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Turkey seeks consensus for intervention in Syria 11 avril 2012

Posted by Acturca in Economy / Economie, Middle East / Moyen Orient, Turkey / Turquie.
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The Daily Star (Lebanon) April 11, 2012, p. 9

By Lauren Williams, Istanbul

Sitting at a trendy bar in downtown Istanbul, Sami doesn’t have the sense that his country is about to go to war. Sami is just one Turk in some 78 million, but represents just some of Turkey’s domestic considerations in going it alone on Syria. “We feel sorry for the people in Syria, but we should not intervene on America’s behalf,” he says.“The ruling party AKP [Justice and Development Party] is trying to prepare our society for intervention in Syria on the argument of human rights and the threat of the PKK [Kurdistan Workers Party],” says Sami. “I’m not sure it has anything to do with these things.”
 
Turkey’s position on Syria has oscillated over the last 13 months – between cautious condemnation and more hawkish threats of intervention. But increasingly hardened rhetoric in the week following the largely immobilized “Friends of Syria” conference in Istanbul was matched with a raft of contingency measures that indicate Turkey might finally be willing to act independently to try to end to a brutal crackdown which has killed in excess of 9,000 people, according to U.N. data.
 
Opposition and diplomatic sources attending closed-door meetings with Turkish leaders on the sidelines of the Friends conference expressed quiet confidence that Turkey was pushing to overcome inaction by bewildered diplomats at the U.N. and Arab League. The following day, The Wall Street Journal reported Ankara had drawn up detailed plans for buffer zones to protect Syrian civilians fleeing to Turkey if Turkish national security were compromised – a measure that most accept would require military enforcement at some level.
 
Those threats were put to the test Monday when cross-border gunfire allegedly from Syrian forces wounded at least five people, including two Turks, inside a camp housing refugees. It was the first time the conflict had spilled so directly into Turkish territory and came on the eve of the implementation of a U.N.-backed deal for troop withdrawal brokered by international envoy Kofi Annan.
 
Turkey did not respond militarily, but its diplomatic reply was swift and stern.
 
“Syrian citizens who took refuge in our country from the brutality of the current regime in Syria are under Turkey’s full protection. We will certainly take necessary measures if such incidents reoccur,” a Foreign Ministry statement said.
 
The Turkish press also quickly noted the possibility Ankara may invoke the 1998 Adana Accord, containing provisions for Turkey to respond on the basis of an agreement that Syria “will not permit any activity that emanates from its territory aimed at jeopardizing the security and stability of Turkey,” according to the pro-government daily Today’s Zamman.
 
Inevitably the Syrian problem has now come to fruition in Turkey. But any intervention in Syria will be a careful navigation of complex domestic economic, political and security concerns.
 
Already hosting military leadership from the Free Syrian Army in a so-called ‘military camp’ in Hatay, Turkey also plays host to a raft of senior opposition figures and members of the powerful Syrian Muslim Brotherhood among members of the opposition Syrian National Council. And while agreeing to the Friends arrangement to step up “nonlethal aid” to the rebel factions, opposition insiders say they believe Turkey will “keep one eye open” when it come to the transport of lethal assistance through their borders.

Sinan Ulgen, a former Turkish diplomat and visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment Institute for Peace in Brussels, says Turkey will use the incident to put pressure on its international partners “to do more to get Assad to leave.”
 
“Turkey has been almost an outsider in the international community in terms of their expectations of the Annan plan … overall they have not supported it,” he says.
 
“So the authorities are likely to use this incident to prove that unless something more forceful is done there is a chance of escalation … and help justify their more hawkish stance.”
 
What that escalation entails is crucially dependent on where protected buffer zones could be installed – whether in Turkey, or in Syrian territory, or in no man’s land in between.
 
“If the government decides to set up a safe haven … it will need to provide a significant amount of territorial protection for that zone,” says Ulgen. “That puts Turkey on a war path with Syria, so as it stands there is not much appetite for Turkey doing it unilaterally.”
 
Whether ordinary Turks are ready for that scenario is unclear.
 
“This is not an area of government policy that is driven by the polls, but it is obvious there is no popular support for intervention in Syria that could put any Turkish citizens or Turkish troops at risk,” says Ulgen.
 
