Leading article: It is time for Turkey to take the lead on Syria

Here was Ankara’s first serious test as a regional power: it is a test that it has so far failed

Related Topics

Outrage over the Houla massacre remains high, but there is also a growing sense of despair that nothing effective is being done to prevent its repetition. Almost every day, evidence is produced of fresh killings by Syrian government-backed death squads that bring the country closer to all-out sectarian civil war.

The expulsion of Syrian diplomats this week was a purely symbolic gesture, and the economic sanctions in place are more likely to hurt ordinary Syrians than their leaders. And although Russia shows signs of becoming weary of paying an ever-increasing political price for its support for Syria, the stalemate in the UN Security Council is also unlikely to change for the moment.

But perhaps the most surprising aspect of the impasse is Turkey's failure to act effectively during the crisis. It is a country which shares a long land border with Syria and had previously been on exceptionally good terms with President Bashar al-Assad, helped by its exporters' domination of the Syrian market before 2011 and the Turkish goods that fill shops throughout the country.

Here was Ankara's first serious test as a regional power: it is a test that it has so far failed. But any future resolution of the crisis must involve Turkey, as the only one of Syria's immediate neighbours capable of exerting influence.

At the start of the popular uprising 15 months ago, the Turkish government appeared well-positioned to act as a conduit between the Syrian government and the opposition. Sadly, Prime Minister Tayyip Recep Erdogan set too much store by the laudatory press clippings about the rise of "the new Ottomans" and exaggerated his government's influence in Damascus.

When Ankara discovered that Mr Assad was stringing them along, without any intention of implementing their proposals for reform, warm relations between the two countries turned ice-cold over night.

But for all the talk of establishing a "safe haven" for refugees on the Syrian side of the Turkish border, it never happened, most likely thanks to the combination of threats from Iran and a desire to avoid the risk of war with Syria. Ankara would also be conscious that, until 2000, Syria was the main supporter and base for the Turkish Kurd guerrillas – the PKK – and Damascus could unleash these once again.

It would have been preferable if Turkey had not broken so wholly with the Syrian regime. As a result of Mr Erdogan's mis-playing of his cards, it is not the Turks but the Russians who have ended up as the one country with pivotal influence in Damascus. But there is still time to take back the initiative. And if there is to be regional action, it would be better led by Turkey than Saudi Arabia and Qatar – not least to avoid the absurd hypocrisy of pretending that two of the last absolute monarchies on earth are trying to overthrow Mr Assad because of their concern for the democratic and civil rights of the Syrian people.

It will be difficult at this stage to ease the Syrian regime out of power, and the prospect facing the world is rather of a prolonged guerrilla war, with alarming regional implications, that still may not produce a conclusive winner. International military involvement, or even just arming the rebels, have little to recommend them, even in the unlikely event that Russia could be brought on board. But there is much else that the international community can do, including the establishment of humanitarian corridors to ease the appalling suffering of Syria's civilian population. It is up to Ankara to take a lead.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Errors & Omissions: how to spell BBQ and other linguistic irregularities

Guy Keleny

South Africa's race problem is less between black and white than between poor blacks and immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa

John Carlin
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own