Turkish Foreign Minister “Losing Sleep” Over Events in Syria

Article Summary
While Foreign Minister Davutoglu has made mistakes in regional policy, Turkey had few options to begin with regarding its approach to the crisis in Syria, argues Amberin Zaman. In light of the widespread criticism over Turkey’s loss of regional influence, Zaman asks if Turkey was supposed to stand by and wait for a massacre on its southeast border.

“We will support an intervention in Syria,” [Turkish] Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said in an interview with Al-Arabiyya TV. The way in which news agencies quoted his remarks made them come off as a bombshell. However, he had qualified himself prior to his remark, and the real quote was: ”If the Arab League fails we will support a UN decision for intervention in Syria.” Moreover he stressed that Turkey would intervene only in the context of humanitarian assistance.

It is clear that the Arab League has failed [to mediate in the Syrian conflict]. The observers it sent to Syria were useless as the regime continues to slaughter civilians. The Saudis said, “Enough,” and pulled out their observers. Others left on their own accord. The humanitarian crisis continues as thousands in the prisons and towns besieged by soldiers are going hungry.

Nevertheless, all of us, including myself, have told Davutoglu that intervention in Syria would be madness. NATO has fatigued itself in Libya, and Obama - who does not want to deal with an international crisis prior to [this year’s] elections - does not care if Syrians continue to die. [NATO and the Americans] would prefer to drop this crisis into the laps of the Arabs and the Turks. Why should we do their bidding, are we their contractors? We keep asking ourselves these same questions.

With more than 5000 already dead, how many more will have to die before we push aside our own interests and help out?  Do we have to wait for a new Srebrenica massacre [in which 8000 Bosniaks were massacred by Bosnian Serb paramilitaries during the Bosnian War]? Last week, Davutoglu said, “I can’t sleep, I have nightmares.” Anyone with conscience is torn between the national interests of Turkey and their human emotions when watching the blood bath unfold next door.

Those who claim that Davutoglu’s “zero problems with neighbors” policy was a flop now ask: Why were so friendly to Assad if we knew what [kind of man] he was? Why did our prime minister go on a joint vacation - arm in arm - with Assad? Why are we now supporting the opposition, including soldiers? Given that Davutoglu has constantly been warning of sectarianism in Iraq, how come Syria is portrayed as a human rights and democracy issue, and not a sectarian one? How did we lose Iraq to Iran?

These are just questions. Yes, Davutoglu has made mistakes, but let’s not exaggerate. One of the [Justice and Development Party’s] smartest foreign policy moves was to establish official relations with the Iraqi Kurds, after having viewed them as an enemy for decades. It is no secret that we are now allied with the Iraqi Kurds because of the prevailing [political] geography and the regional balance of power. Weren’t we saying [before] that we only recognize the central government [of Iraq]? Prime Minister Maliki of the central government has brought relations with Turkey to a breaking point. Maliki has joined the side of Iran.

With sides taking shape, a new era of bargaining over Iraq has begun, and Turkey is actively participating in this process. It is too early to say that we handed over Iraq to Iran.

In Syria, Turkey was hoping that Assad would calm down under international pressure. Under the heavy pressures of August, Turkey cut all ties with Damascus and readjusted its strategy to take into account Assad’s waning power. Ankara then further stepped up its support to the opposition. While it awaits the collapse of the regime through internal dynamics, Ankara is preparing contingency plans for an internationally supported intervention. If Ankara hadn’t done all of this, it would have again been accused of standing aloof and being sidelined.

I am not sure what Turkey could have done differently, but one thing is for sure: If Turkish efforts to mediate between Israel and Syria had borne results - as they almost did - there would be no bloodshed in Syria today. The party responsible for the collapse of this process was not Turkey or Syria, but Israel.

Found in: intervention in syria, turkish influence in the middle east, turkish foreign policy, turkish-syrian relations, turkish-iraqi relations, pkk, nato, morality and syrian conflict, kurds, davutoglu, bosnian war massacres

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