By By Harriet Fildes
JTW Interview with Assoc. Prof. Selçuk Çolakoğlu from USAK
USAK security expert, Selçuk Çolakoğlu, discussed the destructive and enduring conflict in Syria and the security dilemma it poses to international involvement and Syria’s neighbouring countries, particularly Turkey.
Given the request for Patriot missiles, what is Turkey’s prospective role in this crisis and how has Turkey been affected so far?
The situation in Syria has been getting increasingly serious day by day, whether or not it is a full-scale civil war. Each city has become a battleground between the free Syrian army and the regime forces. Thus, the Syrian crisis has become more than a national crisis or a crisis between the government and the opposition.
Syria as a whole has become a troubled neighbour, threatening Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and also Iraq. It has become a source of de-stabilisation for the region and the clashes between government and opposition forces are causing casualties and damages in Syria’s neighbouring countries.
In this sense, nobody can say that Syria has been experiencing a national crisis, this is at least a regional crisis. Turkey is suffering most in terms of the regional effects of the crisis. Turkey has a 800-kilometer-long border with Syria, and there is a flood of Syrian refugees coming into Turkey, with the number currently standing at around 130,000 people.
During the last few months, there have been intense clashes throughout Turkish-Syrian border towns, leading to the loss of at least five Turkish citizens’ lives. Life in Turkish border towns has become abnormal and the citizens are suffering increasingly from these clashes, impelling the Turkish government to take measures to combat this issue.
From the start of the crisis one and a half years ago, Turkey has had no option to pursue direct confrontation with the Syrian government. Ideally, Turkey would involve the U.N. but it is impossible because of the Russian and Chinese objections in the United Nations Security Council.
The second option Turkey is pursuing to end the civil war is to further NATO involvement in Syria. There is a need for countries to intervene but they are reluctant to do so in the Syrian crisis and thus, we cannot see a unified NATO position against the Syrian regime like in Libya.
In this situation, the Turkish government at least wants to see solidarity from NATO-allied countries to compensate for the attacks from the Syrian regime; mortar and other attacks such as the shooting down of a Turkish fighter jet over summer. Consequently, NATO solidarity with Turkey is key for the government as Turkey has no intention of intervening unilaterally in Syria, perceiving this as an international issue.
At the same time, Turkey wants to better defend against the Syrian regime’s attacks on Turkish territory and protect Turkish airspace. During the last few weeks, Syrian fighter jets and attack helicopters have bombarded Syrian border towns just several hundred meters from the Turkish border and this has caused fear in Turkish border towns of an accidental attack from the Syrian air force.
In this sense, the deployment of Patriot missiles is a clear attempt to give a strong message to the Syrian government not to attack the border towns. It can also be read as a symbolic message to the friends of the Syrian regime that Turkey has full NATO solidarity behind it.
What are the prospects for change in this intractable situation?
The full-scale civil war in Syria has now caused a huge humanitarian crisis. Each day more than one hundred people lose their lives because of this conflict. Syria is now an international humanitarian issue rather than an international political issue.
Unfortunately, the Russian, Chinese and Iranian governments continue to give strong support to Assad’s regime which ensures its perpetuation and the continuation of the civil war.
This will not endure however. Any government who fights against its own people cannot stay in power. The Syrian air force has bombarded Syrian cities every day, including some districts in Aleppo and even Damascus. It cannot be argued that this is a war against terrorism. It is clear that the Syrian government is at war with its people.
In the current situation the current government cannot remain in power. The international community should open some offers of power transition projects, otherwise the Syrian crisis will spill even further over its borders. Already it is a regional crisis to some extent.
The Patriot missile deployment to the Turkish border is a clear sign that Russia, China and Iran should reconsider their position in the Syrian case and a compromise for a peaceful transition in Syria. In the Syrian case, Turkey’s position is very flexible and open to any kind of reconciliation.