Turkey’s bitter failure in Syria

Turkey’s bitter failure in Syria

Was travelling “a few hours” to the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, performing Friday prayers there and emerging out as a sort of a neo-caliph of a neo-Ottoman state an often cited dream of Turkey’s ultimate policy? The end result, if that assumption is correct, is a Turkey assigned to seal some 100 kilometers of a troubled border to guard the Western World against the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) terrorist gang.

To what degree is that a success of failure? It depends from which perspective the issue is approached. If looked at from the gargantuan and exuberant palace or anywhere politically close to it, of course there is no such thing (“Turkey is a bulwark of stability and progress in a troubled region.”) However, if looked at from a critical perspective or even somewhere outside of Turkey devoid of the imperial oppression on freedom of expression, Turkey has become a country in “precious isolation,” as was once said by a key aide of the Turkish president.

The interests of the United States, or any one of Turkey’s allies, in this country and in this region might not always overlap with those of Ankara. But when and if allies’ interests always contradict or when an alliance member no longer shares the norms, values and democratic understanding, which are the minimum requirements of membership, the allied relationship might become nothing more than a veil covering a serious tension among allies. Did not Turkey move to multi-party democracy back in late 1940s so that it could join NATO? If today’s Turkey has moved on to an oppressive regime and is heading towards consolidating that oppressive regime into an elected dictatorship with “Turkish style presidential rule,” it is probable that some of Turkey’s allies might have some sort of confusion as to where to place Turkey in regards of a governance model.

Transition to normalcy in Syria, Iraq and other countries around Turkey ought to be Turkey’s prime interest. After all, this country has been hosting more than two million Syrian refugees and spent billions of dollars to accommodate the refugees as well as to fight skyrocketing terrorism as a consequence of the fertile breeding ground offered by the civil war next-door. Burying one’s head into sand like an ostrich cannot stop developments around Turkey. Refusing to acknowledge the right of Syrians to decide the future of their own country and insisting on an Assad-less new Syria not only handicapped a political resolution but was instrumental in plunging the neighboring country into civil war, which has continued unabated for the past five years. Refusing to listen to worries and cautions of allies regarding the not-so-cute intentions of the political Islamists – be it Jabhat al-Nusra or al-Qaeda or ISIL – only helped to deepen the chaos and the civil war into taking a sectarian dimension as well.

Was it the dream to travel to Damascus “in a few hours,” perform Friday prayers at the Umayyad Mosque and emerge out of its front door as the neo-caliph, the driving force behind this Salafist, political Islamist, jihadist catastrophe Syria was dragged into? Such issues cannot unfortunately be debated nowadays, even though every other day Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu delivers a lecture explaining how highly he values criticism.

Getting rid of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad became such an obsession that the Syrian extension of the Turkey’s separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) gang, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), was hosted in Istanbul and Ankara many times. Strategic evaluation meetings were held with the Istanbul-educated chairperson, Salih Müslim. When the season of the “Kurdish opening” and talks with PKK political extensions and its imprisoned leader were replaced with the “fight the beast” project and a “no talks, just fight to the end” policy required portraying a nationalist sides of the ruling party and the president, Ankara remembered once again that the PYD was as unwelcome as the PKK.

However, Turkey’s allies, particularly the United States, considered the PYD as an “ally in the field” in the fight against ISIL terrorists. Russia, on the other hand, was also in “collaboration” with the PYD. Thus from both ends, Turkey was pressured to accept the participation of the PYD in the Syria peace talks that were to convene in Geneva early this week but have been postponed to Friday. Thus Turkey has now sharp differences over the PYD’s representation in peace talks with both the U.S. and a Russia it has antagonized by downing an intruding jet fighter last November.

As confusing as it might be, the successful Turkish foreign policy on Syria entered a new phase with the U.S., Turkey and the Saudis demanding two militant groups –Jaish al-Islam (Army of Islam) and Ahrar al-Shams (Nation of Syria)– should be part of the opposition front in peace talks with the Syrian government, with the U.S. and Russia playing the PYD card.

In the meantime, with the help of Russia (which effectively closed down Syrian airspace to Turkish flights after the November downing of its jetfighter by Turkey) Syrian government forces have retaken the Turcoman Mountains on the Turkish border, further consolidating the prospect of a “Latakia republic” along the Mediterranean coast…

That was perhaps Turkey’s nightmare…