Turkey: Erdogan’s statements and Davutoglu’s ‘final warning’ to Assad – all bark, no bite

Following the attack on Jisr ash-Shugur 6 June 2011 and the wave of refugees that poured over the border turkish officials stepped up their critique against the Syrian leadership. The official reactions of PM Erdogan, as reported by Today’s Zaman on the 8 June, was “Syria should change its attitude towards civilians and should adopt a more tolerant level as soon as possible“. Possible not the strongest of statements. But that where about to change.

As Syrian refugees flooded Turkey the horrors of Jisr ash-Shugur was thrust into the Turkish election. On 10 June Erdogan attacked Bashar’s brother Maher al-Assad who is believed to have led the crackdown, “Sadly, their actions are inhumane…Now the barbarity… Now think [soldiers] pose [for a photo] in such an ugly way at the bedside of women who they killed… that these images cannot be digested”. Later the same day, as reported by Today’s Zaman, Erdogan called the attack on Jisr ash-Shugur savagery – “I say this clearly and openly: From a humanitarian point of view, his brother [Maher Assad] is not behaving in a humane manner. And he is chasing after savagery,” Erdoğan said. “Out of necessity, this is putting the UN Security Council into operation. There are preparations going on there. In the face of this, we as Turkey, cannot continue to [speak in favor of] Syria.”

After the meeting between FM Davutoğlu and Bashar al-Assad’s envoy Hassan Turkmani Davutoğlu had this statement according to Today’s Zaman: “We underlined that Turkish support to Syria hinges on the willingness of the Syrian government to adopt sweeping reforms in the country. We detailed our suggestions before and even relayed a written proposal to Damascus on how they should proceed to stabilize the country…We want a strong, stable, prosperous Syria. To achieve this we believe it is necessary to implement the comprehensive reform process towards democratization guaranteed by [Syrian President] Bashar al-Assad…In order to achieve this, the violence must stop immediately. Yesterday [in reference to his visit to the refugee camp] I clearly saw the fear in the eyes of the people…”

Yet these harsh words did little to curb the entusiasm of the Syrian regime.

The Turkish anger hit another high when, the day before the start of holy month of Ramadan Syrian troops attacked the city of Hama. This time Erdogan and Davutoğlu were joined by Abdullah Gül, the President of Turkey. “The use of heavy weapons against people in Hama when Ramadan began shocked me. It is not possible for us to remain indifferent to this violence.” Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu also voiced his concerns early on at the attack on Hama and the fact that it was taking place as the holy month of Ramadan began: “We were greatly disappointed over yesterday’s operations, especially the operations conducted in Hama. Both the timing and the way Syria conducted the operations were enormously wrong. We severely condemn these operations,”.

This was followed by PM Erdogans clear message to Syria: “We have been very patient until now, waiting to see whether we can fix this; whether they will listen to what we have been saying. But our patience is running out now. He [FM Ahmet Davutoğlu] will talk with the government and convey our message in a determined manner. The ensuing process will be shaped by the response we get. We cannot remain a bystander to what happens in Syria. We are hearing voices from Syria and we must respond by doing whatever we are required to do”.

After this barrage of condemnations the anticipations of Davutoğlu’s meeting with Assad mounted. From the Syrian side Bouthina Shaaban stated that “if the Turkish foreign minister believes that he is arriving in Syria to deliver a firm message, then he will hear a firmer message from us.” The Swedish FM Bildt, who enjoys excellent relations with Davutoğlu, stated on his blog that Davutoğlu would deliver a ‘final warning’ to the Syrian regime. Adding fuel to the fire and pressure on Bashar al-Assad Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain withdrew their ambassadors. The GCC and Arab League spoke out against the Syrian regimes aggression against it’s people.

After six hours of who three was a tête-à-tête between Davutoğlu and Assad this was the Syrian statements: “the President al-Assad highlighted that Syria would not tolerate the armed terrorist groups, in order to preserve its stability and provide the security of the citizens; and that Syria is also insistent and determined on completing the comprehensive reform process she has been implementing, and that in this context she is open to receive aid from friendly and ally countries…the President al-Assad gave a briefing to the Turkish Foreign Minister about the situations taking place in certain provinces of Syria as a result of the armed terrorist groups’ killing the private citizens and the peace keeping forces, and also their spreading terror among the people.” From Davutoğlu these ‘harsh’ words were issued at a press conference in Turkey: “Mr. Assad conveyed his own thoughts, and we shared our views for the bloodshed to stop as soon as possible and people of Syria from all sects to live in peace in the future…we have conveyed Turkey’s message openly and clearly. Everything will be different in the following days…we had a long meeting. We have discussed very openly and in a determined way every detail that should be discussed. Not months and weeks, but days remained to see the consequences.”

On 10 August, as a follow up Davutoğlu meek statement Erdogan said that he hoped Syria would take steps towards reform with 10 to 15 days and put a stop to the bloodshed. Well this statement really takes the price. In the UNSC Presidential Statement their was a number of demands made that the Syrian regime should fulfil. And a deadline, of a sort, of seven days. After those seven days UNSC asked the UNSG to give them a report on the situation, i.e. how Syria complied with the demands in the Presidential Statement. Now Turkey comes with a deadline of their own – 10 to 15 days. To me it sounds very much like as a ‘go ahead’, a green light. The Syrian regime that they have 10 to 15 days to slaughter as many protesters as possible, after that reforms will have to start being implemented. Their is not a doubt in my mind that the Syrian regime saw this as another signal of weakness from Turkey.

So what happened. Did the Syrian regime back down? They did move out their tanks from Hama, something which was played up by Turkey as something that Davutoğlu pulled off. But the attack on Deir ez-Zor continued. And Homs was attacked, again. And later Latakia where Syrian naval forces shelled the city. But what can you expect? Turkey has time after time signaled to their Syrian counterparts that it is ‘all bark and no bite’. No sanctions, no nothing.

Now there are more reports of Turkish officials, yet again, being angry and feeling betrayed by their Syrian counterparts. Yet again ultimatums have been issued. After Davutoğlu talked to the Syrian FM Moalin and Erdogan spoke to Assad Turkey has issued its ‘final word’. Well, their have a ot of those lately. I am afraid that if Turkey does not show that they are willing to back up their words with actions, why should Syria care?

About Leif Eriksson

Leif Eriksson has worked in the field of asylum at the Swedish Migration Agency specializing in the Middle East, Schengen and the Dublin Regulation, as Migration Attaché and head of the migration section at the Swedish Embassy in Damascus 2005 - 2008, as a resettlement consultant at the UNHCR branch office in Damascus 2008 - 2009, Consul at the Swedish Consulate General in Jerusalem 2012 - 2013 and associate RSD/RST officer at UNHCR in Beirut 2013 - 2014. He currently lives in Tbilisi, Georgia.
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