Turkey may pull support for Assad, analysts say

Turkey may pull support for Assad, analysts say

Turkey’s relationship with Syria’s regime grows frostier each day, and Ankara may withdraw support for Assad if his crackdown on protests continues, analysts said.

By (AFP)

Published: Sat 25 Jun 2011, 1:48 PM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 9:22 AM

In public, top Turkish officials insist that policy towards their southern neighbour — of maintaining cordial relations while nudging Damascus toward democratic reform — remains unchanged, despite the intensifying unrest.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu recently gave President Bashar Al Assad lukewarm support, telling journalists his recent speech “contained positive elements and indications in terms of reform,” according to the Anatolia new agency.

But at a press conference last Friday Davutoglu added, “it is very important that concrete steps be made” in implementing some of the demands fuelling the protests.

Analysts say that Ankara’s goodwill for Assad has been pushed almost to breaking point now that some 12,000 Syrian refugees have fled into Turkey after Assad’s troops cracked down on protests in their home areas.

“Turkey cannot guarantee its support for the Syrian regime,” said Sedat Laciner of the University of Canakkale. “If it loses all legitimacy, Turkey cannot continue to support it.”

Osman Bahadir Dincer of the strategic research institute USAK argued that Turkey gave Assad the space to reform at his own pace, but now that conditions in Syria have deteriorated so dramatically Ankara is basically fed up.

“We have arrived at a point where the (Turkish) government is going to tell the Syrian government ‘the time has expired, we have given you time and you have done nothing,’” Dincer said.

He further argued that if a Libya-type scenario unfolds, and “international actors decide something” regarding the situation in Syria, Turkey may side with the majority.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has since coming to power in 2002 improved relations with Syria, and encouraged Assad to reform, but without success, according to Dincer.

“Turkey anticipated the risk of explosion in the region and wanted to avoid it, but the Syrian regime didn’t understand (those risks),” he said.

“Now, it has become evident that reforms are not going to change the problem. Even if (Damascus) implemented them, it wouldn’t be enough.”

Turkey has for a long time tried to maintain the status quo in Syria, partly because chaos on its southern border could create an opportunity for Kurdish rebels who operate in southeast Anatolia.

But, according to Cengiz Aktar, an international relations specialist at Bahcesehr University in Istanbul, that strategy has been displaced by recent events.

“The fall of the Syrian regime is unavoidable. I think the government of Turkey understands this,” he said, adding that what Ankara needs now is a strategy to manage the regional crisis.

On June 10, Ergodan accused Syrian troops of committing atrocities and said the crackdown on demonstrators was “unacceptable,” striking a far tougher tone than normal when speaking about a nominal ally.

Cengiz Candar, a political analyst with the Milliyet daily newspaper, argued that Ankara is fed up with the two-faced nature of the Damascus regime, where Assad presents himself as benevolent, while other members of his family manage a repressive tyranny.

“He is the likeable face of the dictatorship. This is how he perpetrated his fraud and how he won the friendship of Turkish leaders,” Candar wrote in the paper.

“But the nice guy of the family cannot become a strong leader. At most, he can manage the public relations of the oppressors.”

However, Candar argued, Turkey is done being fooled:

“Turkey will no longer entertain the status quo in the region. It is set on change.”

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