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Where is Turkey heading?

By Ayşe Sozen | 13 Oct 2012

Five civil Turkish citizens were murdered in the small town of Akcakale adjacent to Syrian border by the shelling from Syrian side on October,3. Turkey has promptly launched retaliatory shelling over Syria on the same day and called The Turkish Parliament for an urgent session, on the next day, to authorize the Turkish troops for cross border operations in Syria.

“Where is Turkey heading” has become all the more important question since the last week then? Will Turkey battle with Syria? Or is she only intimidating the Syrian regime?

In fact the Turkish authorities do not want to involve in the Syrian crisis on their own. They have been calling international community upon taking a legal initiative on Syria since the crisis blowout. Yet both the UN and NATO have been indifferent to involve in for respective reasons.

Even the recent shelling which displayed the seriousness of the situation on the Turkish-Syrian border could not evoke the Turkish allies to support Turkey against the Bessar-Assad regime. They rather preferred to condemn Syrian regime only by lower voices. Now Turkey is in the middle of the crisis.

Turkey has been eager to support Syrian opposition since the beginning of the crisis. For Turkey the Arab spring was the authentic mobilization of the Arab people and their claim for dignity against the authoritarian regimes. When the spark of events in Tunisia spilled over Syria, Turkey viewed the developments as the inevitable fate of Syria. Although the opposition in Syria was small and ineffective Turkey opted for supporting that messy opposition. She provided psychological, physical, and logistic support both for activists and for overall Syrian people. Nevertheless, hundreds of ethnically, religiously and politically diverse groups could not manage to constitute a single opposition and continued to play off in accordance with the iron rule of ‘balance of powers’. In fact, many of them changed their ranks during the crisis.

The developments that Turkey viewed as the normalization of history have not continued as normal. In June 2 Turkish soldiers were killed when a Turkish military flight was kicked down by Syria. Later 2 Syrian was killed in the borders of Turkey by the shoot from the Syrian side. And finally 5 Turkish civilian were killed by the shelling from Syrian side culminated in the escalation of tensions between Turkey and the Assad regime. To most, Turkey is on the eve of war with Syria now. But the question is “will Turkey battle with Assad’s troops in Syria?”. The answer is unlikely “Yes”.

If Turkey has an intention to wage war with Syria, she already knows she is invited to a ‘dirty dancing’. Three possible encounters to fight with Turkey will be waiting for: 1. “uncontrolled” militant groups. 2. The Kurds, and 3. Iran.

Firstly, Turkey is now facing a problem of uncontrolled armed groups. Turkey’s activism in supporting Syrian National Council (SNC) and Free Syrian Army(FSA) prevailed with its provision of logistic support since the beginning. Turkey helped SNC and FSA to be organized and to hold meetings in Istanbul. During the process the Sunni camp in the larger region seemed behind Turkey. Saudi Arabia and Katar particularly helped to arm opposition groups and provided financial support. In time plenty of armed groups emerged in the region. Many of them have been observed as jihadists that have connections with al-Qaida from Caucasus, Yemen, Libya, etc. America withdrew its support due to the fear of extremism and leaned on other initiatives like pan-Arabist and secular groups that are organized in Egypt.

Now, some of those uncontrolled groups are already waiting for diverting rifle ballers to another direction if they will not be receiving the same support that they did so far. The targets of those might be changed if their interests are not protected. After the shelling, for instance, the spokesperson of the Assad regime pointed out the illegal weapon trafficking on the border and implied ‘militant groups’ as the responsible for the shelling.

Secondly, the Kurdish question insight Syrian crisis hides a lot in terms of Turkey’s concerns in the region. Interestingly enough the Kurds holds threat against Turkey in both cases of the maintenance of the Assad’s regime or its collapse. If the Assad regime proceeds it will continue to exploit the Kurds against Turkey and to provide support to PKK. On the other hand, if Assad regime falls down the Kurds will obtain autonomy on the Turkish border. Meanwhile the PKK would already have had a base for its operations in the boundaries of the newly emerging Kurdish autonomy. Each cases force Turkey to take cautions, to create a buffer zone on the border and to confront Turkey with the Kurds.

Finally, Iran is waiting for protecting its strategic ally and declares its commitment to fight against any aggressive attempt in Syria. For Iran and its Shii allies the Syrian crisis is not only the question of anti-democratic Baas regime. It is rather an attempt to break ‘the resistance line’ –against American and Western imperialism- in the region. Therefore, its primary policy continues to be “one for all, all for one” in the region.

In sum, if Turkey engages in any war in Syria Assad stands only as a screen saver in front of it. But the abovementioned groups might be standing at attention. Moreover, Turkey is possibly in a contemporary type of war with them.