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The following article appeared in Cumhuriyet on 26 March 2014. Translated from Turkish by Tim Drayton

Crisis Mongering with Syria

Mustafa Balbay

The first recourse of regimes whose domestic support has dried up is to seek external problems. In doing so, their intention is to bring the entire country together in the face of that external problem and portray this sensitivity of society as being support for the regime.

Our shooting down on Sunday 23 March on the Syrian side of the Turkish-Syrian border of one of the latter country’s planes brings just this political reality to mind.

If there is a threat to Turkey’s integrity and existence, then without doubt the most violent response will be forthcoming. But, this is not what emerges from reports of the events on the border with Syria.

Sadly, the AKP government is attempting to extricate itself from the quagmire into which it has fallen, having embarked on a hawkish policy with the claim that the Assad regime would be overthrown within no more than a week, by creating even more dire quagmires. After all, the future of the Assad regime is no longer dependent on Syria’s internal dynamics alone. Embroiled within this affair are international actors, the dispute between the US-EU and Russia, China’s endeavour to play a more active role in the region and Iran’s strategy of cocooning itself behind a periphery allied to it.

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International designs weigh heavily on Syria, with which we share our longest border at 800 kilometres. When the Assad regime becomes strong, there is support for the opposition; when the opposition grows strong, there is diplomatic support for the Assad regime. A veritable imperialist see-saw!

This picture harks back, whether we like it or not, to the appearance of Turco-Syrian relations at the time of the Cold War. Then, relations between the Assad senior regime, with its pro-Moscow policies, and NATO-member Turkey were marred to no small extent by the Cold War. Mines were laid along a 510-kilometre section of the border. This long, thin minefield covered an area the size of Cyprus. The Cold War ended and, cleared of mines, there was talk of opening up this space for use by local people, chiefly for agricultural purposes. The broad expectation was that, as Turkey’s south-eastern land was made fertile through the GAP project, this would spur Syria into creating similar projects on its territory and that the border would thus be transformed into a bridge of peace.

Look at what has transpired since then.

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The strategic shallowness of our foreign policy is not restricted to Syria. Our dreams of zero problems with neighbours have disintegrated into zero relations.

For the first time in the history of the Republic, we have no ambassadors in four of our neighbours. The dubious relations with Egypt that started with a Muslim Brotherhood policy ended with the withdrawal of our ambassador. In Israel, tension over humanitarian aid brought our relations to rock bottom, with ambassadors being withdrawn. With Syria, never mind ambassadors, even minimal relations have been shelved. The problem with Armenia inherited from previous governments was brought to the negotiating table, in the expectation of an instant solution, and has been stuck there ever since. It is unclear whether our relations with Iraq are those of state to state, state to North Iraq administration, state to terror organisation or government to terror organisation.

To revert to the issue of Syria, as Ataturk stressed, “War, unless for a nation’s independence, is murder.”

With little doubt as to the extent to which Syria is capable of threatening Turkey, efforts to stoke up the current crisis, even if this may appear to be of short-term benefit to the regime, will cause in its immediate aftermath problems that will overwhelm it.

With five days remaining until the elections, the AKP’s horizons are limited to avoiding the brand of failure in the local elections.

So be it if Turkey is the loser!

Archive of Turkish press translations by Tim Drayton