vol. 5 no. 14
9 July 2012
WHAT THE COLUMNISTS SAY
Turkey’s interventionist Syria policy is being increasingly subjected to harsh criticism in the columns. Although most commentators tend to see war as unlikely, there is nonetheless growing apprehension that Turkey will get embroiled in an adventure with dire consequences. Last week, Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, returning from the meeting of “Syria’s friends” in Paris, lashed out at those who criticize Ankara’s attempt to bring about regime change in Syria. Davutoğlu noted that the views of many commentators who represent the three main intellectual currents in Turkey – liberals, neo-nationalists and Islamists – have come to converge in the Syrian matter. Indeed, opinion surveys notably reveal that Davutoğlu’s and Prime Minister Erdoğan’s Syria policy does not enjoy the support of the majority.
GÜRSEL: HOW CAN DAVUTOĞLU SLEEP WELL AT NIGHT?
Kadri Gürsel in Milliyet comments on the outburst of foreign minister Ahmet Davutoğlu against those who criticize the Syria policy of the AKP government. Turkey, says Davutoğlu, is defending human dignity and freedom. I am amazed that Mr. Davutoğlu claims that he “sleeps well at night”. He is the foreign minister of a government that just the other day introduced a bill in parliament that will make Turkey and Sudan – for whose president there is a warrant of arrest for crimes against humanity – military partners. Is this how you defend human dignity and freedom? Military cooperation with the bloody regime in Sudan and military confrontation risking war with the bloody regime in Syria – don’t you have any standards? A foreign policy guided by the references of the modern world, freedom, human rights, pluralism, secularism and gender equality, would not have run into such inconsistencies. What was it that prevented the government from raising its voice at least once when massacres were perpetrated in Bahrain and Yemen? Was it the fact that those killed were Shiites? Davutoğlu’s allegation that those who criticize his foreign policy – that risks embroiling our country in great calamities – are un-patriotic is truly unjust. The problem is that there is a lack of agreement among us about the values with which the motherland ought to be identified. For those who embrace a motherland that is libertarian, democratic, pluralistic, egalitarian and secular, it is neither possible to sleep well at night nor to lend support to Davutoğlu’s foreign policy.
DAĞI: THE ISSUE WITH SYRIA IS PERSONAL
İhsan Dağı in Zaman writes that the Syrian issue is perhaps the most serious one with which the government of the AK Party has been confronted; more serious than coup attempts and the economic crisis. I think that Prime Minister Erdoğan sees the downing of our jet as a personal affront, as a message to him from Syria’s Bashar al-Assad. There is no doubt that the prime minister was deeply disappointed when he was unable to convince the Syrian regime to change. When it did not heed his advices, the issue acquired a personal dimension for the prime minister. We should not forget that the personal dimension of issues matters a lot in this geography, be it when countries become friends or when they fall out with each other; even though “national interests”, “geopolitics” are referred to as explanations, personal animosities and friendships are in fact the major dynamic behind many of the developments in this region. The ups and downs that have characterized our relation with Syria in recent years are a case in point. This kind of emotionalism can result in rash reactions and irrational policies. True, it is difficult for our society to stomach the downing of our aircraft; it is difficult because society has lately come to believe that Turkey is a major power that looks down on the EU, which steers the Middle East, rules in the Balkans and even raises Africa to its feet. Yet our focus should nonetheless remain on internal accomplishments, instead of trying to organize our neighborhood. The first casualty of a war would be democracy.
BURSALI: WAR WITH SYRIA UNLIKELY
Orhan Bursalı in Cumhuriyet wonders whether there will be a war with Syria, whether Prime Minister Erdoğan will concoct a reason to attack. He concludes that such a scenario is unlikely. In fact, the Syrian matter is not at all an issue between Turkey and Syria; it is something which is directed by the U.S., which uses the Saudis, Qatar and Turkey in order to bring about the downfall of al-Assad. The aggressive trio of the U.S., France and Great Britain assumed that they would be as successful in Syria as they were in Libya, but they were mistaken. And our government made the same mistake when it got carried away. Davutoğlu, who became foreign minister after having authored the treatise “Strategic depth”, demonstrated strategic shallowness together with the Prime Minister. Now, the interests of Ankara and those of the West have to a certain extent diverged; the Western powers want to go a little easy, arming the rebels, seeing to it that so many Syrians die that the conditions for a foreign intervention are created. This is of course a truly immoral strategy. Ankara, on the other hand, perhaps feeling deceived, wants to storm ahead precipitously, bringing about a quick fall of the regime. But that would inevitably bring the West and the East into confrontation. The steps to be taken in the Middle East will ultimately be decided not by Ankara but by the U.S. The international conditions do not allow Erdoğan to attack Syria, something that would put Turkey in conflict with Russia and Iran. Thus, the likelihood of war is almost non-existent. But Erdoğan may nonetheless want to pull off a little success by beating up Syria on the border, perhaps by shooting down an aircraft or so!
