An up-close look at rising Turkey-Syria tensions…a Turkish man who fights in Syria…
Antakya, Turkey – Last week, I reported on intense clashes in the Syrian village of Azmarin. The village is now reportedly in rebel hands, at least for now. It was one of the last positions Syrian regime forces held along Syria’s 550-mile border with Turkey. Turkish citizens, and journalists such as myself, observed the intense clashes in the village from the town of Hacipasa, across the Orontes River in Turkey.
Billows of smoke rose following explosions and machine guns chattered. There was a brief pause in the fighting when Turkey scrambled two F-16 fighter jets after a Syrian regime helicopter that was firing on Azmarin approached too close to the border. The fighting continued soon after the jets left. By using a powerful camera lens, it was possible to observe the fighters in Azmarin. A group of them huddled at a corner before running down the street. A sniper positioned himself in an empty building. More explosions shook the village.
However, the news of the past week was about the growing tensions between Turkey and the Assad regime, which threatens to escalate into a regional war. Ankara is already openly backing the rebels against the regime. Increased fighting in the border region, a further influx of refugees, and recent cross border shelling has pushed Turkey into a position where it will either have to intervene more directly than it already is in Syria or metaphorically grind its teeth and hold fast while a civil war with no sure outcome rages next door.
Over the past few days I have spoken to a number of Turkish citizens in the country’s Hatay district, along the border with Syria. My aim was to get a feeling of the local sentiment towards the crisis, and also what it means for Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).
Mr Fatah is among the Turkish citizens frustrated with their government’s policies towards Syria following cross-border shelling and increased clashes in the frontier region. There is little appetite for war and some fear the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is endangering the lives of citizens with its support for rebels fighting the regime of Mr Al Assad.
Hayretin Yildiz, 32, said he was so “angry” with the conflict on his doorstep in the town of Hacipasa that, for the past months, he had been crossing the border to fight with the Syrian rebels.
“My friends are there now. I go tonight,” said Mr Yildiz, whose mother is Syrian. “I want to go, I go helping alone. We are sorting it out amongst ourselves. I don’t want Nato or Turkey to enter Syria.”
The Syrian opposition has continued to demand Western intervention in Syria, either in the form of a no-fly zone/buffer zone, or military aid. Their hope is that following presidential elections in the United States next month, Washington will change its policies towards Syria and begin taking a more aggressive stance towards the regime. At the moment, the U.S. is only supplying non-lethal support to the Syrian opposition. That is a subject that I will write a separate blog about later. The situation in Syria is very much at a stalemate. The rebels have proven themselves able to capture large areas of the countryside and some urban areas. Yet these areas cannot be considered truly liberated because the regime can attack from the air. Either the rebels are supplied with, or capture, weaponry that can bring down planes or their gains on the ground remain limited. The possibility of a political solution to the conflict currently remains slim, at best.
This leaves Turkey, a country that thought it could benefit from the aftermath of the “Arab Spring” in a precarious position. The majority of Turks remain opposed to any military intervention in Syria, with or without the blessing of the United Nations security council.
Yet the current paradigm along the Turkey-Syria border cannot be maintained for long.