In the Middle Eastern corrida, the moment of truth is approaching fast. Assad’s Syria is running around the arena like a wounded bull, fraught and worn down by a year of cruel strife. Banderillas of mujaheeds stick out of his broken hide. The public, the Europeans, the Americans, the Gulf rulers call: Kill him! And the Turkish matador steps forward, pulling out his sword. His cannons rain death on Syrian slopes; fire and lead storm consumes the hills. Erdogan is preparing to deal last blow to his exhausted neighbour.
“Don’t do it, Erdogan! Desist!” – cry thousands of Turks demonstrating against the bloody war. Syria was a good neighbour of Turkey: Assad did not allow the Kurdish separatists to open the second front against the Turks, he delivered Ocalan to their hands, he did not turn the loss of Antioch into a national cause, he kept Israeli army at bay, he bore the brunt of war in Lebanon, supporting the brave warriors of Hezbullah. Post-Assad Syria will be worse for Turkey.
If Erdogan’s Janissaries will deal treachourous strike to Syria, and cause its collapse, a terrible whirlwind will ensue, and it will engulf Turkey as well. Inevitable massacre of Syrian Christians by the mujaheeds with Turkish support will remind the world of so many forgotten Christian villages and cities smashed and depopulated by the victorious Turks. The ghosts of slaughtered Armenians and Greeks will emerge from the lanes of Smyrna and the shores of Van. From broken Syria, Kurdistan will definitely come to being, reducing Turkey to the size envisaged by the Versailles Conference.
Saudis will be the great winners of the war, not the Turks. The dream of Caliphate will be centered on the Gulf, not on the Bosphorus. With their own hands, the Turks prepare their own defeat.
Good relations with Russia will suffer immensely. Russia has called upon Turkey to restrain its actions and reminded of terrible responsibility to be born by the aggressor. Russia wants Syria to find its own way. Russia is the biggest trade partner of Turkey; thousands of Turkish engineers and technicians work in Russia, thousands of Russians holiday in Turkey.
Moreover, the relations of Russia and Turkey are important beyond practical mercantile considerations. These two great countries are heirs to one greatest Eastern Roman, or Byzantine Empire. The Ottomans inherited her main body that was broken in 1918 into many splinters; her most important offshoot, Russia inherited her spirit and faith. If you seek symmetry, think of the Western Roman Empire: her main body, Western Europe, was fragmented and is now in the process of being united, while her most important offshoot, the United States of America, inherited her imperial spirit.
Russians and Turks are very similar to each other; the Turks are “Russians in shalvars”, they say. Both nations went through modernisation and Westernisation, but preserved their own identity. Both nations passed through violent denial of faith from 1920s to 1990s, and rediscovered their religious leanings afterwards.
The Russians see the Turks as equal human beings and feel empathy to them. The leading Russian historian Lev Gumilev exalted the Russian – Turkic comradeship-in-arms that broke the wave of Western Crusades in 13-14th Centuries. In modern times Vladimir Lenin gave a hand in friendship to Mustafa Kemal and forfeited all Russian claims to defeated Turkey, for he expected Turkey to sustain its historical role of protector of the East. The Russians and the Turks must remain friends. If the Russians ask Erdogan “Do not do it!” he should listen.
The Russians are not obsessed with Bashar al Assad, nor is he their best friend. He came to power in year 2000, but his first visit to Moscow took place only in 2005, meanwhile he frequented Paris and London. Russian trade with Syria is not too big, either. Israeli PM Netanyahu promised Russian President Putin to protect Russian interests in Syria in case of the rebels’ victory. The Russians aren’t selfish; they insist on peaceful transformation, in accordance with Syrian people’s will, and they do object to the rape of Syria as envisaged by Saudis and the West.
The relations of Turkey with Iran will suffer. For Iran, Syria is an important partner, a window to the Mediterranean. Victory of pro-American forces in Syria will close the window. Iranians will be mighty upset with Turkey. It is not a good idea to spoil these relations.
The people of Turkey do not want war with Syria; even Turkish generals are not keen to unleash the dogs of war. Only pro-NATO Westernisers within Turkish leadership desire to overturn the legitimate government in Damascus. Other Turks remember that doing Western bidding never led Turkey – or Russia – to any good result.
