Turkey calls for immediate end to Assad’s crackdown

"Serious rupture" between Ankara and Damascus over continued violence and refugees fleeing across border.

June 17, 2011 00:43
4 minute read.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu 311 (R). (photo credit: REUTERS/Umit Bektas)

International pressure mounted on Syria Thursday to immediately halt its violent crackdown on protesters. In a meeting on Thursday between Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and a top Syrian envoy, the Turkish government called on Syria to pass democratic reforms while demanding a halt to violence which, according to human rights groups, has left 1,300 Syrians dead.

The crackdown, which Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has condemned as “savagery,” has tested relations between the two countries, with some 8,900 Syrian refugees having crossed into southern Turkey.


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“We want a strong, stable, prosperous Syria. To achieve this, we believe it necessary to implement the comprehensive reform process toward democratization guaranteed by [President] Bashar al-Assad,” Davutoglu told reporters after three hours of talks with Syrian envoy Hassan Turkmani on Thursday morning.

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“In order to achieve this, the violence must stop immediately.

Yesterday, I clearly saw the fear in the eyes of the people and I shared this,” he added, describing talks with Turkmani as friendly and Syria as Turkey’s “closest friend.”

United Nations Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon said on Thursday he had spoken to Assad and urged him to “stop killing people” and to engage in dialogue.

Speaking to journalists during a visit to Brazil’s capital, Ban also said he hoped the UN would be able to speak in a “coherent” manner regarding Syria.

“I again strongly urge President Assad to stop killing people and engage in inclusive dialogue and to take bold measures before it’s too late,” Ban said.

The ongoing violent crackdown of the Syrian uprising and the continued influx of refugees into southern Turkey are wreaking havoc on relations between the two countries, a Turkish expert told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday.

Henri J. Barkey, a visiting scholar in the Carnegie Middle East Program and a professor at the Bernard L. and Bertha F.

Cohen center at Lehigh University said Thursday that “there is a serious rupture between Turkey and Syria at the moment, and if the violence continues in Syria, it’s going to get worse.”

Barkey said that a possible turning point occurred over the weekend, when Assad sent troops backed by helicopters and tanks into the northwest town of Jisr al-Shughur near the Turkish border.

“Bashar made a strategic error by going after that town in the northwest corner which forced Syrians to flee to Turkey.”

Barkey said that the Turkish government advised Assad early on in the uprisings to make a serious push for reforms and that according to Turkish authorities he has spoken to, Ankara has been very disappointed with Assad’s refusal to do so.

Barkey said that Erdogan and his government are very clearly advising Assad to change his methods “but Bashar won’t listen to him because he and the regime are in the fight for their life.” Barkey added, “I don’t think reforms can save Assad and it’s unlikely he will heed Erdogan’s advice.”

From the Turkish perspective, Erdogan cannot just completely write off Assad and must continue to be careful because “they [Syrians] are their neighbors, they aren’t going away.”

Furthermore, Assad’s refusal to heed Erdogan’s advice is putting a serious strain on the countries’ “neighbors” policy and is tarnishing Erdogan’s decision in recent years to broaden relations with Assad.

In such a situation, examining a possible timeframe for the end of the Assad regime is of utmost importance for Ankara, Barkey said.

To Barkey, the main consideration for Turkey is: “How do you calculate the odds of Bashar staying? You also have the example of Libya where [Muammar] Gaddafi is in power even after all of this bombing. If you are Erdogan, you might think that Bashar is finished but you don’t know how long it will last and how do you manage the next few years, so they may be vacillating because there is no blueprint for a situation like that. So they’re trying to come up with some policy that makes sense.”

When it comes to the prospect of a Turkish military intervention, such as the establishment of a no-fly zone or a safe area for Syria refugees, Barkey said he believes such a scenario is a “non-starter.”

Barkey added that he believes Erdogan’s way out of the conflict “is to work with the Americans and Europeans on this and have Turkey lead in some sort of anti-Assad coalition.”

Davutoglu on Wednesday talked to refugees at the border, including wounded men in camp hospitals at Yayladagi, 20 kilometers from the Syrian town of Jisr al-Shughour.

Refugees chanted “People want freedom!” and “Erdogan help us!” On Thursday, Syrian tanks and armored vehicles reinforced positions around the northern town of Maarat al-Numaan after thousands of people fled Assad’s crackdown on dissent.

Residents and a Syrian rights group said dozens of tanks and personnel carriers deployed around Khan Sheikhoun, a town about 30 kilometers south of Maarat al- Numaan on the main highway linking Damascus and Aleppo, as well as to the east and the west.

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