As the revolt in war-torn Syria against the Bashar al-Assad regime drags on far longer than any other Arab Spring uprising, Turkey has started to lobby for a proposal, including a “humanitarian intervention,” to bypass the United National Security Council (UNSC) deadlock over the 19-month-long Syrian crisis due to the vetoes of Russia and China.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has recently called on the international community to make a concerted effort, saying the best way to end the bloodshed is to launch a humanitarian intervention.
“We [Turkey] are doing all we can to help these people, using our diplomatic capacity to stop this bloodshed. But there should be a much more concerted effort by the international community. The best way we can see now is direct humanitarian intervention,” Davutoğlu stated in remarks to the Guardian.
There must be humanitarian access and a humanitarian mission inside Syria, said Davutoğlu, adding that the international community must be ready to protect it.
“This is the question: whether it is a buffer zone or humanitarian access, how these people are to be protected inside Syria. We are calling for an international humanitarian mission to go into Syria and be protected, to stop the refugee flow. The international community must make a decision,” said Davutoğlu.
Selçuk Çolakoğlu, expert at the Ankara-based International Strategic Research Organization (USAK), said in remarks to Today's Zaman that Turkey, as a frontline country in this crisis, has some good arguments for the buffer zone but does not have the necessary support at this time.
Turkey has been considering establishing a buffer zone in Syria since the beginning of the crisis, but has not received support from the international community regarding the establishment of the zone inside Syria. Turkey has pondered establishing a buffer zone in order to create a safe haven for civilians in Syria to prevent the inundation of its territory.
“If Turkey does not receive support from the UNSC for a buffer zone inside Syria, Turkey should bypass the UNSC and work with other mechanisms, including NATO, for the establishment of the zone,” Oytun Orhan, a Syria expert from the Ankara-based Center for Middle Eastern Strategic Studies (ORSAM), told Today's Zaman.
In the past, Davutoğlu has emphasized that Turkey would not accept more than 100,000 refugees, and that the creation of a buffer zone may be necessary to contain the flow of refugees onto its soil.Although Turkey's open door policy for the Syrian refugees remains in effect, the number of Syrian refugees officially registered in Turkish camps has already exceeded 100,000, which has been described by Ankara as a “psychological threshold.”
On Monday, Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan said the Turkish government had already spent some TL 380 million ($211 million) on the care of more than 100,000 refugees who have fled their homes in Syria due to the violence of the authoritarian regime, out of TL 400 million transferred to an official relief agency.
According to Orhan, there are some conditions that need to be met in order for Turkey to create a buffer zone. “First of all, the increasing expense of the refugees has led to the discomfiting of Turkish public opinion. Secondly, the problems created by the refugees in the camp areas also discomfit the residents of that area,” said Orhan.
Setting up a buffer zone is one of the most hotly debated issues among Turkish officials. Some say the influx of hundreds of thousands of Syrians into Turkey would be the only precondition for Turkey to establish a buffer zone, similar to the buffer zone it established two decades ago to contain the mass migration of Kurdish Peshmerga from Iraq.
According to Turkish diplomatic sources, creating a buffer zone near the Syrian border is a possible option. “If the number of refugees increases, Turkey would create a similar zone [to the one] it created in Iraq,” said one source.
The aim of the buffer zone is to establish an area where Syrian civilians fleeing to the Turkish border to escape the brutal violence of the Syrian army can be accommodated without security risks.
“Turkey should carry out an action plan in order to speed up the fall of the Syrian regime. This action plan could be the creation of a buffer zone,” said Orhan.
The United Nations said proposals to set up secure buffer zone in Syria raised “serious questions” and would need to be studied carefully. Moreover, the US stated that it would help Turkey handle a possible refugee influx instead of supporting Turkey's proposal to establish a buffer zone within Syria.
Orhan stated that if the buffer zone is created, Turkey should ensure that it is protected by both air and land forces for the security of the civilians. “Accordingly, the international community, in particular the US, should help Turkey in this case. Syria is not a problem solely for Turkey but also for the US,” said Orhan, adding that the US seems reluctant to take risks before the presidential election.
France has been the first nation to declare its willingness to collaborate with allies for the establishment of a buffer zone in Syria -- a move which embattled Syrian President Assad has described as unrealistic in practice.
“Faced with the looming humanitarian crisis in Syria, Turkey is scrambling to find a solution to the refugee problem by trying to enlist help from regional and global powers,” Çolakoğlu said, predicting that Turkey would shy away from unilaterally intervening into Syria for a buffer zone.
Davutoğlu has stressed that humanitarian access must be guaranteed by any means necessary, and that any new initiative must be backed by the UN Security Council. “If it established a mechanism to guarantee international humanitarian assistance inside Syria, Turkey would support it and would allow its soil to be used as a base. But Turkey would not act alone or without UN authorization,” added Davutoğlu.