Recent Developments About Syria

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The official Polish state and radio requested my presence, via Skype, on their 6p.m. (GMT +3, İstanbul time) live broadcast on the Saturday the 5th of October 2012....

The official Polish state and radio requested my presence, via Skype, on their 6p.m. (GMT +3, İstanbul time) live broadcast on the Saturday the 5th of October 2012. The topic discussed, in the live reportage, was the most recent development in Syria.  This broadcast was also shared with General Stanisław Koziej, PhD, Secretary of State - Head of the National Security Bureau and Alexey Malashenko from Carnegie Moscow Center, Russia.  The interview is as follows:

Text of the interview given to the Polish Official Radio and Television on 06.10.2012

First Question:  Could this mortar attack that killed five civilians across the border in Turkey be a deliberate provocation by Syrian authorities or just a tragic accident? How does Turkey see this?

Ambassador Murat Bilhan’s Answer:  My personal view is that this mortar shell that killed three children and two women and wounded some ten people in the vicinity could not have been a deliberate action.  I believe this because no one, whether from the Syrian regime or from its opponents, would aim deliberately to kill three small innocent girls and their mothers.  No human being, not even wild animals would do so.  So I do not take it as a deliberate provocation. 

But, it is no doubt a violation of the sovereign territory of the Turkish Republic.  According to what I know, eight such incursions have happened before.  This means that, whoever is responsible for those shots does not care where his bombs will fall and he does not care about the official borders of two international entities.  This cannot be tolerated.  Repeated violations should have a price for the responsible.  They should be punished.

On the other hand, whose artillery batteries have inflicted these casualties and damages is yet a question to be answered.  My guess is that it is the Syrian regime’s forces, by several reasons and evidences:

First, technically, the opposition forces are squeezed between the Turkish border and a 10-15 km deep strip of land south of Turkey, where the Syrian regime forces are positioned.  They continuously bomb and chase the opposition forces and thus some bombs might fall into the Turkish territory. 

Secondly, immediately after the recent escalation, the Syrian official circles, without denying responsibility –but also not accepting it- have offered their condolences for the innocent civilian casualties. 

Thirdly a Syrian spokesman announced that an investigation has been started to look into the incident.  This could be interpreted as some kind of a confession.

Fourthly, the opposition groups do not have a specific reason to shoot towards the direction of Turkey. 

Fifthly the operation’s long range, and the fact that the opposition groups are not well-equipped and well-trained enough to complete it, raises them from suspicion.

Sixthly the shells that fell into the Turkish territory have been proven to be part of weapons belonging to the inventory of the Syrian army. 

Seventhly the Turkish radars have captured the sites of firing from the Syrian side, upon which the Turkish artillery has been locked on and began its retaliatory bombing. 

But there are reasons for both the Syrian regime, as well as the opposition to draw Turkey into the Syrian conflict.  The regime would be happy if there were Turkish intervention, pushing Turkey to confront Russia and Iran, if they have staff there.  The opposition would also like to draw Turkey into Syria so that they would strengthen their hands.  But Turkey has every reason not to fall into that trap, for the reason that both entities want Turkey to intervene.

Second Question: The Turkish parliament authorised military operations outside the country’s border.  Prime Minister Tayip Erdoğan said that this is intended solely as a deterrent.  But if such an attack happened once again, is it possible that Turkey will use its military troops in Syria?

Ambassador Murat Bilhan’s Answer:  The Turkish Government has been empowered by the Parliament to act promptly and take relevant defensive and retaliatory offensive measures if and when unnecessary, without referring to long legal procedures to achieve such an authorisation for one year, after a long, confrontational and controversial session between the opposition and ruling parties.  This was based on Article 92 of the Turkish constitution.

This does not mean that Turkey will intervene immediately militarily to Syria.  The Turkish Prime Minister has declared clearly that he does not want this, but Turkey’s patience should not be tested.  In order to strengthen the hands of the Government and to authorize it by legitimacy to its decisions, this is an obligatory step in a democratic country. 

