Why does Turkey remain silent over Syria?

Why does Ankara refuse to play a decisive role and leave the area open to others?

Abdulrahman al-Rashed
Abdulrahman al-Rashed
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Turkey is the only influential power which is really capable of toppling the Syrian government, of besieging extremist groups in Syria and of supporting the Iraqi government and protecting the Kurdistan region. Despite this, the Turks refused to take any important initiatives. As a result, the Assad regime continued to wreak havoc and murder people for three consecutive years. Meanwhile, extremist groups spread and the Kurdistan region remained unprotected.

So why does Ankara refuse to play a decisive role and leave the area open to others? Is it afraid of military involvement?

Syria shares a border with Turkey and what happens there affects Turkey’s security more than it affects the security of Saudi Arabia, the Gulf and Iran. However, Turkey is more hesitant to act than these countries. Iran sent Revolutionary Guards’ forces to fight alongside the Assad regime and is providing the latter with money, weaponry and food supplies. However, the Turkish government’s support has been limited and cautious and it has only opened its border to fighters and provided them with limited political and military assistance.

Turkey has taken a political stance in support of the Syrian revolution but it refrained from intervening with its massive military capability

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Turkey has taken a political stance in support of the Syrian revolution but it refrained from intervening with its massive military capability thus leaving its neighbor open to meddling by regional and international powers, allowing them to interfere at the expense of Turkey’s interests and the Syrian people.

If the Turks had acted upon their frequent threats and helped topple the Assad regime, Ankara would have been the capital where future solutions are managed, instead of this chaos we see today. No country can argue with Turkey about its right to intervene as it’s the biggest country neighboring Syria and it’s the closest to Syria’s Sunni majority and Alawite minority. This is in addition to the historical and economic links between the two countries.

Turkey could intervene

Turkey does not need a reason to intervene and it would find massive international support and wide popularity in the Islamic world should it decide to act. The Syrian regime has acted against Turkey several times. It shelled Turkey’s territories, downed a Turkish jet, kidnapped Syrian activists from inside its borders and killed Turkish citizens inside Syria. Is there a legal prohibition preventing Turkey from acting? The U.S. responded to Damascus, which described the international coalition’s activity in its airspace as a violation of its sovereignty, saying there’s no longer a legitimate regime in Syria and that any country has the right to defend its citizens if the local authorities fail to impose their influence. The coalition intervened after American and British hostages were killed. It considered those deaths enough of a justification to pursue armed groups without needing the approval of Syrian authorities or the U.N. Security Council.

Turkey disappointed the millions of Syrians who raised the Turkish flag since the beginning of the revolution hoping that Ankara will save them. It frustrated millions of angry Arabs who now seek French and British support after Turkish promises became meaningless.

Iran exploited Turkey's inaction and tarnished its image among Arabs. Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian defamed the Turks and said that the Iranian government warned its Turkish counterpart against any military ground operations in Syria and against any acts that may lead to radical changes in Syria.

What’s Turkey’s military value if it cannot save the Syrians who have lost a quarter of a million lives? Why is it a member of the Western NATO alliance which maintains a strategic balance against the Russians when it’s incapable of resolving a regional dispute on its own borders? Why does it keep silent over the Iranians’ flagrant intervention in Syria when it’s geographically stronger and closer? Turkey had in the 1990s disciplined late Syrian President Hafez al-Assad and intimidated him by moving tanks toward the Bab al-Hawa border crossing. As a result, Assad rushed to hand over wanted Turkish opposition figure Abdullah Ocalan. Now Ankara just settles at making verbal threats as thousands of Syrians and dozens of Turks continue to be killed.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on October 13, 2014.


Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.

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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