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.