Turkey has many reasons not to intervene militarily in Syria.  First, its Republican tenets and principles prevent it from doing so.  One of these tenets is Ataturk’s motto, “Peace at home, peace in the World”.  Based on this general principle the Turkish foreign policy has never entered any war, since 1922. Secondly, Turkey considers its territorial integrity almost sacred and consequently considers other countries’ territorial integrities also inviolable and Syria is no exception to this.  Thirdly, in an international problem such as Syria, Turkey could not act alone and unilaterally; it needs legitimacy to intervene and in such a case the trigger could take the form of a direct and deliberate offensive into Turkish territory under Article 51 of the UN charter.  Fourthly, Turkey’s commitments to the conventions and international law which she feels faithfully attached to (pacta sunt servanda) forbid her from intervening.

Furthermore, if Turkey were to commence military action in Syria because it would not be observing good neighbourly relations (Iran, Iraq and Russia are some examples).  Any unprovoked attack on Syria would be completely against Turkey’s interests because they would be going up against strong opponents.  Also a country’s good relations with its neighbours are essential, not only for its economy, but in its international relations.  An attack on Syria would ruin these relationships, which are essential for Turkey.

These ideas are backed further by the fact that Turkey’s economy is on the rise, becoming stronger by the day.  Any attack would mean billions in costs, halting the country’s growth and sacrificing the welfare of its citizens.  It would have a lot to sacrifice.

Question Three:  There are about 10000 Syrian refugees in Turkey.  The tension between Syria and Turkey is very high.  If the situation deteriorates, what kind of help could Turkey expect from NATO as its member?

Ambassador Murat Bilhan’s Answer:  This is a question that is on everyone’s mind.  Many people have asked me if Turkey should ask NATO to act invoking Article 5 (the main idea of this article is “one for all and all for one” where if one member is attacked, all intervene), considering Turkey’s membership and its territory having been violated, causing death to civilians.  However, NATO is a very powerful organization, Syria is not.  Syria is a small fish to fry in comparison to the awesome power of NATO.  It does not stand a chance.  NATO also has no direct need to act in Syria; it is interested in the Middle East as an area, but not Syria individually.  The essential part of the process is that NATO acts or steps in only if all its members agree unanimously to take action.  Every member has a veto clause and is able to use it to decide a certain course of action.  Because of this clause, if Turkey had invoked Article 5 against Syria, it probably would have been vetoed by one or more members of NATO.  Instead, Turkey decided to invoke Article 4 in the place of 5.  This Article is a consultation mechanism.  Instead of taking direct violent action, Turkey asked NATO for advice, winning its support. 

The number of refugees is constantly growing but Turkey is taking care of the problem as efficiently as it can.  Economically they are a big burden, especially because of the high numbers or people entering, but Turkey can handle it.  The most important message that can be sent, concerning the refugees, by Turkey, is the necessity for the international community to take action concerning these refugees.  Turkey is calling to the international community’s humanitarian side, to feel the tragedy in Syria and help as much as possible.

Question 4: Russia is seen as a country backing the Syrian Regime.  How does this attack affect the Turkish-Russian relations?

Ambassador Murat Bilhan’s Answer:  On the 14th of this month, I mean very soon, we are expecting the visit of Vladmir Putin for the Turco-Russian regular Summit consultations.  Syria would no doubt take an outstanding place in these talks.  Turkish Russian relations during the recent years have flourished in all fields starting with Turkey’s Energy dependence on Russia by 65% in Natural Gas and some other by-products.  This dependence has now been added to further with an agreement to transfer nuclear technology, by building nuclear plants, by Russia to Turkey.   These relations oblige Turkey to Russia.  Turkey supplies Russia with a large profit, because of its dependence to its power supply.  Russia cannot ignore this.  Furthermore Turkey receives millions of Russian tourists every year which contributes to Turkey’s foreign exchange earnings.  In addition to that, another important asset for both countries is Turkey’s investments in construction and contracting in Russian territory by Turkish companies.  On the Political field both sides need to raise their relations to a strategic cooperation level. 

All these points demonstrate that these two countries are, in a way, mutually dependent so minor differences such as Syria would not be considerably negatively affecting these relations.

 

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