At the end of each winter in Ankara, the number of diplomatic receptions held in the capital skyrockets. This year, the main topic at these gatherings is Syria. None of the influential diplomats I have spoken to believe that the Syrian regime will collapse anytime soon. The forecasts of those who know Damascus well, and who have served there in the past, are that if the pressure on Bashar al-Assad continues at its present level, his government will survive for two more years.
There have been other interesting reports. For example, I heard that Damascus has moved its S-300 missiles northward, toward the Turkish border. Another report said that about 15,000 to 20,000 Iranian Revolutionary Guards have entered Syria to lend a hand to Assad. Then, there are the reports of the 1500 PEJAK militants, the PKK’s Iranian branch, having moved to Syria. It is said that they expect to mingle with the Syrians seeking refuge in Turkey and enter the territory with the crowd.
The most heated debates are over Turkey participating in a Syrian intervention. While Turkey joining the conflict could have consequences more severe than the invasion of Iraq, unless Turkey intervenes now, it will have to live with whatever situation emerges. They say that Turkey had no choice but to act with its allies.
One sage piece of advice was: “If Turkey is developing a policy of attacking Syria, it should not attempt to do so before putting together a broad coalition.”
In listening to all these comments, I was reminded of the policy that Turkey had traditionally held toward its neighbors. It is clear that Turkey has now abandoned its ironclad policy of non-interference, which it had stuck to since the creation of the republic in 1923. For the first time, Turkey is actively and openly engaging in policies meant to topple a neighboring regime. Turkey did not pursue such a policy even against the Soviets during the Cold War, or against Erivan (the capital of Armenia), which was certainly hostile toward us. Nor did we play an active role when Greece and Bulgaria were brutally oppressing their minorities of Turkish origin.
So what will this new approach bring Turkey? Let us not forget that Europe, once more influential than the US, is now lagging behind because it couldn’t maintain its active policies. What is up for debate is whether countries which are active in the region today will have a say in the shaping of the future.
Turkey has the responsibility to play a part in building the new structure that could emerge in Syria. One might respond by saying, “Look, we stayed out of Iraq and we were comfortable.” But once we understand that Syria is not Iraq and that what happens in Syria may very well affect the entire region, how wise it is it to tell Ankara to stay out?