Friday, August 12, 2011

Why can Syria not Meet the Expectations?: Codes of the Talk between Davutoglu and Assad

The Turkish-Syrian relations had gradually developed since 1999, and lastly upon lifting visa requirements, a major step was taken on the way towards social, economic integration. However, the “Arab Spring”, which spread to Syria on March 15th 2011, reversed this process. The main reason was the fact that Turkey had been centralizing the concepts of “legitimacy and values-centered foreign policy” in her foreign policy for a long time. This approach required Turkey to stand by the “democracy” demands, in other words by the local communities, during the wave of transition in the Middle East. A contrary case could lead to a crisis of legitimacy in the Turkish foreign policy by creating a contradiction between the discourse and practice. Nevertheless, the requirements of the real policy prevented Turkey from taking quick steps on certain problems. In this sense, Syria has been one of the most striking examples.

Throughout 2000's, Turkey argued for a transition that would be provided through internal dynamics spread to a long term, in return for the U.S.' hard policies towards Syria. In this sense, results were obtained in certain fields as well. Syria's relations with the West were relatively improved thanks to Turkey, and the reformist wing in Syria got stronger. However, the “Arab Spring” brought about the demand for a rapid and radical change in the region. This very situation brought along the necessity of reducing the process of transition in Syria, which Turkey tried to achieve for years and in which she made great strides, to a quite short process. Being on the horns of a dilemma between the “values-centered foreign policy and the real policy”, Turkey had to adopt a criticizing attitude towards the Assad administration, with which she had established close relationships for the last 10 years.

Facing with a problem of “regime survival”, the Syrian administration felt discomfort because of Turkey's defining the problem as the “legal demands of the civilian population. On the other hand Turkey clearly stated that she got “disappointed” because of the fact that the reform advices she had given to the Assad administration, which Turkey had been standing by for years, were not taken into consideration. Turkey mentioned “her still-continuing hope for Syria and her belief that Syria could still make a reform” for a further length of time. Nevertheless, the military operations the Syrian army carried out in Homs, Deir ez Zor, and especially in Hama caused Turkey to give up almost all her hopes. The fact that the Hama operation reminded the “Hama Massacre” in 1982, and that the Prime Minister Erdogan had made the statement of “we do not want new Hama's” beforehand, caused the operation to be a milestone for Turkey. In the following statements, the Foreign Minister Davutoglu indicated that “the events breaking out in Hama deeply affected them, and that both the method and the timing of the events taking place in Hama were impossible to accept.” As the Prime Minister Erdogan stated as well, after the operations, Turkey “reached the threshold of tolerance”. This strong foreign policy discourse brought along the question of “which new foreign policy tools Turkey will put into practice, in case Syria continues to squash the events by using force.”

The multidimensional and deep relationships, which were established over 10 years, rapidly drew back in a process of a couple of months, which was tried to be summarized above. In such an environment, the Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu paid a critical visit to Damascus on August 9th 2011, in order to deliver Turkey's messages and expectations. The talk, which was carried out between the Foreign Minister Davutoglu and the Syrian leader Bashar Assad, could be a milestone for the Turkish-Syrian relations depending on the steps the Syrian administration will take in the forthcoming days. Although Turkey critically approaches towards the way of squashing the civil commotion, Turkey has served as a “shield” between the West and the Syrian administration since the beginning of the events. Waiting for more rapid and more concrete steps to be taken, and arguing for the increase in the international pressure and for the implementation of sanctions if not so, the West adopted a milder attitude because of the expectation that Turkey could persuade the Assad administration. However, Turkey's being in a “shield” position between the West and Syria would find an end in case the expectations, which were brought up to agenda during the talk between Assad and Davutoglu, are not met. And this would come to mean that more international pressure and sanctions would be implemented on Syria, in the forthcoming period.

During the Davutoglu-Assad talk, the Turkish side mentioned she expected from Syria that her concrete expectations come true in a short term, on a scheduled base. On the statement he made related to the talk, the Foreign Minister Davutoglu stated that, “they shared what should be done for a political reform process in accordance with the demands of people, and that they talked on very concrete issues.” “We hope that steps that would staunch the bleeding will be taken in the forthcoming days,” Davutoglu said, and he mentioned this period as “weeks, even days”. He highlighted that this short period “would be critical both in terms of Turkey and Syria”. Davutoglu briefly defined his expectation as “taking political reform steps that would reflect the Syrian people's will.” And the news, which were published on the press, were delivered to the Syrian side by stating that, “putting an end to the civilian massacre and passing to the multi-party system are the only choice.”

