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Many Turks Concerned with Erdogan's Syria Policy

  • Setareh Sieg

As fighting drags on in Syria, the Turkish government continues to stand behind its campaign to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. But, domestic opposition is growing against the government's Syria position and Turkey's acceptance of waves of Syrian refugees.

There is discontent on the streets of Istanbul, Turkey's most metropolitan city. Government critics complain about the surge in the number of refugees from Syria and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's support of the Syrian opposition. They say the policies of the Turkish government are hurting trade and may lead to instability as refugee numbers swell.

The United Nations refugee agency said Tuesday that more than 100,000 Syrians reside in 14 government-run camps spread across seven provinces.
Ilter Turan is a political scientist at Bilgi University.

"It is rather an expensive proposition," Turan noted. "I am not able to judge how much longer Turkey will be able to host these newcomers, particularly if the numbers keep increasing."

And as cross volleys of mortar shells between Turkey and Syria take place almost every day, Turkish soldiers are increasing their border presence, worrying Turkish citizens.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has called for intervention from major powers to stop the violence in Syria

In Monday's U.S. presidential debate on foreign policy issues, both President Barack Obama and challenger Mitt Romney sparred over how best to support the Syrian opposition.

"Now - what we're seeing taking place in Syria is heartbreaking, and that's why we are going to do everything we can to make sure that we are helping the opposition," said Obama. "But we also have to recognize that, you know, for us to get more entangled militarily in Syria is a serious step."

Mitt Romney argued the US needs to intervene in a larger way. "This is a time - this should have been a time for American leadership. We should have taken a leading role, not militarily, but a leading role organizationally, governmentally to bring together the parties there; to find responsible parties."

But the Turkish government is feeling increasingly isolated.

"Turkey misread the willingness of others to participate in the intervention and Turkey is not interested in staging a unilateral intervention," Turan explained. "So Turkish policy of bringing about change through intervention does not seem to be working at the moment."

A significant drop in trade since the conflict began is a big concern. Some companies say they are doing a fifth of their normal trade since Turkish trucks no longer carry goods into Syria.

What began as a display of international leadership is increasingly becoming an internal political problem for Erdogan and his government, one that seems be getting more complex by the day.
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