The most important parameter showing that there has been a successful end to the transitional process in Syria will come when the country holds sound, transparent, and just elections. Turkey has an important responsibility to see that Syria is reconstructed in line with the will of its people. At the time this article was being written, the dignified struggle of the Syrian people in their revolt against the government of Bashar al-Assad had been going for 584 days.
One must regretfully state that the revolutionary operations, under way since 15 March 2011 and carrying on up till now, have now finally turned into a civil war. The main reason for this is the unwillingness of the Western arm of the international community to intervene. In its principal member, the USA, the Obama administration, would like a withdrawal from conflict zones.
This outcome stems from a number of factors: mounting economic difficulties for the people of that country, a growing belief that the USA will not be able to solve the problems of the Middle East, and psychological weariness that derives from losses in Iraq and Afghanistan. With the Americans not exercising leadership, the Europeans have also kept their distance from the Syrian problem leaving the field to Turkey along with Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
Although Obama won the presidential elections, no major changes are expected in the USA’s Syrian policy has meant that in the last few weeks attention has once more focussed on solutions from within the region. Actually Turkey has been emphasizing the need for the region to take charge since the outset but as is generally known, Iran, Maliki’s Iraq, and Hezbollah strongly opposed this and as a result the regional cooperation outcome Turkey hoped for could not be achieved.
As Iranian officials have put it when talking to their Turkish counterparts “We have a sick man on our hands, you are trying to kill him but he won’t die while we are trying to make him get better, but he also doesn’t.” If one adds to this the fact that Turkey’s relations with Syria, Iran, and Russia have got steadily more tense in recent months, it grows even clearer that a quest for a regional solution is needed.
It is not yet apparent whether the existing regional initiatives will produce a result or not but the ant-Assad bloc with countries like Turkey and countries which support him both need to review their positions once more and reach a compromise.
Turkey is one actor in the situation which feels a close personal threat and it consequently wants a quick transition to a reasonable and acceptable solution. Questions about how 100,000 Syrian refugees in the camps can be accommodated under winter conditions and separate logistical and humanitarian issues will come on to the agenda. Starting from this, it may be understood that time is not going to work in Turkey’s favour. Turkish public opinion is displaying insensitivity over Syria which is hard to understand: with the slogan “No to War” it is playing into the Assad regime’s hands. True Turkey is grappling with innumerable internal problems and has still not been able to solve the Kurdish problem and is confronted by an act of terrorism every day and so, sadly, it does not display the patience and understanding required by a humanitarian drama like that of Syria. With internal political pressure and criticism combining with the course of events in Syria, the need grows for a change of policy directed at compromise with the bloc that supports Assad.
A tricky equation
On basic principles, our policies are right and just. Turkey supports democracy and human rights for Syria and it wants a normal form of government to come into being there with Syria administrators being elected in free and transparent elections. At the same time, Turkey attaches importance to protecting the rights of the minorities in Syria and supports giving guarantees for their existence to the ancient populations living there.
Neither the Syrian people nor sensitive Turks will forget the barbarous and savage attacks by the Assad administration on its own people. However the revolutionaries in Syria are victims of the international conjuncture and the countries like Turkey which are giving them support have been left on their own. The people of Syria will not forget the help Syria has given to the revolutionaries and it will remember the protection offered to the refugees. The people of Syria will certainly never allow themselves to lose sight of the fact that it was Turkey that took the side the people being bombed by their own air forces, shot down as they came out of Friday prayers, and exposed to countless cruelties.
Turkey’s Syria policy is also an interesting experiment as regards the interplay between values and interests, one which displays its sensitivities and values. From the point of view of those making foreign policy and in particular for the circles which give importance to fundamental values, the insensitivity and timidity of the West in Syria cause great disappointment. In the wake of its experience over Syria, it should not be hard to predict that from now on it will be much harder for Turkey to make a stand on moral issues. In the upcoming period, one should expect that the voices stressing only cold national advantage will be much more numerous.
From now on, the point the key point in Syria, the one which links together the all that is happening in the region is whether Assad will still be in office or not during the transition period. If regional actors can reach a compromise on this matter, it may be possible for the transitional period to be relatively easier on other matters. If a regional solution can be achieved, it is difficult to envisage what the regional role of the USA or the West in general will be in relation to it. It is clear that a regional consensus would not increase the influence and importance of the USA in the Middle East. If the regional consensus takes shape supported by Russia, we must expect that Moscow will once more try to find a following in the region. I would expect that the USA and the EU will both try to strengthen their positions during the reconstruction of Syria by making practical support and credits available but the effect of this is likely to be limited. I believe that if the new Syria does want to open up to Europe and the West, the role of Turkey and the EU will become more important and Syria will naturally form closer links with the Turkish economy. We can already observer a parallel process at work in Iraqi Kurdistan. I also believe that Turkey has an important role to play in the rebuilding of Syria and that the Turkish and Syrian economies will become more integrated. In the final analysis, while wishing for an end as soon as possible to the drama going on in Syria, I hope that the regional actors involved will reach a compromise come what may and that this beautiful country will once more attain stability. The most important parameter showing that there has been a successful end to the transitional process in Syria will come when the country holds sound, transparent, and just elections. Turkey has an important responsibility to see that Syria is reconstructed in line with the will of its people.