Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Sunday, May 24th, 2020

Turkish-Syrian Skirmishes

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Turkish-Syrian Skirmishes

The skirmishes between Turkey and Syria seem to be increasing. After the shooting down of Turkish F4- Phantom, military jet, near the Turkish-Syrian border, on Friday, June 22, it would take a while before both the countries can get on better tracks. Turkey has summoned a meeting of NATO members on Tuesday, June 23. Though the meeting is going to put immense pressure on Syria, the possibility of military action against the country is not very much likely and there are beliefs that Turkey would seem diplomatic ways to deal with the situation, unless it gets worse.

The relations between Turkey and Syria have faced many fluctuations. Though both the countries share a long border with each other, the differences have haunted their relations every now and then. Among the different disputes the most notable ones have been the 'self-annexation of the Hatay Province to Turkey in 1939', 'the disputes on water', 'Syria's support for the Kurdistan Worker's Party (well-known as PKK 'PartiKarkerani Kurdistan')', which is recognized as a terrorist organization by NATO, EU and many other countries and now the 'difference in perspective regarding the Arab Spring'.

The Arab Spring started in the region with the basic intention to topple down the authoritarian regimes and pave the way of democracy in the countries that had been suffocating under the self-imposed rulers. Though, desire for democracy has been one of the dominating factors in the stand of the rebels against their governments during the Arab Spring, the Turkish model has also had an important impact in this regard. The countries influenced by the Arab Spring considered Turkish political system as a role model and strived in the same regard.

Turkey, by maintaining strong principles of democracy and secularism and playing a dominant role in the region seems to have a leading position in the region. However, it has faced opposition by the Arab countries that follow strong religious ideologies.

When the Arab Spring hit Syria, the demands were to topple down the rule of President Bashar al Asad. The Arab Spring though had promising slogans for the restoration of a somewhat democratic system, could not prove very much smooth for the people of Syria.

The conflicts in the country between the Asad's army and the rebellions have taken the lives of thousands and the conflicts are still unresolved. Turkey, concerned about the disturbances in its immediate neighborhood and a flag-carrier of democracy, asked the Asad's regime to opt for amendments, which it was not ready for. Turkey and Syria's relations were going through improvement before the Arab Spring as the Syrian government had expelled PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan in October 1998. However, the stand on the Arab Spring and the involvement of the other countries in the affairs in Syria further aggravated the situation.

The situation in Syria has affected Turkey in another way, as well. Most of the Syrians who have evacuated their country because of the horrors of war, have taken refuge in Turkey. About 30,000 people from Syria have moved to Turkey, where so far they are termed as 'guests'. Turkish Prime Minister, in one of his remarks, showed great concern about the killings of the civilians and the aggression shown by the Syrian government. He said, "Syria is not acting in a humane manner.

This is savagery." Turkey, though has not demanded the departure of Bashar al Asad, it has halted most of its relations with the country. Turkish foreign minister, AhmatDavutoglu has said, "We are completely suspending all of these trade relations,all agreements between Turkey and Syria have been suspended."

As far as the current conflict of the Turkish jet is concerned, the issue is going to take a while to settle. The Syrian authorities have mentioned in their remarks that the shooting down of the plane was for the self-defense. While the Turkish officials insist that there may have been some penetration in the Syrian border by the Turkish jet, but such penetrations are very much normal and that the jet was for the training purposes not to launch any offensive in Syria.

According to certain reports, the Syrian officials have apologized for the incident, as well. However, it is important to see what sort of reaction the Turkish government is going to come with. The Turkish Prime Minister, TayyibErdogan, has said, "Turkey will announce its final position and take necessary steps with determination after the incident is entirely clarified." Moreover, he would also wait for the result of the NATO meeting that it has called on Tuesday.

The possibilities that NATO will be involved militarily in Syria are very much weak, as well. Turkish Prime Minister has invoked for an article in NATO's treaty providing for urgent consultations if a member considers its security interests threatened, which really indicates that the intention for military intervention is not there.

If there was such an intention, the NATO's meeting would invoke the article on mutual defense. Moreover, European Union foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg also suggested for a calmer response from Turkey.They also reiterated that they would increase pressure on Assad."Military intervention in Syria is out of the question," said Dutch foreign minister Uri Rosenthal. "It is not a matter of consideration for the Dutch government. That is also at stake in the ... context of NATO."

"I'm not of the opinion that Turkey will immediately respond militarily," agreed BerilDedeoglu of Galatasaray University. "But if there is another action, then there will certainly be a military response, there is no doubt."

With the relations so distressed between the two countries, it is expected and would be better if the issue is solved through diplomatic means. However, the pressure on Bashar al Asad should be increased as much as possible both by NATO and the Turkey itself.

There have been deaths of thousands of innocent citizens and many more may be targeted in ongoing clashes. Immediate measures must be carried out in this regard and valuable lives must be saved. UN, in this regard has also insisted that the international pressure must be increased so that Asad is compelled to think otherwise.

Dilawar Sherzai is the permanent writer of the Daily outlook Afghanistan. He can be reached at dilawar.sherzai@gmail.com

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