A mortar shell fired from Syria killed five people in Akçakale, wounded 13 others and radically changed the political agenda.
Yet, until very recently, Turkey has been discussing the new constitution, the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AK Party) congress and the democratic promises made during this congress, and the developments concerning the Kurdish issue.
This agenda swiftly changed on Wednesday evening.
As I penned this article, Parliament was discussing a motion to allow the government to take retaliatory measures against Syria. Speaking on behalf of the government, AK Party Deputy Chairman Ömer Çelik stressed that this motion should not be perceived as a “war motion,” but as an expression of Turkey’s determination to use its rights arising from the international law. Çelik also noted that national responsibility means that all political parties should lend support to the government. It is clear that we should adopt a “national” perspective on all of these developments.
The preliminary remarks from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) implied that it would not back this motion. However, when a Turkish warplane was downed by Syria, killing two pilots, the CHP leader displayed a different attitude and made references to Turkey’s intervention in Cyprus. He equated landing troops in Cyprus to declaring war on Syria, and referring to the Cyprus operation that had started with Turan Güneş’s historic signal, “Ayşe went on a holiday,” he said he wanted the government to launch a military campaign against Syria by saying, “Ayşe went on a holiday” for a second time.
Now, the CHP exhibits a different position and says it will not say “yes” to the war motion.
There is no reason why Turkey should want to start a war. We have witnessed numerous times that Turkey’s decision-makers did not pay any heed to the nationalistic sentiments of the general public in similar cases.
But this does not mean that Turkey will tolerate every aggression against itself.
In the final analysis, this is an attack against the territories of a NATO member. Moreover, this is not a first of its kind. Similar mortar attacks have occurred in the past as well.
The preliminary findings indicate that these attacks came from the Syrian army which has continued clashes with the Free Syrian Army (FSA) along the border regions in an effort to recapture its positions. I don’t know if it is technically possible to fire such long range mortars so as to hit the center of Akçakale. Still, it is not realistic to assume that the whole incident was an accident.
In my opinion, the Akçakale incident can be readily seen as a new move from Assad and international powers that collaborate with him.
Aleppo was demolished. Defections from the Syrian army and even from the pro-Baath military/civilian bureaucracy escalated. Time is running out for Assad. Assad will not win the war he wages against his own public. But if this war can be carried beyond the Syrian borders, a long historical process and a bag of problems, equal in depth and scope to the Palestinian or Kurdish issue, can be created in the Middle East. The Syrian revolution and its counter-revolution can thus be transformed into a revolution into which all political players of the world are dragged. Turkey’s declaring war on Syria can give an international character to this revolution which currently looks like a national or internal problem.
If Turkey fights Syria, this revolution will be able to be marketed not as a nation’s quest to liberate itself from a 40-year dictatorship, but as an ethnic conflict between Arabs and Turks and Kurds.
Furthermore, it will add credence to Assad’s rhetoric of portraying it as a sectarian war.
And most importantly, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party’s (PKK) presence in Syria and Turkey will acquire an international identity based on these developments; in other words, Turkey’s Kurdish issue will transform into an international problem. Therefore, the PKK’s disarmament or any negotiation or dialogue process for potential disarmament will be shelved, and Turkey will have to fight the PKK in two fronts ---in Turkey and in Syria.
In other words, a military operation against Syria will amount to Turkey’s being pulled by Assad into a Vietnam-like quagmire which would be very much like the Russians’ Afghanistan and the Americans’ Vietnam. And in the Syrian territories, Turkey will have to fight 20 million Kurds, not those who want to give it a Vietnam-like quagmire.
According to a news story that appeared in the Financial Times, the PKK’s Syrian offshoot, Democratic Union Party (PYD) are holding meetings with the public to announce PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan’s demand that they should establish an army of 15,000 troops, and calling on young Kurds to join the PYD.
The Kurdish parties that do not have any firepower are sandwiched between Assad’s forces and the PYD troops. Two weeks ago, one of the leaders of these parties was executed.
Syria’s Kurds have been unfortunately delivered to the PKK’s yoke. What do you think Assad’s army is doing by the way? According to the Financial Times story, they play cards in their outposts. Just as Turkey is currently being pulled by the PKK back to the 1990s, it is being pulled to a Vietnam-like quagmire in Syria.
The possibility of President Ahmet Davutoğlu’s being at the helm of the Turkish foreign policy is a great chance. But this is not enough. It is a historic responsibility for the government to carefully manage the process taking into consideration the national delusions and future provocations which may prove more dangerous than the one in Akçakale
Published in Today’s Zaman on Oct. 4, 2012