Discomfort in Ankara
Amid reports of US activity in southeastern Anatolia and discontent among Turkey's Kurds, the government in Ankara has been fighting to keep up with events, writes Sayed Abdel-Maguid in Ankara
One of the Syrian regime's latest vituperations against Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been to describe him as a "damned Ottoman Seljuk who's plotting to restore the caliphate," though Erdogan himself has been unruffled by the curses as he presses ahead with his goal of toppling the Al-Assad regime.
In this aim, Erdogan has the support of influential Arab parties that have opened their coffers to help arm the Syrian opposition and the backing of the US. Meanwhile, the Syrian opposition has been gaining ground in the Syrian capital Damascus and elsewhere in the country, enjoying the fruit of better funding, equipment and logistical and other support.
According to reports in the Turkish press, the US embassy in Ankara, in coordination with the consulate in Adana in southeast Anatolia, has been planning military operations against the Baathist regime in Syria with the knowledge of the Turkish government.
Citing reports in the French magazine l'Express, Turkish newspapers say that large numbers of trucks have been coming out of the long-inactive Incirlik military base laden with arms for distribution among factions of the Syrian opposition in the border zones.
US ambassador to Turkey Francis Ricciardone also recently attended a secret meeting in the Adana consulate, at which consul Daria Darnell briefed participants on the progress of military operations in Syria and the latest developments.
On 30 July, Aydynlyk, a Turkish opposition daily, said that the Obama administration was trying to convince Turkish public opinion that Turkish forces should enter Syria in order to retaliate against the downing of the Turkish F-4 reconnaissance plane by Syrian missiles in June.
There has been a certain irony in holding such meetings in Adana, since 14 years ago it was the venue for a landmark reconciliation between the regime of Hafez Al-Assad, the present Syrian president's father, and the secularist rulers in Ankara.
Today, the town has become a staging post for toppling the regime of Al-Assad's successor at the hands of the neo-Islamists who have been in power Turkey for the last decade.
Events have been moving quickly, with the result that it has been difficult to predict what the next day, or hour, will bring. In Ankara, the government has been closely monitoring developments in Syria, while Turkish military reinforcements have been deployed along the border.
On 30 July, Turkish television aired footage of heavily guarded military convoys moving from Kilis in Gaziantep towards the border with Syria. In addition to military vans, there were also armoured vehicles, tanks and mobile missile launchers.
Turkish officials have stated that the military buildup along the border is designed as a precaution against the possibly catastrophic fallout from Aleppo, where the Syrian army appears determined to recapture territory gained by the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA).
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has warned of an impending massacre in Syria's northern capital, where the regime has unleashed a combined air and land assault.
The attack was proof of the Syrian regime's brutality, Davutoglu said, appealing to the international community to take a firm and united stand against what he called a drive to punish people collectively for their revolt against the al-Assad regime.
Because of Aleppo's proximity to the Turkish border, the Turkish military has wanted to take such precautions, though it may also have wanted to step up its presence since flags of the separatist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) have appeared on walls and lampposts in Qamishli and other Syrian towns and villages along the Turkish border, as well as pictures of PKK leader Abdallah ├ñcalan.
These have been accompanied by banners calling for ├ñcalan's release from prison in Imraly, an island in the Sea of Marmara, where he has been serving a life sentence since February 1999. There are also pictures of the Kurdish separatists who have died in battles against Turkish forces in southeastern Anatolia.
According to the Turkish newspaper H├╝rriyet on 27 July, the PKK has been taking advantage of the warfare between the forces of the Al-Assad regime and the Free Syrian Army in order to accomplish its aim of establishing an independent Kurdish entity.
The alarm in Ankara has been heightened by the fact that the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party, linked to the PKK, now controls the border area.
Given the predominantly Kurdish population just across the border, it is not difficult to imagine the panic that has struck Turkish hyper-nationalists and their unflagging veneration for "one nation, one language, one flag and one indivisible land" in Turkey.
Erdogan himself has been clear that Turkey will not allow Kurdish separatist elements to control the border areas. "We cannot turn a blind eye to the cooperative relations between the separatist PKK and their separatist peers in Syria," he has said, going on to warn that any partition of Syrian territory could aggravate the sectarian conflict in Syria, in turn having dangerous repercussions for Turkey.
Erdogan has been adamantly opposed to any political or ethnic restructuring of northern Syria and has stressed that Turkey has the right to intervene there in the interests of "safeguarding the integrity of Turkish territory from terrorism."
Another indication of how disturbed Turkish officials have been by the situation in Qamishli is the visit Davutoglu plans to make to northern Iraq in the next few days, the purpose being to convey Ankara's disapproval of recent statements made by Massoud Barzani, leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, to the effect that Syrian Kurds have been trained in Iraqi Kurdistan and sent back into Syria.
In spite of the Iraqi Kurdish region's strong relations with the ruling Justice and Development Party in Ankara, apparently it has needed to forge a separate course in view of the conflict between it and the Al-Maliki government in Baghdad.
Apparently, too, the Iraqi Kurds do not feel that they have to keep their Turkish ally informed on everything they do with regard to the fulfilment of the eternal dream of a purely Kurdish nation that would gather up the Kurdish diaspora.
Ankara is very uncomfortable with that dream, and it does not like being kept out of the loop. As a result, it has translated its discomfort into a display of military muscle, with a squadron of Turkish F-16 fighters soaring towards the Iraq border and then returning to make way for giant Cobra helicopters, which took off from the 36th border command regiment base on the outskirts of Emdinli.
Later, there were reports of aerial bombardments coming from areas near the Iraqi border.
To add to its discomfort, the Erdogan government is not getting the support it would like on the home front, with Kemal Kyly├ž Daraoglu, leader of the opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), reiterating his party's belief that Turkey is sliding down a slippery slope the West has created in order to mire Turkey in Syria.
Daraoglu has said that the Turkish people have no desire to enter into war with anyone and has cautioned against the consequences of any outbreak of sectarian strife in Syria.