Turkey Pulse

Armed Syrian Opposition Enables Assad's Hold on Power

Article Summary
Tulin Daloglu reports on how the armed opposition to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has hindered efforts for a political solution in Syria. 

“If the opposition were not to be armed early on, [Syrian President Bashar al-]Assad would not have had the excuse for such violence against our people, and he would not have committed such despicable crimes,” Ahmad, a Syrian from Aleppo who fled to Turkey nearly a year ago, told Al-Monitor.

There is no dispute over the cruelty of the Assad regime and that he ultimately needs to go, and neither is there need to excuse the regional powers from their roles and responsibilities in the making of this carnage in Syria.

Looking back and grumbling over whether the Saudis, the Qataris and the Turks could have taken a calming approach, or what would have happened if the Russians and Iranians were included from day one in finding a political solution to this crisis, have little relevance today to ending the bloodshed. But the international choir condemning the atrocities of the Syrian regime and slamming Assad’s recent remarks does not do any better.

On Sunday, Jan.6, when Assad took the stage in an opera house in Damascus to propose organizing a reconciliation conference that would exclude “those who have betrayed Syria,” Ahmad got furious.

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“Can you believe that he is still talking about reforms? What reforms on earth!” he exclaimed. 

Because Ahmad fears for the lives of his close family members left in Syria, and a fighting brother in the Free Syrian Army, he asked not to be given full attribution. “I was against arming the opposition in the first place, but they now reached a point of no return and don’t have the needed arms to go farther. But the Saudis are favoring the Islamists and the jihadists because all they want is to see Syria come under their wing. We also hear that Turkey is allowing the free passage of these arms into Syria,” he told Al-Monitor.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, however, was dismissive of any suggestions that Turkey’s policies might have added to the bloodshed in Syria.

“Was it the outsiders who bombed these [Syrian] cities, like happened during the Second World War? Who can explain those pictures from Hama or Aleppo?” he asked while responding to Assad’s Sunday speech. “Which legally recognized administration bombs its own people and cities, and causes such damage?”

Ahmad and others like him, however, consider Davutoglu’s remarks blatant manipulation.

“No one argues that Turkey has bombed our cities, or killed Syrians,” one Syrian rebel told Al-Monitor. “Don’t get me wrong. We are really grateful to Turkey for accepting us in the country, but we also wonder why they’re helping the Salafists in Syria. These are not our people, and they’re also causing damage.” 

While it’s near impossible to confirm the allegations that Turkey is helping and favoring the Islamists, the jihadists or the Salafists in Syria in their efforts to bring down the Assad regime, it’s a fact that the international media has also been reporting on such allegations for a long time.

Therefore, although Davutoglu is right that “Assad no longer has representative authority over the Syrian people" and "a transition period needs to be completed swiftly through talks with representatives of the Syrian nation,” there still is nothing tangible that would end the killings and the destruction in Syria in near future.

As Assad’s final days in power still don’t seem imminent, it should be also important for Turkey, a country that hosts nearly 150,000 Syrians within its borders for humanitarian reasons, to focus on bringing a good resolution to its Syria policy.

Don’t forget, perception is reality — at least in this part of the world. The longer the conflict goes on, the risks for Turkey will increase. As one retired American diplomat pointed out, refugee camps in the Middle East have a tendency to become permanent. Even if the Syrians refugees in Turkey are not expected to share the fate of the Palestinians, who have been in “temporary” camps since 1967 (and some, perhaps, since 1948), the camps have become very disruptive to the stability of the host countries.

As the Syrian crisis started to strain the Turkish economy, especially in the cities bordering Syria, Ahmad and others also hint at the potential friction with their Turkish hosts. There is talk that the Syrians who don’t live in the camps usually end up paying higher rent, or that their salaries are generally lower than their Turkish counterparts. What really needs to be watched out for, however, is the seriousness of the allegations of Turkish support for the Islamist groups. If and when the Syrian anarchy and civil unrest crosses borders, Turkey will find itself in the tricky position of hosting divergent groups of dubious origins within its borders. NATO’s newly deployed Patriot missiles in Turkey won’t be useful at all in preventing such potential unrest from breaking out within the borders of Turkey.

The resolution of the Syrian crisis will not be determined by Assad’s speech, but by the determination (or lack thereof) of the international community to end the bloodshed. 

Tulin Daloglu is a columnist for Al-Monitor's Turkey Pulse. She has written extensively for various Turkish and American publications, including The New York TimesInternational Herald TribuneThe Middle East TimesForeign PolicyThe Daily Star (Lebanon) and the SAIS Turkey Analyst Report. She also had a regular column at The Washington Times for almost four years.

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Found in: turkey, syrian opposition, syrian free army, syrian crisis, syrian, saudi, qatar, free syrian army, bashar al-assad

Tulin Daloglu has written extensively for various Turkish and American publications, including The New York Times, International Herald Tribune, The Middle East Times, Foreign Policy, The Daily Star (Lebanon) and the SAIS Turkey Analyst Report.

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