Syria will drag down Turkey
29 June 2012
Turkey is being pushed into a role which will recoil on it unless it rethinks its policy in West Asia.
For decades Ankara has been trying in vain to join the European Union. "European Civilization was essentially Christian" proclaimed French Statesmen, Giscard d'Estaing. Turkey, being Muslim, had no role in that club. And now the same interests are mobilizing Turkey for their plans in West Asia.
For years Rauf Denktash argued the Turkish Cypriot case for joint management with the Greek half. Once the issue was close to resolution under the Annan plan. At the last minute, Turkey was ditched. Greek Cypriots were given EU membership. There was always a certain shoddiness with which the West treated Turkey.
Of course, the Turks extracted a great deal of good in trying to measure up to EU standards. The economy, environment, civic amenities, tourism - everything improved. Turkey began to register growth in all spheres.
Imagine Greece, mother of Western Civilization, on its knees next door. TV pictures of middle class office goers looking into garbage bins to retrieve whatever is of value - old newspapers for instance.
These are telling images. The contrast with an economically and politically secure Turkey, just across the Aegean Sea is even more galling.
It is universally acknowledged that President Lula da Silva in Brazil and Prime Minister Tayyep Erdogan are two of the most charismatic leaders whose popularity has been reflected in their successive electoral returns. Erdogan's vote share has risen from 36 percent to, 42% to 50%.
But according to Turkish law, Erdogan cannot seek a fourth term. At this time, therefore, the internal political situation in Turkey has livened up.
With quickening politics, should Erdogan be seen to be losing momentum in the next political season, there are enough internal and external interests which can join hands to check, even reverse, mild Islamism in favour of mild Kemalism with which they are more comfortable.
Historically adversarial relations between Turkey and Europe suggest the West would not lose sleep if Turkey were to stumble.
Erdogan had at the outset spelt out his goal as building a nation at peace with all its neighbours. What we have instead is Turkey embroiled in conflicts all around. Something is going out of control.
Although neighbouring Iraq did not become three distinct states as Peter Galbraith had predicted, the semi-autonomous status of Iraqi Kurdistan was the sort of status quo custom made for Turkey. South East Turkey was virtually indistinguishable from Kurdish Iraq. Turkish business was booming. The assembly house in Arbil, airport in Suleimaniyah were being built by Turkish businessmen.
By offering itself on an anti Assad plank, Turkey has exposed itself as a target for Kurdish militancy in which Syria, Iraq and Iran can all join hands.
Kemal Pasha Ataturk had by an edict transformed Turkey into a nation of Turks. No other entity existed. Gradually, a Kurdish entity has been accepted. Likewise, the Alawites. There is a silent but substantial Alawite minority in Turkey.
Should the Sunni-Alawite conflict grow in Syria, Turkey will not remain untouched.
Turkish co-operation with the US has been mutually beneficial in the Balkans. The creation of a Muslim state of Kosovo is very much a joint US-Turkish project. A great deal of this co-ordination is despite Russian opposition. Russia has Slavic plus the Eastern Orthodox Church links with the Balkans. In fact, the Orthodox Church links are very strong with Greece too.
Turkish role in trying to dethrone Assad would provoke Russia coming in directly in the eastern Mediterranean, ofcourse, where oil and gas on vast scales are in the bargain.
What should worry Turkey more is Russia pressing on other pressure points. Recently thousands of citizens of Mitrovica, a Serbian dominated district of Kosovo bordering Serbia, sought Russian citizenship!
Turkey is playing a role with Iran and with the Arab world. The latter conjures up images of the Ottoman Empire, anathema with Arabs. Erdogan's visceral Islamism impels him to help likeminded groups in the Arab world. This raises the hackles of closet Kemalists in Turkey.
Iran, Israel, new Egypt are all new and complicated arenas, traversing which could cause Erdogan to fall flat. What Turkey needs is to revert to a policy of peace with all its neighbour. CIA Special Forces operating from Turkey will harm Turkey more than they will Syria.
(The writer is a Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation)