MUSTAFA AKYOL > Who’s who in Turkey vis-a-vis Syria

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These days many international media outlets are running “breaking news” about the growing tension between Turkey and the Syrian regime. The latest issue was the grounding of a Syrian passenger plane that was flying from Moscow to Damascus before it was forced to land in Ankara by Turkish jets. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said that the passenger jet was carrying “military equipment” from Russia’s arms export agency to the Syrian defense department. Both Russia and Syria were angered by the incident.

Such news may give the image of a Turkey that is determined to defy the Syrian regime, and the Turkish government is so determined. But public opinion is quite divided on the issue, and there are a wide range of views.

First, there are those who support Erdoğan’s strong anti-al-Assad stance, which can be roughly categorized in groups: First are the mild Islamists or Muslim conservatives who already support Erdoğan on most issues. They also see the Syrian case from a Sunni perspective, and feel deeply for the enormous suffering that the predominantly Sunni Syrian opposition is going through. The second group that supports the government’s anti-al-Assad stance of the government is a segment of secular liberals who would be called “liberal interventionists” in the West. They have supported the Arab Spring out of a commitment to democracy, and they support the Syrian Revolution as well.

There are also less idealistic secular liberals, however. They believe that it is too dangerous for Turkey to defy its southern neighbor, and that Erdoğan should instead focus on problems at home. This line of thought resonates with the general public as well, as many people simply believe, “we should not interfere in the Arabs’ business.”

If the view that we should not become involved in Syria represents the center, then there is also the left-of-center. These are Turks who not only believe that the al-Assad regime should be left alone, but also that this regime is legitimate, if not praiseworthy. Interestingly enough, a small segment of this camp consists of hardcore Islamists with pro-Iranian sympathies. Their lifelong mission is to condemn and oppose the West, particularly the United States, so they are happy to buy into rhetoric that portrays al-Assad as an “anti-imperialist” and “anti-Zionist” hero.

More interestingly, the very same view is shared by some ultra-secular Turks too, who subscribe either to some form of communism or a blend of communism and Kemalism. The ardent defender of the latter synthesis, Doğu Perinçek, the leader of the Maoist/Kemalist İşçi Partisi (Workers Party), recently wrote a column which praised Baathism as “the Kemalism of the Arabs.” (Mr. Perinçek is in jail now, as one of the accused in the “Ergenekon” coup trial case.)

Another very large block in this pro-al-Assad camp consists of most of Turkey’s Alevis, who show a clearly sectarian bias in favor of Syria’s Alawis, the very backbone of the al-Assad regime. (These two highly unorthodox sects of Islam are not identical, but similar.) That is one reason why the party that most Turkish Alevis vote for, the main opposition CHP (People’s Republican Party), has expressed some pro-al-Assad sympathies since the beginning of the Syrian Revolution.

Finally, if you ask where I stand, I am certainly with the mild Islamists and secular liberals who condemn the al-Assad regime. In order to end the mass murder in Syria, I agree with none other than U.S. Senator John McCain that the al-Assad regime should be bombed by a coalition of the willing. Unfortunately, however, that remains a very marginal and unlikely option.


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Blue Dotterel

10/14/2012 5:34:58 PM

Danny, maybe the US could since it already has the world's largest Jewish population, and lots of land.

Danny B Danny

10/14/2012 3:23:03 PM

Brazilian Reader: Israel occupies only 0.14 % of Arabian territories and has only 7 million people, no water, no natural resources , while Brazil is a rich country, would Brazil be ready to give the Israelis land in Brazil ? Its only suggestion to resolve the problem.

Sid Mark

10/14/2012 11:23:55 AM

This whole thing started in Syria for the big powers to create Kurdistan.A part of Turkey must be sacrificed for this course.

Blue Dotterel

10/14/2012 10:06:55 AM

Ismail, what evidence do you have that the Iranian regime wants to take over the ME. There is far more evidence that the US regime wants to "take over" the ME, given that it or its close allies have attacked or support mercenaries in at least five ME countries: Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Libya and Syria. Iran has some influence in Iraq thanks to the US attack on Saddam. Syria is and independent state, which, like Iran, has supported the Palestinian cause. Iran, however, has attacked no one.

Nikos T.

10/13/2012 9:55:19 PM

Yes sure... According to Turkey there are good regimes and bad regimes. Some people don't even know what the word justice means. Double standards in regimes, in terrorists, in freedom etc. The story of Turkey.

Ismail Hijazi

10/13/2012 7:15:44 PM

The Bashar regime is an integral part of the Iranian bid for takeover of the middle east. The land bridge stretching from Iran-Iraq-Syria-Lebonon has already isolated Turkey from it's natural land connection to the Sunni middle east. If Bashar-Iran win this struggle then Iran will not be stoppable from imposing it's hegemony on the riegion. Turkey will become an insignificant power, if not eventually subservient to iran. The Turkish nation must be made aware of the serious dangers of Iran.

Rosalind Polat

10/13/2012 6:12:07 PM

How can you agree wıth Senator John McCain Bombing İraq has not solved the problems there Bombing Afghanistan has not solved any problems Look at Eygpt Tunisia and Libya and ask yourself what is this mild islam you talk about İ only see the rise of fundamentalism

Brazilian Reader

10/13/2012 3:57:02 PM

Congratulations on being sincere. I hope you have the same point of view to resolve Gaza´s siege and the occupied Arab and Palestinian territories.

sam stevens

10/13/2012 1:55:31 PM

You don't need to be PRO Assad to say leave them to it, Sunni's need to understand that. All you need is some common sense to say we will not get involved. If Turkey gets involved further they will want help from allies, which will lead to the Russians joining in as will the Chinese in some way.......the simple question here is............... Do YOU MR ERDOGAN want to be responsible for WW 3 ???? You know which category history will place you if you do.

Blue Dotterel

10/13/2012 9:23:44 AM

Condemning the Assad regime is quite different from supporting a covert proxy war against the Syrian people in order to promote a pro-imperialist government or cause mass destruction and chaos. I do not hear Turkey or you condemning the far worse regimes in the Gulf, or their sectarian backing of fundamentalist Salafism in Syria. The fact is Assad is bad, but the opposition is worse. And Turkey is supporting the greater of two evils for the Syrian people.
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