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Syria Analysis: Turkey Adjusts Its Strategy Amid Kurdish and Russian Complications

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu meets members of the opposition Syrian National Council on Monday

Amid questions whether Moscow is open to a Syria without President Assad, three developments on Monday to note....

First, Washington sent Russia the bottom-line message that Damascus would be held accountable if it used chemical weapons, a possibility raised by Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Jamal Makdisi earlier n the day. Second, Britain strongly opposed the Arab League’s "safe passage" offer to Assad, saying he must be held accountable for human rights violations.

While Western leaders were making statements, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asserted that chemical weapons could be deployed by Lebanon's Hezbollah if the Assad regime fell and stocks were left unprotected. Although West Jerusalem’s statement has more to do with its internal politics, its contribution to the region's debate over power is significant, amid questions over the role of Iran in the Syrian case and Israeli security concerns.

Following talks with Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned against toppling Assad without Moscow's consent and threatened: “If the country’s current leadership is removed from power in an unconstitutional way, then the opposition and today’s leaders will switch places. Civil war will break out and no one knows for how long.” So Russia's bottom line was re-asserted while leaving the question: does Moscow have an alternative strategy to investing in Assad?

Putin's statement was far from enough for Turkey, especially after complications over Prime Minister Erdogan's talks in Moscow last week (see Monday's analysis). So Ankara hit back with tough signals, recalling its Consul General from Aleppo and putting out Erdogan's declaration that the “bloody regime in Syria will sooner or later leave".

While Erdogan put out front-line rhetoric, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu met members of the opposition Syrian National Council, including its head Abdul Basset Sayda. There has been no l statement apart from the Turkish Foreign Ministry’s Twitter message, “The current situation in Syria and the transition period was discussed”. However, we are certain that the seizing of government institutions by Syrian Kurds in Western Kurdistan was on the top of the agenda.

Meanwhile, a senior Free Syrian Army commander, Malik al-Kurdi, said the Kurdish insurgencies PKK and PYD did not have popular support, due to their earlier support for Assad. He claimed that the Syrian Kurds would not try to create their own state. If there was an attempt, “the FSA will never let it happen”.

Ankara is now heavily investing its political, economic, logistical, and public-relations capacity in the effort to boost the opposition agains the regime. In return, Turkey wants a guarantee that there will be no autonomous region in the new Syria.

That seems a logical strategy, but how it will work in practice ---- given that Kurds hold a significant amount of bargaining power for "democratic autonomy" --- is unclear. Given that the Syrian Kurds are already pursuing and obtaining self-governance in some areas as they fight regime forces, how can they be ignored in the transitional period? 

A conclusion? Ankara must face reality and talk to Syrian Kurds if it wants to finish Assad as soon as possible. 

But then another queston: how does Turkey talks to its own Kurds in these circumstances?

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