Support For Syria’s Islamists May Come Back to Haunt Turkey

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has said that his government would not support the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), but Can Dundar writes that this is a familiar lie. Syria’s tacit approval of the PKK, he says, resembles Turkey’s assistance of Islamist fighters in Syria. Turkey is “planting mines” in Syria that may come back to haunt it.

al-monitor Turkish soldiers patrol on the Turkish-Syrian border near the village of Reyhanli in Hatay province, southern Turkey October 12, 2012. Photo by REUTERS/Osman Orsal.

Topics covered

syrian crisis, syria crisis, kurdistan

Oct 17, 2012

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said that the Syrian government does not support the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in an interview he gave to the Turkish daily Aydinlik.

There is an incident that I never forget. Twenty years ago, we were preparing a TV show called "The 32nd Day" with my colleague, Mehmet Ali Birand. Birand went to Damascus for an interview with then-Syrian Foreign Minister Farouq Sharaa.

Before that interview, he interviewed PKK founding member Abdullah Ocalan in a flat located in the suburbs of Damascus. He recorded the interview with a hand-held camera and brought this tape with him to his interview with Sharaa.

During the interview, Birand asked Sharaa why Ocalan was allowed to stay in Syria. The minister pretended to be surprised by the question and said: “This is the first time I have heard this name Ocalan. I don't think he is in Damascus.”

Birand responded, “I interviewed him just now, here are the video tapes,” and showed Sharaa the tape. After the interview, when the cameras were turned off, Shara told Birand that if he had spoken the truth, there would have been a lot of problems.

Remember how upset we were because Damascus was supporting Ocalan? According to French press reports, this is exactly what Turkey is doing against Syria today. In the back streets of Adana, negotiations on money and weapons are held with the members of the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists who are fighting in Syria.

With Ankara’s support, Qatar and Saudi Arabia are preparing for a post-Assad Syria. The Turkish Foreign Ministry should tell us about this. I can tell you the explanation we will hear from Turkish officials: “This is the first time we have heard these rumors. We don't think they are in Adana.”

And when the cameras are turned off, they would probably say: “If we had spoken the truth, there would have been a lot of problems.”

You can see this as realpolitik. You can say “they did the same to us, now it is time for revenge.” You can justify this as saying: “This is not the same thing. There is a dictatorial regime in Damascus.”

However, if you distance yourself from all this, you will see that we are doing the same thing that caused us to suffer for many years — that is, planting mines in the backyard of our neighbor. When we arm the Muslim Brothers in bargaining sessions in Adana, how can we criticize Erbil for not taking on the PKK in the Kandil Mountains, and Damascus for nourishing the PKK?

Let's leave the ethical aspect of this issue aside and discuss whether this strategy has pragmatic benefits or not — What did Syria gain from its support of the PKK?

It might have harmed Turkey, which it perceived as a hostile country, through strengthening the PKK, yet its own Kurds then fell under the its influence. They started seeking ways to separate from Syria. As they say, “People in glass houses should not throw stones.”

What will Turkey gain by supporting the Muslim Brothers today and being their neighbor tomorrow?

Turkey will gain what Syria gained from supporting the PKK. The organization would first harm their neighbor and turn around and radicalize its home country.

This would mean confronting the United States, the European Union, Russia and Iran altogether and opening the way to radicalization internally and in the region.

Had the strategy to provoke armed rebellion in our neighboring country worked, Assad would not be in the position he is in today.

Can we gain anything by emulating his methods out of anger? This question should be asked of those who were calling Assad their brother and signing cooperation agreements with him even they knew that he was a dictator, not to those who were labeled as Baathists just because they stood against the war. They are the ones who know their “brother” best.

Continue reading this article by registering at no cost and get unlimited access to:
  • Al-Monitor Archives
  • The Week in Review
  • Exclusive Events
  • Invitation-only Briefings

More from  Can Dundar