Syrian Opposition Eyes Turkey for Arms Support

Syrian refugees gather up before a walk outside their camp in Reyhanli, Turkey, Sunday, March 4, 2012.
Syrian refugees gather up before a walk outside their camp in Reyhanli, Turkey, Sunday, March 4, 2012.
Dorian Jones

The Syrian National Council has called for a bureau to be created for facilitating arms to the opposition in Syria. This is posing a dilemma for Ankara, which has been strongly supporting the opposition but has refrained, at least publicly, from backing the arming of the opposition.

Ankara has refrained from commenting on the Syrian National Council's call for a bureau to be created to provide armed support for the Free Syrian Army, an armed militia that is fighting against Syrian security forces. The Syrian National Council, or SNC, an umbrella organization made up of opposition groups, made the call on Thursday in Paris and named Turkey as a possible location for the bureau.

But at a meeting on Friday between the SNC leadership and Turkey's foreign minister, both sides denied discussing the issue, saying the talks focused on the next gathering of the international group "Friends of Syria," scheduled to be held later this month in Istanbul.

The "Friends of Syria," brings together Arab and Western countries supporting the Syrian opposition.

Ankara continues to keep up the pressure on Damascus over its bloody crackdown on dissent.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Saturday launched the latest attack against the Syrian government at a press conference with his Italian counterpart.

He said the Syrian army is massacring its own people - whereas before the government was using live rounds only against protesters, it is now shelling civilian neighborhoods indiscriminately. Davutoglu said this is not acceptable, even in war.

Turkey claims it has given sanctuary to around 10,000 Syrians fleeing the ongoing crackdown. With Syrian forces now moving towards resistance centers close to the Turkish border, more are expected to follow.

Ankara also has allowed the opposition Syrian National Council and members of the Free Syrian Army to be based in its territory. But the Turkish government has resisted, at least publicly, in supporting the arming of the opposition.  

Semih Idiz, a diplomatic columnist for the Turkish newspaper Milliyet, says the SNC's public calls for arming the opposition have embarrassed Ankara.

"Well, it leaves Turkey in a difficult situation. It contradicts a lot of positions in the past. Namely, about non-interference [in] other countries' domestic affairs. Engaging in this kind of power play with military involvement in another country actually stands to rebound on Turkey in other ways," Idiz said.

Ankara fears that any support for arming the opposition in a neighboring country could open the door to retaliation by Damascus by offering support to the Kurdish rebel group, the PKK. The PKK has been fighting the Turkish state for greater rights since 1984, and many of its members are Syrian Kurds.

But international relations expert Soli Ozel of Istanbul's Kadir Has University warns that with Syria's crackdown intensifying, Ankara's room to maneuver is becoming increasingly limited.

"Turkey is caught between [a] rock and [a] hard place. It has made a lot of claims about its power and influence. It is being drawn [into] a quagmire and [is] being asked to do things it does not actually want to do. Absolutely, Turkey wants the cover of some kind of international legitimacy, which it could not get from the U.N. Security Council," Ozel said.

Observers say support from the United Nations Security Council is unlikely, with permanent members China and Russia predicted to oppose any such move. Last month, both countries vetoed a motion that would have punished Syria for its crackdown.

Diplomatic columnist Idiz says the upcoming Syrian opposition forum could ultimately provide the means for Ankara to openly support the armed opposition.

"If there is a kind of consensus that has emerged among the so-called "Friends of Syria" group, I think yes. Because Turkey has engaged itself very strongly against Assad. If Assad continues to hammer his own people, then I think will be left with no choice. It will try to use the argument that had there been intervention in time [in] Bosnia, then 250,000 people may not have died," Idiz said.

There is speculation that Ankara is already providing armed support to the Syrian opposition, or at least facilitating it - a claim that Ankara strongly denies. Observers warn there is already growing unease in the country that Turkey is in danger of losing control of its own destiny in the deepening crisis in Syria. Those concerns seem destined to grow, with Damascus showing little sign of letting up in its bloody crackdown on dissent.

Join the conversation on our social journalism site -
Middle East Voices
. Follow our Middle East reports on
Twitter and discuss them on our Facebook page.
This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
With HIV, Can We Get to Zero?i
Carol Pearson
November 29, 2015 1:23 PM
The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." The U.N. says new HIV infections have been reduced by 35 percent since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths are down by 42 percent since the peak in 2004. VOA's Carol Pearson takes a look at what it might take to actually have an AIDS-free generation.

Video With HIV, Can We Get to Zero?

The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." The U.N. says new HIV infections have been reduced by 35 percent since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths are down by 42 percent since the peak in 2004. VOA's Carol Pearson takes a look at what it might take to actually have an AIDS-free generation.

Video Political Motives Seen Behind Cancelled Cambodian Water Festival

For the fourth time in the five years since more than 350 people were killed in a stampede at Cambodia’s annual water festival, authorities canceled the event this year. Officials blamed environmental reasons as the cause, but many see it as fallout from rising political tensions with a fresh wave of ruling party intimidation against the opposition. David Boyle and Kimlong Meng report from Phnom Penh.

Video African Circus Gives At-Risk Youth a 2nd Chance

Ethiopia hosted the first African Circus Arts Festival this past weekend with performers from seven different African countries. Most of the performers are youngsters coming form challenging backgrounds who say the circus gave them a second chance.

Video US Lawmakers Brace for End-of-Year Battles

U.S. lawmakers are returning to Washington for Congress’ final working weeks of the year. And, as VOA's Michael Bowman reports, a full slate of legislative business awaits them, from keeping the federal government open to resolving a battle with the White House over the admittance of Syrian refugees.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video After Terrorist Attacks, Support for Refugees Fades

The terrorists who killed and injured almost 500 people around Paris this month are mostly French or Belgian nationals. But at least two apparently took advantage of Europe’s migrant crisis to sneak into the region. The discovery has hardened views about legitimate refugees, including those fleeing the same extremist violence that hit the French capital. Lisa Bryant has this report for VOA from the Paris suburb of Cergy-Pontoise

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

As Thailand takes in the annual Loy Krathong festival, many ponder the country’s future and security. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs