President Gül’s warnings should be heeded

President Gül’s warnings should be heeded

President Abdullah Gül has emerged as the voice of reason on many occasions. His remarks on foreign policy are particularly significant since he proved his competence as foreign minister before being elected president. The question, however, is whether anyone in the government was taking note of what he has been saying. The general picture suggests not.

On his way to New York to attend the U.N. General Assembly, Gül told accompanying journalists on his plane that the radical groups fighting in Syria posed a serious threat to Turkey. He did not name anyone but it was clear that he was referring to Al-Qaeda related groups like the Al-Nusra Front, and “the new kid on the block,” the interestingly named “Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant,” or ISIS for short. 

This group, which one assumes is also behind some of the bloody attacks in Iraq that mostly target the Shia community, has now lodged itself in the Syrian town of Azaz, across from the Turkish town of Kilis, after having beaten the Free Syrian Army there following bloody clashes.

It is clear that the region along Turkey’s borders is now turning into a battleground for moderate and radical groups that were once fighting together against Bashar al-Assad but are now in a struggle to gain their own territories. Some commentators are already calling this region “Turkey’s North Western Frontier,” a reference to the lawless region of Pakistan considered to be a hotbed of Islamic terrorism. 
Indicating that the prolongation of the Syrian crisis has made it intractable, Gül said the result is that “new structures had emerged,” which concern Turkey in the first degree because of the security threat they pose. He went on to utter a loaded remark: 

“Although we are guarding our borders with tanks and artillery we are unable to prevent the entry of terrorists. I warned everyone that had to be warned about this, saying ‘we must be very careful.’ This is a difficult period, these are difficult matters.”

Thinking logically, there are only a few quarters he could have warned, and the government tops the list. Of course we don’t know when it was that he issued these warnings but if they are not so new, this means he was not taken seriously.

There was a time when Ankara was seen to be going easy on Al-Nusra even though this group never hid the fact that it was fighting for an Islamic republic in Syria, and not the democracy that Prime Minister Erdogan says he wants to see in that country.

There have been many claims that this group was even provided with logistic support from Turkey, based on the argument that it was the most effective force against Al-Assad’s military. Press reports have also indicated in the past that the listing of Al-Nusra as a terrorist organization did not go down well in Ankara which considered this move at the time to be “premature.”

Times have changed however and even Foreign Minister Davutoğlu says openly now that these groups have done the greatest harm to the Syrian revolution and have therefore betrayed the Syrian people. Be that as it may, though, one cannot help but wonder why this glaringly inevitable fact was not recognized earlier. 

This question is especially relevant when it was clear that these groups would pose one of the main obstacles for the West to arm the Syrian opposition in a meaningful way. The fear has been of course, and continues to be, that if sophisticated weapons were provided to the opposition there is nothing to guarantee that these would not fall into the hands of groups like Al-Nusra or ISIS.

If, however, the warnings Gül says he made to “everyone that had to be warned” were heeded at the time, the situation could have been different today and Turkey, while still facing a threat from Syria, would not be faced with the kinds of new threats that have emerged today. It is time therefore for Erdoğan and Davutoğlu to listen better to what President Gül says as the voice of reason.