The empire strikes back (part 1)

map turkey syria border posts

The Bab al-Hawa, Jarablus and Abu Kamal border posts, all now under the control of Syrian rebels.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon declares that the escalating conflict on the Syrian-Turkish border is “extremely dangerous,” and makes a strong appeal to stop the flow of arms into the region.

On Sunday, Turkey’s military fired on targets inside Syria for a fifth consecutive day in response to a Syrian mortar that landed on Turkish soil. These exchanges are provoking international fears of a regional conflagration.

I mentioned the situation in a recent post, taking the line that it seemed reasonable for Turkey to protect its territory. That, it seems, was much too simplistic a view.

I have since been reading an article by Robert Fisk, where he makes a comparison of the Turkish-Syrian situation with that of the UK and Northern Ireland back in the 1970s.

Hitting the nail on the head (as usual), he sheds more light on Turkish reaction to the fatalities in Akçakale:

“Typically, Al-Jazeera… was the first channel to cover the response of local Turks to the killing of the family in Akçakale: they blamed their own Turkish government for using the village as a jumping off point for rebels entering Syria – and thus turning their town into a target.

“And another story that isn’t being told. Syrian shells exploding in Turkey are largely landing in the province of Hatay (Akçakale is further east), but what is not being reported is that until 1939, Hatay was part of Syria – and that Syria still claims this coastal province as Syrian territory. The real story – since it involves Europe and Hitler – should be told. For hundreds of years, this territory was Syrian. Alexandretta (now Iskenderun) was the finest port in Syria. But as the power of Nazi Germany grew in the 1930s, the French, who then held the League of Nations mandate for Syria, decided to hand the whole place over to the Turks – in the hope that Turkey would join the Allied side against Hitler.”[1]

There is also dismay among Turkey’s political opposition parties. Faruk Logoglu, member of the main opposition CHP (which voted against the motion to allow cross-border military action) was asked his assessment of Turkey’s current policy towards Syria. His succinct answer? “A complete disaster.”

Logoglu maintains that the government’s “complete embrace of the Syrian opposition, including its military components” has “intensified the conflict… and probably resulted in more deaths than would have occurred otherwise.”[2]

Once again, what initially seems a justified military reaction “within international law” has its complex roots in a swirling mix of nationalism, ethnicity and recent history. Dangerous stuff – no wonder Ban Ki-moon is sounding desperate.

[1]: The Independent

[2]: AlJazeera

Image source: AlJazeera


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