How long does it take to identify dictators?
Until just eight months ago, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Turkey and Bashar al-Assad’s Syria were closest regional allies, planning what this columnist coined a “Middle Eastern Coal and Steel Union,” with their armies holding joint drills and sporting a border with no travel restrictions. Today, Ankara seems committed to Mr. Assad’s removal almost “à la Gadhafi,” thousands of angry Syrians have attacked Turkey’s diplomatic missions, forcing the families of Turkish diplomatic staff to evacuate the country, and Ankara has issued a travel advisory against visiting Syria.
Meanwhile, Ankara, wary of Kurdish armed groups attacking its security personnel, is hosting an armed Syrian opposition group, providing shelter to its commander and dozens of members and, according to the New York Times, “allowing them to orchestrate attacks across the border from inside a camp guarded by the Turkish military.”
The group, the Free Syrian Army, recently claimed responsibility for killing nine Syrian soldiers in an attack in central Syria, although Turkish diplomats say their help for the group is purely humanitarian. Let’s hope other nations won’t provide similar humanitarian aid to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) which, like the Free Syrian Army, boasts of killing enemy soldiers. Speaking from his Turkish “shelter,” the Syrian group’s leader, Col. Riad al-As’aad, has asked the international community to provide them with weapons.
The official explanation in Ankara for the dramatic change of course from “brother and friend Mr. Assad’s regime” is being on the right side of history since allying with dictators would mean being on the wrong side. And in line with that dramatic change, the Turkish “yellow press” has also reversed its course.
It is always amusing to read the “yellow” comments that praise Mr. Erdoğan (and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu) for fighting a dictator who cracks down on his own people – the same commentators praising Mr. Erdoğan for befriending the same man only a few months ago. That’s quite fancy reasoning. Even more amusing were the comments in recent weeks that accused secular Turks and the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) for allying with Syrian Baathists. That’s another jewel showing why such colleagues have earned the title “Lackeys Without Borders.”
Gentlemen; sorry to remind you but it was not the opposition party that cultivated a brotherly alliance with Mr. Assad. It was not the shadow foreign minister who bragged about having visited Damascus more than 60 times. If it took Mssrs. Erdoğan and Davutoğlu almost a decade to understand that a dictator is a dictator, this can only be explained by one word that is not suitable for publication.
Mr. Assad’s father ruled Syria with an iron fist for 29 years. It is not a secret either that the young Mr. Assad was “elected” in 2000, having won 97.2 percent of the Syrian vote, unopposed. Did Mr. Erdogan or Mr. Davutoglu think until eight months ago they were building a future with a democratically-elected leader? They must have been impressed when Mr. Assad even increased his popularity in 2007 when he was re-elected, this time with 97.6 percent of the vote, once again unopposed. Did they not know the simplest encyclopedia fact that Mr. Assad’s first security crackdown on his own people began in 2001? Was he a democrat then, and now a dictator?
Did no one in Ankara know a thing or two about Mr. Assad’s links with terrorist networks, his love affair with Hezbollah in Lebanon? Did the very important Turks in Ankara think they were on the right side of history when they rushed to Mr. Assad’s aid after the famous Rafic al-Hariri murder? And now they are playing the civilized Western democrats with a deep love affair for a neighboring nation. But which nation? Are millions of Assad supporters, some of whom attacked the Turkish diplomatic missions, Bolivians? Aliens? Or Kemalist Turks?
Ankara is probably doing the right thing by trying to further isolate Mr. Assad’s regime, which was no less dictatorial before the uprisings began. All the same, the “true democrat mask” for the job looks utterly absurd and unconvincing