The Price which Turkey Is Paying

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Shuaib Bahman
Senior Researcher and Member of the Editorial Board of Iran and Eurasia Research Center (IRAS)

Since the ongoing crisis in Syria began, positions taken by the Turkish government on the Syria crisis have raised many questions and, of course, ambiguities among the analysts. The reason is that Ankara’s positions have been in contradiction to the trend which had started in Turkey’s relations with Syria, at least, 10 years before the beginning of Syria crisis. At present, as time goes by, it becomes more and more clear that by taking incorrect positions on Syria, the government of Turkey has made great strategic mistakes and, as a result, has suffered hefty costs both in the area of domestic and foreign policy.

In the meantime, the recent bomb attacks in the southern Turkish town of Reyhanli, with a population of 60,000, have put the government of Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a difficult situation. The bomb attacks in the small town, which is located close to the common border with Syria, has so far left 46 people dead and injured more than 150 others. Although Turkish officials have been trying to blame Syrian groups supporting the government in Damascus as the main masterminds behind the attacks, the reality is that the main reason behind the current insecurity in Turkey has its roots in the wrong policies and erroneous strategy that the government of Erdogan has adopted on Syria. For this reason, the bomb attacks have faced the Turkish prime minister, who has been trying to keep his country out of the Syria conflict, with a lot of difficulty. At the same time, the United States is not supporting the plan to enforce a no-fly zone over certain parts of Syria, including along its border with Turkey. Ankara has so far failed to attract firm support of the United States and NATO for military intervention in Syria and despite great insistence by officials in Ankara, neither the United States, nor NATO are willing to embark on direct military intervention in Syria, publicly support Syria militants, or send weapons to armed opposition in the Arab country. The bombardment of Turkey’s border areas by the Syrian air force and downing of a number of Turkish warplanes within Syria air space have clearly proven that the United States is not ready to offer military support to Turkey, nor NATO is willing to enter into a new war to defend one of its member states.

Therefore, under current conditions when the United States and NATO are not ready to support Turkey, Ankara is facing complicated problems within its borders. Another concern for the statesmen in Ankara is the possibility of future clashes between Syrian refugees living in refugee camps along the country’s southern border with Syria, and local inhabitants of those regions. For example, following the bomb attacks in Reyhanli, the local people have been attacking the Syrian refugees and all vehicles having a Syrian license plate. Let’s not forget that Turkey is presently playing host to 326,000 Syrian refugees and serious conflicts between them and Turkish citizens can lead to exacerbation of insecurity and instability in more internal parts of Turkey.

In the meantime, the opposition parties in Turkey, as well as all political groups opposing the incumbent government’s policies, have increased their protests to Ankara’s policies toward Syria. Most opposition parties have been insisting that the current problems in Syria have not developed overnight. Therefore, if these problems had existed since a long time ago, why the government of Erdogan maintained cordial relations with the government of the Syrian President Bashar Assad? In fact, the opposition parties argue that the reasoning used by the Turkish officials that the existing government in Syria is not democratic, cannot be accepted. They also emphasize that the foreign policy of Erdogan’s government is under heavy influence of the Western – Arab front which is standing against Syria and is by no means in line with the national interests of Turkey.

In reality, however, the wrong policy that the Turkish officials have adopted in the face of developments in Syria has faced Ankara with many problems and difficulties. On the one hand, the country’s foreign policy has come under serious fire from critics, while on the other hand, such an incorrect policy has increased insecurity along Turkey’s border with Syria and even in more internal parts of the country. Therefore, with the government of Bashar Assad still in place, the government of Turkey has already suffered heavy costs both for supporting Syrian refugees and in terms of measures it has had to take to head off insecurity on its own soil. Undoubtedly, this state of affairs will face Erdogan and his government with more dire problems in future. This is true because the recent victories of the Syrian army in the battle with the armed opposition have not only faced the opposition with difficult conditions, but have also discouraged their regional and international supporters. As a result, the United States has called for an international conference to be held attended by representatives of the Syrian government and the opposition. Neither Washington, nor its regional allies would previously agree to such a meeting under any circumstances. It seems that Turkey has been left alone in the region with a great deal of domestic and foreign problems to deal with.

Key Words: Turkey, Syria, Reyhanli, Bomb Attacks, Military Intervention, Ankara’s Positions, Bahman

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