“Are Middle East radicals targeting Turkey?”
Just for a moment, Wednesday’s attack against the Ottoman Empire’s 400 hundred year old seat of power, the Topkapi Palace, brought this question to the minds of many Turks. A Libyan gunman opened fire after declaring “I am Syria.” At the same moment that police were trying to stop him, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu was announcing Turkey’s new sanctions against the Syrian government.
Nine new areas of sanctions made a clear distinction between the Assad regime in Damascus and the civilian population of Syria. Syrian assets in Turkey have been frozen, while travel restrictions to the members of the ruling regime and an arms embargo have been introduced. The question on many lips now is: will Turkey go one step further and launch a military operation against Syria?
Professor Mesut Hakkı Caşın from the Yeditepe University in Istanbul believes that the international conjuncture is not convenient for such an action. He says: “Turkey seems to be cooperating with the Arab League for sanctions. But Turkey did not cut the flow of water, food and electricity; Turkey learnt lessons from Iraq and Libya. And now Turkey is pursuing a wait-and-see policy. Russia is an important factor in this equation: if NATO, the UN and other international organisations decide to intervene, then Turkey will use its weight. The most important point for Turkey is preventing the establishment of a de-facto Kurdish entity in Syria. The Turkish Foreign Ministry and General Staff is very careful on this. In the past we supported Kurdish pashmarga in Iraq, but the gun turned on us. We must be very cautious. Turkey is not after anyone’s territory.”
Chairman of the Center for Strategic Communication and former AK Party MP Suat Kınıklıoğlu is also cautious on the subject. He told Euronews that “Turkey’s priority is a regime change in Syria by internal dynamics. If this does not happen Turkey has responsibilities as a neighbour. Turkey will do its part according to international norms and decisions, and will stay within the limits of international legitimacy.”
Former Turkish Ambassador Volkan Vural is more critical to Turkey’s Middle East policy. He warns officials not to get involved in Arab matters more than is necessary. “Turkey is not an Arab nation. If there is going to be an intervention against Syria, let Arabs do it. Turkey does not have to join in any military action against Syria. If we do it it will be perceived as ‘Turkey intervening Arab matters’ and it will have negative consequences in the long run.”
According to many experts, the best option for Turkey is to wait and see, support the internal dynamics against the current regime and remain part of international negotiations on the subject. However Turkey cannot join a European Union meeting despite the invitation from UK, France and Germany. Greek Cypriots blocked Davutoglu’s participation in the EU foreign ministers meeting on Syria. “This is shame on Europe,” said Mr. Kiniklioglu, “I don’t know if we should still name Europe as a ‘Union’. It is Europe’s loss, we could contribute to this meeting and make it more meaningful.”