Can Syria lecture Turkey on terrorism?
In the opening session of the Geneva II talks (actually taking place in Montreux, Switzerland), Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem stormed the conference, bitterly accusing “foreign powers” of their responsibility over the ongoing civil war that has been devastating his country and people for three years now. At almost the same time, seven international aid organizations issued a joint statement in another Swiss town, Davos, where the World Economic Forum is being held. There, they denounced the Syrian crisis as the “worst humanitarian crisis of our time.”
Days before the conference, a report about the systematic torture killings in Syria was released, creating a reaction across the world. Only a few months ago, world public opinion was in similar disgust when pictures were released of al-Qaeda militants posing with the heads of people they had slaughtered, showing the state of the country under the rule of Bashar al-Assad and the Baath Party.
During his fierce speech, Muallem singled out Turkey - Syrian’s northern neighbor with which it shares a joint border of nearly 900 kilometers – as being among the countries that he accused of being responsible for the civil war.
Here are his words: “Indeed, this misery and destruction, which has engulfed Syria, has been made possible by the decision of Erdogan’s government to invite and host these criminal terrorists before they entered into Syria. Clearly, oblivious to the fact that magic eventually turns on the magician, it is now beginning to taste the sour seed it has sown. For terrorism knows no religion, and is loyal only unto itself. Erdogan’s government has recklessly morphed from a zero problems with its neighbors policy to zero foreign policy and international diplomacy altogether, crucially leaving it with zero credibility.”
Turkey’s Syria policy has not been a success, as can be seen through its reflections in Turkish domestic politics: Consider the trucks that were stopped but saved from being searched due to the National Intelligence (MİT) officers that were escorting them; and the bombs that went off in Turkish towns on the Syrian border, killing dozens of people; and the nearly 700,000 refugees in Turkey. Failing to spot and stop the radical al-Qaeda linked tendencies within the Muslim Brotherhood opposition in Syria, the Turkish government is now subject to very strong criticism inside Turkey for helping, or at least turning a blind eye to, radical Islamist groups.
On the other hand, it is true that the Turkish government, especially Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu tried hard to stop a Libya-like Western intervention in Syria at the beginning of the war in the first half of 2011. Looking in retrospect, such an intervention could perhaps have led to less devastation, but it is not true and frank to accuse Turkey of starting the civil war in Syria.
Muallem was right, however, when he said “magic eventually turns on the magician” while describing terrorism, and when he said that “terrorism knows no religion, and is loyal only unto itself” while pointing out the consequences of expecting political results from terrorist actions.
But is it really up to the Syrian foreign minister to lecture Turkey and other countries on terrorism? It was Syria that hosted the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) from 1982 to 1998, when Turkey openly threatened Syria with war. Then Hafez al-Assad, Bashar’s father, with the assistance of Egypt and Iran, was forced to expel Abdullah Öcalan, the leader of the PKK, from Syria, which led to his eventual arrest when he was trapped in the Greek Embassy in Kenya by a joint operation of American intelligence agency CIA and the Turkish intelligence agency MİT.
It is not just the PKK. At one point, the leaderships of more than 10 armed organisations in the world - which were responsible for ending the lives of many people in many countries, from Turkey to Lebanon, Israel, France, Germany and others (even the Japanese Red Army reportedly had its headquarters there at one point) - were based in Syria.
Now Syria is complaining of terrorism, and there is no foreseeable future for the country; but it is the people who are really suffering, not al-Assad and his Baathist despots.