A Turkish perspective on Syria amid the Geneva talks

The killing of over 130,000 people and the plight of over six million refugees has elicited sympathy from the international community, but not much more

Ceylan Ozbudak

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The Syrian crisis has become a Gordian knot that cannot be easily disentangled. As daunting as the crisis looks, there is a cost to inaction; human suffering, regional instability and a lost generation of the children of Syria. In this light, every action taken on the path to peace has to be supported. Will it suffice? Can the talks offer a genuine and workable solution to Syria?

This week on the Syrian front started with the release of 55,000 photos revealing the torture the Assad regime systematically engages in on prisoners. Even though this came as a shock to many, we are talking about a regime which has already killed more than 130,000 of its citizens, dropping barrel bombs on civilian-populated districts on a daily basis, has carried out various kinds of chemical weapon attacks on innocent people and has been using starvation as a systematic tool of war.

Moreover, this is not the first time that torture in the prisons of the Assad regime has been documented: A comparison of the human rights records of member states of the Arab League places Syria at the extreme end of a spectrum of repression; arguably, only Saddam’s Iraq was worse.

Horrific system

While the 1982 Hama Massacre is frequently cited to highlight the viciousness of the Assad regime, less well known were the horrors of Syria’s prison system. A 1996 Human Rights Watch report on Tadmor Prison describes “deaths under torture” and “summary executions on a massive scale.” One former inmate described the place as a “kingdom of death and madness” whose emaciated prisoners were compared to “survivors of Nazi concentration camps.”

The core aspirations of the protestors in Syria in 2011 were the same as the rest of the people who rose against their regimes in the Arab Spring: hurriya (freedom), adala ijtima’iyya (social justice) and karama (dignity)

Ceylan Ozbudak

So far, the killing of over 130,000 people and the plight of over six million refugees has elicited sympathy from the international community, but not much more. It has long been suggested that negotiating with Damascus and engaging Russia and Iran in diplomacy offers the only way out of the Syrian predicament. Upon closer examination, however, they represent a fundamental misreading of the events in Syria since the core element of the ongoing events is the very nature of the Assad regime.

Core aspirations

The core aspirations of the protestors in Syria in 2011 were the same as the rest of the people who rose against their regimes in the Arab Spring: hurriya (freedom), adala ijtima’iyya (social justice) and karama (dignity). Nader Hashemi described what was different in the book “The Syria Dilemma”: the nature of the regime they faced.

Some analysts insist that Assad started slaughtering the Syrian people after the radical groups started to take their place in the not-so-civil war. Let’s not forget that in the first six months of the uprisings, BEFORE the establishment of the Free Syrian Army and WELL BEFORE there was an Al Qaeda presence in Syria, more than 2,000 civilians were killed and 10,000 were already jailed by the regime, despite the efforts of the regime to blame it all on the rebels.

New legacy of sentiments

The longer the devastation goes on the more difficult it will be to put Syria back together, and failing to do so will leave Syria as a state at war with itself.

Since the beginning of the systematic mass murder of Syrian civilians, eyes turned to the Western powers for action. However, it is understood that in a case of an Iraq or Afghanistan-like intervention, the number of casualties will rise and the whole point of saving innocent lives will be ultimately lost, leaving behind simply a new legacy of anti-American sentiments.

In ideal circumstances, a humanitarian intervention of the U.S. along with the EU allies would have to be instituted via the U.N. Security Council but Russia’s veto will keep standing in the way of this option for as long as possible.

Cause for intervention

Negotiations only offer a solution after the fire is put out. The circumstances have brought us to the only solution to end this crisis: a peace force consisting of Muslim countries can be established to intervene in Syria, as Adnan Oktar explained months ago. A humanitarian intervention to end the crisis, the use of force for humanitarian means. If all Muslim countries only assign one division for the intervention, a mighty army of volunteers can be put together not to fight and kill the various factions, but to take the country out of the hands of both the regime and the rebels, restore order and leave the country so that free elections can take place.

