Syrians Flee To Turkey As Thousands Of Assad's Troops Approach

Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Wednesday that his country will will accept the hundreds of refugees fleeing violence in Syria, according to AFP:

Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday (AP)Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday (AP)

“At this point, it is out of question for us to close the doors. The developments in Syria are really sad, we are following them with concern.

We wish Syria to be more tolerant to civilians and (further) the reform steps he has already taken, as soon as possible in a more convincing way.”

However, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said that Turkey is preparing to make security checks for Syrian refugees crossing the border.

“We have taken all necessary precautions in case of a massive flow of crossings. We have to determine their intention [in] seeking refuge.


Masher al-Assad
Masher al-Assad

The refugees are particularly fleeing from the town of Jisr al-Shughur. As we reported recently, 120 Syrian security forces were killed in an ambush on Friday, and in gunfights over the weekend. The Telegraph reports that a convoy of hundreds of tanks and thousands of Syrian soldiers are headed to the city to exact revenge. They are led by Maher al-Assad, the brother of the president Bashar al-Assad, and the most feared man in Syria. Jisr al-Shughur is now a ghost town.

Pressure builds for international response

Because of the brutal slaughter that has gone on in Syria since the anti-government protests began on March 15, Britain and France are preparing a resolution to the U.N. Security Council condemning Syria’s crackdown, according to VOA.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said,

“There are credible reports of a thousand dead and as many as 10,000 detained and the violence being meted out to peaceful protesters and demonstrators is completely unacceptable. Of course, we must not stand silent in the face of these outrages – and we will not.”

In case these words sound familiar, they’re not dissimilar to the words that Cameron was using several months ago when Britain and France were proposing a Security Council resolution for a humanitarian mission to prevent the people of Benghazi in Libya from being massacred.

However, as a similar proposal is now being made for Syria, the international climate is quite different — mainly because of the result of the Libyan resolution. Russian and China abstained on the Libyan resolution, but they’ve been saying that they’re appalled at Nato’s “overreaction” in Libya.

The draft resolution being presented to the Security Council is fairly weak, with no talk of sanctions, military action, or referrals to the International Criminal Court (ICC), according to Bloomberg.

Instead, the text simply “condemns the systematic violation of human rights, including the killings, arbitrary detentions, disappearances and torture of peaceful demonstrators, human rights defenders and journalists by the Syrian authorities,” and leaves it at that. In an effort to build support, the text adds language condemning violence against Syrian security forces and asking “all sides to act with the utmost restraint.”

The French government has gone further than the United States and Britain in condemning President Bashar al-Assad by saying that he has lost his legitimacy to rule and should step down, according to the Irish Times.

France’s foreign minister Alain Juppé believes that the resolution has the support of 11 of the 15 members on the Security Council. Russia, which regards Syria as a strategic ally, could veto the text, but Juppé said this was “a risk we are willing to take.” He added,

“Russia will probably veto any resolution on Syria . . . so what should we do? We think we must go ahead and circulate the draft resolution at the security council. We think it will be possible to get 11 votes in favour of the resolution and we’ll see what the Russians do.

If they veto, they will take that responsibility. Maybe if they see that there are 11 votes in favour of the resolution, they will change their mind.”

Turkey’s strategy

Turkey was badly burned in handling the situation in Libya. At the beginning, it opposed the Nato humanitarian mission, and supported the Gaddafi regime. Only after Gaddafi’s brutality became unbearable did Erdogan have to reverse position and support the Nato action.

Now Erdogan has an even more difficult problem with Syria. Ergodan considers Bashar al-Assad a close personal friend, and has repeatedly urged his friend to institute reforms, but has never called for regime change.

But now, Erdogan is moving in the direction of supporting regime change, according to an analysis by Foreign Policy.

There are many reasons why Erdogan has continued to support Assad. Turkey would like to regain some of the glory that it used to hold as leader of the Ottoman Empire, and Erdogan has been using Assad as a conduit to establish close relations with Arabs. Erdogan’s confrontations with Israel have been especially helpful to Erdogan in this regard, especially after the flotilla incident a year ago, and many Arabs consider Erdogan to be a hero.

But Erdogan has the same conflict that Europe, the U.S., Iran, Saudi Arabia, and other countries have, since the beginning of the Arab uprisings: Do you side with “the people,” who want freedom and democracy, but may end up triggering violence and instability, or do you side with your old friends, the Mubaraks, Gaddafis, and Assads of the world, who keep everything under control, but do so through torture and mutilation? At what point do you switch allegiance from the torturer to the people? That’s not an easy question to answer in real time.

According to the article, Erdogan has attempted to play a delicate balancing act that maintains a good relationship with Assad, while helping the opposition. On June 1, Turkey sponsored a gathering of about 300 Syrian dissidents in the southern Turkish city of Antalya, as an attempt to construct a viable alternative to the Assad family’s rule.

However, this is a risky strategy. Erdogan hopes to remain friendly to both sides, but could end up alienating both sides. In other words, the article concludes, Turkey could lose both the Arab people and their rulers if it bets on the wrong horse.

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