Turkey supports the Arabs in Syria who are rebelling against Assad, so Assad – in revenge – is helping the PKK, the Turkish Kurds who are rebelling against Erdoğan. In return, the members of this Kurdish underground help the Syrian army in the difficult battle for Aleppo, and the alliance between Assad and the PKK is anathema to the Syrian Kurds, who want to overthrow him.
The Truth Comes to Light
Since the Islamic Party of Justice and Development came to power in Turkey ten years ago, it has changed the direction of foreign relations so that it faces to the East: the connections with Syria, Iraq and Iran have flourished, and Israel has paid the price. The policy of “Zero Problems” conceived by the foreign minister, Davutoğlu, was supposed to place Turkey in the role of the “responsible adult,” the regional mediator and peacemaker, who would be able to reward those under its authority with tempting economic agreements. Turkey cancelled the need for a visa for Syrian citizens, and Erdoğan and Assad were photographed together hugging and smiling. The Turkish economy flourished and had an amazing annual growth rate of 8 percent. It was all looking good, until the end of 2010.
The Iranian nuclear issue and the chain of disasters that the people of the Middle East have brought upon themselves, called the “Arab Spring,” have placed Turkey in a rather bleak situation: Iran is running afoul of the West and suffering from sanctions, and Turkey cannot function as the peacemaker and mediator between Iran and the West. Erdoğan’s suggestions to store enriched uranium in Turkey have remained undecided. The deteriorating situation in Syria is worsening internal tensions in Turkey between Kurds and Turks and between Muslims and Alawites, and causes a burden to the Turkish economy because of the arrival of approximately one hundred thousand Syrian refugees, so far. This figure might increase in the near future.
Repeated calls for the Turkish leadership to impose upon Syria a no-fly zone over the cities are not acted upon, and no one takes them seriously. Iran threatens Turkey with attack if it gets involved in Syria, despite the fact that companies in Turkey help Iran to bypass the international sanctions that are imposed upon it. Russia backs up Iran, and the United States does not volunteer to support Turkey as long as it is ruled by the Islamist party, despite agreeing to place in the area of Turkey a radar system meant to defend Europe from Iranian ballistic missiles. The complications with Israel and its refusal to apologize for killing nine Turkish citizens on the Mavi Marmara makes the Turkish leadership look weak.
The Turkish economy is weakening, foreign investments are declining, inflation is rising, Europe, also in crisis, is buying fewer products produced in Turkey and the Arab market has disappeared. Iran supplies oil and gas to Turkey, but the tension between them endangers their economic relationship. The urgent need for energy drives the Turkish leaders to press Israel and Cypress “to take Turkey into account” regarding the apportionment of gas from the bed of the Mediterranean Sea.
Europe does not support these Turkish demands, and there are dark shadows regarding Turkish relations with NATO: Turkey still does not forget or forgive Europe for refusing to accept it into the European Union, despite the fact that this refusal would have absolved Turkey from supporting Greece and would have saved it from some of its economic difficulties. Turkey does not support NATO in the issue of Afghanistan just as it did not support the West in its invasion of Iraq in 2003.
The crisis in Syria reveals the truth about the regime in Turkey, because it has placed itself in the forefront of the Sunni, anti-Shi’ite and anti-Iranian front. The slaughter of Muslims by Alawites drives Erdoğan mad; about once a week he makes radical statements against Assad and his regime. However, up until recently this talk has not been translated into direct military action, and it has been reduced to background support for Syrian opposition organizations, supply of weapons, equipment and money for the Free Syrian Army, establishment of training bases for Assad’s opposition and supplying intelligence about the movements of Assad’s army and his operational plans against them.