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Security Trends South Asia » Other Security trends » Why Turkey cannot go to war with Syria?
Ambassador K. Gajendra Singh

Jul 7, 2012

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Why Turkey cannot go to war with Syria?

            Having spent ten years in Turkey ( 1969-93 & 1992-98 ) and kept a watch on Turkey since 1967 , I have been dismayed by the events in and around Turkey in the last decade , some engineered by the Turks themselves ,  others beyond their control like the US led 2003 illegal invasion of Iraq , which fortuitously it did not join , thanks to strong peoples opposition and a non-committal Military .The military, a well organized and disciplined force and till now secular and stake holder in the country having helped Kemal Ataturk create it out of the ashes of the ruins of the defeated Ottoman empire after WWI , when the victorious and rapacious Europeans led by the British wanted to reduce the present state to one fourth of its current territory .

The autonomous military establishment has been fiddled with and weakened perhaps even as a war machine in the wake of arrest of many serving and retired senior officers including respected generals on not too believable charges by special courts, the kind which Ataturk used in 1930s against London conspiracies against the new republic after the British forces moved into Iraqi Kurdistan oil areas of Kirkuk after the ceasefire .Turkey has still hopes of recovering that area.

            In spite of late President Turgot Ozal itching to get into the war into Iraq in 1991 , the Turkish military opposed it and military chief even resigned on this question . Turkey has little experience of a real full scale war since  WWI , and the War of independence against encroaching European forces from all sides , wherein Ataturk and the military made its reputation. A Turkish brigade fought valiantly in the 1950s Korean war, to help entry into NATO .Since then a police action against the militia in Cyprus in 1974 has nothing to write home about .Yes it has fought a war of attrition against Kurdish rebellion in SE Turkey since 1984, in which 45,000 Turks mostly Kurds but including 5000 soldiers have lost their lives.

Syria was the base for the Kurdish PKK under the leadership of Abdullah Ocalan, now imprisoned in a prison near Istanbul. He was expelled from Syria in 1999 when following the collapse of USSR , Damascus sans its ally USSR was forced to send out Ocalan under threat of military attack from Turkey .Now Syria has full support of Russia , Iran and indirectly of China and Shia ruled Baghdad and Hezbollah in Lebanon . After the expulsion of Ocalan and the illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003 , relations between Ankara and Damascus improved beyond recognition , but the revolt of the Arab masses against US supported dictators in the Middle East and Washington and Riyadh concern to divert the movements away from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf , and Riyadh’s massive financial aid and support has made a mincemeat of FM Davutoglu’s foreign policy of Zero friction with neighbours not helped by PM Erdogan’s hot headedness and love for applause of Arabs ( for speaking out against Israel)  , now Sunni leaders if not the masses on its stand first on Libya and now Syria ..But it is not gonna be anything like that .Turkey has got itself into a real mess in its foreign policy ,with no friend around in neighbourhood.

Turkey should also remember that it’s not happy population of Kurds is around 20% looking at Kurds in autonomous north Iraq , lording over oil revenues ( while Turkey has little) and about 15% Alevis, Shias like those of Iran and ruling minority Alwaite dominated leadership in Damascus .Turkey’ border province of Hatay –Antakya( old Antioch) has a sizable Alevi population , and was awarded to Turkey after allegedly a rigged referendum by the West , which hoped that Ankara would join the Allies in WWII , in which it remained neutral as wisely advised  by Ataturk to his successors before his death in 1938 .Damascus then ruled by Sunnis did not object much but it has not given up hope .Whenever  the author crossed over to Syria while posted in Jordan ( 1989-92) , he found the Syrian border officers very friendly and hospitable but  also noticed that Hatay was shown inside Syria in its maps .

 The Middle East is a tapestry of religions, beliefs, nationalities, ethnicities and languages which the Ottoman Sultans with their Turkestan’s imperial and catholic outlook kept together by allowing them called Millets freedom in their beliefs, education, language and customs. It is estimated that the population of those who migrated from central Asia to Turkey is no more than 15% .The rest are local population who were Islamized and Turkified over centuries .Kurds, an Indo-Iranian people are indigenous, while the Turks entered what was known as Anatolia/Asia Minor in early 11th century when it was Byzantine empire and Istanbul was known as Constantinople.   As perceptive diplomats have known, big powers can make deal at the cost of smaller nations, while still maintaining an adversial posture.

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