Are we going to engage ourselves in Syria? Are we heading to war? Are the US and the West steering Turkey towards a military occupation of Syria? Finally, if Turkey invades Syria, will Russia declare war on Turkey?
Although these questions are premature, they are nonetheless now being asked in Turkish streets.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov went to Damascus and announced [Syrian President] Bashar al-Assad’s promise to end the violence. However we are not confident that the Russian initiative will result in any substantial progress, given that Bashar has already broken all of his previous promises.
The structure of the regime in Damascus, and its behavior over the past year, make it clear that it is not a regime that can be reformed. It is simply trying to buy time and extend its own existence, and Russia is the best at providing it with help in this regard.
Russia’s recent vote at the UN security council has led to its isolating itself in the realm of international diplomacy. It doesn’t have the capacity to sustain the [Assad] regime [indefinitely]. Lavrov’s initiative [and mission to Damascus] could represent Russia’s final say in this affair. Russia’s recent maneuvers appear to be more a display of its super-power aspirations rather than real efforts to keep Bashar in power.
Another country with a bearing bearing on Syria’s future as significant as Russia’s is Turkey, due to its geographical proximity [to Syria] and its hosting of the Syrian opposition. Turkish Prime Minister [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan recently thrashed Bashar Assad, stating, “Turkey will launch a new initiative with the countries that are with the people of Syria, not its regime.” We don’t yet know what shape this initiative will take and with whom it will be launched, but it will surely be an initiative that aims for [Assad’s] withdrawal without [all out war in Syria].
Turkey will not go to war with Syria over this crisis.
Nevertheless, certain features of the Syrian conflict could well have unintended consequences. We can’t forget that up until a year ago, Syria was Turkey’s best friend. The families of Erdogan and Assad were close. Turkey did much to save Syria from the ropes during the early 2000s, especially after the assassination of [Former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik] Hariri forced Syria to evacuate Lebanon, leaving it isolated. Even as the Arab uprising reached Syria, Turkey tried to keep the regime standing, proposing solutions that would allow Assad to [find an acceptable way out of power].
[Turkey’s initiatives to save Assad] were in vain.
Turkey then decided to open its doors to the Syrian opposition and to those fleeing the brutality of the regime. Ankara then resisted the pressures of Syrian National Council and Free Syrian Army for a buffer zone [a zone safe from Syrian government troops] to be set up in Syria. Turkey firmly said that such a move would only serve the regime’s plan of capitalizing on the issue of sectarian divisions. By ruling out this buffer zone, Ankara disappointed the Syrian opposition and a significant segment of the population.
For its part, the Syrian opposition believes that the Assad regime would not be able to cope with a buffer zone set up by Turkey in Syria, claiming that such a step would expedite the collapse of the brutal regime and preempt further massacres - maybe even civil war. However, Turkey has not caved in, saying that it won’t allow the repeat of the Libyan scenario in Syria.
But when we look back on Turkish-Syrian relations over the last 12 months and recall that we ended up taking part in the NATO intervention in Libya despite our early opposition to it, we can’t dismiss the plausibility that [developments in Syria] may hid [unforseen events].
Rapid developments are occuring on the slippery ground of the Middle East. Positions untenable a year ago may seam feasible today. Options dismissed today can become valid a month from now. While political steps and tactics must therefore be flexible, one underlying principle must remain constant:
”Are we for - or are we against - the departure of this blood spilling regime that rules over a land with which we share 911 km of borders, and a history having lived under the same rule for hundreds of years?”
In the post-Cold war world, “non-interference in internal affairs” means giving a green light to campaigns of ethnic cleansing and massacres. The Westphalian principle [of state sovereignty] that has governed international relations since 1648 does not hold true in these cases. Let us not forget the Serbian Butcher Slobodan Milosevic’s journey from the presidential throne in Belgrade to the chair of the accused as a war criminal at the [International Court of Justice in the Hague]. Bosnia and Kosovo were indeed the internal affairs of Milosevic, but the international system chose not to tolerate him.
Turkey will not be able to escape responsibility from the results of events in Syria events [were such bloodshed to take place]. However, can influence current events and their outcomes.
Therefore the question to ask is not whether Turkey will enter into a war with Syria, but rather how Turkey as an active, international and regional actor can properly intervene?
Now is the time to find the answer to this question.