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

Share
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: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £45,000

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a solutions / s...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £45,000

£18000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive is required t...

Recruitment Genius: Test Development Engineer

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you inspired to bring new a...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Motor Engineer

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Kennedy campaign for the Lib Dems earlier this year in Bearsden  

Charles Kennedy: A brilliant man whose talents were badly needed

Baroness Williams
Nick Clegg (R) Liberal Democrat Leader and former leader Charles Kennedy MP, joined the general election campaign trail on April 8, 2010  

Charles Kennedy: The only mainstream political leader who spoke sense

Tim Farron
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific