Language of domestic politics enrooted the sectarianism perception
One of the significant criticisms against the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government’s Syrian policy is the view that, to topple Bashar al-Assad, they have acted with sectarian motives within the framework of Sunni solidarity.
One of the most important reasons why the sectarianism perception has emerged is that as soon as the Syrian crisis became a topic of debate in domestic politics, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan included Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu’s Alevi origin among criticisms against the latter’s Syrian approach. Al-Assad belongs to the Nusayri sect that is close to Alevism despite its differences. Erdoğan has implied that Kılıçdaroğlu was supporting al-Assad for this reason.
An important factor that strengthened this perception, especially abroad, is that Turkey is on the front lines together with Saudi Arabia and Qatar in the regional support provided to the Free Syrian Army (FSA) that is trying to topple al-Assad and that is composed of predominantly Sunni elements.
The strongest regional support to the al-Assad regime in Syria’s civil war comes from the regime in Iran, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Hezbollah in Lebanon within the common denominator of being Shiite. The war, in its present form, has turned into a conflict, a struggle for influence between Sunni and Shiite blocks in the Middle East. This situation involuntarily makes Turkey and Iran two foes facing each other in Syria.
The picture that has emerged shows that Turkey has stepped outside its tradition of staying out of inter-Arab and regional conflicts, which it has tried to adhere to since the beginning of the republic.
Becoming a logistical support base to the opposition
Another important factor is the level Turkey’s support to the Free Syrian Army, where Islamic groups assume an important role, has reached. This support is not limited to strong statements by Prime Minister Erdoğan, diplomatic mobilization of Ankara to activate the international community and hosting opposition political parties/groups. It has gone beyond that to include broad logistical support to the FSA. Moreover, the organization’s address on its website is given as Hatay, a southern Turkish town.
It is an open secret now that an important portion of the arms deliveries to opposition groups are done through Turkey, that these arms are financed by Saudi Arabia and that this country has unlimited financial support to topple al-Assad. Likewise, it is also known that a portion of the warring personnel enter Syria from Turkey and that there are continuous mutual entries and exits. Besides, the Western media report that CIA teams “monitor” the situation at the border so that arms shipped to the Syrian side do not end up in terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda.
As a result, the Turkish-Syrian border is a “highly permeable” border, to put it in diplomatic terms. The FSA has logistical support from the north and freedom of movement because of this situation. When the history of this period is written in the future, it is highly probable that the support Turkey has provided for the opposition from the north will be defined as having a crucial function for the opposition.
In short, Turkey is in a mobilized state to topple the al-Assad regime. This brings the question “Did Ankara have another option?”
Sedat Ergin is a columnist for daily Hürriyet in which the unabridged version of this article was published August 30. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.