Touchy, Touchy: Syria “Offended” by Turkey


Mollie asked the other day what we were to make of this essay by attorney Dalia Hashad intimating that journalists who “hunt for ulterior motives from Israel’s subversive neighbors” in describing the breach of Israel’s Syrian border last weekend were engaging in “distortion.” Ms. Hashad would wish us to understand this event not as an “attack against Israel,” but rather “a reaction to a violent act of ethnic cleansing”–all very grass-roots, spontaneous and wholesome, precisely what you’d expect of people “seeking dignity, human rights and freedom from oppression.”

Let me propose to Ms. Hashad that she give some thought to this item, reported yesterday in the Turkish press. The Syrians, apparently, are “offended” by Turkish suggestions that perhaps they’ve been a bit overzealous in their efforts to restore–what do they call it?–stability?–in Syria. 

Syria is offended by some remarks by Turkish leaders that are seen as domestic political ploys ahead of the June 12 general elections, the Syrian ambassador to Ankara told the Hürriyet Daily News on Monday.

Join the club, Syria, though I must say I suspect Erdoğan is even more offended by you–you were supposed to be causing zero problems, and you’re proving a complete nuisance. 

Let me point out some of the highlights of this latest contretemps.  

The [Syrian] envoy said Syria had conveyed its displeasure to Turkish authorities in Damascus over Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s remarks comparing the Halabja massacre carried out by Iraq’s Saddam Hussein with the Syrian administration’s recent crackdown on protesters.

Erdoğan didn’t actually say this–he said he did not want that to happen: an unobjectionable comment, you might think, from the Syrian point of view, all things considered. But the Syrians are touchy on this score. I suspect they’re feeling a bit friendless these days. Even this mild comment seemed disloyal to them. It’s especially offensive because after all, they were there for Turkey:

While underscoring Turkey’s special place as a friend, Kabalan also signaled disappointment with some critical statements from Ankara.

“When Israel attacked the Mavi Marmara, al-Assad came to Istanbul and met with the Turkish president and prime minister,” the ambassador said, referring to Israel’s raid last year on a flotilla of Gaza-bound aid ships. “He said whatever action Turkey decides [to take] against Israel, we are with you all the way, including if Turkey decides to wage a war. This is the principle stance of a friend.”

I see. Not quite how I’d describe it, but let’s not fixate.

“The conspiracy has finished in Syria,” he added. “We could focus with Turkey once again on the joint interests that have brought us closer in recent years, putting what has happened behind us.”

Well, I’m not so optimistic that they’ll be able to put it behind them, because apparently, Syria thinks its problem is with the Muslim Brotherhood:

The Syrian administration has also been irked by the meetings of Syrian opposition figures in Istanbul in April. “I think Turkey has been trying to play a role, maybe which in principle has a good intention, but the Muslim Brotherhood, those who have taken part in armed operations against the Syrian army in 1980s, have Syrian blood on their hands,” Kabalan said.

“For us, the Muslim Brotherhood is like the PKK is for Turkey,” he said, referring to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK. “The Muslim Brotherhood has been attacking the army. You have to understand that sensitivity.”

Now don’t forget, Turkey and Syria not long ago nearly went to war over Syria’s support for the PKK. So that’s not the kind of comment you just throw in as a casual aside. That’s almost a threat.

He even wonders why the AKP has been offering the Muslim Brotherhood a platform:

“At the gathering in Istanbul a press conference was held by Riad al-Shaqfa, a mentor of the Muslim Brotherhood. It was carried live on Al Jazeera – an unwelcome development, I have to be honest. We did not like it. You should not give a platform to people with blood on their hands,” he said.

So odd the way everyone in this region thinks they can control the Muslim Brotherhood–until they can’t. No one seems to learn. Anyway, fortunately, these tensions and contradictions have a solution:

“We are very sorry for every single drop of blood that has been shed on Syrian soil. Syrian blood should be spread in Palestine, in fighting Israel, not in fighting in Syrian cities,” he added.

Take all of that in. You see what a pickle these leaders are in now? The AKP really believed what it was saying about its foreign policy–zero problems with (almost all) of its neighbors. They didn’t reckon on the degree to which its neighbors had ten million problems with each other, making it pretty much impossible to have zero problems with all of them simultaneously. 

And what are they going to do about the Muslim Brotherhood in Turkey now? They let that genie out of the bottle. They’ve got no idea how to stuff it back in. Davutoğlu pretty much admitted this a couple days ago: No, he said, the government would not try to stop the new flotilla, because it couldn’t:

The government also refuses to pressure İHH to stop the new flotilla, saying it is a civilian initiative and, as a democratic country, it cannot intervene in the decisions of civil society groups.

“It is an orientalist belief that nongovernmental groups in Turkey move when they are told by the state to move and stop when they are told to do so,” he said.

Do not be skeptical: I suspect he’s telling the truth. It is a very telling statement. They can’t control this little monster they nourished. It looked so cute when it was a puppy, but now that thing weighs 800 pounds. They’re just praying that if they keep feeding it, somehow it will stay focused on Israel, not them–oh, and on Syria, by the way. Lately the IHH has been staging protests in Istanbul against the Syrian regime. That’s awkward, too. 

It’s all very embarrassing and unnerving for all concerned, and there’s really only one way out: Distract everyone with this marvelous, grand vision of putting it all aside to spread blood in Palestine. Can’t we all just get along and kill them, instead? 

So Ms. Hashad wants me to “stop hunting for ulterior motives” and just accept that these poor Syrian schnooks woke up one morning and spontaneously decided to skip across a mine field to seek dignity, human rights and freedom from oppression in Israel. What do you think–do you think she really believes that, in her heart? That’s kind of what interests me–just as a matter of idle curiosity. Is she an idiot? Does she not know a single thing about this region? Or is she completely cynical?

It’s one of the above, obviously. 

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    Mostly, the criss-cross of pro- and anti-Syrian opinions. I found it interesting to see the different Turkish viewpoints on Turkey-Syria relations, and was surprised to see the willingness by some to point out the various hyprocrisies of this, that or both governments.

    The comments that touched on Israel and the Palestinians, on the other hand, were exactly what I would have expected: they seemed to range from boilerplate hatred of Israel to a well-intended but, IMO, hopelessly naive and misinformed view of the conflict.

    I suppose that what made it interesting was just the opportunity to see the kind of variety of opinion that one expects in a “Western” country, as opposed to the far more uniform sort of party-line nuances (seemingly limited to degrees of hatred, or arguments on tactics) found in discussions in most Arab countries. I have for a long time known that the Turks are an intellectually and politically varied, and relatively open, people – but sometimes it’s easy to forget that with the blowhards in Ankara these days.

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    Heshmon: I have for a long time known that the Turks are an intellectually and politically varied, and relatively open, people – but sometimes it’s easy to forget that with the blowhards in Ankara these days. · May 19 at 1:59am

    Well, you know I agree with that. That said, the readers of HDN aren’t a good polling sample; only Turks who read and write English quite well will participate in that conversation.

    But yes, Rule Number One about Turkey: They’re not Arabs.

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    Thanks for a great post, Claire.

    BTW, the comments to that Hurriyet piece are quite entertaining, in what they tell you about Hurriyet’s readership.

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    Heshmon: Thanks for a great post, Claire.

    BTW, the comments to that Hurriyet piece are quite entertaining, in what they tell you about Hurriyet’s readership. · May 19 at 12:32am

    Glad you thought it worthwhile. Is there anything that jumped out at you in those comments? Seemed a pretty typical spread of opinions to me …

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