Erdogan’s Lifeline to Assad – a Nail in the Revolution’s Coffin
Last week, the Turkish government gave the Syrian dictator Bashar Assad a much welcome birthday present, when they announced that henceforth, Syrians living in Turkey would either have to move away from the border provinces, move to inside the refugee camps, or move back to Syria. Syrians trying to flee the country’s mayhem into Turkey are being turned back, with the Turks no longer willing to take in any more refugees.
There are around 40,000 Syrians living in rented apartments in the Turkish areas near the Syrian border. The activists’ network in the area is vital to facilitating the flow of the wounded and defectors out from Syria, and in acting as a supply line for the medical supplies, fighters and whatever small amount of arms have been acquired for the FSA. Turkey’s decision will mean that this network will effectively be shut down, thus providing the embattled Syrian dictatorship with the breathing space it desperately needed in the north of the country.
Turkey’s decision is in no small part due to the agitating by Turkish Alawites, for whom the Turkish government’s decision does not go far enough; they would prefer it if all 11 refugee camps were shut down, and Syrian refugees thrown back over the border to be massacred by their co-religionists Alawites in Syria. Syrian airforce bombing of towns and villages on the border serve as something of a mid day entertainment to Turkish Alawites near the border.
When one considers the massive support Bashar Assad has gotten from Shias in countries stretching from Lebanon, to Turkey, to Iraq and Iran, and the fact that not a single prominent member of those communities has come out and spoken against the Syrian regime’s atrocities, it is hard not to conclude that at least one side in this conflict considers events in Syria to be an ethnic and religious war to the death.
Turkey used to be a major destination for military defectors and their families; Turkey hosts dozens of defected generals and thousands of rank and file soldiers. Now, Turkey will no longer serve as a safe haven for defections, which would have been vital if the war in Syria was to come to a conclusion any time soon. The first priority of any soldier, anywhere in the world, is the safety of his or her family. Unless that soldier can be assured that his family are protected and safe, he will not have the motivation to take part in operations in other far flung battle fronts. Turkey’s decision to ban the entry of more refugees will reduce the FSA to little more than local street militias, with each member concerned only with guarding their building or house. Erdogan has, in one day, managed to do what Bashar Assad’s army and airforce could not in 18 months; cripple the FSA’s capacity for strategic movement.
Any wounded that need to be smuggled out of Syria will now have to contend with evading both the regime’s forces and those of the Turkish army. Syrian activists had a network of vital clinics on the border, which served as the only source of medical aid to refugees and fighters wounded by the Syrian air force’s indiscriminate bombing. Those clinics have now been shut down, and even the slightest wound means certain death for any Syrian so unlucky.
Getting arms and ammunition to the FSA in the north will now be very difficult, if not impossible. The few shipments of light arms and ammunition was all that the FSA had at its disposal to take on the tanks and airforce of the Syrian regime. Turkey has effectively shut down the supply route, thus denying the FSA the basic supplies it needs to carry on the fight. What Bashar Assad couldnt achieve, Erdogan has obligingly carried out.
It is just another in a series of events that underlines Erdogan and Turkey’s impotence in the region. When he isn’t busy chalking up cheap points by attacking Israel in the press, Erdogan has time and again failed to face down Assad even after repeated provocations. The Turkish government’s lack of response to the shooting down of one of its planes emboldened the regime in Damascus, and convinced it that it could carry out continued airstrikes with impunity. Indeed, the heavy use of air power by the regime only started after it became clear to everyone in the region that Erdogan’s retaliation would be limited to alot of bluster and grand standing. Erdogan’s inaction is the best answer to the lunatic “anti-imperial” Leftist fringe who loudly proclaim their defense of Bashar, as a victim of nefarious NATO sponsored insurrection and eventual invasion.
For the past two months, the regime had been fighting for its life in the north of the country. It had lost almost the entire countryside, and had been fought to a stalemate in Aleppo, the country’s largest city. Erdogan’s crippling of the FSA’s activities in Turkey will do more to aid Bashar Assad than all the vetoes Russia and China could muster. It effectively spells a turning of the tide in the north, and a capitulation by Turkey to the Assad regime. When it came down to it, the Turks did not have the stamina nor resilience to back up their grand statements with staying power, and it will be the Syrian people who will suffer the most for Erdogan’s capitulation, and the undisguised sectarianism of Turkey’s Alawites.