Since the peace force will be consisting of Muslim countries, it will create no ideological backlash from either side of the conflict, as we would expect from a Western oriented peace force. If this intervention includes the diplomatic supervision of the US and the EU states, the international community will also be at ease with the methods of the intervention. Yes, we keep hearing Syria right now is a Gordian knot, but there is a way to solve every knot.

We saw an example of this in our recent history. In the Kosovo intervention in 1999, the ethnic slaughter of Milosevic was stopped by the largest number of participants since WWII. NATO forces allied and entered Kosovo, and the large combined force compelled Milosevic to surrender without fighting.

This was the idea of Tony Blair; he had to convince then President Clinton to have America send Kosovo forces, knowing only a large number of soldiers intervening altogether at once could make Milosevic surrender without a fight. Not a single bullet had to be used, and no one was hurt. It was merely a deterrent force.

Enter Turkey

Such a complicated task can be led by Turkey. Turkey is a NATO ally and has been a trusted partner for NATO members. Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoglu brought the Syrian opposition to the table in Geneva and also convinced Iran into participating.

In the volatile turn of everyday events in the Middle East, Turkey seems to have a fluid foreign policy. Some complain about this fluidity but they also have to remember one thing: Turkey is not Liechtenstein or Monaco, situated in the safest part of Europe, which does not even require an army of its own, protected by Eurozone countries from all outside threats against stability.

Turkey is situated in the most volatile place on Earth, the Middle East, and has been dealing with outrageous predicaments from some of the most difficult regimes to deal with.

Even in this environment, Turkey has been able to remain on good terms with Iran and Russia, the two countries which have diametrically opposed opinions about the Syrian crisis. Since the Syrian civil war began, Turkish exports to Iran have been surprisingly on the rise contrary to common expectation.

Most popular

In polls conducted in 2011 and 2012 in 16 countries in the Middle East, Turkey topped the list for the most popular country. The same poll, conducted by the Turkey Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV) in 2013 and made public on December 3, shows that Turkey’s popularity has dropped from 78 percent to 59 percent (still a very high number); however, sixty percent of those polled said they supported a greater role for Turkey, and 64 percent said Turkey was becoming more influential each year.

One out of two people polled said Turkey was a model for the Middle East. While we have seen occasional setbacks in Turkey’s foreign policy with certain countries, she also knows how to get things back on track.

The bitter relations with Israel have been improving this year and Turkey and Israel restarted commercial and charter flights between the countries, reestablishing diplomatic ties through ministerial visits and working on further improving ties from where they left off.

Turkey has also been renewing its dialogue with Iraq. The Iraqi Foreign Minister’s visit to Ankara, followed by Ahmet Davutoğlu’s visit to Baghdad, has decreased tensions between the two countries and plans are being made for Erdoğan’s visit to Baghdad this month.

Back on track

With Erdogan’s Brussels visit, ties with the EU have been put back on track. While the Turkish government might fine-tune its policies, this does not mean it will retreat to its corner. Turkey has also been mediating between Iran and the Gulf Arab countries and making both sides start a new line of diplomatic contacts.

While the waters seem volatile sometimes, let’s not forget Prime Minister Erdoğan has hosted 23 heads of state, 10 heads of parliament, 25 Prime Ministers and 21 ministers from abroad in 2013 alone; he also travelled to 27 countries just last year.


Not only at the Geneva Convention but also in Davos, the amount of humanitarian aid Turkey lent to the refugees, the calls to world leaders to provide relief for those who are suffering, and Turkey’s leadership in the organization of talks was complimented.

Syria was the subject of the agenda both in Geneva and in Davos. As I am writing this article, the U.S. Secretary of State Kerry was giving signals for a peace force including Muslim countries to intervene in Syria as well. It has become clear that the crisis can come to an end only through a peace force, with the participation of Muslim countries under the supervision of NATO.

When innocent people are being mercilessly slaughtered, those who can act, must act. The people of Syria so far have shown great courage, but it is up to us now to help solve an entangled problem and save them from a brutality they did not invite.

Ceylan Ozbudak is a Turkish political analyst, television presenter, and executive director of Building Bridges, an Istanbul-based NGO. As a representative of Harun Yahya organization, she frequently cites quotations from the author in her writings. She can be followed on Twitter via @ceylanozbudak

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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