Time to rehash Turkey's Syria policy

Time to rehash Turkey's Syria policy

Turkey cannot remain indifferent to what’s happening next door in Syria. After all, even if Turkey wanted to stay away from Syria, with more than three million refugees – registered and unregistered – it cannot. Besides, not only does it share a 822 kilometer-long border with Syria, but also a very rich common historical, cultural and, of course, religious heritage.

Would it mean much for Turkey if the length of Turkish-Syrian border was just few kilometers or if there was no common border at all? Turkey’s strategic, political, cultural interests and responsibility of its imperial past, if not the strong family relations between the peoples of the two countries, would still compel Turkish governments to be very much interested in what’s happening in Syria. In any case, the geopolitical place of Syria on the world map makes it all the more impossible for Turkey to ignore what’s happening there.

No one is questioning why Turkey is so concerned (even if it has been often following wrong policies) with developments in Syria. If personal enmity between Syria’s dictator and Turkey’s absolute power could have been avoided, the role Turkey might have played first would have been preventing the crisis from becoming a civil war and later significantly contributing to a resolution, preserving the territorial integrity of Syria. Ankara’s neo-Ottomanist aspirations and the “You are not the Ottoman sultan and I am not the governor of Damascus” position of Bashar al-Assad killed such prospects and contributed to the worsening of the crisis, with Turkey starting to “proactively” support “mild” Islamist opposition groups.

Those “mild” Islamist groups, however, included Sunni jihadist terrorists, many of which were following in the footsteps of al-Qaeda and such types of Salafist terrorists and, over the time, who unfortunately proved to be just as evil and barbaric as the tyrant of Damascus. The solidarity of Turkey’s Muslim brothers with the Muslim Brotherhood and other such gangs of Syria and the wider Islamic geography unfortunately relegated Turkey from its regional power broker/mediator role to something else, which, if publicly named, might constitute a crime.

Abandoning principles of international diplomacy, ignoring Turkey’s perennial interests, forgetting the country’s status of “elder brother” in this neighborhood and engaging in roughneck politics could not be in Turkey’s best interests and, as was seen, could not help Syria or the Muslim brothers of Turkey’s Islamist clan in power either. The turning point in Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s governance of Turkey will be underlined by historians writing about this period as his gross miscalculation in Syria and adopting a wrong and very costly policy for himself, Turkey and, of course, Syria.

Even if he might not have been sincere and used it as a ploy to elevate himself to an all-powerful super president status, the ambiguous Kurdish opening was not the first but probably the biggest collateral damage of the collapsed Syria policy of Turkey. The Turkish president issuing public statements heralding the fall of the Kobane “soon” was instrumental in blowing up the “atmosphere of confidence” required to move ahead in the already troubled opening.
On the other hand, Erdoğan and his clan were right in trying to remain indifferent on Kobane as they saw the bigger game, the Syrian wing of the Turkey’s Kurdish separatist gang, was establishing a “autonomous Kurdish belt” along the Turkish border down to the Mediterranean – a development that might constitute the second and vital component of a future Kurdish state comprised of the Kurdish-populated regions of Iraq, Syria, Iran and of course Turkey.

Turkish nationalists’ branding such developments as “treacherous” failures of the president and his ruling Justice and development Party (AKP) and repeating Nationalist Movement Party (MHP)statements that the president and all those involved in the Kurdish opening would be sent to the High Court on charges of “treason” might all be electoral palaver. Yet these (perhaps inflated) allegations, along with rampant corruption and favoritism charges, testify why the president and his party could not digest the June electoral verdict ending the single party rule of the AKP, why a coalition could not be formed and why the Nov. 1 elections will be of existential importance not only for Turkish democracy and freedom but more so for the president and his men.

The high tension in Turkey-Russia relations over Russian aerial operations against Turkish president’s Syrian buddies reflect the exhaustion as well as the urgent need of Turkey developing a wiser, well-tuned Syria policy compatible with the perennial national interests rather than Islamist hallucinations.