Turkey’s anxieties and Syria

Turkey’s anxieties and Syria

As the ongoing bloodshed in Syria shatters hopes of a “soft” regime change, the country is proceeding rapidly toward the point of no return.

Increasing violence and a rising death toll obstruct the country’s chances of attaining political stability after the overthrow of the current regime because violence is deepening the hostilities among social and political groups. The representatives of the Bashar al-Assad regime are committing more violence because they are afraid of reprisals.

When they begin to lose the struggle, they will probably establish narrower “liberated areas,” instead of the whole country so that they can defend themselves physically. At the end of the day, with the decline of the current regime, violence will increase and religious, ethnic, social and sectarian fault lines will start deepening.

This means that tomorrow’s Syria will largely differ from today’s Syria. So much so that, ethnic, religious and sectarian maps, integrated with the region, might be necessary for interpreting the situation in Syria, without simply relying on the knowledge given by political borders. New Syria will also trigger the anxieties of surrounding countries, which have been latent for some time. First of all, political and ideological changes will affect Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Israel and Iran. Secondly, all actors – state and non-state – will participate in the drama directly or indirectly.

The Turkish government, anticipating what might unfold after the regime is overthrown, is very well aware of the fact that it will face a serious dilemma. On the one hand, Kurdish and Nusayri (Alawite) problems in Syria are a source of anxiety for Turkey; on the other hand, the fact that the new rulers of the country are Sunni Islamist groups is deemed good news. For example, Turkey has not forgotten Syria’s past support to the Kurdistan People’s Party (PKK) and Marxist organizations as a sectarian network. A resurgence of this form of relationship in the new era, through local dynamics and new sponsors, won’t be a surprise.

In theory, Turkey can deal with this dilemma. On the one hand, it may use its democratic experience and economic capacity; on the other hand, it may increase its cooperation with some Arab countries, the United States and the European Union. However, these options may not suffice to remove all of Turkey’s anxieties, because Turkey’s “success story” in the realm of democracy and economy may not even be sufficient for managing its own internal fault lines. Outside its political borders, it can never prevent the ever-increasing and deepening religious, ethnic and sectarian disintegration and clash. Moreover, the characteristics of the insurgency in Syria, the political culture of the country and a likely lack of political stability during the implementation of democracy indicate that the formation of a stable new political order may take at least half a century.

Recently, Turkish government officials warned Assad to not even think about using the PKK card in his relationship with Turkey, but certain developments previously in Iraq and now Syria show that the Kurdish card will be on the table for a long time regardless of what Assad does. Meanwhile, Turkey, with its new stance, is trying to diminish the negative impacts of an unrestrained Kurdish wave that is similar to the ones which have arisen in Iraq.