Turkey split over Syria
The civil war in Syria, and Turkey's involvement in it, may come to threaten the stability of the Erdogan government, writes Sayed Abdel-Meguid in Ankara
Who exactly dragged Turkey into the Syrian quagmire? Many Turks, sceptical about their country's involvement in the civil war just across its southern borders, are now asking this question. Some blame the current Turkish involvement in Syria on the Americans. Others wonder why the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan allowed itself to be used in such a way by foreign quarters.
In the Incirlik military base in Adana, a mood of edgy anticipation is in the air. The military base has been the site of hectic activities since disturbances began in Syria. But now, a new type of disturbance, closer to home, is growing. Turkish employees in the base are planning to stage a strike, to demand better pay from the American management.
If this doesn't convince the Americans that they have to rethink their position in Turkey, then perhaps they should listen to what the protesters in Istanbul are saying. A few weeks ago, hundreds of young people from the opposition Republican People's Party (RPP) gathered in downtown Istanbul to denounce American imperialism. They claimed that the Erdogan government is allowing CIA operatives to train militants from Libya and Chechnya in camps in Hatay. The protesters, who hoisted posters of Bashar Al-Assad, claimed that the militants were getting ready to stage attacks inside Syria.
A few days ago, Kamal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the RPP, wrote a letter to Prime Minister Erdogan saying that Turkey should defend Syria's territorial integrity. Kilicdaroglu called on the government to promote efforts of reconciliation in Syria, perhaps through hosting an international conference for this purpose.
Turkey has been calling for safe havens on the borders with Syria, but no one seems to be listening. The Human Rights Commission of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference gave lip service to the idea, but no action. And the UN Security Council wasn't even prepared to discuss it.
Erdogan is convinced that Bashar Al-Assad is on his way out. The problem is when. The longer the Syrian crisis continues, the worse the fallout for Turkey.
Terrorist attacks seem to be the main curse the Turks have to cope with for now. With a wide range of Turkish separatists operating on the borders, the Turkish authorities are doing everything they can to safeguard the southern towns. Turkish intelligence has succeeded in recording phone calls by Yavuz Erdal, chief of the PKK military wing, with operatives working in Turkey, for instance. But this is hardly reassuring, considering that militants -- some of whom may have come from across the borders -- seem to be striking with impunity. A few weeks ago, 10 Turkish servicemen were killed in an attack. Turkish officials, including a parliamentarian from the Justice and Development Party (JDP), have been abducted. Not exactly a sign that "zero problems with neighbours" is working out.
Turkey has received some security help from friends. A new radar station is going to be installed atop the Keldag Mountain to monitor the Syrian borders. Six hot air balloons fitted for reconnaissance will soon be commissioned into service. And various high-tech espionage paraphernalia, including remote sensing devices and night vision cameras are being deployed on strategic points near the borders.
Despite Erdogan's zero problems policy, Iraq seems to have turned against Ankara. Nuri Al-Maliki's government, perhaps angered by the recent visit by Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu to Kirkuk, blocked Turkish companies from commercial and oil deals.
Turkish industrialist Gamal Akgan said that his company is now facing "zero profits" because of the policies of the Erdogan government.
The JDP is not only facing isolation abroad because of the situation in Turkey. Things are getting harder at home. Unless the civil war in Syria comes to an early conclusion, things are likely to get worse for the ruling party.