NURAY MERT > The accountability of Turkish foreign policy

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As the civil war in Syria escalates, Turkey’s position becomes more and more controversial. In the beginning, it was the right thing to do to end friendly relations with the al-Assad regime, but there must have been a more sensible strategy that could have been pursued in order to avoid the complications that came later. Turkey failed in this respect and over-engaged itself with the opposition (or rather with a branch of the opposition), ending up in a position of undeclared war.

Despite the fact that it is utterly risky to engage in a civil war in a neighboring country, there seems to be no sign of a plan to revise this policy or an attempt to hide it from scrutiny. On the contrary, Turkey’s engagement with the armed opposition has been very public. The Western media exposes the opposition militias’ links with Turkey every day. As Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey are reported to be the major powers behind the armed struggle in Syria by the foreign media, the Turkish media reporting from Syria also display the links, even with a tone of pride.

Under the turbulent circumstances, Turkey may be thought to be have been given a free hand to meddle in Syrian affairs, but we should not forget the fact that it is considered an international crime for a foreign country to support any party to a civil war. That is why no country is willing to expose its meddling in such affairs, except Turkey. What’s more, Turkey seems to be eager to present its meddling as a show of strength. The present government may think that it is Turkey’s birthright to have the upper hand in Syria, as the inheritor of the Ottoman Empire, but the present international order does not recognize imperial norms to be legitimate anymore.

Turkey needs to show strength in Syrian affairs also in order to prevent Kurds from gaining political power as the regime is dismantled and feels justified again in engaging in the civil war as a result of its concern about the Kurdish position. That is why just after the Syrian Kurds proclaimed some sort of autonomy in northern Syria, the pro-government strategists felt free to encourage the view of supporting pro-Turkish opposition forces, namely the Free Syrian Army (FSA), against the Kurds if necessary. Now, Turkmens in Syria are being portrayed as the hand of Turkey in Syria, against the Kurds. A similar policy was attempted in Iraq with Turkmens and failed, but this time, it is said that the majority of Syria’s Turkmens are Sunni, whereas half of Iraqi Turkmens are Shia. This means that now Turkey is engaged in regional conflicts directly and openly along national and/or sectarian lines.

In short, Turkish foreign policy seems to grow more shortsighted every day, and in such troubled times this foreign policy vision is not only going to be fruitless but will also tend to put Turkey in a very risky position. Turkey’s friends in its sectarian line, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, are not democratic regimes, and may be held less responsible at the domestic and international levels for their acts of meddling in Syria. Turkey is a democratic country and should be considered to be more accountable domestically and internationally.


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Morse Fan

8/6/2012 11:05:19 PM

Turkey is a great hero of the Syrian uprising and has protected its interests/borders as well as could be expected. No country has done more to help people who, when they asked peaceably to have a say in how they are ruled, to be free of torture and violence if they ask hard questions, and to be allowed out from under the economic thumb of an organized crime family, were met with murder. No law -- only amorality -- says such must be met with silence. Your government is an example to all.

Morse Fan

8/6/2012 10:46:38 PM

I ain't fomentin' nuthin -- I'm sitting on my bed with an iPad! (*chuckles*) Seriously -- "defense of self/others with proportionate force" resolves any possible international law problems Turkey's conduct could create. None of Turkey's support for the Syrian opposition/rebel groups, including training and funnelling arms is new; it's been going on at least six months and probably longer. NO ONE except those oppressing Syrians has a problem with it outside Turkey. Don't worry.

Hakan Salci

8/6/2012 5:02:53 PM

I congratulate the author in what is a very accurate analysis and conclusion; the AKP is breaking international law and making Turkey commit a crime by its biased and unjustified approach to the Syrian crises. It is fuelling civil war and hence liable in part for the massacres that are ocurring. Turkey is being used by western powers to do their dirty work; this is ultimately about weakening Iran, Hezbollah, and protecting Israel's interests. You have to think of the greater strategic picture.

Hakan Salci

8/6/2012 4:52:49 PM

@ Morse, you call having a hand in instigating, fuelling, and abetting civil war in Syria 'A balance wisely struck'? What kind of mindset is this? How would you like it if someone else poked their nose into your country's internal affairs? Turkey has been a victim of this for years; don't you see the result? Over 40,000 dead and rising; unbelievable. @ Dogan what of the opposition? Summary executions, kidnapping of foreign citizens; islamic fundamentalist groups running wild, you call that good?


8/6/2012 4:17:42 PM

It would be foolish to expect Turkey to just sit and watch while Syria next door imploded. World does not work that way. Yes, it should have been done more covertly and indirectly, quietely, but not sure if was ever feasible. The real and direct risk is the fact that AKP has not yet enacted reforms to remedy the Sunni-Alevi disparity in Turkey, not to mention state's distance to other religious minorities. This has tremendously increased the chance of sectarian violence spreading into our lands.

sam stevens

8/6/2012 11:30:41 AM

Turkey's deception, AKP denied vehemently they were supplying weapons to the rebels,even when the West knew it for sure, once someone is known to deceive they are no longer trusted. Turkey should have been open right from the start & indulged in better diplomacy with Assad,they thought the Russians would obey the great Erdogan...how sad they get things so wrong, now they are mired in a murky subterfuge, no clue what to do next & a camp with thousands of refugee Syrians who could turn hostile !!!

Uri Zakay

8/6/2012 11:01:18 AM

" Accountability of Turkish foreign policy' = "Zero problem policy" = HA HA HA !!!

Red Tail

8/6/2012 10:33:12 AM

@Dogan You write QUOTE "we should all unite behind the government and not frivolously undermine it like you have."UNQUOTE.I STRONGLY DISAGGREE WITH YOU. IN A FREE AND DEMOCRATIC COUNTRY THE PRESS AND THE REST OF THE SOCIETY SHOULD ALWAYS QUESTION AND DEBATE THE PARTY IN POWER. Just look at the anti-war demonstrations in the US for example. Turkey needs to show the same. Diversity in ideas and opinions is a strenght, and it does not "undermine" a country as you claim. It improves is.

Blue Beyond

8/6/2012 5:18:31 AM

I think PM Erdogan decided some time ago that democracy is not as important as Sunni credentials, in his bid to re-establish a new Ottoman empire. The author is correct in characterizing this gambit as "short-sighted." So was abandoning Turkey's ties with secular Israel. That latter bit of foreign policy is also in keeping with PM Erdogan's imperial aspirations.

dogan kemal ileri

8/6/2012 4:40:42 AM

I wonder when you are penning this article you have any regard for all those innocent civilians being killed,injured amd maimed by Assads murderous forces.None of us quite know with any degree of certainty how much Turkiye is aiding the Syrian Free Army but as Turkiye's hands are very much tied in this affair she is doing her best.At a time like this we should all unite behind the government and not frivolously undermine it like you have.
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