Turkey Eager to Shield Lebanon from Impact of Syrian Crisis

Article Summary
During his recent visit, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu met with several Lebanese officials to discuss the crisis in Syria and its repercussions for Lebanon. He sought to reassure Lebanese Christians that they would not be negatively affected by any potential change to the Syrian regime, and that the Turkish Government will take the necessary steps to protect Christians from suffering due to the unrest in the region, particularly in Syria. However, a the Turkish visit gave no hints of a possible solution to the Syrian crisis, notes Mohammed Noureddine.

During his visit to Lebanon, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu went thoroughly across the Lebanese political spectrum. As usual, he did not fail to flaunt his prized academic and cultural knowledge in a meeting with a group of intellectuals and journalists.  

However, he uncharacteristically neglected to talk about the longstanding [Turkish policy of] “strategic depth” which had marked a similar meeting with him two years ago. Perhaps broaching this matter would have been inappropriate, as Turkey has had a turnaround in its policy over the past two years.

The uncertainty which preceded the arrival of the Turkish [Foreign] Minister manifested most clearly in the different points of views during his meeting with Head of the Loyalty to the Resistance [or March 8] Bloc, MP Mohamed Raad. Moreover, a certain “chill” pervaded the talks between the Turkish FM and Lebanese Parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri.

Davutoglu arrived to Lebanon following his visit to Tehran. The Turkish FM held Iran responsible for any potential clashes which could take place in Lebanon or Iraq. He also said that the Shiite [political] current has failed [in the Arab World], while the Sunni movement has embarked on the path toward democracy in the countries of the Arab Spring.

Davutoglu denied some allegations that the government of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) supports a Sunni takeover in the region. He said that the AKP protected Iraqi Kurds against Saddam Hussein, a Sunni. The Turkish party also supported the Iraqiyya Bloc headed by Iyad Allawi, a Shiite. He further bolstered his argument by saying that Ammar al-Hakim [Head of the Shi’a Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq] is a dear friend whom he consults often.

During most of his meetings and talks, Davutoglu condemned Assad’s crackdown in Syria and blamed him for the continuing crisis. The Turkish FM did not go as far as to ask the Syrian President to step down; however, he asked him to listen to his people: “Do not even listen to Turkey nor the Arab League; just listen to your people.”

Davutoglu also said that Assad ignored Turkish advice more than once, denouncing the armed attacks on [Syrian] cities during times of fasting and religious occasions.

Moreover, the Turkish FM requested that Iran ask Assad to listen to his people. He rejected the allegations that Turkey was biased in favor of one party or another. He said that his country did not only request Assad to step down without asking the opposition to undertake some [conciliatory] actions in return.

The Turkish Minister said Turkey has, more than once, called upon the Syrian President to hold dialogues with the local and foreign-based oppositions. But on each occasion, Assad refused to recognize the existence of opposition, stating that there are is no opposition to hold talks with - only terrorists. Davutoglu said that in spite of this [attitude on the part of the Syrian regime,] the Turkish Government did not make contact with any opposition member during the first months of the crisis. When, however, [Ankara] reached a deadlock with the regime in October, it launched talks with the opposition.

Apparently, the Turkish FM did not have any new approach to advance for solving the Syrian crisis, ruling out any joint initiative with Iran.

The Turkish FM’s meeting with Christian Maronite Patriarch Bechara Al Rai drew much attention, yet Davutoglu made no mention of this meeting during his talks with journalists and intellectuals.

However, the meeting with Al Rai came as part of Turkish efforts, announced a few weeks ago by Davutoglu, to protect Lebanese Christians. Davutoglu considered that the Christian opposition to the Syrian regime is a strong pillar of the Lebanese Government and Lebanon’s stability. He added that Turkey seeks to protect Lebanese Christians and to prevent them from becoming victims of the unrest [in Syria].

Davutoglu had earlier promised to take steps in this regard. Perhaps his meeting with the Christian Patriarch fell within the context of reassuring the Christians that any potential change in the Syrian regime will not have any negative repercussions on them. Within the same context, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had met earlier with the Patriarch of the Coptic Church in Egypt.

During his interview with Al-Safir, the Turkish [Foreign] Minister revealed that he is seriously considering hosting a meeting in Turkey, bringing together Christian and Muslim scholars from the Middle East. He said it was the idea of former Lebanese President Amin Gemayel, who has previously visited Turkey and met with Davutoglu and other Turkish officials.

Obviously, efforts to dismantle the forces of the pro-Syrian regime and those eyeing Turkey suspiciously because of its support for the Islamic movements are high on the Turkish list of policy priorities. The Turkish efforts are one further indication that [its] regional tug-of-war with Syria continues. Davutoglu’s meetings with Lebanese officials and its 1.5 hour discussion with Al-Safir gave no indication that a solution to the Syrian crisis is in the offing.

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