If the United States, Russia and Iran have stakes in Syria, Turkey cannot ignore the fire burning in its backyard. Given the recent tumultuous events in Middle East, including Syria and Iraq, Turkey is required to play a wider role in the complex situation, especially after a wave of terrorism has swept across the country, leaving no place safer for military or the general public. Dozens of people, including civilians, policemen and army personnel, have been killed in bomb blasts and travel warnings are issued in the western capitals asking their citizens to avoid travelling to Turkey.
Turkey has recently foiled an attempt to turn the country into another Syria, Iraq or Yemen and has cut the military to its size. The government has spent no time to clear the mess of the great debacle created by disgruntled elements in the army and elsewhere in the civil government departments. The government of President Recap Tayyip Erdogan has averted a major disaster but the military coup has raised many questions which entail multiple answers.
Turkey is the leading economy in the Eurasian region and is growing at a fast rate after the current president came to power and is a major cause of Britain’s exit from the European Union. The coup has failed but it has left several untold stories of political polarisation and a trail of conspiracy theories still ripe in that country. Turkey has so far emerged successful in many internal and external threats, including US attack on Iraq and civil war in Syria.
Despite close economic cooperation with former Iraqi president Saddam Hussain, Turkey kept itself away from the political chaos and aftereffects of Iraq war in the country. It has successfully kept a balance between the new leadership of Iraq and the United States, protected its economic and territorial interests and foiled every attempt to revive uprising in Kurd areas.
The economic growth in Turkey multiplied during the years of chaos and wars in the neighbouring countries. At least 2,000 Turkish troops are stationed in Iraq to combat “Kurdish rebels” as well as Islamic State, a move disliked by the Iraqi leadership. Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi wants Turkey to withdraw its forces from Iraqi territories, fearing escalation of hostilities.
Iraq has emerged as one of the most unstable countries in the region along with Syria which has been enduring civil war for the last five years. Political disasters have fallen upon the two countries one after another, shaking the stability of the entire region. The governments in Iraq and Syria are weak but oppositions are strong, inflicting heavy losses on the government forces as well as civilians. A new phenomenon in the form of ISIS emerged as bolt from the blue, not only bringing fresh wave of disaster for the people of Iraq, but also for Syria.
As a result of the wars and disasters, millions of Syrians have taken refuge in the neighbouring countries, including Turkey. Several international military powers are trying to keep their presence in Syria and any mistake from any side can bring catastrophe for the whole region.
Two events pushed Turkey, which had so far been keeping close relations with Israel and Russia, to bring some basic changes in its foreign policy. No one would have remotely imagined that Turkish relations with Israel will be estranged at a point and no one would hardly imagine that Turkey will shoot down a Russian aircraft. But Turkey kept its dignity and respect intact when it refused to normalise relations with Israel until it apologises for attack on the Turkish flotilla back in 2010.
However, two important developments occurred before the coup debacle. President Erdogan apologised to Russian President Vladimir Putin for aircraft incident and Israel apologised to Erdogan for Flotilla attack.
Erdogan has now started to purge the army, judiciary and education departments of the hostile elements, but the United States, blatantly violating the norms of international diplomacy, has started opposing the process. Media reports suggest Gen Joseph Votel, the commander of the US Central Command, has called the purge of the Turkish military ranks as “something to be very, very concerned about.” The general, who overseas military operations in the Middle East, failed to hide concerns when he said that the United States had very special relationship with the Turkish military leaders. He openly expressed his concerns and worries about the level of cooperation and collaboration in the future scheme of things, especially in Syria.
It is alleged that the United States has decided to use Syrian-Kurdish People’s Protection Units as its main ground force which would further estrange relations between Turkey and the United states. The organisation has been listed as a terrorist outfit not only by Turkey, but also by the United States.
If Turkey launches a military operation in northern Syria, analysts fear the move could push the country into a prolonged chaos where the situation is already complex. However, Turkey is leaning toward Russia, especially after the coupe and an alliance between the two can be a major shift in Ankara’s policy which has supported the rebels so far.
Russia and Iran support Bashar al-Assad and the United States supports rebels. In this situation, Ankara will have to walk on the tightrope of diplomacy as the country will not be able to directly oppose its major ally, the United States, despite growing cooperation with Russia.
Ironically, the major powers have failed to find a political solution to the Syrian crisis and its escalation will not only put the entire Middle East in chaos, but has potential threat to the world peace. Turkey is finding midway not only to save itself from the fire on its borders but also its relations with the United States. The country has emerged as a major stakeholder and any peace deal on Syria cannot be materialised without a go-ahead from Ankara.