Turkish soldiers at a border village of Guveccy in June 2011.
Turkish soldiers at a border post on the Turkish-Syrian border in the village of Guveccy in June 2011. © Adem Altan - AFP/File
Turkish soldiers at a border village of Guveccy in June 2011.
Carmen Manea
Last updated: October 18, 2012

ANALYSIS: Turkey at a crossroads

Regardless of what path Ankara takes, Turkey is and will be pivotal in any development regarding Syria, writes Carmen Manea in this news analysis.

As tensions are rising on the Eastern shores of the Mediterranean, Turkey is slowly, but steadily, heading towards a crossroad. Considering the developments that have taken place in recent days, the most likely to happen is either a continuation of the situation as until now, including a no-fly zone, or an escalation into open war.

The rhetoric that Ankara is putting forward is that Turkey will not declare war on Syria; however, the developments on the ground speak differently. These actions by Turkey are worrying officials from many states, organisations and groups.

If Turkey decides to refrain from anything further than retaliatory action in response to Syrian shelling of its territory along the border, the effects will undoubtedly prolong the Syrian crisis. The deadlock situation is continued by the inability of the UN Security Council to take measures against what has rightfully been regarded as civil war. Russia and China, along with Iran have been supporting the Alawite ruling family in its crackdown on opposing civilian population, while groups such as Hezbollah have tried to distance themselves from this conflict, at least publically.

On the other hand, Turkey deciding upon open violence is supported by many important actors; starting with the Western states and ending with more or less influent regional actors such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar, who have openly expressed their wish to overthrow Bashar and also have supported the Free Syrian Army with weapons.

Overall, in case the conflict is contained within the Syrian borders, it is unlikely that there will be any changes into the mindset of mentioned actors in the near future. The UN is least expected to act, while a coalition under NATO acting under Article 4 is more likely. The only question remains, who will lead such a coalition?

The chances of Turkey intervening remain high, as shelling at the border continues and as flights for Syria have been intercepted and searched by Turkish authorities. However, if it decides to act it is important to think about the implications on all levels. Turkey has for example seen an influx of more than 100 000 refugees from neighbouring Syria, and defecting military personnel. Turkey’s proximity to the ongoing fighting leaves it vulnerable to spilling of violence on its own territory, creating tense situations in a country that is itself far from being homogenous.

The chances of invoking Article 4 of the NATO Charter and asking for full-scale retaliation seem to rise as diplomatic channels are closing. In this case, Turkey will definitely have one of the most important roles, if not leading the coalition, at least as the bastion closest to the battlefield.

Turkey, a country bordering both Europe and Asia, has strived tremendously to insure good relationships with both its direct and more distant neighbours including both Iran and Israel – diplomatically for as long as possible.

If now Turkey decides to act military against Syria and asks for help from NATO, it will most likely be joined at least in thought by most of the Western world, plus many Arab states. Against it will the giants Russia, China and Iran stand; but it is arguable though if there will be any retaliation from any of these three states.

The groups that most likely would profit from this scenario will be ethnic and religious ones. The Kurds will no doubt see it as an opportunity to carve their own territory out of dismantled Syria and perhaps seek recognition and self determination with the Kurds living in neighbouring Iraq, Iran and Turkey. Also, the largest religious group is represented by the Sunnis, who most likely will try to take over the control of the state. Another party profiting to an extent will be Israel, since it is highly unlikely that they will make another offer of returning the Golan Heights to what is left of Syria.

In this case, but on a much larger scale, the Western states will gain the upper hand in the proxy war in the Middle East, pushing the Russians away from the Mediterranean and ending their arms deals in the region. Also, this move will leave Iran without its only ally in the region and damage Hezbollah.

On the losing side of this are, of course, the Syrian civilians who bear the burden of having their lives interrupted, their families hurt and their homes destroyed. In this scenario, there is a high probability that extremists or fundamentalists will try to seize as much power as possible.

Either way, there is no possible way to downplay it – Turkey is, and will be pivotal in any development regarding Syria. The role that it will be assuming will undoubtedly position Turkey in the big player league in the region and perhaps allow other states that have been part of the Arab Spring to follow the example that Turkey is displaying – a democratic secular Muslim state, part of NATO and currently negotiating its way towards the European Union.

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