Syria: the end of Er­do­gan?

The cri­sis has cre­ated se­cu­rity chal­lenges for a weak­ened Turkey

Cape Argus - - OPINION - TURKMEN TERZI Turkmen Terzi is a Turk­ish jour­nal­ist. He holds a master’s de­gree of phi­los­o­phy from the Univer­sity of Jo­han­nes­burg.

MANY PO­LIT­I­CAL an­a­lysts sum­marised Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan’s 15 years of rule as “ev­ery­thing has started in Syria and will end in Syria”.

Not long ago, Er­do­gan spent a fam­ily hol­i­day with Syr­ian leader Bashar al-As­sad. How­ever, the hon­ey­moon with As­sad was short-lived as key of­fi­cials of the rul­ing AKP (Jus­tice and De­vel­op­ment Party) ex­posed the in­va­sion plan by say­ing he and mem­bers of his party will go to Da­m­as­cus and “pray in the court­yard of the Umayyad Mosque”.

Af­ter seven years of the bloody Syr­ian con­flict, mil­lions of Syr­i­ans be­came refugees and thou­sands lost their lives. Last week, Er­do­gan warned Rus­sia and Iran of the con­se­quences of their mil­i­tary ac­tion in Idlib.

Now, Europe and Turkey face new mi­gra­tion chal­lenges. Col­lec­tively, it seems that the Syr­ian cri­sis has cre­ated na­tional se­cu­rity chal­lenges for eco­nom­i­cally weak­ened Turkey.

Why has Er­do­gan been so ag­gres­sive to­wards As­sad since the start of the civil war in Syria? Then, Turk­ish For­eign Min­is­ter Ah­met Davu­to­glu in­tro­duced the “Zero prob­lems with neigh­bours” pol­icy.

Er­do­gan and Davu­to­glu took the ini­tia­tive by fol­low­ing peace­ful diplo­macy with Ar­me­nia, Cyprus, Iran, Syria, Iraq and Greece to solve long-stand­ing is­sues be­tween them.

Dur­ing the 2000s, Euro­pean lead­ers fully sup­ported Er­do­gan, who lim­ited mil­i­tary power and took the demo­cratic step to­wards EU mem­ber­ship.

The 2011 gen­eral elec­tion in Turkey was a turn­ing point for the AKP, which won 50% of the votes in the third con­sec­u­tive vic­tory since 2002.

Af­ter con­sol­i­dat­ing power, the AKP slowed down re­forms in Turkey and started to turn back to its pre­vi­ous Is­lamist ide­ol­ogy.

In 2011, the AKP’s Is­tan­bul party leader said that from now on, peo­ple must choose a stance: whether to be with the AKP or against it. This was the early sig­nal of the regime-change project in the coun­try.

With the Arab Spring, Er­do­gan openly sup­ported op­po­si­tion armed groups in Syria, Libya, and Egypt. Turkey’s well-known TV per­son­al­ity and for­mer ed­i­tor-in-chief Can Dün­dar, who re­ceived the Golden Pen Award in Dur­ban at the World As­so­ci­a­tion of News­pa­pers and News Pub­lish­ers congress, ex­posed links be­tween Turk­ish in­tel­li­gence and the arms trade in re­la­tion to a Syr­ian op­po­si­tion group.

At first, Er­do­gan de­nied send­ing arms to Syria, say­ing these trucks were car­ry­ing hu­man­i­tar­ian goods for Turkmen groups in Syria. Op­po­si­tion MP Enis Ber­beroglu and Dün­dar now face life sen­tences for re­veal­ing footage of arms de­liv­er­ies to Syria.

Some Western coun­tries, with Turkey, have sup­ported op­po­si­tion groups in Syria since the be­gin­ning of the con­flict in 2011. To­day, these groups have lost ground in many parts of Syria and are now stranded in Idlib. Rus­sia and Iran fully back As­sad’s forces in Idlib.

Tehran sur­pris­ingly put out a live broad­cast dur­ing the last As­tana Sum­mit and the world watched the dis­cus­sion be­tween Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin and Er­do­gan. Er­do­gan warned Moscow and Tehran about pos­si­ble civil­ian ca­su­al­ties un­der the Idlib oper­a­tion and of­fered a cease­fire.

Putin re­jected Er­do­gan’s re­quest say­ing there are no rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the armed op­po­si­tion at the ta­ble, cit­ing al-Nusra Front and Is­lamic State. He also noted the Syr­ian army was ab­sent from the sum­mit.

Syr­ian and Rus­sian forces start to bomb Idlib just af­ter the As­tana Sum­mit. In­ter­est­ingly, a few days af­ter the sum­mit, Er­do­gan changed his rhetoric and crit­i­cised IS and Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, which op­er­ates in Idlib.

In re­cent years, the fi­nan­cial and mi­gra­tion crises in Europe al­ready pro­vided golden op­por­tu­ni­ties for na­tion­al­ist and far-right po­lit­i­cal par­ties on the con­ti­nent and have made sig­nif­i­cant elec­toral gains in Ger­many, Slove­nia, Italy, Ger­many, Aus­tria, France, Hun­gary, Poland and Swe­den.

Since the Syr­ian con­flict, Turkey has hosted more than 5 mil­lion Syr­ian refugees. Many Turks say Syr­ian refugees threaten Turkey’s so­cial fab­ric and eth­nic bal­ance.

The EU signed a refugee agree­ment to the value of €3 bil­lion (R51bn) with the AKP gov­ern­ment to stop the mi­gra­tion flow from Turkey to Europe.

The Is­lamist AKP gov­ern­ment largely wel­comed Syr­i­ans by pro­vid­ing good health care ser­vices and by pay­ing monthly salaries to refugees.

Thou­sands of Syr­ian com­pa­nies op­er­ate in Turkey now and the bulk of these don’t pay tax. As the eco­nomic cri­sis hit Turkey and the lira lost a his­toric 40% of its value against the US dol­lar, Turk­ish na­tion­al­ist groups have started to tar­get Syr­ian refugees.

(ANA) | Xin­hua | African News Agency

Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan speak­ing at the Jus­tice and De­vel­op­ment Party’s (AKP) par­lia­men­tary group meet­ing in Ankara in this Jan­uary 2018 file photo.

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