Turkey-Syrian relations hit bottom after Houla massacre
Condemning the May 25th Houla massacre, Turkey has expelled Syrian diplomats from its borders, increasing pressure on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to leave power.
By Alakbar Raufoglu for SES Türkiye -- 31/05/12
Pressure on the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad mounted in Ankara early this week, after the UN Security Council condemned the massacre of at least 108 Syrians, including 49 children and 34 women in Houla, on May 25th.
Syrian refugees protest against Syria's President Bashar al-Assad at Yayladagi refugee camp in Hatay province near the Turkish-Syrian border on April 20th. [Reuters]
"It would be cruel to remain silent against cruelty happening in Syria," Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in his reaction statement.
Turkey is among 13 countries that have expelled top Syrian diplomats, and reduced the number of its personnel in the consulate in Aleppo, to protest the massacre.
All Syrian diplomats have been given 72 hours to leave Turkey. In Istanbul, the Syrian consulate will remain open for consular duties only.
Yahya Akman, a deputy of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) from Sanliurfa, near Syria, says the expulsion decision "wasn't easy" for policymakers in Ankara.
"Our situation is different than the Europian countries'. We're a bordering neighbour to Syria and are carrying thousands of [Syrian] refugees. Hundreds of our citizens still remain there," he told SES Türkiye, adding that Turkey will continue pressuring the Assad regime to leave power immediately.
Khaled Khoja, Syrian National Council spokesman, believes that Ankara's latest step is a clear message to Assad "to think deeply how he lost a strong ally."
"By losing a strong neighbour like Turkey, Assad will feel more isolated and weakened," he told SES Türkiye. As a strong supporter of the Syrian people, Turkey "is working on preserving the mutual gain of the exceptional relationship between two countries," he said.
In the meantime, Khoja said, the Syrian people want "concrete support in order to defend themselves. Turkey seeks for a strong coalition in order to stop the bloodshed in Syria. We are now more close to this concept."
Akman said that the Turkish governent is hoping to persuade Moscow to cut with Damascus as the violence in Syria continues.
Russia criticised the diplomatic expulsions, calling them "counterproductive."
The UN Human Rights Council has scheduled a special session on Friday (June 1st), to discuss the latest situation in Syria; hours after former Secretary-General Kofi Annan met with Bashar al-Assad and expressed "grave concern" about the escalating violence.
The request for the council's fourth special session was submitted in a letter Wednesday by the ambassadors of Turkey, Qatar, Denmark and other countries.
Back in Ankara, the government's Syrian policy will likely "get more support from the opposition, even by the left nationalists, after the Houla massacre," Veysel Ayhan, a Syria analyst at the Ankara-based Centre for Middle Eastern Strategic Studies, said.
"Those who were criticising the AKP with playing [into] the Western countries' hands, are now themselves very furious against the al-Assad regime and are calling on the Syrian dictator to step aside," he told SES Türkiye adding, however "it's still unclear whether the opposition's support will continue to AKP, in case of a military intervention against Syria."
Michael Weiss, communications director of the London-based think tank Henry Jackson Society, who recently returned from Syrian camps in Turkey's southeastern Hatay province, said that he believed that Ankara "would be willing to intervene militarily in Syria if the Western powers agreed to offer their support, particularly air cover."
The expulsion of the Syrian diplomats is more significant for Turkey, he added, "as it signals that it definitively judges the Assad regime as illegitimate and beyond reconciling with."
"It could also be read as a prelude to a more aggressive strategy for dislodging the regime through direct intervention, although I think that's premature at this time," Weiss told SES Türkiye.