Turkey Pulse

Turkey Must Brace for Storm That Will Follow Assad's Fall

Article Summary
Syria’s crisis is a broader conflict with ripples that are changing politics in every country across the Middle East. Semih Idiz contemplates the ways in which Turkey can prepare for Assad’s fall and the continued bloodletting that may follow, adding that Ankara has to turn to diplomacy, not military intervention.

Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu’s recent remarks were carried by international wire services as a “Syria prophecy.” Speaking on NTV last Friday, Davutoglu expressed hope that the Syria crisis won’t last three years as the Bosnian war did, and instead predicted that the lifespan of Bashar al-Assad’s regime numbered in the months, perhaps even weeks.

It is natural for this “prophecy” to attract attention in the West, which doesn’t want to get involved militarily in Syria and expects Turkey to do something. After all, the prophecy was uttered not by anyone but by Davutoglu who often says “We know this region best.”

But whatever the futile expectations of the West from Turkey are, members of the Turkish public who are following events in Syria with concern are not so sure of these prophecies. That too should be considered natural because none of Ankara’s calculations for Syria turned out to be on the mark.

Seems a bit risky

This real cause in the upsurge of criticism of Davutoglu compelled him to defend himself. If nothing, the expectation that the Assad regime too will collapse in a short time as in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya did not materialize.

Just as we can’t accurately predict Assad’s ability to survive, we also didn’t fully understand the dangers that the upheaval in Syria would pose for the entire region. For Davutoglu, who confessed to daily Hurriyet that he hadn’t a full night’s sleep for months because of the Syria crisis, it seems to be bit risky to come out such prophecies.

Of course, Davutoglu’s wish for the Syrian crisis not to last three years like Bosnia reflects a serious anxiety. This is understandable. Even if Assad and his regime were to disappear tomorrow, the Syrian crisis won’t end there.

Serious concerns

On the contrary, there is a potential for the ethnic and sectarian Syria conflict to last for years to come as it did in Bosnia in the absence of authority and with the interference of global powers. Today, the real danger that should be stressed is the possibility of an all-out civil war that will break out after the fall of Assad and will kill more people than have been killed so far.

It is a foregone conclusion that such an eventuality will have grave consequences for Turkey and the region. Therefore, it is imperative for Ankara to start taking countermeasures today.

Of course, when we say “measures” we are not alluding to option of “Turkey unilaterally intervening militarily in Syria” as suggested by American think tanks and even promoted by presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

The Turkish army’s unilateral entry into Syria would be a disaster scenario whose effects would pain us for years. Well aware of this reality, the PKK is ramping up its bloody provocations, causing much public outrage in Turkey.

For PKK, could there be anything more appealing than a Turkey dragged into a morass of an asymmetric war outside its borders, as US is finding out in Afghanistan and Russia did before it?

That is why when we talk of Syria, we no longer simply talking of Assad and his regime. A quick Assad departure might salvage Davutoglu’s reputation. But what is important now is what is going to happen after Assad.

Must revert to diplomacy

Ankara, instead looking toward the US, NATO and to the UN (whose inertia is beyond doubt), has to turn to diplomacy. It is diplomacy where we stand equidistant to all concerned whatever their ethnicity, sect or religion, but it is also where our national interests reign supreme.

Anyway, we understand from Davutoglu’s remarks that he too is disturbed by the prevailing notion that Turkey is a party to sectarianism in the Middle East. But instead of complaining, it would be more beneficial to try to understand the reasons that led to this situation.

Meanwhile, release of a Lebanese Shiite pilgrim abducted in Syria with Ankara’s efforts and his expression of gratitude to Turkey could well be a small step toward regaining the Shiite public opinion that had turned against Turkey.

Found in: turkish-syrian relations, syrian-turkish relations, pkk, kurdistan workers' party (pkk), kurdistan, davutoglu, assad regime, assad, ahmet davutoglu

Semih Idiz is a columnist for Al-Monitor's Turkey Pulse. He is a journalist who has been covering diplomacy and foreign policy issues for major Turkish newspapers for 30 years. His opinion pieces can be followed in the English-language Hurriyet Daily News. His articles have also been published in The Financial Times, The Times of London, Mediterranean Quarterly and Foreign Policy magazine.


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