I think what’s been happening in the last 24 hours is a cause for concern but necessarily for panic. There is a concern that certainly it could escalate. The Turkish Government has felt pressure for quite a long time to be seen to be doing something. And the Turkish jets went down on the 22nd of June and the Turkish Government made a lot of threats and then they didn’t do anything. And now what appears to be in strange shells that came across yesterday and killed some people, I would imagine it was an accident, I haven’t seen any evidence to suggest it was deliberate. But nevertheless I think the Turkish Government wanted to try to prove both to the Turkish people and also to the international community that it wasn’t going to continue some more empty threats.
In terms of the danger of escalation, Turkey shelled last night and shelled again early this morning, if it leaves it like that and there is no response from the Syrian side, then I think this will all calm down again. But if there is a response from the Syrian side, then we could have a really dangerous escalation. The good news really is that there is absolutely no desire in NATO to get involved in this because President Obama has elections coming up, he is not going to want to start a new war, he’s already got enough problems with the ones that his predecessors started. He is not going to want to start a new war going to elections. And NATO, though it doesn’t like Assad, it doesn’t really want to get involved in what is happening inside the country.
The Turkish Parliament is prepared to approve the Turkish operation against Syria.
Well, it is a kind of threat. At the moment, as we are speaking, it is debating a parliamentary motion to give permission for the Turkish forces to stage operations outside the country, beyond its borders. What happens anyway is that they have one year permission, the Turkish military has a one year permission to stage military operations against suspected positions of the Kurdistan Workers Party (the PKK) in northern Iraq. And that permission was due to come up already this month anyway. And so what they’ve done is that it is the same parliamentary motion but now they’ve expanded it. From the texts I’ve seen this morning, I mean the parliamentary discussion is taking place secretly behind the closed doors and all the journalists are being thrown out, so it is difficult to know what they are actually talking about, the text of the motion I saw this morning had removed the reference to Iraq and replaced it with foreign countries.
So, instead of having a permission to go and stage military operations against the suspected PKK in northern Iraq this new motion will give the Turkish military a permission to go and stage military operations against any foreign country without having to go to the Parliament first. Under the Turkish law if you are going to do a military operation outside the country’s borders you have to get an authorization from the Parliament. So, in one way that’s an escalation in the sense that it means the Turkish military could send the troops across the Turkish border at any time without having to get authorization from the Parliament. But it is only an escalation if it actually used and I don’t think there is any desire within Turkey, certainly the Turkish people don’t like Assad, they don’t like what is happening in Syria but they don’t use public pressure that Turkey should be actively involved.
Is the shelling taking place in the Kurdish region?
As far as I understand there are quite a lot of Arabs in the region where the shell actually landed because when the Turkish border was drawn by the British and the French after the World War I, they’ve put a line through not only the Kurdish areas but trough the Arab areas as well. There are certainly quite a lot of ethnic Arabs in this area where the shell landed yesterday.
And have also heard that there are a lot of Syrian opposition members. We can say that there are the refugees who tried to escape Assad’s regime but there are also a lot of Syrian opposition members concentrated on the border with Turkey. Is that correct?
Absolutely! Turkey now has become one of the main platforms for the Free Syrian Army. Militants are moving back and forward across the border relatively easily, a lot of the weapons… Turkey isn’t really supplying very many weapons to the FSA but it is facilitating in the sense that they are buying weapons on open markets and they are coming through Turkey. And there are also reports of some of the FSA receiving training in Turkey and not so much again by the Turks themselves, or the facilities that they are using that are controlled by Turkey, but from Qatari and Saudi Arabian military trainers. So, in terms of the platform for the FSA Turkey has become very important. And we have also FSA fighters when they are wounded, they also are getting treatment in the Turkish hospitals. So, it is not as if Turkey is being completely impartial in this conflict.
It is really so dangerous. But at the same time, if I get you right, everyone would hate to see another war evolving there, at least.
I don’t think there is any desire in Turkey for another war. And I don’t there is any desire in NATO for another war. But I think what’s been happening is that Syria is being a humiliation really for the Turkish Government because it has ambitions to be a regional superpower and now for eleven months it is calling on Assad to step down and he hasn’t gone. So, there is a slight concern about that it is a Turkish pride that they involve and make things worse and they are already bad enough.
Sir, thank you so much. And just to remind our guest speaker was Gareth Jenkins – Senior Associate Fellow with the Joint Center's Silk Road Studies Program and Turkey Initiative coming to us all the way from Ankara.