Turkey establishes joint working group for Syria crisis
Turkey is redoubling efforts to co-ordinate a response to the crisis in Syria.
By Alakbar Raufoglu for SES Türkiye -- 17/08/12
As the popular revolt against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad continues, strategic planning to prepare for worst-case scenarios has moved into high gear.
Fleeing civilians drive past a checkpoint by Members of Free Syrian Army on a road between Aleppo and Turkey August 1st. [Reuters]
At an August 11th press briefing in Istanbul, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu announced the establishment of a working group with the US to use the countries' diplomatic, military and intelligence services to end the humanitarian crisis in Syria.
The talks also focused the mounting refugee crisis and Syria's strategic chemical weapons stockpile. They emphasised the need for Syrians to take the lead to developing a solution to the crisis and address humanitarian challenges there.
Turkey's aim for a controlled transition that would avoid the descent of Syria into civil war and subsequent spillover that would destabilise the Middle East.
"The transition process in Syria needs to be completed as soon as possible. And there should be no room for power vacuum in the transition process, because terrorist organizations like PKK will try to benefit from a possible power vacuum," Davutoglu said.
Intense fighting in Syria has created more than 200,000 refugees in Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan. The US has committed $82 million in humanitarian assistance – food, shelter health clinics, tents, blankets and communications equipment – to refugees, but the international community remains wary of providing weapons to the opposition.
While the West has offered humanitarian aid, it has not supplied arms due to concerns that weapons could fall into the hands of unknown entities in the armed Syrian opposition, including Islamist groups linked to al-Qaeda that could further exacerbate the violence in Syria, Reuters and AFP reported, citing US officials.
The West prefers a "wait-and-see" policy instead of military intervention in Syria, Veysel Ayhan, the chairman of the International Middle East Peace Research Centre, told SES Türkiye. He said that Turkey is still hoping the UN Security Council or NATO will bring the countries together to stop the violence.
"The situation in Syria also prompts Ankara to tighten its co-ordination with Washington by setting up a working group and sharing information regarding the rebel groups," he said.
The Free Syrian Army and forces loyal to Assad are engaged in intense fighting in Aleppo, Syria's commercial capital, creating as a stream of refugees fleeing to Turkey. Rebels control large swaths of territory in the north and northwest of the country out of which they seek to carve a safe-zone backed up by the Turkey and the West.
Yasin Atlioglu, a Syria analyst at the Istanbul-based Turkish Asian Centre for Strategic Studies, told SES Türkiye the real question is what will emerge when the fighting ends.
"Ankara's nightmare scenario is the possibility of a Kurdish state in Syria, which is getting more real every day," he said, referring recent gains of the Syrian Kurds in controlling the largely Kurdish populated northeast of the country.
Davutoglu cited the PKK as being one of the terrorist groups Ankara is trying to prevent from taking advantage of any power vacuum in Syria. Turkey, the United States and EU recognize the PKK as a terrorist organisation.
Hikmet Cetin, a former Parliament speaker and former foreign minister, told SES Türkiye that to prevent regional terrorism and extremism Ankara should work hard with international powers to make sure that the situation in Syria doesn't create chaos in the region.
But in the end, he said, "It is the Syrian people who must unite under a unified leadership and determine their own future. We might host the Syrian refugees, but not arm them or create their leadership from outside."