Syria, The West and Turkey

There has been an ongoing political crisis in Syria for the past 18 months. Most people see it as another extension of the so-called Arab Spring, but others choose to consider the unique circumstances of Syrian society and the establishment. I believe the experience in Syria is unique in terms of the highly advanced, mostly Arabic-speaking societal make-up of Syria.

The Arab Spring did not follow a consistent pattern in the countries it is alleged to have influenced. There was a whole different experience in Tunisia, Libya, and – where the outcome was governmental change – compared with that in Syria, Bahrain, and to a certain extent Jordan, Egypt and Yemen and Saudi Arabia, where there is an ongoing struggle for progress.

It is equally valid to suggest that the Western reaction and approach to the uprisings was not consistent either, not simply in terms of individual countries, but in the fact that the inconsistency was also evident in the failure by Western democracies as a bloc to put forward a cohesive policy.

Another important developing factor during the uprisings in each individual country was the inconsistent reaction of Middle Eastern countries to the events.

The deepening crisis in Syria is now becoming more alarming by the day, with no foreseeable solution in the near future. The West has failed in the experience of Iraq and recognizes again that the Arabic-speaking nations are indeed multicultural and that their allegiances may stretch beyond borders. The mystical expectation for a change towards a democratic society based on rule of law is fast evaporating. Rather than civil society resisting an authoritarian state, we observe the onset of war with a growing number of belligerent factions taking part. In addition to this, the belligerent factions are becoming open to outside influence by regional and international powers.

In Syria’s resistance we no longer hear of a civil society which supports minority rights, women’s rights, or trade union rights but rather we hear of groups being associated with Iran, Saudi Arabia or with different parts of the political establishment in Lebanon.

The Middle East has always been a puzzle and it will never accept an arrogant approach claiming that its centuries-old divisions can be solved overnight. After a bloody and sad experience in Iraq even Tony Blair understood this, but the region and the world keeps producing short-sighted politicians.

The world and the advocates of progressive change in the Middle East should have a reformist agenda. Every dictator is surrounded by an authoritarian establishment which has social and historical roots, whether they constitute the minority or majority population in their respective countries. There is no doubt that authoritarian regimes and their leaders must go and that Middle Eastern countries should live in a democratic society with rule of law within international standards. However, the transition period and the downfall of the dictators should not be at the expense of innocent civilians who may have actively or passively sided with one faction of society or another.

In the midst of this turmoil, Turkey has failed to navigate her allies in the West in producing a reformist agenda for Syria and has lost its historical credibility in the region by limiting itself to aligning only with certain parts of Arabic society. In fact, Turkey has had the longest political experience in the Middle East, with almost five centuries of imperial past entangled with different players in the region. This ended with a well known lesson drawn by its founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk not to indulge in any further imperial ambitions there. This lesson includes respecting every country and society in the region with a sincere hope of developing peaceful relations. Turkey has managed to prevent most of the Middle East-based social conflicts in her territory by maintaining a secular and democratic society despite its shortcomings.

This historical experience should have invited the current Justice and Development Party (AKP) to consider bringing together all parties of the Syrian conflict and encourage Turkey’s own allies in the West to engage with Russia and Iran in order to achieve a sustainable peace in Syria and in the Middle East in general.

The Western world has yet again failed in the Middle East. In Iraq, Turkey did not directly side with the military conflict, but did fail to produce alternative policies for its allies. This time has not only failed to play a compass role for her allies in the implementation of a reformist agenda, but it has also failed by actively siding with the loosely organized armed opposition group in Syria. The most unfortunate outcome of this failure for Turkey is that it has failed its Syrian neighbour, which has already recorded a death toll of 20,000 people.