A breakdown of Turkey’s Syria politics

A breakdown of Turkey’s Syria politics

Let’s continue to analyze the stance Turkey has adopted toward the Syrian crisis. At the top of the list of criticisms of Ankara’s Syria politics comes the fact that after the stance against Bashar al-Assad was adopted, the government acted based on an expectation that the opposition movement launched against the Baath regime would yield results very soon. The collapse of one-man regimes in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya created an energy for change felt throughout the entire region, and a driving power was triggered. The expectation that this dynamism would topple the regime in Syria with the same momentum was the dominant atmosphere in Ankara toward the end of last year.

The fact that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s proclamations had a certain effect in Egypt, and also that Turkey was emerging as a role model in international politics during the Arab Spring, were two other factors. It can be said that the high dose of self-confidence created by these developments shaped Ankara’s psychology as it viewed the Syrian crisis. However, we have learned from experience today that the excited and optimistic expectations that the Bashar al-Assad regime will be toppled quickly were incorrect.

Falling short of foreseeing the future
We have to ask how much time in Ankara’s brainstorming sessions was devoted to the ides that the civil war in Syria might last much longer, and cause the Kurdish region in the north to become autonomous, maybe even to be partitioned from the rest of Syria in the future.

In other words, was it possible to foresee the chaotic picture we see today – aside from the wave of migration?

It is difficult to say the Turkey could have foreseen last year today’s major uncertainty in Syria, including the de facto rule of the Democratic Union party (PYD), which is an ally of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), in the north.

The foreign ministry has the capacity and experience to produce studies to bring up scenarios like this one. The main problem is to what extent this capacity was mobilized, and whether it was reflected in the decision-making process.

Void in Ankara’s Syria vision
Another hole in Ankara’s policy is that it is unable to demonstrate clearly what kind of a country and administration were envisioned after the al-Assad regime toppled, given the complicated and difficult social structure in Syria. There was only a general emphasis on democracy each time a statement was issued, but this correct goal does not constitute a framework for an administrative model as to how the diversity in the country would be held together, and under what assurances. The outline of this framework was only made available in a very belated fashion in the joint communiqué issued by Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and the leader of northern Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Masoud Barzan, resulting from the FM’s trip to Arbil at the beginning of the month. According to the communiqué, “In the new Syria all ethnic, religious and sectarian identities should be respected; their rights protected and guaranteed.”

If this position had been clarified beforehand, probably the emergence of the perception that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government was acting with sectarian motives promoting Sunni solidarity in Syria could have been prevented.

Sedat Ergin is a columnist for daily Hürriyet, in which the article from which this was abridged was originally published on Aug. 30. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.