No statement related to the meeting was made by the Syrian authorities. Nevertheless, the short news the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) published related to the Davutoglu-Assad meeting, was saying that “in order to preserve the stability and the security of the citizens, the Syrian leader stated that his country would not be tolerant to the 'armed terrorist groups'. In addition to this, the statements also include that, “Syria is insistent and determined in completing the comprehensive reform process she has been implementing, and that in this context they are open to receive aids from friendly and ally countries.”

When looking at the statements of the both sides, it is seen that there is a basic problem of approach. Turkey considers the problem as the “demand of the civilian population for a transition”, and thus she seeks the solution in political reforms. As for Syria, she considers the “armed actions of the terrorists” as the real problem, and she regards the fact that the civilian population takes part in the demonstrations as an exceptional situation. And this designation causes the Assad administration to centralize the military measures on its struggle with the problem, and to the fact that it considers the reform steps as “detail”. What is understood from the statements reflected to SANA is that, “if Turkey wants to share her experience on the reform steps to be taken, that would be a pleasure; but the advices on putting an end to the military measures used during the fight against 'terrorists' would not be taken into consideration.”

The fact that the Syrian regime approaches to the problem in this way, and that the regime tries to solve the problem by strict measures is quite normal from its point of view. Because an authoritarian management mentality prevails in Syria, and a group of political and economic elites having a sectarian connection between each other prevails this structure. This situation puts a limit to the regime's capacity of making reforms. The regime thinks that a reform process, which Turkey and the West expect, would come to mean that their power would find an end in a short term. In addition to this, they believe that they will lose further more of the position they already have, in case they give up on the power, because of the fact that they are composed of a sectarian minority. Therefore, the regime has been “fighting to survive”, and it will continue to squash the demonstrations by force until the end. On the other hand, certain reform steps would continue to be taken in order to reduce the pressure of Turkey, thus of the West. Nevertheless, these would not be at a fulfilling level.

Listing certain steps in order to show what reform means to the Syrian side could be explanatory. Published by SANA, this list explicitly shows that the Syrian and Turkish sides do not mean the same thing by reform: reducing the period of compulsory military service to 3 months; increasing the salaries of the public servants; removing the Supreme State Security Court; granting amnesty to the electricity debit interests; creating an Anti-Corruption Commission; granting amnesty to the college students, conferring citizenship to 32.000 people, who applied for, within the scope of the law in order for the Kurdish originated citizens to have the Syrian Republic citizenship; creating commissions of modernizing information and economy; making the operations of the citizens in the government offices easier; enacting a repentance law for the criminals before May 31st 2011; approving the act related to the general elections; approving the act related to the political parties. It is obvious that most of these reform steps are headed towards winning only a few groups of people in the society. Any transition, which is related to the root of the system, has not been observed. The fact that political parties law was enacted, could be displayed as the most important development, and this does not mean a lot in an environment, where “the leading role of the Ba'ath Party” is safe by the Article 8 of the Constitution. So that, these are such steps that would satisfy neither Turkey nor the Syrian opposition. Most probably, the Syrian administration does not expect a solution coming out of these steps. The regime seems to have come to a certain decision on solving the problem in military ways. The reform steps are such as to be the steps in order to reduce the international and Turkey's pressure, and thus to gain some time. The failure of the Libyan experience, and thinking that international intervention is a remote possibility because of the Russia-China-Iran support, Syria would think that she would put an end to the demonstrations by force within the period of time she gained.

For Turkey, the biggest risk of the Syrian administration's acting like that would be spread of the instability to a long period of time. As long as the problem continues; costs related to diplomacy, security, and economy would increase in terms of Turkey. The relations would be damaged with every passing day, as a result of failure in meeting the expectations. As the relations with the Syrian administration get tense, it would not bring the increase of efficiency on the Syrian people and opponents either. Because above the critical attitude, the opponents expect that the concrete steps are put into practice. Turkey's strong political discourse has increased the level of expectation. Lack of meeting the expectations could lead to a disappointment for Turkey among the Syrian opponents, in other words among the majority of society.

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