Turkey recently announced that only Syrian refugees would be allowed to cross the border to fight against the so-called Islamic State (IS) in the besieged town of Kobani. In an email interview, Sinan Ülgen, a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe, discussed domestic influences on Turkey’s Syria policy.
Ülgen: The Turkish business community has not really been a factor shaping the government’s Syria policy. In previous years, when the relationship with Damascus was markedly warmer, companies in Turkey’s southeast profited significantly from this rapprochement. Border trade was increasing, and many Syrians were traveling to Turkey for shopping, tourism and even medical care. Now this positive dynamic has ended. Turkey’s overall exports to Syria have fallen by 40 percent. But the severity of the political tension between Ankara and Damascus does not allow the business community to play a role in shaping policy.
Ülgen: Turkey’s Kurds have recently staged violent street protests to express their dissatisfaction with what they perceive to be the inaction of the Turkish government in the face of IS’s siege of Kobani in Syria. The Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), the political representative of Turkey’s Kurds, even threatened to pull out of ongoing peace negotiations with the government. They are intent on using the leverage provided by the negotiations to get the Turkish government to adopt a more interventionist stance on Kobani.
But so far Ankara has resisted this pressure. For Ankara, ensuring U.S. support for the regime change agenda in Syria is more important. That is the reasoning behind calls for setting up safe havens to be backed by a no-fly zone within Syria. Another factor shaping Ankara’s decision-making is the perceived affinity of the Kurdish faction in Syria toward the Assad regime. Ankara wants the Rojava, or Syrian Kurdistan, administration to break away from Assad and take part in the anti-Assad coalition.
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