In Syria, Turkey lacks good options
In step with the international community Turkey ratchets up its diplomatic response to the crisis in Syria, but remains caught in a very difficult position as violence continues.
By Alakbar Raufoglu for SES Türkiye -- 28/02/12
Over 70 top diplomats from Western and Arab countries met in the Tunisian capital of Tunis on Friday (February 24th) to develop a unified message on the transition of power in Syria, urging Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down and allow humanitarian access for civilians and the wounded in besieged cities like Homs.
Demonstrators display a large Syrian opposition flag as they protest Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in Kafranbel near Idlib. [Reuters]
The "Friends of Syria" recognised the Syrian National Council (SNC) as the main opposition, but didn't agree to arm the opposition Free Syrian Army (FSA), pledging instead to ramp up sanctions against the Assad regime.
The next day in Ankara, UN General Assembly President Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser met with Turkish leaders to discuss further steps to resolve the crisis in Syria. Turkey is offering to host a second "Friends of Syria" meeting next month in Istanbul.
Burhan Kayaturk, ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) deputy in parliament's Foreign Affairs Commission, said Turkey intends to push for "more diplomatic successes" from the "Friends of Syria" meetings, such as persuading Russia, Iran and China to abandon the regime.
"As long as the Assad regime receives support from Iran, Russia, and China, it will continue killing people. We can't let Syria become [a] 1970s Afghanistan," he told SES Türkiye, expressing hope that the Istanbul meeting will lead to a united voice.
However, some critics in Turkey like Sukru Elekdag, a veteran diplomat and former MP from the Republican People's Party (CHP), argue that from the very beginning Ankara was too quick to burn bridges with the Syrian regime and put all its cards on the table.
"Turkey should be in Russia's position today -- to be able to meet both the opposition and Assad, and persuade the parties to engage in dialogue," he told SES Türkiye, adding that because of its position Ankara has gained an "arch-enemy" to its south.
Unlike with Libya, Turkey has been following a consistent policy in Syria from the very beginning, said Serhat Erkmen, a Middle East analyst at the Ankara-based Centre for Middle Eastern Strategic Studies.
In Libya, the international community took a strong stance, but the relative international silence and slow response with Syria was unexpected by politicians in Ankara. "If the international community adopts a more serious attitude [towards the Assad regime], Turkey will implement it without hesitation," he told SES Türkiye.
For some Syrian activists, however, Turkey's position has been disappointing. "The Turks are forgoing their moral responsibility towards their Syrian brethren," said Yaser Tabbara, a lawyer and executive director of the Syrian-American Council.
He expected Turkey to seriously push for humanitarian corridors in response to the assault taking places in cities like Homs, which has been under bombardment for over three weeks.
"The world must realise that Assad will never accept any political settlements; that force is the only language he understands," he told SES Türkiye.
Amr al-Azm, a Syrian activist and Middle East history professor at Shawnee State University agrees. He says only concrete and immediate action on the ground in the form of direct intervention that would lead to the establishment of safe havens and act as a deterrent will stop Assad from continuing the violence.
"There is a precedent for such action in Kosovo, Iraq after the liberation of Kuwait, and Libya to name but a few," he told SES Türkiye. "The Tunis meeting did not achieve any of these aims."
"Turkey is in a very difficult position over Syria," Gareth Jenkins, an Istanbul-based analyst, underlines. "Anger at the brutal attempts by the regime to suppress the uprising has been exacerbated by wounded pride at the refusal of al-Assad -- who the AKP really believed was in their pocket -- to listen to Turkey's advice to implement reforms."
"But I don't doubt the sincerity of the AKP's insistence that al-Assad must go. The challenge for the AKP is how to make this happen," he told SES Türkiye.
The best that Turkey can do at the moment, he suggested, is to put its regional ambitions to one side and work behind the scenes with bodies such as the Arab League to try to formulate actions that will help the Syrian people.
"If Turkey tries to take the lead publicly, or to impose its own solution in an attempt to boost its own self-image, then its efforts could backfire," he added.