Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Path of the Pharaohs

PHOTO from Radikal

Before paying a trip to Washington, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu outlined on Turkish television a new Turkish approach to Syria he is expected to share and discuss while in town. The new approach includes plans for a "Friends of Syria" contact group akin to the Libya Contract Group that met in Istanbul in the weeks before rebels seized power in Tripoli.

According to Davutoglu, Turkey has exhausted diplomacy with Syria. It first attempted to deal directly with Assad, and when those efforts failed, it turned to the Arab League. After the Arab League failed to stop the violence despite what Davutoglu characterized as its best efforts, Turkey joined the United States and other countries to work through the United Nations. After the Chinese and Russian veto on Feb. 4, however, new steps are needed to resolve the conflict and bring relief to the Syrian people.

Over the weekend, Davutoglu responded to the UN Security Council's failure to adopt a resolution regarding Syria by declaring that Turkey would be opening up its doors to refugees escaping the violence that intensified after the vote.

Then, on Tuesday, Prime Minister Erdogan announced that Turkey would be launching a new initiative regarding Syria. Erdogan's news followed comments that Assad had chosen the "path of the pharaohs," and that he would be punished for his decision. The prime minister's remarks came on the thirtieth anniversary of Hafez al-Assad's massacre of hundred at Hama, in whose footsteps he said Bashar, Hafez's son, was now following. Speaking rhetorically to Assad, Erdogan then declared that Assad would reap what he sowed.

On yesterday, Davutoglu followed up with details as to the initiative, announcing plans for a contact group that will include the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) countries, in addition to the Arab League and members of the UN Security Council. The foreign minister also discussed possible plans for bringing humanitarian aid to Syria, which raises the possibility of establishing a humanitarian corridor inside Syria for which Turkey, along with other countries and most likely the United Nations, would be responsible.

Turkey had been waiting for the outcome of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavarov's talks with Assad to come to an end, and Davutoglu said that Assad's promises for reform announced soon after the meeting could not be trusted. 

Turkish newspapers report that Turkey is making plans to accommodate more refugees fleeing the conflict, including a container town to accommodate up to 10,000 refugees similar to that constructed in Van following Saddam Hussein's campaign against Iraqi Kurds. Syria has so far accepted 12,000 refugees.

UPDATE I (2/11/12) -- At the Center for Strategic and International Studies on Friday, Davutoglu linked the government's policies in Syria to Turkey's support for peoples instead of states. In the speech, Davutoglu reports that when asked why Turkey was friendly with Assad before the Arab Spring, he is able to easily respond that at this point Assad was not fighting against his own people.

The foreign minister's speech touched on the need to side with peoples instead of states in the new post-Cold War age, and he contextualized Syria as a state whereby the people had clearly turned against the state. Given this situation, Turkey could not be expected to continue to side with Assad.

I am sure CSIS is soon to post a transcript, but until then, you might read Davutoglu's remarks against Soli Ozel and Gencer Ozcan's recent article in the October issue of the Journal of Democracy on Turkish foreign policy and democracy promotion.

UPDATE II (2/15/11) --  Davutoglu met with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton where both reported Syria was at the top of their agenda. The leaders are expected to join representatives of the Arab League in Tunis on Feb. 24 to discuss a new approach to Syria. There still seems to exist difference on the American and Turkish sides as to whether Russia and China should be invited to the meeting. Also on the table will be the issue of a possible humanitarian corridor to be established in order to deliver aid to Syrians affected by the violence. Turkish papers are reporting Turkey to be in favor of opening up the corridor through the Mediterranean rather than using Turkish soil, a prospect Turkish officials are saying would pose a security risk.

Additionally, though Davutoglu continues to say all options are on the table, there seems to be little appetite for a buffer zone to be setup along the Turkish-Syrian border.

Also on Monday, and shortly after Davutoglu's visit with Cointon, U.S. Central Command head James N. Mattis held a meeting with Turkish Chief of General Staff Necdet Ozel presumably at which possible operations involving Syria were discussed.

According to Milliyet columnist Asli Aydintasbas, Syria is more keen for intervention than the United States and tabled a strategy to include military, diplomatic, and humanitarian elements while the American side is still reluctant to get to engaged in the conflict during an election year.

And, one more note: the Center for Strategic and International Studies has posted the video and transcript of remarks Davutoglu delivered there on Friday.

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