I understand why the Turkish leaders decided to embrace and support the rebels a year ago: they were misled by the Western-cum-Gulf spin of Syrian government’s forthcoming speedy collapse, and they wanted to be on the winning side. But after the noisy media campaign, reality came and debunked the propheciers: despite billions of dollars wasted by Qatar, Saudis and the West, despite heaps of armaments transported through Turkish-Syrian border, the Assad regime stands fast and still enjoys enough popular support.
This is the right time for reassessment. In every game, there is a moment for it, when you decide not to throw good money after bad one. And reassessment started, with many Turks calling to write off the losses, stop supporting the rebels and try to restore normalcy under the good slogan “with neighbours – no problems”. The New York Times reported a few days before the flare-up of the U-turn in Turkish minds: people are disappointed with flow of unruly Syrian mujaheddin, with lawlessness, with flood of refugees, with growth of Kurdish resistance. Turks are known for their daring U-turns. In 1940, they sided with Germany being certain of the Reich’s victory, but in 1944 they understood that the USSR is winning, and changed sides. Now is the time to change sides, to go back to strict neutrality, to stop support of the rebels and seal the border, said the people to the New York Times reporter.
But people overseas who planned the Syrian Disaster, drew different conclusion of this turn of mind: they decided to speed up their operations and provoked the artillery exchanges. We do not know who aimed the mortars at the Turkish border villages: whether it was done by the Syrian Army in the heat of the battle, or by the rebels trying to trigger the war. The Turkish Yurt newspaper reported that the shots were fired from the NATO weapons recently given to the rebels by the Turks: “Erdogan’s Government Handed over the Mortars to Armed (Free Syrian Army) Groups in Syria which Shelled Akcakale Town” – they headlined. The ammunition was reportedly NATO ammunition 120 AE HE-TNT. Even the New York Times admitted that it’s unknown who’s responsible for mortars landing in Turkey. A German TV canal ZDF reported: mortars were launched from territory controlled by FSA fighters. A leaked video clip said they admitted responsibility for striking Akcakale and killing five Turkish nationals.
But it is possible that the shells were fired by the government troops who shot at the rebels and the Turkish villagers became innocent victims. Provided the Turks allow the rebels to operate freely on their territory, it is quite possible.
It is still not a good reason to begin war. Let us remember 2010, when the Israelis murdered mafia-style nine unarmed Turkish volunteers on board of Mavi Marmara. This was brutal murder at full daylight, filmed and undoubted. Erdogan threatened to send Turkish Navy to the shores of Palestine and relieve Gaza by force. Now, did he do it? No, he did not. Now he is brave to shoot at tired and devastated Syria; but why he was not brave enough to deal with Israel, like the Syrians did?
Now Israelis hope Erdogan will help the rebels to destroy Syria; they asked Turks to coordinate joint action with them. So instead of punishing Israel, Erdogan ends with doing Israel’s desire.
I remember snowy February 2003 in Istanbul, when I came to argue for banning the US army passage to Iraq. I told them that “the long standing Zionist plan is being realised. First, Iraq must be destroyed. After that, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria, until all the former Ottoman Empire and its neighbours from Pakistan to Africa are turned into a Zone of Special Interests for Israel, policed by the Turks.
This plan was outlined by General Sharon many years ago, re-formulated by the Zionist Neo-cons Richard Perle and Douglas Feith in 1996, and is now upheld by the Wolfowitz Cabal, the people who run the US foreign policy. If it will be done, it will have been done with the connivance of Turkey, of its ‘Islamic’ government.
I am sorry for you, friends. You were shepherds of the Middle East, now you help the Wolves. You were the rulers of men, now you have become the servants of your masters. You were the protectors of Islam, now you are about to allow desecration of al-Aqsa Mosque.”
What I said then, became true; nothing good came out of Iraqi war. And now, I can say it again: nothing good will come out of Syria War.
The stories of multiple massacres are often just stories. Wikileaks published a Stratfor report saying: “most of the [Syrian] opposition’s more serious claims have turned out to be grossly exaggerated or simply untrue.” And the events on the ground are certainly not worse than whatever was done to Kurds in Turkey, and the Turks probably do not cherish a R2P intervention in their country.
My advice: do not try to finish off Syria, return to your policy of strict neutrality, cease fire and logistic support of the rebels. Let the Syrians sort out their problems themselves, without foreign intervention.
Israel Shamir is now in Turkey. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org
We’ve marked down some of CounterPunch’s most popular t-shirts to only $8.00,including the CP shirt featuring Alexander Cockburn’s own scrawl.