Last updated: May 6, 2013
Armenak Tokmajyan: Neglecting Turkey’s violations of international law and Syrian sovereignty

“Interestingly, some of Turkey’s and Syria’s violations are similar in nature”

The Near East region has always been a hotbed of conflicts. For many years, powers from different geographical areas tried to conquer the Middle East – as we call it nowadays.  However, the recent developments in the Middle East, as well as in North Africa, are different in nature, but what remains constant is the violation of International law by the conflicting parties.

The so-called Arab Spring provides many contemporary examples. For instance in the ‘Syrian war’ many actors constantly break the basic assumptions of international law though the fingers are often pointed towards Syria and the ruling elite within. Thus, some of Syria’s neighbors share responsibility in impeding the peace in the region. Turkey that usually appears as the victim of Syrian transgression, is one of the states in the Levant that has been violating the international law persistently. Interestingly, some of Turkey’s and Syria’s violations are similar in nature. Nevertheless, Turkey, unlike Syria, is not criticized for committing crimes. Moreover, Turkey has been enjoying the western support since the beginning of the spring.

Analyzing the Syrian-Turkish relations retrospectively, some interesting contradictions arise: Turkish violations of Syrian borders are not considered as sovereignty violation whereas the Syrian army’s strikes of FSA (Free Syrian Army) personnel/bases inside Turkey are. Moreover, in 1998 the Turkish state almost waged war against Syria because of the latter’s support to PKK insurgents considering it as a threat to national security. In contrast, Turkey currently offers and provides shelter, political, financial and military support to FSA – which includes Al-Qaida combatants – without taking the national security of Syria into consideration. These contradictions remain covert as long as there is no media focus. Especially after the revolutionary wave reached Syria, the international media highlighted the violations carried out by Syrian authorities and ignored the infringements of other states such as Turkey.

Turkey’s relations with its neighbors – especially Syria – can be characterized as dualist. Ankara, which developed effective relations with the East under AKP (Justice and Development Party) rule, acted as the defender of the Palestinian cause by facing Israel. Alongside, it developed economic ties with most Arab countries, including Syria. Consequently, Turkey succeeded in gaining the sympathy of a large Arab and Islamic audience. Currently, however, Turkey is speaking with a western voice again. Moreover, it violates some basic assumptions of the international law under the deliberate western media indifference. In fact, this is not a new phenomenon in the Middle East; throughout the region’s history, western powers – including Turkey – tend to violate the international law rather than implement it. To name a few, Palestinian Cause, invasion of Iraq (2003), Afghanistan (2001), Turkish-Syrian-Iraqi water problem in addition to the recognition issue of the Armenian Genocide.

Recently, UNSC issued a statement condemning “the shelling by the Syrian armed force of the Turkish town of Akcakale”. Moreover, “The members of the Security Council demanded that such violations of international law stop immediately and are not repeated.” It also called on the Syrian authorities to “respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of its neighbors.” Indeed, the Syrian shelling per se may be considered as a violation of Turkish sovereignty after investigation. Nevertheless, part of the story that always remains covert is the Turkish violations. The latter’s infringements can be summarized in two main points:

First, according to many news agencies, Turkey has been providing command, shelter and assistance to FSA for a long time. Prime Minister Erdogan’s government, via cooperation with other states such as Qatar and the US, has been assisting the Syrian rebels military, financially, logistically and politically. Thus, Turkey built up bases for FSA on its territories and hosted the commanders of the Syrian armed opposition. In doing so, Turkey is violating the public international law in general and Article 8 of State responsibility of international wrongful act in particular. In addition, if we consider the fact that there are Al-Qaida members fighting with FSA, then Turkey initially is violating at least the following: The UN action to counter terrorism, International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism, UNSC Resolutions 1373, 57/83, and 1540. Interestingly, when the Syrian authorities committed such violations – while they supported the PKK in the 1980s and 1990s – Turkey accused Syria of infringing international law and supporting terrorism.

Recently, moreover, Prime Minister Erdoğan stated that, “In the north, it (Syrian authority) has allotted five provinces to the Kurds, to the terrorist organization (PKK)” he continued saying that “if we occasionally launch aerial strikes against terrorist areas (in northern Syria) it’s because these are measures taken because of defense needs.” Accordingly, the Syrian army can launch occasional strikes within the Turkish territories, where FSA fighters hide, being based on the principle of self-defense (Article 51 of UN Charter).

The second legal issue is Turkey’s responsibility in protecting its own citizens. PM Erdoğan stated in 26 July 2012, “We (Turkish authorities) want peace and security and nothing else. We could never start a war.” He continued saying that “Turkey is country which is capable of protecting its people and borders. No one should attempt to test our determination on the issue.” In fact, the Turkish government endangers Turkish citizens rather than protects them. FSA personnel usually start their operations from Turkish soils. Therefore, we often hear of trans-border clashes in northern Syria. Allowing FSA existence in Turkish villages – or nearby – is a violation of both Turkish National law and international law. In doing so, Turkey violates Article 17 of the Turkish constitution when it endangers the physical integrity of and right of its citizens to have a secure life. Whereas in the international law, states have the responsibility “towards their own citizens based on human rights law.

The United Nations, as the main source of international law, is still under tight control of a few leading states in the international system. International norms are therefore not imposed on all countries equally. In this particular case, Turkey escapes judgment since most of the international news agencies are against Assad. The issue whether Assad lost his legitimacy or not should not give space to other states, such as Turkey, to violate the international norms. This comes to support the idea that international law and the United Nations are used by some states for national interests rather than international justice.

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