Talk on Syria Is Cheap, and Now Turkey Stands Alone

Article Summary
Turkey has worked the hardest to move the Syrian crisis to an international platform, but the situation has proven more problematic than expected, writes Sami Kohen. Ankara’s buffer-zone proposal seemed to have some support at the beginning, but when nothing was done to realize it, Turkey was left holding the bag.

From the beginning, Turkey tried the hardest to move the Syrian crisis to an international platform. On every occasion, Turkish leaders called on the international community to adopt a common position for a solution while Turkish diplomacy tirelessly contacted allies, neighboring countries, the UN and NATO. Despite all these efforts, the occasional support we heard was mostly verbal, and Ankara did not succeed in achieving its expectations. There are many examples of this.

When Ankara realized that there was no possibility of finding a solution with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad through diplomatic means, Turkey launched intensive efforts to form a common front with the US, its Western allies and Arab friends. Close contact and cooperation was established with the Obama administration. Prime Minister Erdogan maintained regular contact with the US president, and Foreign Minister Davutoglu did the same with his US counterpart, Secretary of State Clinton. These resulted in full harmony and common views between Ankara and Washington. In their official statements, both sides called for Assad’s departure and tried to shape a strategy in that direction.

But as Erdogan’s government was working on ways to depose Assad, it was noted that the Obama administration’s support was guarded and Washington was trying to stay away from a leading role.

Who took the lead?

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While there are some in Turkey who insist that we were goaded to the forefront of the crisis by the US, the reality is that it was the AKP government that chose to do it. It did so by relying on its standing and influence in the region while working on friendly nations to get their active support. At first, the Obama administration extended that support through “encouraging gestures,” like backing Turkey’s organization of the Syrian opposition.

Some Arab countries, like Saudi Arabia and Qatar, also stood by Turkey in these efforts. But it didn’t take long for Turkey to understand that the support Ankara was expecting had waned in light of emerging problems. When the refugee flow to Turkey began to pose a serious issue, the calls by Turkish leaders to the international community and Davutoglu’s appearance at the Security Council did not yield any results. Today, Turkey is still carrying this heavy burden by itself.

Support in words

Turkey’s “buffer zone” proposal, which addressed both the refugee issue and border security, seemed to have some support at the beginning, but nothing was done to realize it.

Turkish diplomatic efforts with Russia and China, who vetoed every move they perceived to be anti-Assad, also did not produce any results. Ankara frequently had to confront these two countries and Iran.

Turkey faced the same situation over recent border incidents. The UN Security Council denounced the Akcakale shelling. NATO expressed support for Turkey and USA and Western allies stood by it, but on the whole, everyone advised restraint in order to prevent escalation.


It is obvious that the international community, including Western allies, don’t want a Syria-Turkey war or a military intervention by Turkey. NATO doesn’t want to risk being drawn into such a clash. Arab countries are mute. Saudi Arabia and Qatar (under US pressure) have stopped supplying heavy weapons to the Syrian opposition. In short, the point we have reached is total isolation of Turkey in its friction with Syria, except occasional verbal support and expressions of sympathy.

There is no point in blaming only the others for the situation. What we must acknowledge is that our government miscalculated the potential reactions and attitudes of the international community, including our allies, while planning the steps to take with Syria.

It is not too late for Ankara to readjust its policies according to this reality.

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Found in: turkish foreign policy, turkish-syrian relations, turkish-syrian crisis, buffer zone
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