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Turkey – Syria: Let’s Not Be Taken In By The Bluster – OpEd


By E. Fuat Keyman


Turkey should not allow itself to be taken in. It should not be considering a military intervention in Syria, that is to say moving from soft power to the use of hard military power.

The main areas of risk for Turkey in 2012 are Iraq and Syria in foreign policy and the Kurdish question in domestic politics. They are all difficult problems and 2012 will be a tough year for Turkey. In dealing with these areas of risk, and particularly Syria, Turkey has to take intelligent decisions, ones which reflect close knowledge of its own transformational power and capacity, without allowing itself to be taken in by the bluster. Although the Iraqi, Syrian and Kurdish problems have their divergences and particular features, they are interconnected and interlinked problems.

The Kurdish problem

The Kurdish problem is one which runs across Iraq, Syria and Turkey. Developments, whether favorable or unfavorable, in any one of these countries have an impact on the others. Questions about the political status of Kurds within Iraq and Syria in the future, and how that will affect the position of the Kurds in Turkey, directly influence both Turkey and its foreign policy actions.

The future of these countries and their possible shift from a unitary state structure to a more federal one, allowing regional autonomy, and the possible emergence of a Kurdish state on these legal bases are very important inputs for Turkey and its foreign policy.

The creation of an independent state inside these countries could be either good or bad for Turkey. The distinction between favorable development and risk will determine how Turkey will resolve its own internal Kurdish problem and how a major agreement with its own Kurdish citizens will be reached. At the same time, the difference between favorable development and a risky one is connected to how Turkey itself approaches the Iraqi and Syrian problems and what it will do.


Over Iraq, Turkey has recently obviously demonstrated that it acts on a basis that is above sectarianism and is focused on human beings. It has established good relations not just with the Sunnis, but also with the Kurds and Shias, and maintains an equal distance from them. To the international community Turkey’s foreign policy appears humanitarian and supportive of the Iraqi people. Turkey will not give in to bluster and be taken in over Iraq. It is acting consistently. The vision behind its foreign policy toward Syria must contain a clear road map designed to ensure that a post-Assad Syria is organized on the basis of social unity, democracy, and prosperity and that it transcends divisions of sect and ethnicity.

Syrian Problem

Syria is a problem for which the solution is going to be tough. On one hand we are up against the violence created by the Assad regime, and on the other hand we face human tragedy. Syria is a country in which about 11,000 people have lost their lives, and more than 13,000 have taken refuge in Turkey. Tens of thousands live subject to torture and the possibility of being detailed, and 250,000 people have been forced to move. Leaving its oppressive regime to one side, Syria has a young population in which unemployment is high, and has a social structure marked by poverty, ethnic diversity, and religion-based identity. However, it is a critically important country. If Syria were to be dismembered or plunged into civil war, the effects would upset the balance of power throughout the Middle East, with Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria as the countries most immediately affected. Despite all the appeals directed to them to revise their policies, the Assad regime is supported by Iran, Russia, and China for their own geopolitical and economic advantages, and so it has managed to continue to exist in 2012.

We know that the Arab Spring has arrived at a point today where all authoritarian and repressive regimes have to go. Turkey, America, and Europe are calling out with loud voices that Assad’s days are numbered and that he should go. President Abdullah Gül has proposed the “Yemeni model,” saying that it is necessary to put an offer on the table for Assad and his family to be given guarantees and the choice of a place to go, provided that the regime changes. However, the regime is resisting. Assad will undoubtedly go but when and how? These are questions that still go unanswered.

Intelligent, realistic, and consistent foreign policy

On this matter, Turkey stands alone. Perhaps for the first time in the history of imperialism, both America and Europe are not just without influence: they have no capacity. The U.S. and Europe are both preoccupied with internal matters, both because of the economic crisis and because their domestic politics are dominated by elections. The Arab Spring and in particular the problem of Syria take place not in the context of imperialism, but its opposite—at the intersection of the global leadership crisis and the global economic crisis.

Until now, Turkey has consistently taken up a place beside the people of the Arab Spring and on the side of change, in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, other countries and now Syria. The Arab Spring is a process for change that arose not as an imperialist game, but in the context of a historical intersection of the crises of global leadership and the global economic crisis, and takes as its basis the popular demands for employment, prosperity, security, responsible government, transparency, economic development, and democracy.

Military intervention very risky

We may observe that developments like the Arab Spring or parallels to it are happening in Europe and the U.S. The internal actors in places affected by the Arab Spring and in particular Islamic participants can see this reality. Islamic players are steadily becoming more pragmatic and seeing that Sharia law is not realistic. They grasp the importance of democracy for their own futures. The Arab Spring, if it is to succeed, will produce structures based not on religious fundamentalism but on democracy and just governmental structures.

Amidst all these realities, Turkey must not be taken in by the uproar. It should not consider military intervention or options that involve utilizing anything beyond soft power and making the transition to the use of military force. True, if the Assad regime continues, it will mean an increase in human tragedy and the risk of civil war in Syria. However, what needs to be done in the face of this risk is to make constructive proposals, and there should be no hinting of a military intervention.

To conclude, military intervention could be very risky for Turkey. Turkey should proceed with its policy of assisting the opposition and resistance with humanitarian assistance and using its power intelligently on the basis of “soft power.” While doing this, it can strengthen its diplomatic relations with Russia, the Iraqi Kurds, Barzani, and Iran, and it can help these players get used to the idea that the post-Assad period will be more stable.


JTW - the Journal of Turkish Weekly - is a respected Turkish news source in English language on international politics. Established in 2004, JTW is published by Ankara-based Turkish think tank International Strategic Research Organization (USAK).

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