Regarded as a close ally of Bashar al-Assad, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been under pressure from Europe and the Americans since the start of the Syrian uprising. But it would have meant flying in the face of their traditionally good relations for Turkey to snub Syria, and Erdogan kept on insisting that Assad was his friend.
But the tide is turning. Tens of thousands of refugees have poured over the Turkish border, bringing few belongings but many tales of brutal oppression at the hands of the Syrian army, and problems for Turkish and international aid agencies.
In an interview on Turkish television on June 10, Erdogan clearly distanced himself from Bashar al-Assad, friends or otherwise
“I tell you clearly that his brother, Mahir al-Assad, the Head of the Republican Guard, reacts in an inhumane way that can only end in massacre. This concerns the UN Security Council which is already coming to the same conclusion. After all this, Turkey can not defend Syria “
Fast forward ten days and Assad’s speech makes no mention of this, sticking to his assertion that the trouble is all the work of terrorist groups.
The Foreign Minister has denounced outside interference, though speaking directly to Turkey he struck a more conciliatory note
“As I have already mentioned, we’re calling on our friends who heard the president’s speech, and who’ve turned their backs on Syria, to reconsider their response. We want the best possible relations with our Turkish neighbour.”
But rather than respond to pleas Turkey could decide its response by what happens here along the frontier. If refugees continue to cross the border in significant numbers it’s likely to be taken as a sign that all is not well in Syria.