On major foreign policy matters, Turks are generally united. On how the government should handle the crisis in neighbouring Syria, however, there is a deep division.
By Ayhan Simsek for Southeast European Times -- 04/08/12
A Free Syrian Army soldier walks past a gate leading to Turkish territory at the Bab Al-Salam border crossing. [Reuters]
Soon after Syria shot down a Turkish jet fighter on June 22th, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan invited opposition leaders for special meetings about the crisis
But the picture of unity and a new climate of co-operation between the government and opposition leaders lasted for only hours. As some details contradicted the government’s account of the incident, opposition parties started once again to openly object to the government’s policy regarding Syria.
Secular and nationalist critics accuse the government of openly supporting the Syrian opposition, risking a regional war, a new rift between Sunni and Shiite sects and opening the way for the creation of Islamist and Kurdish states in Turkey’s neighborhood.
The AK Party government, on the other hand, blames the opposition for supporting the atrocities of the Assad regime.
In Turkish blogs, a highly emotional debate often inspired by party rhetoric or conspiracy theories is evolving.
Blogger Dogan Tarkan criticised the secular and nationalist opposition for giving tacit support to the Assad regime and said he feared of creation of an Islamist state or what is perceived as resistance against imperialism.
"As [the] AKP government is enjoying good relations with Sudan nowadays, the opposition is accusing Sudan's Omar al-Bashir for genocide for war crimes. But when it comes to Assad, the opposition is regarding him as an anti-imperialist warrior," Tarkan wrote. "There is no difference between Assad and al-Bashir, both of them are dictators."
Turkey’s AKP government had enjoyed close relations with the Assad regime during the last decade. Ankara had hoped that closer relations with Syria would allow it to exert influence that would introduce a democratic and economic transition in its neighbour.
But as the anti-regime protests grew in Syria, Turkey became one of the most vocal critics of the Syrian regime, leading diplomatic initiatives and providing open support to opposition groups.
Murat Can Bayraktar is skeptical of AKP government’s policy. "The Turkish government had introduced a new foreign policy with the goal of zero problems with the neighbours. But today it faces the risk of confrontation, war with almost all of its neighbours. Today we are facing this reality," he wrote.
According to an international relations expert, Faruk Ekmekci, the current Syria debate in Turkey is highly emotional and idealistic.
"Just like all other countries, Turkey’s foreign policy is also based on interests and has no principles," he wrote. "It is therefore meaningless for Turkey to accuse Russia or Iran for being unprincipled," he said, recalling how Ankara supported Saddam regime for decades for the sake of regional stability.
Ekmekçi proposed to offer concrete proposals to countries like Russia and Iran, which will take into account their security interests, in order to win their support for a new Syria policy.
"If we can see the realist nature of Turkey’s own foreign policy, then we can better understand that it is wrong to wait for idealist policies from other countries," he wrote.
Ilhan Tanir, a foreign policy analyst who recently visited Syria, said the Turkish government should continue its harsh approach towards the Assad regime and give stronger support to the opposition, despite criticisms that Tanir called irrelevant.
"Are there no risks? Of course there are. But Turkey has become the defender of the Syrian people in the international arena. And it will have the prime responsibility in the country following the fall of the regime, which I believe will not be too far," he wrote.
According to Tanır, Turkey’s stronger involvement in Syria is necessary in order to avoid the disorder that occurred in Iraq following the fall of the Saddam Hussein. "If Turkey doesn’t want to face a similar chaos in its immediate neighborhood, it has to speed up its efforts on Syria."