Talking Syrian secure zones in a Turkish ‎beach resort

Ankara stresses need for action against ISIL at NATO diplomatic meeting as it bears brunt of Syrian refugee crisis.


    It was Rudyard Kipling that said East is East and West Is West and never the twain ‎shall meet. Clearly Turkey was not on Kiplings mind when he wrote his ode to the Indian Sub continent but East and West is where Turkey lies and the connection between the two is defining characteristic of this former empire.

    To the east lies Syria and Iraq. The west is Russia and Europe, and both present significant challenges to Turkey. Syria's brutal, fractious war has spilled over into neighbouring countries and Russia's foreign policy role casts a long shadow over the region.

    It was that thinking that dominated Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu's opening remarks at the NATO Foreign Ministers meeting in Antalya, Turkey. He stressed the need for action against ISIL and that Turkey was bearing the brunt of NATO member states when it came to Syrian refugees and humanitarian aid.

    Jan Stoltenberg, the NATO Secretary General ‎echoed his remarks and said that more needed to be done in combating the threat from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

    But then silence on Syria, with the summit concentrating on Ukraine and NATO's commitments in Afghanistan. Syria was once again the elephant in the room. Everyone knows it is there, but nobody wants to really talk about it. The reasons are clear.

    It is Turkey's problem. NATO have fulfilled thier constitutional requirements by deploying the Patriot Missile defence system to it's border with Syria.

    Any further action needs to be proposed by Turkey. One idea it is thinking about is implementing secure zones in Syria that would allow for refugees to return, for international monitoring organisations and humanitarian aid stations to be established.

    However this would require an immense military effort and is technically and legally an act of war. The idea was first floated by Turkey in 2012 and resurfaces on occasion at international summit. If a military effort to establish safe zones was to be convened it would likely be run by NATO.

    All of its member states are part of the coalition against ISIL in some way or another, so it makes sense. ‎James Appathuria is NATO's Deputy Assistant Secretary General for Political Affairs.‎

    "We know Turkey thinks this is the right thing to do, and we know they have brought it up in other forums. We also know that they have discussed it with the US and with Saudi Arabia," he said.

    So if all the member states are involved in the coalition against ISIL‎ in some way, then why have not the secure zones been established?

    The answer lies in complex number of factors. Nestled in the lush green fields of the Antalya country side is the international university, home to international affairs lecturer Tarik Oguzlu. He is of the opinion that question on who to fight might be the issue.

    "There is a disagreement between An‎kara and Washington on who the enemy in Syria is. For Turkey it has always been Assad, the Americans insist it is ISIL.

    That has meant any kind of NATO role is difficult. For Turkey religion and culture also plays a part. Any kind of intervention by Turkey alone into an predominantly Muslim Arab country would not go down well at turkish citizens.

    Antalya is close to the Syrian border but its provincial authority has discouraged them from coming.

    "Because you do not see the refugees on the streets here and in other major urban centres it is not an issue for the people, but military action will be," continues Oguzlu.

    There are also electoral considerations with an election just a few weeks away. All of these disagreements and issue between countries have created an ‎situation which both Assad and ISIL, Jabhat Al Nusra and the various other factions have taken advantage of.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera



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