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BURAK BEKDİL

burak.bekdil@hurriyet.com.tr

BURAK BEKDİL > From Syria with love

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We thought that $$$$$, friendship and Muslim solidarity would pour in from the other side of the Syrian border. We thought that the fences that had been the Syrian border would disappear. We thought that a Middle Eastern Coal and Steel Community was in the making. Instead, bombs pour in, kill locals and we shell Syrian targets in retaliation. I would be content to have a hundred troubles with neighbors instead of zero problems, but war and bloodshed instead of zero problems is too large a deviation.

When official policy digresses this much from its original course it is quite normal if locals from the border town are sprayed with pepper gas by the Turkish police after having been shelled by the (non-free) Syrian Army. The angry townspeople were dispersed after they marched to the governor’s office to protest about the deaths of five people.

But that’s not the only Turkish irony. Turkey is probably the only country in the world claiming that two countries that are technically at war with each other owe it an apology for killing its civilians. We know the Turkish conditions for normalization of ties with Israel: An official apology for killing nine Turkish citizens aboard the Mavi Marmara in 2010, compensation for the families of the victims, and the removal of the naval blockade of the Gaza Strip.

What could the conditions for normalization along the Syrian border be? An official apology for the downing of the RF-4E reconnaissance aircraft on June 22 and for firing shells into the town of Akcakale on the border, compensation to the families of the two pilots and five civilians. What else? Certainly, regime change in Damascus. Not enough. A break off from Iran and consequently Sunni rule in Damascus is another sine qua non.

Apparently, Turkey is being dragged into a bizarre coalition of the willing for regime change in Syria. It’s bizarre, because Turkey is fast heading to becoming a solo coalition of the willing, with several pats on the shoulder from its Western and Sunni allies. We thought that Turkey would become a regional power, not a regional hit man.

But I am sure Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will have plenty of time to discuss Syria with Russian President Vladimir Putin during their planned meeting in Ankara Oct. 14. A minor note of caution for Mr. Putin: Watch out President, as Reuters recently warned, “Turkey’s bark is much worse than its bite.”

Fortunately, all the nice words from allies - most notably from Washington and the NATO headquarters - and the news that the Turkish army had successfully struck back at Syrian targets will cool public tension. Hopefully, the Syrian shelling will become a bad, distant memory that no Turk will remember in half a year, just like the RF-4E affair. Unless, of course, a fresh border incident on either side kills again.

There is one more irony about “Black Wednesday.” Only hours before the Syrian shells were fired into Akçakale and exploded, three suicide bombers detonated cars packed with explosives in a government-controlled area of the battleground city of Aleppo in northern Syria, killing more than 40 people and injuring more than 120. Experts agree that the Aleppo bombing technique is a signature style of al-Qaeda-type jihadist groups aiming to depose Bashar al-Assad.

The irony? Recently, al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri called on all Muslims to back the rebels in Syria. Good. Muslim Turkey fully obeys Mr. al-Zawahri’s call for jihad in Syria. But jihad is never cost-free. Jihadists rarely explain why the five civilians killed in the Syrian shelling are innocent victims but the 40 people who died in the Aleppo bombings are just unworthy casualties in a holy war.

In reality, the bombs detonated in Aleppo were “courtesy of jihadists” and the shells exploded in Akçakale were “from Syria with love.”

October/05/2012

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