A TURKISH 'NO FLY-ZONE' IN SYRIA? A COMMENT
"Turkey has signalled possible support for a buffer zone to protect Syrian civilians if Damascus continues its crackdown on democracy protests, as tensions rise between the two former strategic partners. Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkey’s foreign minister, told the Financial Times that Ankara was preparing targeted sanctions against Damascus and left the door open for more drastic steps at a later date, such as a buffer zone or a no fly-zone on Syrian territory.
“The Syrian regime is attacking the Syrian people, which is unacceptable,” Mr Davutoglu said in an interview. “When we see such an event next door to us of course we will never be silent.”
When asked about Turkey’s stance on a buffer zone or a no-fly zone, he said: “We hope that there will be no need for these type of measures but of course humanitarian issues are important…There are certain universal values all of us need to respect and protecting citizens is the responsibility of every state.”
His comments are an indication of the growing pressure Turkey is putting on Syria, on the rhetorical level at least, to halt the crackdown. By contrast, in August Turkish officials rejected reports they were planning to impose a buffer zone, while Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Nato’s secretary general, dismissed the idea of a no-fly zone this week.
Turkey’s position is important because the country cultivated closer ties with Damascus until this year and is now taking an active role in reaching out to the Syrian opposition. Speaking at the Turkish parliament on Tuesday, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s prime minister, praised the Syrian protests as “glorious” and expressed his belief that they would succeed.
Ankara’s tougher approach has been greatly welcomed by the US, which has been leading calls for Bashar al-Assad, Syrian president, to leave power. On Tuesday Syrian state television announced that a final agreement had been reached between the Syrian government and an Arab League committee working to find a solution that could end the unrest, although it did not provide any details. The US said it welcomed any international efforts to end the violence in Syria, but reiterated its call for Mr Assad to step down.
Although in the interview Mr Davutoglu denied claims that Turkey allowed armed Syrian rebels to operate from its territory, last week he became one of the first international officials to meet leaders of the Istanbul-based opposition Syrian national council. Mr Erdogan is also likely to visit Syrian refugee camps in Turkey in the near future, and could announce further sanctions against Damascus when he does. The trip had previously been scheduled for last month, but was postponed because of the death of Mr Erdogan’s mother.
Although Mr Davutoglu said Turkish sanctions against Syria would be targeted rather than broad, any unilateral steps would mark a change of tack for Turkey, which has long depicted sanctions against its neighbours as both ineffective and damaging to its own economy. “We have always been against sanctions, economic sanctions which will harm people,” Mr Davutoglu said. “But certain measures [that] have an impact on a regime fighting against its own people are different.”
Daniel Dombey, "Turkey hardens stance against Syria." The Financial Times. 1 November 2011, in www.ft.com.
'“As civilian deaths increase in Syria we see that reforms have not materialized and they [Damascus] did not speak honestly. The Syrian people do not believe in Assad, nor do I. We also do not believe him...
“We have offered Syrian leader al-Assad every type of assistance from the outset, and recommended him to implement the necessary reforms in line with the legitimate demands of the Syrian people.”'
Turkish Premier Erdogna quoted in, "Syrian People don't believe in Al-Assad." Hurriyet Daily News. 14 September 2011, in www.hurriyetdailynews.com.
The idea which has been floated that the regime in Ankara is seriously interested in imposing a 'no-fly zone' upon its Syrian neighbors is to my mind nothing more than a ballon d'essai by the AK government to give the impression of acting positively in the Syrian crisis 1. In point of fact, aside from keeping its borders open with Syria, and thus to a degree sheltering refugees from the repression by the Assad regime, Turkey has been a laggard as it relates to taking positive action in the crisis. Certainly except for some harsh rhetoric in the last two months, Turkey has not taken any more active measures than the its NATO allies or the European Union. Indeed, as it relates to oil sanctions, in point of fact, Turkey has been less active 2. Au fond, what we have on display is another case of Ankara posturing for its domestic audience. Something akin to its rhetorical onslaught against Israel in the past two years. I for one do not anticipate that Prime Minister Erdogan's government will do anything of substance unless or until the Assad regime gives evidence that it is about to collapse. Then and perhaps only then, can one expect to see Ankara to move forcefully in this crisis.
1. For other examples of this, see: Lian Stack, "In slap at Syria, Turkey Shelters Anti-Assad Fighters." The New York Times. 27 October 2011, in www.nytimes.com.
2. On this point, see: Leader, "False Promises: International community must keep pressure on Syria." The Financial Times. 4 November 2011, in www.ft.com.