Gül: Turkey Has “Lost Confidence” in Assad

In a rare public rebuke, the Turkish president lambasted his Syrian counterpart.

Turkey's president Abdullah Gül speaks at a Council of Europe summit, October 3, 2007
Turkey’s president Abdullah Gül speaks at a Council of Europe summit, October 3, 2007 (Council of Europe)

Turkey’s president lambasted his Syrian counterpart in remarks that were televised on Sunday, saying that Ankara had “lost confidence” in Assad’s ability to lead his country in a period of transition. The public rebuke was the latest in a series of Turkish condemnations of the violence in Syria.

President Bashar al-Assad defies mounting regional and international pressure in his effort to repress a popular uprising that has swept his nation in recent months. After longtime dictators were toppled in Tunisia and Egypt earlier this year, Syrians, too, took to the streets to demand political change but were met by the bullets of the security forces of a regime that appeared determined to quell their dissent.

Turkey, after fostering political and commercial relations with neighboring Syria for the better part of last decade, urged Assad to reform and meet the demands of protesters in the wake of the turmoil that engulfed the Middle East this spring. When its calls fell on deaf ears in Damascus, “it marked an end to an experiment known as the ‘zero problems’ foreign policy,” wrote Peter Vine this month.

Otherwise reluctant to interfere with or even comment on the political situation in another country, Turkey’s government criticized the Syrian crackdown on demonstrations and warned its citizens that their lives might be at risk if they traveled to Syria. As Daniel DePetris observed two months ago, the Turkish prime minister was growing visibly annoyed about Assad’s violent ways. Syrian refugees are pouring into Turkey by the thousands. Turkish companies, which invested billions of dollars in Syria last year alone, are worried what might happen with their business if the unrest continues.

There is also the Kurdish question. If the Ba’athist regime fails to either appease the protesters or contain their disrupting influence on Syria’s stability, it might prove an opportunity for Kurdish nationalists on both sides of the border to reassert themselves. Turkey renewed strikes against suspected Kurdish militant targets in northern Iraq this month in what was probably not a wholly unrelated event.

Iraq, for its part, has expressed support for President Assad and urged anti-government protesters in Syria not to “sabotage” their state. Iran, a traditional Syrian ally, has also remained on Assad’s side whereas other Arab states agreed that he had lost the legitimacy to lead after King Abdullah wrote that “what is happening in Syria is not acceptable for Saudi Arabia” two weeks ago.

President Abdullah Gül went a step further this weekend when he asserted that there was “no place for totalitarian regimes and one-party governments” in the Middle East anymore. “Clearly, the leaders of these countries will take the initiative or they will be changed by force,” he added.