SEMİH İDİZ > Turks watch as their country moves into uncharted territory

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Turkey is entering uncharted territory with the United States in Syria. This is one of the key messages to come out of the visit by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Istanbul over the weekend, during which the two countries agreed to form “a common operational structure” in order to expedite the end of Bashar al-Assad. 

Working in overt and covert ways to topple regimes considered unsavory, and helping opposition fighters to this end, have been a trademark of Washington’s for decades. But this kind of effort, especially if it is aimed at an Islamic country in its region, is new for Ankara. 

In fact, Turkey has always moved with extreme caution in the face of regional crises, trying not to get embroiled in situations that could end up turning into political quagmires for itself. There is, therefore, a deep irony in the way things have turned for Ankara in Syria. 

Gone are the days when the Recep Tayyip Erdoğan government caused concern in the West with steps that suggested it was moving Turkey away from its traditional Western orientation in foreign policy toward and Islamic one.

One of the main indications of this new orientation of Ankara’s at the time was considered to be the close ties it was developing with Damascus and Tehran, in apparent defiance of a West that was clearly rattled by this. This time it is Iran’s turn to be rattled. 

Prime Minister Erdoğan and his Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, are seen now by Islamists to be bedding with what they consider as “the devil’s instrument on earth,” namely America, in an effort to try and topple a regime in an Islamic country. 

But their “Syrian gambit” has turned into such a matter of political prestige for Erdoğan and Davutoğlu that it seems the irony of where they have ended up is not something they are dwelling on very much at the moment. Their focus, instead, is on toppling al-Assad; especially for Davutoğlu who acts as if his whole political future depends on this.

But if a commentary piece in the Arabic news portal Albawaba is anything to go by, Davutoğlu’s popularity could be waning rapidly in the Arab world also even though his esteem there was so high until not so long ago. 

“The most important question that remains unanswered on the Turkish political and media scene is this: Until when will Erdoğan continue to bear the burden of the flawed policy of his foreign minister, which has cost Turkey dearly and at all levels?” Albawaba asked on Aug. 8.

“Here, it seems that Davutoğlu is determined to overthrow the regime in Syria; otherwise, Erdoğan will dismiss him and put an end to his diplomatic career, which he wanted to exploit for future political calculations,” the popular Arabic news portal added.

Then there is the situation in Turkey itself where the government’s Syria policy is causing concern on a number of levels. Given that all international opinion polls indicate Turks as the most anti-American of all people, the close coordination between Ankara and Washington is even creating public sympathy for the al-Assad regime in Turkey, reprehensible as that regime may be. 

Then there is the “Kurdish factor.” The prospect of some sort of autonomy for the Kurds in northern Syria, should that country fall apart is causing fear because of the encouragement it will give Kurdish separatism in Turkey, where the protracted bloody war with outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) terrorism continues. 

The Erdoğan government has indicated that it will oppose any Kurdish entity in northern Syria, militarily if necessary. But many in Turkey believe that Washington, which is considered to be a prime benefactor of the Kurds, would not allow this. 

Given this overall picture, Turkey does indeed appear to be moving into uncharted territory, and all the indications are that the Turkish public is watching matters unfold with growing consternation.


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illawarrior hill

8/14/2012 7:47:18 PM

Turkey's location, between east and west, means its politics have shifted many times over the years, as it will continue to do so. Regrettably, humanity is unstable and power hungry., and over time, self-implodes. Just look to history to the rise and fall of various powers ie Ancient Egypt, Ancient Rome, Ancient Greece, British Empire, Ottoman Empire, Germany, Russia, France, Spain, USA etc etc .... and soon it will be China's turn. No-one can reign supreme for long, without being challenged.

Blue Dotterel

8/14/2012 5:05:49 PM

Tevfik Alp, The US did not stop USSR aggression towards Turkey after WWII. Where did you get this nonsense? The only threat was made by Stalin, but it was never backed up. It was hot air that frightened Turkey into joining NATO. Given that Menderes was responsible for Turkey entering NATO, there could have been more to it than that.

Blue Dotterel

8/14/2012 4:53:14 PM

The Muslim Brotherhood and "Al Qaeda" are actually working with the US in Egypt, Iraq, Libya and Syria. In Afghanistan and Yemen the US claims they are the enemy, but the enemy really are the Taliban in Afghan, and the rebellious tribes in Yemen - the actual pro-democracy movement. "Al Qaeda" (created by the CIA) is just a tool to strike fear in Westerners on the one hand, and create insurrections in others on behalf of US foreign policy. Few elements of AQ are independent of US influence.

Tevfik Alp

8/14/2012 4:02:15 PM

"Turks as the most anti-American of all people". Some gratitude by Turks. Are they forgetting? It was US Government who stopped the "USSR" agression towards Turkey, after the 2nd WW. Altough, one thing US did not do. US did not open the immigration doors for Turks as they have done for some specific nationals. Many of those 'anti- American Turks', will move to USA without hesitation, if US Goverment relaxes the rules for immigration from Turkey.


8/14/2012 2:56:29 PM

Problem is the new adventurism. Turkey should certainly be involved with events unfolding at its door step, but there are so many other ways to do it.

US Observer

8/14/2012 2:15:35 PM

A whole lot of speculation going on here, with little to back it up. I guess asking the Syrian government to not mass murder the people is out oif line? I've yet to see any evidence that suggests the U.S. has supplied any kind of aid to the rebels, other than verbal demands that Assad stop killing his people.


8/14/2012 10:38:22 AM

I agree with Semih. the turkish government seems to hurry up finishing with Assad as if the problems will stop there. This diactatorship may have been bad or not, but it is sure that had managed to retain unity. What Turkey has to earn if this state falls apart? The possibility of an autonomous kurdish region in N.Syria will be another headache for Turkey, especially its potential 'synergy' with Kurds in Iraq and Turkey itself...

Shah Hamdan

8/14/2012 9:43:31 AM

The major plan to over throw Assad "Operation Volcano" has failed. One of its architect BANDAR BUSH is presumably killed. Now US, allies and in particular Turkey are wondering for next move. The FSA atrocities are not only against Muslim norms but are inhumane. FSA public support got nose dive not only in Syria but around Globe. Turkey is on loosing side in all the ways in this dirty game. It lost friends and credibility achieved in last decade. Worst scenario will be PKK and Jihadi in future.

Ozgur Erhan

8/14/2012 7:40:28 AM

So there is no democracy in Syria, just a repressive regime? And the US is bringing down the regime together with its ultra demcratic regional allies, Qatar and Saudi Arabia? The whole thing is a shame.

ilker avni

8/14/2012 5:42:01 AM

@dogan kemal If Turkey invades Assad said he will use chemical weapons on the invaders.I belive the Americans along with Qatar and Turkey have allready planned Syria,s future .A few months ago Hilary Clinton warned the Russians that they will pay a prise for its support of Assad.Qatar and Saudi Arabia wants a pipe line going through Syria to Turkeys energy hub to Europe.Bypassing Russian supplying Europe.Isolating Russia.The war in Syria is more than a civil war,its about energy routes.
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