Monday, December 19, 2011

Turkey And Syria Press The Pause Button

Turkey And Syria Press The Pause Button
Saeed Naqvi

Just as Europe is beginning to look economically desperate, Turkey next door looks like the very picture of economic, political and strategic stability. The ultimate irony, ofcourse, is that after having prepared itself on every possible count for eligibility to enter Europe, Turkey is no longer interested in Europe.

Paradoxically, having to fulfill the criteria for European entry, Turkey has had to improve all its institutions. These many improvements will have stood Turkey in good stead whether or not it ever enters Europe. For the foreseeable future that project appears to be on the abandoned list.

For years German, French and various central European leaders have held that Europe was basically Christian in its religious and cultural orientation. And, now the sheer economic decline of Europe may trigger a rethink at a time when enthusiasm for Europe is at its minimal in Turkey.

A region where the Americans have been leaning on Turkish help has been the Balkans. The warmth in US-Turkish equation climaxed with the creation of a Muslim state of Kosovo.

It is therefore not surprising that whenever US-Russian relations dip, the Russians locate a place in the Balkans from where to exert pressure on the Americans.

Recently, at the time when tensions were being ratcheted up around Syria, the Russian sent their fleet into the eastern Mediterranean in support of the Bashar al Assad regime.

Since Kosovo has been carved out of Serbia, the northern enclave called Mitrovica, contiguous with Serbia, is often restive against Muslim Kosovar domination. The minority Serbs, who reject Kosovo’s statehood, have been blocking roads and border crossings dislocating supplies into Kosovo.

This year, in the process of poking their finger into the US and Turkish eyes, thousands of citizens of Mitrovica made a public demonstration of their application for Russian citizenship. The move was designed to underscore pan Slavic nationalism, as well as to expose the fragility of American hold on Kosovo. It is generally not recognized that despite all their joint exertions, the US and Turkey have not been able to mobilize recognition for Kosovo beyond a dismal figure of about 45 states which includes countries like Nauro.

To balance the US creation of Kosovo, Russians too have not been tardy: they have carved out of Georgia, the two pro-Russian enclaves of Abkhazia and Ossetia.

The tight embrace between Russia and the Southern Slavs of Serbia is on account of two factors: the inseparable Slavic bond and an equally durable Orthodox Church linkage.

For Turkey the Balkans are an area of co-ordination with the US and possible contention with the Russians.

In Iraq, one would normally expect the Turkey-Iran rivalry to extend. But this has not been the case so far. In fact the very fact of American presence in Iraq has had the effect of bringing Teheran and Ankara together on the Kurdish issue.

The evolution of the Akhwan ul Muslimeen or Muslim Brotherhood across the Arab world has generated some enthusiasm among the Justice and Development party (or AK party). First, Prime Minister Teyyip Erdogan was welcomed in Cairo and Tripoli with the sort of fanfare which was once reserved for leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru and Gamal Abdel Nasser.

The extraordinary charisma of Erdogan became a huge incentive in the rapidly transforming Arab world. He became a model to emulate. Turkey became the democracy to follow.

That Erdogan has Akhwan ul Muslimeen roots, makes him interested in the expansion of the Akhwan turf across Arab lands.

It was this positive response to the Brotherhood that was at the heart of Erdogan’s change of heart towards Syria.

Kemal Ataturk’s secularism was a mirror image of the Ba’ath secularism in vogue in Damascus. But after Erdogan won three elections in succession on a platform of mild, Islamic conservatism, Kemalist secularism became irrelevant to his purposes without his having to do anything about it.

This mild variety of Islamism which is Erdogan’s hallmark, was sought to be promoted in Syria. Bashar al Assad was invited to accommodate this variety of the Brotherhood in the political reforms he was being persuaded to undertake.

But before Assad could get into his stride, Stephen Ford, a 007 like US ambassador, was running around the country creating conditions for civil war. This kind of aggressive diplomacy has had the effect on Assad to press the pause button which has then been played up by the media as his dictatorial obstinacy.

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