Editorial: The greatest danger in Syria?

Despite widespread speculation that the Baathist Party in Syria would be quickly overturned, the situation in Syria has become more complicated with the latest incident involving a cross-border attack that led to the deaths of five Turkish citizens in the town of Akçakale.

With the crisis taking on whole new dimensions from Turkey’s perspective, the most recent written statement explaining Ankara’s views on the matter leads one to ask two questions. First of all, where does the solution for what is happening in Syria come from? And secondly, what, according to those who shape Turkish foreign policy, is the most significant threat being posed to Turkey and the world in terms of the Syrian crisis?

Ankara seems to have lost all hope in the idea of winning over the people living under the Baathist regime, and thus bringing about stability once more. Do some of the Turkish officials really believe that the Syrian opposition will be able to form a free and stabile leadership?

Despite the lack of a tradition of opposition due to the ongoing police state in Syria, the country does have some advantages when it comes to democratic solutions. Most significantly, there is Syria’s state experience. As it is, what is needed is not to bring down the current institutions but to democratize them. And while its political maturation may take some time, this is no different than for Turkey or other countries. Approaches such as “They can’t handle democracy,” or “They don’t deserve democracy” are not right. In fact, on the contrary, Syrians very much desire a new set of politics. Education levels in Syria are higher than those in Turkey. They are also ahead of Turkey when it comes to speaking foreign languages. And the fact that despite the chaotic atmosphere in the country, the Syrian Local Coordination Committees has shouldered functions as diverse as trash collection and health services, not to mention fighting, show their abilities when it comes to self-leadership. In addition, Syria also has a historic tradition of different cultural groups all living together.

The critical question, though, when it comes to the transition to the new Syria is: How will Assad leave? Will he leave voluntarily so as not to see his country and the people even more damaged? Or will he choose to fight until the last moment, destroying his country in the process and then coming to an end that resembles that of Saddam Hussein or Muammar Gaddafi? It is the Baathist Party’s belief that if Assad pulls out, the opposition will in fact not be able to form a more free and stabile leadership and that the real alternative will be only more chaos. But supporting this thesis, which plays to fear, is just wrong. One name who has been watching the developments in Syria very closely shares some of the tactics used by the Baathists since the very start of the regime based on data and information from intelligence services: “In order to be able to claim that ‘The people took up arms; we [the regime] just defended ourselves,’ Assad opened up his weapons depots and allowed weapons to fall into the hands of the people. When the protests started, the Baathists let loose the al-Qaeda elements that had been used previously for terror attacks in Iraq, but which they had later thrown later into prison.”

The greatest problems posed for Turkey since the start of the Syria crisis have been the waves of refugees, the situation involving Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) connected groups and the chemical and biological weapons possessed by the regime. Bells are already ringing in Ankara over the refugee situation.

Ankara, which is busy working with allies on scenarios that involve the possibility of Syria actually using its chemical and biological weapons, tends to see the Syrian PKK extension of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) as an ally of the Baathist regime and less a representative of the Syrian Kurds. Thus Ankara believes that once Assad goes, the regional Kurds in Syria will find more reasonable solutions once the opposition leadership is in place. The regime is present with all of its institutions in all of the Kurdish regions. But in these areas, they have turned over control to the PYD. As for Syrian Kurds, they are made very uncomfortable by pressure from the PYD, which is working in cooperation with the Baathists. There are two countries behind the PYD. One is Assad’s Syria, and the other is Iran.

The greatest danger for Ankara is the possibility that the current numbers of al-Qaeda among the opposition might swell in this atmosphere of chaos. And if radical elements such as these manage to get citizens like storeowners and workers onto their side, there could be no greater danger to Turkey and the rest of the world.

Source: Sunday’s Zaman

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