While Al-Monitor "uncovers the trends while covering the news,” this week Al-Monitor broke both news and trends in Turkey and on Syria.
Turkey Pulse on Scene in Ankara
Al-Monitor’s Tulin Daloglu was one of the first reporters on the scene of the suicide bombing at the US Embassy in Ankara on Friday [Feb. 1], which killed an embassy guard, as well as the bomber himself, and injured journalist Didem Tuncay. Daloglu’s reporting included the new Twitter ‘Vine’ technology, and was linked to the New York Times Lede coverage of the bombing aftermath. She appeared as a guest Friday on the PBS NewsHour to discuss the bombing.
Mustafa Akyol provided one of the first analyses of the bomber, Ecevit Şanlı, 39, a member of a radical communist group, the outlawed People's Revolutionary Liberation Army-Front (DHKP-C), a Marxist-Leninist terror organization which is anti-US, anti-NATO and opposed to Turkey’s support for the Syrian opposition.
The DHKP-C statement taking responsibility for the attack said that its target was “America and the collaborationist Turkish government which has turned the country into an American and NATO base.”
The majority of DHKP-C members, Akyol wrote, come from Turkey’s Alevi minority, a largely secular branch of Islam, which is similar but not identical to Syria’s Alawite minority. The group also has cooperated in the past with the Syrian Mukhabarat.
In his contribution to Al-Monitor, Semih Idiz raised some pending questions about the suicide bombing, such as whether there might have been some foreign support, and who might have provided the explosives.
Kadri Gursel’s view is that the suicide bombing at the US Embassy in Ankara is a direct response by the DHKP-C, perhaps at the behest of the Syrian government, to Turkey’s policies in Syria.
Tulin Daloglu further reported that while there is no connection between the arrest of Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law, Suleiman Abu Gheith, days before the suicide bombing of the US Embassy and the bombing itself, both incidents put the focus on Turkey’s role in combating terrorism.
There need not be any regional or international connection to the terrorist action of the DHPK-C. Sanli’s suicide bombing came just days after Turkish security forces launched a massive crackdown on the DHPK-C. This could simply be payback through a target that fits the organization’s radical ideology. Terrorism has been a constant for Turkey, as it has been for so many countries. Or the suicide bombing could be another aspect of the challenges Turkey is facing as it pursues an unpopular and divisive policy toward the Syrian crisis.
New Hope for Political Solution in Syria
Al-Monitor’s Antoun Issa reported this week that the government of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad might consider taking up the offer for dialogue from Moaz Al-Khatib, head of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces.
Al-Khatib gave new hope to a political solution to the Syrian crisis, which has been lagging, by expressing his willingness to meet Syrian officials outside of Damascus, if the Syrian government released 160,000 political prisoners and new Syrian passports to those that have expired.
Al-KHatib’s statement converged with that of Haytham Manna, head of the National Coordination Committee (NCC), representing some of Syria’s internal opposition, as noted in the Lebanese daily As-Safir this week and translated into English exclusively by Al-Monitor.
The positions of Al-Khtaib and Manna have put them at odds with the Syria National Council (SNC), a branch of the external opposition, which does not advocate dialogue with the Syrian crisis.
Issa conducted an exclusive, off-the-record interview with a Syrian official who described Al-Khatib’s statements as “a positive change, and hopefully it can carry on,” and that while a formal decision has not been made, the Syrian leadership is considering the offer.
The official said, “We have contacts with the coalition, with the moderate voices. They’re hesitant, some supportive [of Al-Khatib’s initiative],” while adding that they had not yet been in contact with Al-Khatib.
In an exclusive interview with Al-Monitor last month, Syria’s minister of national reconciliation, Ali Haidar, repeated his call for the opposition to drop its demands for Assad’s resignation, adding "It is not logical to say that we will participate in dialogue after regime change. We participate in dialogue to achieve regime change.”
US Vice President Joseph Biden commended Al-Khatib’s offer for conditional negotiations with the Syrian government after the two met one-on-one on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference on Feb. 2.
Al-Khatib met separately in Munich with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who also praised Al-Khatib;s offer of talks as “a very important move… Realism has taken the upper hand.”
Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi, following his first ever meeting with Al-Khatib in Munich on Feb. 3, described the offer as “a good step forward.”
It is worth noting that Al-Khatib’s offer has yet to be taken up. Al-Khatib said on a panel discussion at the Munich conference on Feb. 1 that he would call for a military solution if all other avenues are exhausted. Lakhdar Brahimi, the Joint Special Representative for Syria of the United Nations and the Arab League, seated next to Al-Khatib on the panel, expressed pessimism, saying “I am much more conscious of the difficulties and. . . the country being broken down day after day, than I am of a solution.”
While the prospects for a political solution may be slim, they remain the only hope to end the tragedy in Syria that has already cost 60,000 lives. The only "military solution" is one that leaves the country in ruins, as Brahimi has warned.