Turkey’s support for the Syrian rebels in the neighboring country’s civil war has led to a policy of choosing between “bad and worse,” say analysts urging Ankara to come up with an impartial approach to the crisis.
The government of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has shunned dialogue with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and explicitly called for his ouster after diplomacy failed to convince him to adopt democratic reforms.
Turkey has also become a base for Syrian rebels and army defectors who form the core of the opposition Free Syrian Army.
A recent article in the New York Times was among many to claim that Ankara’s Esenboga Airport was now a major hub for arms supply to rebel factions — though Turkey denies arming the rebels.
“Turkey’s Syria policy has been full of mistakes since the very beginning,” professor Huseyin Bagci of the Middle East Technical University said. “Turkey is perceived to be a contract killer in Syria backing the radicals.”
Witnesses have said they have seen jihadist fighters staying in hotels in Turkish border towns, shuttling back and forth from Syria.
The merger of al-Nusra and al-Qaeda, considered terrorist groups by Washington, has bolstered the Damascus claim that the rebels are extremists. Al-Nusra has been playing an effective role in the fight against al-Assad’s forces.
Ankara is betting on the likelihood that the radical elements on the rebel side will not fit into Syrian society, and when the conflict is over, they will be “weeded out.”
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has admitted Turkey would face “extraordinary security risks” whether or not al-Assad remains in power in Syria as the two countries share a 910km frontier.
“Turkey is a frontline state in the Syrian crisis. Whatever happens has a direct effect on Turkey,” said professor Carlo Masala of the University of the German Armed Forces.
Turkey makes its decisions based on its own perception of the Syrian situation, and its policy on Syria is the “result of a hard choice between bad and worse,” Masala said.