“Traditionally Turkey has been reluctant to intervene … Turkish policy on this is really driven by the leadership that does not find resonance on the ground.
 
“If the government decides on some sort of intervention without popular support, it will be politically costly. We will see an increasingly heated debate inside Turkey on this.”
 
From his balcony, Ahmad, a truck driver and farmer, sits smoking and drinking coffee, overlooking his 2,000 new Syrian neighbors in the tent city assembled next door at Boynuyogun in Turkey’s southern Hatay province. Hatay and Gaziantep provinces – old commerce centers and popular, close tourist destinations for wealthy Syrians – have absorbed in excess of 24,000 Syrians, most of whom say they anticipate a long-term stay.
 
Like other drivers transporting goods – both legally and illegally over the 900 kilometer border, Ahmed, an Arabic speaking Sunni Turk, says security concerns and sanctions have ended his truck driving trade and he doesn’t need to look far for blame.
 
“We lived here with just a few people and now there are a lot … of course it affects our life.
 
“The refugees are stealing our fruit and vegetables from the crops. We used to live without worrying, without locking the doors … not now.”
 
“I haven’t driven in to Syria for nine months now. It’s too dangerous.”
 
Fractious new social relationships have also played out in protests in the mixed Alevi, Sunni, Christian and Kurdish city of Antakya, where last-minute banned protests against intervention late March were quickly interpreted as sectarian in color.
 
Organizer of the protest and head of the socialist human rights organization Insaan, Mithat Can – himself an Alevi – insists the protests of up to 5,000 were aimed at what he terms “an imperialist American project, funded by Saudi Arabia and fulfilled by [Prime Minister Recep Tayyip] Erdogan.” He says the presence of Assad portraits and Syrian flags at the protests was the result of “pro-Bashar infiltrators.”
 
“We are not pro- or anti-Assad. We are anti-American, anti-intervention. We are on the side of humanity.”
 
“We just don’t think [these states] are interested in humanity or democracy. They are interested in imposing Shariah law.

“We know in Turkey how long it takes to reform a society … but the way they are going about it has no gain for the people.”
 
Not all Turks agree.
 
At the Chamber of Commerce in Gaziantep, coordinator of the Syria trade office in the Foreign Relations Department, Mehmert Berk, admits Turkish sanctions, the cancellation of the two countries’ free trade agreement and security concerns have impacted tourism and local investment in Syria but says good trade with Iraq has mitigated the damage.
 
Trade volumes from the province have decreased 20 percent between 2010 and 2011, he says, but the brunt of the impact was on transit routes and tourism.
 
“A lot of investors have suspended their operations, and there are security concerns … one factory in Aleppo was burned. But the private sector is finding their own solutions in new markets and alternative transit routes,” he says, adding that he believed the Turkish government would be providing support.
 
Ankara announced Friday a new incentive package to help investors in the poorer eastern provinces “invest in their own hometowns,” according to Today’s Zamman. The report did not make explicit reference to Syria losses.
 
Gaziantep restaurant owner Arif Malek, says business is down by about 25 percent, but adds that he is happy for his government to take a tougher line.
 
“The whole world has responded to this, not just Turkey, because this is a question of humanity.”
 
“Erdogan’s policy is good. We need to do what we can to protect our Muslim brothers.”
 
Then there is the Kurdish problem.
 
Turkey is fighting a decades-old war with separatist militant group the PKK, who, with a presence inside Syria, have threatened to play on support from Damascus to stave off what they view as Turkey’s Sunni nationalist agenda.
 
Syria’s Kurdish opposition, meanwhile, have failed to overcome differences with their Arab counterparts in uniting with the SNC. Some members, like Iraqi Kurdistan-based member of the Syrian Yikiti party, Abdul-Baqi Youssef, claim the Muslim Brotherhood-dominated council came under pressure from Turkey not to recognize Kurdish rights in any post-Assad Syria.
 
Carnegie’s Ulgen says the Kurdish card is unpredictable.
 
“The PKK issue can actually be instrumentalized by both sides,” he says. “Assad has tried to leverage the PKK issue against Turkey, but we haven’t seen a resurgence of the PKK activities inside Turkey for instance.
 
“On the other hand, Turkey can use that threat to justify further action.”

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