” he said in The Guardian interview.
After meeting Gül, Cameron told reporters they had discussed engagement with Syrian opposition movements who could represent Syrians in an “inclusive transition.” Cameron also lauded Arab and Turkish efforts to pressure Assad to end the violence and enact reforms. The Arab League suspended Syria’s membership earlier this month.
“Today we have had important discussions on Syria where now a full-scale civil war is a real possibility. Turkey and the Arab League have shown welcome leadership and that gives us a way to stop the brutality of this morally bankrupt regime,” Cameron said.
“The world now needs to get behind this with concerted pressure on the regime and positive engagement with the opposition movements who can represent Syrians in an inclusive transition,” Cameron added.
On Tuesday, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan delivered his country’s strongest condemnation yet of its one-time ally Syria, calling for Assad to step down and reminding him of tragic end of Adolf Hitler and Muammar Gaddafi.
Warning against Sunni-Shiite divide
In his speech on Wednesday, Gül also discussed the Arab Spring, voicing concern about attempts “by certain circles” to foment sectarian, ethnic or ideological strife across the region in order to hijack the process and warning against a Sunni-Shiite divide in the region.
“I observe a simmering threat in the region based on a Sunni-Shiite divide. This dangerous process, which will waste the energy and the resources of the region, must be prevented,” he said, calling on governments “not to fall into the trap of such a primitive divide in the Muslim world.”
“It poses the greatest threat to the prospects of the Arab Spring and has the potential to move the Muslim world from the 21st century into the darkness of the Middle Ages,” he said.
There was also a risk of the remnants of old regimes trying to cling to power and slowly kill the spirit of revolution, he said. He did not name any countries but, in Egypt, protesters have returned to the streets, frustrated at the army’s apparent reluctance to relinquish its power after the fall of former President Hosni Mubarak.
Warning that a failure to restore the economic order in the region could lead to chaos, he said he had been urging the global financial institutions -- the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) -- and major developed countries to launch a comprehensive economic restoration program to support political transition in the Middle East.