Sunday,22 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1150, 29 May - 5 June 2013
Sunday,22 July, 2018
Issue 1150, 29 May - 5 June 2013

Ahram Weekly

Syrian headache for Erdogan

Turkish policy on the conflict in neighbouring Syria was plunged into further disarray this week by twin bombings in the village of Reyhanlõ, writes Sayed Abdel-Maguid

Al-Ahram Weekly

For a while it looked as if Turkish anxieties over events across the border in Syria had begun to abate somewhat. But suddenly the twin bombing in Reyhanlõ has triggered anger and once again cast to the fore the question as to when and to what extent Syrian troubles will spread into or become endemic in Turkey.

Against the backdrop of political tensions in Turkey, it was to be expected that the opposition would seize upon the Reyhanlõ attack — another episode in a series of attacks that have targeted women, children, the elderly and other civilians — to lash out against the ruling Turkish Justice and Development Party (AKP).

Opposition forces hold the government responsible for the incident, and they claim to possess documents and evidence, the substance or nature of which they have not disclosed, establishing “beyond a shadow of a doubt” that the two booby-trapped cars that exploded in the small village in Hatay province were the work of the Al-Nusra Front, an Al-Qaeda affiliate operating in Syria against the Al-Assad regime.

According to such “evidence”, the vehicles were actually intended to target US bases in the vicinity, but their lethal charges went off ahead of schedule, killing 51 Turkish citizens and injuring 100 others, some of whom are in critical condition. From the outset, Ankara laid the blame for the bombings on the Al-Assad regime.

The Republican People’s Party (CHP), the major opposition party in Turkey, then unleashed an even more powerful salvo against the AKP. CHP Vice President Gÿrsel Tekin stated that Washington had alerted the government of Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Recep Erdogan to the danger of the terrorist groups and cautioned it to distance itself from them.

Tekin’s implication was that Erdogan and his party had been so single-minded in their determination to bring down the Al-Assad government that they had been supporting extremists in Syria who had declared their loyalty to Al-Qaeda.

If such allegations prove true, they will put paid to the government’s claim that those responsible for the Reyhanlõ attacks and two other incidents last year were members of the Turkish radical left in the pay of Syrian intelligence. They would also cast a shadow of suspicion over the dragnet that led to the arrest of 12 individuals, two of whom are reported to have been members of the CHP delegation that met with Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad two months ago in Damascus.

The 12 detainees face charges of criminal conspiracy and carrying out foreign agendas on Turkish soil. Investigations are still in progress.

Political temperatures in Turkey climbed further after Kemal Kiliçdaroglu, head of the Republican People’s Party, likened Erdogan to Al-Assad. In a statement issued while he was in Brussels to attend a conference of European socialists in mid-May, the CHP leader said that “between Al-Assad and Erdogan, there is only a difference of shades”, implying that both were dictatorial.

The Turkish prime minister has sued Kiliçdaroglu for slander and is seeking YTL one million ($550,000) in compensation.

However, the present political acrimony is not over nothing, and there is a crisis that Turkish decision-makers need to deal with swiftly and effectively before it reaches the point where it could rock the stability that has helped lure the investments that have generated the country’s economic boom.

On Monday before last, Turkish authorities succeeded in defusing a bomb in the border area, but the very fact that it existed heightened fears of a wave of bomb attacks in Turkey. In the face of mounting pressures and in an attempt to revive dwindling public confidence, the ruling AKP has begun the construction of a 2.5km-long double wall at a border crossing with Syria in order to increase security along the frontier.

The authorities have also closed some border crossings and installed bomb detectors. It is hoped that such heightened security measures will prevent repetitions of the Reyhanlõ tragedy.

Meanwhile, Hatay Governor Celalettin Guvenc has announced the introduction of a new service in an information and education centre for Syrian refugees in Ganlõurfa, another province that borders with Syria.

While the news of the new service was not unusual, what he said next was significant. “What I hope is that our Syrian guests will send their children [to the centre], so that there will be no interruption in their education, as it is not yet clear when they will be able to return to their country,” the governor commented.

With respect to the situation in Syria, he said, it was important that “everyone knows where others stand, and whether they are with the right or with injustice, or with massacres or against the slaughter of innocent people.” He added that when such events were over, the truth would emerge for all to see.

As a provincial governor, and not a local mayor, Guvenc is a government appointee rather than an elected official, which means that his statements reflect the official position.

His statement highlighted the current predicament of Ankara, since its policies towards Syria appear to be undermining the government, but there seems to have been little alternative but to take one step forwards and then move two back.

What the governor (and by extension the ruling party) has said is effectively a frank admission that the government’s expectations have failed and its repeated predictions that the fall of the Baathist regime in Syria is just around the corner have been off the mark. As the situation stands, not only will the instability in the border area continue, but it may gradually creep inwards into the heart of Anatolia itself.

Turkish dailies have begun to sound the alarm, if cautiously, and Erdogan’s recent meeting at the White House failed to produce the results he had been seeking, testified to by the growing differences between Ankara and Washington over the question of military intervention in Syria.

Although the Turkish prime minister had hoped to win US President Barack Obama over to the military option, he was ultimately forced to acknowledge that Washington had discarded it. Moreover, Obama prevailed upon Erdogan to pursue the diplomatic option as the only solution and to put his weight behind the forthcoming Geneva II conference.

Erdogan grudgingly agreed, and in order not to make this appear as a total retreat his aides stated that he had obtained an American assurance that there would be a timeframe for this course so that it would not drag on indefinitely.

Will Obama be able to follow through on this assurance? More importantly, at this stage it might be rightly asked who is winning in the complex and confusing Turkish-Syrian quandary — Erdogan and the AKP, or Al-Assad and his Baathist regime?

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