Syrian opposition tries to unite, Turkey pledges more support
Syria's fragmented opposition is on the edge of forming their leadership, as the unrest in the country is about to enter its sixth month.
By Alakbar Raufoglu for Southeast European Times -- 25/08/11
The Syrian opposition gathered in Istanbul earlier this week and established the National Council after three days of meetings. The 120 members will be determined in two weeks.
Demonstrators shout slogans against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in front of the Syrian Embassy in Ankara. [Reuters]
"Options for the Assad regime are growing narrower by the day while the opposition is becoming bolder and more conscious of the pressing need to demonstrate that they are able to address the question of what happens after the collapse of the Assad regime," says Amr al-Azm, a Syrian-American history professor.
The overall death toll has reached 2,200 in Syria so far, according to the UN.
Meanwhile, al-Azm adds, the opposition is unable to unite around a single representative body "that would then be able to speak on its behalf and articulate these demands in a cohesive and comprehensive manner".
This is not easy "due to the unsettled relations between the various opposition groups and tensions that exist between those on the inside and the diaspora", he tells SETimes.
"It is this daunting challenge of attempting to help the Syrian opposition coalesce around a representative body or council that Turkey may find a role to play in the coming days and weeks," he adds.
Edward Dark, an activist from Aleppo and editor of the website Syrialeaks, said that Syrians perceive Turkey as a model they should follow, "especially in terms of its secular political system of democracy and strong economy".
"We view Turkey as a big brother who should protect us in our time of trouble… maybe [our] expectations are too high and sometimes unrealistic," he tells SETimes.
Turkey, however, finds itself in a difficult position on the Syrian issue, while it tries to juggle its relations with the regime and links to the people.
"Maintaining this balance is not possible anymore," Dark says, "The activists demand that Turkey sever its ties with the regime and take a very tough line, with threats of military intervention, under the umbrella of the UN or NATO."
But in Ankara, officials seem unsure about the next step in their strategy.
"Our diplomacy is the diplomacy of persuasion," Canan Kalsin, ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) vice-chairman for foreign affairs, tells SETimes, adding that Turkey will continue its efforts to bring the sides together for dialog.
"[Erdogan] warned last week that unrest in Syria is part of Turkey's internal affairs. That means the strengthening of the PKK in Syria is very sensitive for us," she adds.
Oytun Orhan, Syria analyst at the Center for Middle Eastern Strategic Studies, an Ankara-based think tank, explains that some in Turkey blame the recent wave of PKK attacks on Syria, believing that the al-Assad regime is tacitly backing the rebels in response to AKP government turning against its former ally.
"The regional picture is more complicated," he told SETimes. "Syria is a key ally of Iran, which has, in recent weeks, suddenly stepped up its own attacks on PJAK, the PKK's Iranian wing. Apparently, Iran also influences Turkey in this matter."