BİLİCİ: PRO-BAATH AND PRO-IRAN VOICES ARE GETTING A HEARING AMONG THE TURKISH PUBLIC
Abdülhamit Bilici in Zaman observes that the deepening Syrian crisis has reshuffled the ideological cards in Turkey as well. People from opposite poles have been united in support to the Baathist cause; circles where words like Islam, sharia, mullahs usually ring alarm bells have from the first day of the Syrian crisis come to pay close attention to the disinformation diffused by Iran, Syria and Lebanon. Among those who are critical of the government’s Syria policy are those who take a favorable view of the Baath regime out of ideological and sectarian reasons, and who fear the advent of a Sunni or Islamic-oriented regime. Those who view the crisis in Syria through the lenses of Tehran meanwhile, see the Baath regime as a rampart against the U.S. and Israel. And alongside this debate among the elites, it also imports to note that confusion reigns among the population that is otherwise disposed favorably toward the foreign policy of the government. According to a recent survey by the Institute of Strategic Studies, 33 percent approves of the Syrian policy, with 48 percent disapproving. It is worth reflecting upon this split; foreign policy is usually something around which public opinion rallies, regardless of political divisions. One explanation is that those who prefer to stick to Baath’s and Iran’s line out of ideological and sectarian reasons have been influential; but just as important is that the government has not succeeded in sufficiently explaining its policies. Not least, the public finds it difficult to comprehend the sudden change of the government, which had been excessively cozy with al-Assad.
SANCAR: WHERE IS THE KURDISH ISSUE HEADED?
Mithat Sancar in Taraf notes that there have been several new developments in the Kurdish issue: The CHP’s (the main opposition party) proposal that the issue be addressed in parliament, and (independent Kurdish deputy) Leyla Zana’s subsequent meeting with Prime Minister Erdoğan are encouraging developments that have revived the hopes of finding a negotiated solution to the problem. But concurrently, the PKK’s recent attack in Dağlıca (where eight Turkish soldiers were killed) indicates that more violence can also be anticipated. And the continued KCK arrests (of Kurdish politicians) remain an obstacle to a political solution. The main reason why the state as well as the PKK is having such difficulty abandoning the path of violence and oppression is that the parties do not have faith in themselves and do not trust each other’s motives. The government fears that the PKK would use negotiations to strengthen its military and political position; and it is also mindful of the political price that may come with implementing policies on the basis of an agreement with the PKK. The KCK arrests, for instance, are an expression of this suspicion or fear. The PKK, on the other hand, fears that negotiations are a trap, and that the government is only out to disband it. And when the PKK sees things happening that confirm its suspicions, it almost reflexively takes up arms; that in turn shows that the PKK does not have much faith in its ability to make any headway with political initiatives. In order to break this vicious circle, actors who are not directly implicated in the confrontation need to get involved. It is in this light that the initiatives of the CHP and of Leyla Zana are so important.
© Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program Joint Center, 2012. This article may be reprinted provided that the following sentence be included: "This article was first published in the Turkey Analyst (www.turkeyanalyst.org), a biweekly publication of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program Joint Center".
The Turkey Analyst
The Turkey Analyst is a publication of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Joint Center, designed to bring authoritative analysis and news on the rapidly developing domestic and foreign policy issues in Turkey. It is published bi-weekly, and includes topical analysis, as well asa summary of the Turkish media debate. It is edited by Halil M. Karaveli.
The Turkey Analyst welcomes article submission. Please contact Halil M. Karaveli, Managing Editor.
The Joint Center
The Joint Center was created in 2005 through the merger of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute, at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies, and the Silk Road Studies Program, at the Stockholm-based Institute for Security and Development Policy.
The Turkey Initiative
The Joint Center launched a Turkey Initiative in 2006 in order to improve understanding of Turkish domestic and foreign affairs in Europe and the United States.
To subscribe to the Turkey Analyst email announcements, please contact the Joint Center with an email containing "subscribe Turkey Analyst" in the subject line.