Turkey-Syria relations reach new lows after embassy attacks
Syria's political and armed opposition is based in Turkey, putting the country in a delicate and unique position as international pressure mounts on the Assad regime.
By Alakbar Raufoglu for SES Turkiye – 15/11/11
Pressure on the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad mounted in Ankara on Monday (November 14th), hours after Assad supporters attacked the foreign embassies of Turkey, France, Saudi Arabia and Qatar following the Arab League decision to suspend Syria's membership.
“It is no longer possible to trust the Assad regime,” Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said. [Reuters]
Turkey is not a member of the League, but welcomed the decision as ongoing violence against protestors has claimed the lives of over 3,500 people, according to the UN.
"It is no longer possible to trust the Assad regime," Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu stated in parliament, adding that "the international community needs to respond with a united voice to the serious developments in Syria."
Ankara evacuated the family members of all diplomats after the incident and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan convened the cabinet on Monday (November 14th) to discuss the matter.
"Assad's people insulted our flag and broke all the bridges ... There is no longer a way back for the Syrian regime," Omer Celik, AKP deputy chairman in charge of foreign relations and the PM's strategic adviser, explained.
Turkey would stand by the Syrian people's rightful struggle, he told SES Türkiye.
"Diplomatically, the best way to do so is by boosting ties with the Syrian opposition," says Mehmet Sahin, a Syria analyst at the Ankara-based Centre for Middle Eastern Strategic Studies. He said the latest events "should open new prospects for Assad's opponents".
"Now, after the Arab League decision and the embassy incidents, Turkey can feel free to take major steps against Assad," he told SES Türkiye.
On Sunday, Davutoglu met with members of the Syrian National Council (SNC), an opposition group formed two months ago in Turkey, to discuss the group's request to open an official representative offfice in Turkey.
It's not clear if Turkey would agree to the request, but many in Ankara, like Sahin, believe that Turkey is "already 100% behind the back of the Syrian opposition".
Turkey is also playing host to the Syrian Free Army, an armed opposition resistance group whose leader, Colonel Riyad al-Asad, is co-coordinating Syrian army defectors inside Syria from the Syrian refugee camps in Turkey's Hatay province.
Ammar Abdulhamid, a US-based Syrian poet and activist who runs the Tharwa Foundation, says "The Turkish government is now forced to make hard choices."
"Neutrality is not a viable option here, and the question now confronting Mr. Erdogan and his advisers regarding Syria deals with the extent of their potential involvement in managing the looming transition there," he told SES Turkiye.
"This calls for a greater engagement with opposition groups, and not only the SNC, but also greater logistical and material support to the Syrian Free Army," he said.
Back in Ankara, official sources say Davutoglu would meet with Arab foreign ministers attending the 4th Arab-Turkish Forum in Rabat, Morocco, a sign that the region is closing ranks against Assad after he failed to implement an Arab League peace plan.
However, some politicians, such as deputy chairman of the Nationalist Action Party (MHP) Mehmet Sandir, who headed the Turkey-Syria Parliamentary Friendship Group until this spring, call on the government to "be very careful when taking any further step against Assad".
"He [Assad] still has huge support inside Syria and it [support] is growing while Syria gets more isolated from the outside," he told SES Türkiye, adding that Ankara shouldn't allow an "explosion" in Syria.
"This is very dangerous for Turkey's national and border security," he underscored, reminding that many Turks suspect that last month's co-ordinated attack by PKK militants in Turkey was supported by Syria.
Zeynep Ece Unsal, an analyst at the Istanbul-based 21st Century Turkey Institute, says Ankara's suspicion over the Assad regime's potential support of the PKK "is fair", given that in the 1990s Damascus hosted the PKK leader as leverage against Turkey.