Some find Turkey’s policy very appropriate and favorable and support it, while some lambast and excoriate its approach, decrying it altogether. The supporters of that policy say Turkey has been struggling to stop the Assad regime’s violence against its own people and that Turkey is standing by the people and trying hard to contribute to the development in Syria of democracy, freedom and international law. The detractors, though, say Turkey is interfering in its neighbor’s internal affairs, stoking the civil war and striking out at the government’s stance.
Instead of these differing views both within and outside Turkey, which are mostly based on political and emotional partiality, a more objective and scientific analysis is necessary regarding Syria. That analysis should be reality-based and involve tangible information and not in support of or against the policy of any political party or the government.
The first reality with regards to Turkey’s Syria policy is that it is being implemented in a very special period and under very special conditions. That special climate was the Arab Spring that involved extraordinary circumstances. Turkey’s policy has been formulated partially in light of the transformations brought about by the Arab Spring in Tunisia, Egypt and especially Libya and partially on the basis of the conflict in Syria between the Assad regime and its opponents. Turkey wants transformation in Syria that is underpinned by a democratic system that replaces the dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad. Turkey also wants that transformation to be the result of the Syrian people’s will without any military intervention from abroad. Therefore, Turkey’s policy with regard to the Arab Spring and its Syria policy are almost the same in terms of basic principles.
Reasons for Turkey’s
However, Turkey’s expectations have unfortunately remained unfulfilled or at least are yet to be realized mainly due to the inadequacy of the international system and the political incompetence of its actors. That is to say that the second reality of Turkey’s Syria policy is the parameters of the international system and its actors. What we see in the context of the international system and its actors is a dividedness the likes of which was not seen in the Arab Spring examples and a deepened crisis triggered by that dividedness. The support lent to the Syrian leadership by Russia and China and the staunch opposition to it by the United States and Europe have affected Turkey and its Syria policy in two ways. Firstly, the fiasco in the United Nations, which resulted in effective decisions not being taken against Syria; the inaction of the world body, so to speak, has turned Turkey into a bit of a loner, leaving it unarmed in the face-off with Syria. The ideal attitude championed by Turkey in principle has not been correctly perceived and fully supported by the international community. While Turkey has supported the Arab Spring transformations taking place in step with the “spirit” of the time, the major actors have gone after plans befitting their own interests. Turkey’s idealism has been sacrificed for the interests of the major powers. Efforts such as making progress using the Annan plan and the Geneva agreement, which we saw during the Cold War era, have been repeated, but to no avail. Efforts of that kind have not received Turkey’s support as they have fallen short of being genuinely convincing. Secondly, Turkey has had no choice but to struggle almost by itself, striving to have its allegations and ideals accepted by the major powers, and it is still doing so. While trying to talk the major powers into finding a solution to the Syria crisis, Turkey has also called on the UN and other international organizations to act responsibly and has opened a humanitarian aid front on the Syrian border. Turkey’s attitude within the context of the Arab Spring can be found to be understandable and appropriate, but there is some criticism regarding the sources of humanitarian aid and the red lines related to it.
The third reality about Turkey’s Syria policy has to do with this very subject. All countries against Assad — the US and the UK in particular — lend support to opposition groups in Syria. The aid and its breadth are constantly being covered by the national and international media. What is learned through the coverage is that the CIA and MI-6 play an important role in organizing the Syrian opposition to strengthen it economically, financially and militarily. The point of discussion here is whether Turkey has been involved in that process by contributing to its military dimension. Ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) officials and Syrian opposition groups have made it clear to the media on many occasions that Turkey provides no aid whatsoever to the opposition in Syria. However, various circles, such as the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) in Turkey, reject those statements. It is incorrect to level accusations against Turkey’s Syria policy citing the allegations of the opposition unless there is concrete and tangible evidence to verify them. That is the requirement of an objective analysis.
*Professor Ramazan Gözen is an instructor at Yıldırım Beyazıt University.