Turkey needs to return to active neutrality

Turkey needs to return to active neutrality

Developments in Ukraine have pushed the Syrian crisis to the background much to the satisfaction of the Syrian regime. Bashar al-Assad is already talking about having turned the tide to his advantage and is saying it is a matter of time before he wins.

It is doubtful, however, whether he can ultimately win because of the tactics some groups among the Syrian opposition are using. Al-Assad may take control over towns and cities, but it is unlikely that he will be able to prevent the kind of terrorist attacks that we see so frequently in Iraq.

All of this is bad news for Turkey. Not only because of the actual spillover effect in terms of terrorism, but also because of the country’s image. Whether it is justified or not, the impression that Ankara is aiding Jihadist groups in Syria has stuck, regardless of how much the government denies it.

Turkey is even being implicated in the attack on the predominantly Armenian town of Kassab with all sorts of parallels being drawn between today and 1915. It is, of course, cynical for Armenian activists to try and capitalize on developments in Syria in favor of genocide recognition.

This should be an occasion for Armenian and Turkish humanitarian groups to cooperate to help Armenians refugees from Kassab, no matter how much this may appear as wishful thinking given ossified attitudes on both sides.

This aspect of the situation aside, Ankara should do everything possible to ensure that it is not secretly working with al-Qaeda groups like al-Nusra in Syria, as is being claimed today. The more it lets this perception prevail, the more credibility it will lose over Syria.

Meanwhile, the Geneva track on Syria has fallen to the background due to rising tensions between its key sponsors, the U.S. and Russia.  Neither is it likely to be revived anytime soon given the present tense atmosphere between the West and Russia.

Put another way, the diplomatic track for Syria will falter unless some country or group of countries comes up with new ideas to reenergize it. It should also be amply clear to Prime Minister Erdoğan at this stage that his personal desires for Syria will not be fulfilled.

He must acknowledge that he seriously miscalculated this crisis and allow Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu to draw up a new road map to address the situation. A good starting point would be to have close consultations with Iran.

Both countries are supporting opposite sides in Syria and many accuse them of maintaining a proxy war there. The continuation of the crisis, however, is to the detriment of Iran and Turkey in the long run and there should be enough sense on both sides to see this.

Turkey can also play a role in easing tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia. These are two countries that many believe are engaged in a genuine and destabilizing proxy war for influence in the Middle East.

Turkey must also convince the Saudis that there is no successful end to this given the prevailing balance of power in the region. A Turkey that can do all this will also be praised by the world as a positive power that is working for peace.

It is clear that Turkey will have to return to a position of active neutrality before it can even consider playing such a role. It is equally clear that all of this is a very tall order for the Erdoğan government, which will have to seriously change its tack and establish a positive agenda, not only in terms of foreign policy, but also in terms of easing domestic tensions.

Success in these regards, however, is what will make history ultimately judge if Erdoğan was a good leader or not, not his ballot box victories, which he appears to have set so much store by in order to implement a personal agenda.