Risky policy for several reasons

Risky policy for several reasons

Accommodation and food prices have gone up  in Syria, while many have lost their jobs.

Over the past year Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been following a risky policy of fostering the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) and expatriate political opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) striving to oust the regime in Damascus.

The policy is risky for several reasons. Turkey has become the main base of the Syrian rebels, offering safety and training and the chief staging area for the entry into Syria of armed elements, including jihadis and radical Sunni salafis, as well as money and weapons.  US, British and French intelligence agents providing logistics assistance to the rebels are also based in southern Turkey.  Without Turkey, the military campaign against the Syrian regime would almost certainly collapse.

However, if Syria, like Iraq after the 2003 US occupation, descends into anarchy and fractures into warring regions, Turkey will not only be blamed but could also be destabilised.

Turkey has fashioned fallible allies. The FSA, formed in Turkey in July 2011 by defectors led by Col. Riad al-Assad, is more of a brand name than a real force on the ground. While there are genuine FSA units, largely composed of defectors, the majority of rebels belong to local militia groups that associate themselves with the FSA to obtain arms and money.

Dysfunctional coalition

It is estimated that there could be 2,000 groups involved in the insurrection. The SNC is a dysfunctional coalition of liberals, wealthy figures, and Muslim Brothers who have little in common other than their desire to topple president Bashar al-Assad.

The SNC was proclaimed in Istanbul on August 23rd last year and remains headquartered in that city although the majority of its members dwell in the US and Europe. While the SNC has been recognised as ‘a’ not ‘the’ legitimate representative of the Syrian people by the West, it has not become a credible political opposition movement due to its domination by the Muslim Brotherhood, corruption, internal disputes, lack of organisation, and failure to secure large scale support inside Syria.

By declaring and sticking to the objective of regime change, Turkey, Syrian surrogates and the West have ruled out dialogue with Damascus and the possibility of a peaceful transition to multi-party democratic rule. Consequently, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has no choice but to resist both the military campaign waged by the FSA and other armed groups and the diplomatic efforts of the SNC to topple his regime. This has made the campaign a fight to the death for both sides.

Syrian civilians caught in the cross-fire have been forced to abandon their homes. There are 1-1.5 million displaced inside Syria while the UN estimates that 235,000 have fled the country, 80,000 to camps in Turkey. Their presence is costly and destabilising. Turks living in the southern part of the country have complained about the influx of Syrians, particularly those living outside the camps.

Prices of accommodation, food and services have gone up while merchants who formerly traded with Syria have lost earnings due to the violence and chaos in the north.
Members of Turkey's 20-million strong Alevi community, who share religious beliefs with Syria's Alawites, Assad's community, have warned Erdogan against providing direct military support to the rebels.

The Kurds - many of whom are Alevis - have become restive. The Turkish Kurdistan Workers Party, the PKK, has resumed attacks on the army in the southeast after a lull of several years. Ankara charges Syria and its ally, Iran, with using the PKK to stir up trouble in Turkey in retaliation for its involvement with the FSA and SNC.

After the Syrian army pulled out of the Kurdish area in the north-east, the PKK and its local affiliate have taken control of several towns and villages and are calling for autonomy modelled on the Kurdish region in northern Iraq. Ankara fears the Iraqi Kurds could this annex region, providing impetus to the PKK's struggle to win autonomy or independence.

Writing in the Turkish daily Hurriyet, Mehmet Ali Birand makes the point that there is for the present no chance of reaching a peace deal with the resurgent PKK unless it is defeated in combat. This means that Erdogan's policy of securing a modus vivendi with Turkey's Kurds has been a failure. This and the other negative impacts of Erdogan's policy on Syria could cost him the presidency in the 2014 election, especially if Assad is still in power in Syria or Syria collapses into chaos.