Keep Turkey’s Military Out of Syria

A solution to the Syrian civil war should include diplomacy and humanitarian relief from Turkey, not military action.

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In this Sept. 3 photo, Syrians gather by the rubble of a house, destroyed from Syrian forces shelling, in the Syrian town of Azaz, on the outskirts of Aleppo, Syria.

Dr. Elizabeth H. Prodromou is affiliate scholar and co-chair of the Southeastern Europe Study Group at Harvard University and served (2004-2012) as vice chair of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom.

The Turkish Parliament's green light last week for cross-border operations and the Turkish General Staff's deployment of armored units for possible engagement with Syria are ominous signs of the escalation of the Syrian civil war into a regional war that will have catastrophic consequences for those immediately at risk—namely, unarmed civilians in Syria. The United States has welcomed Turkey's leading role in trying to find a solution to the Syrian quagmire. But the moment has come for Washington to be clear that Ankara's assistance can be optimized through diplomacy and humanitarian relief and should absolutely exclude unilateral military action.

What has become a proxy war between the despotic Assad regime's Syrian Armed Forces and the militarized jihadist-Salafist groups funded by Iran and Saudi Arabia, has already produced many thousands of civilian casualties in Syria and has highlighted the serious threat to the survival of the country's Christian minority. Turkey is a country with a founding history of genocide against its Christian population and continuing privations against its various religious minorities, a scorched-earth policy against more than 3,000 Kurdish villages in southeast Turkey, and continuing military occupation of the northern portion of European Union member-state Cyprus—all of which stand as stark cautionary tales against any Turkish military involvement in Syria.

[See a collection of political cartoons on Syria.]

Ankara's priorities are regional order and Turkish military hegemony in the Near East, which means the elimination of Syrian Kurdish positions. Turkey also aims to position itself as the leading Islamic power in the Middle East, which means bolstering Ankara's bona fides against other Sunni leaderships and versus Shiite alternatives. Neither of these goals is consistent with rule-of-law governance and the protection of endangered minority populations in the region, much less with a sustainable security environment for Israel and a stable, post-Assad Syria. 

Turkey's recent actions should catalyze a long-overdue international response, preferably one endorsed by the United Nations, in the form of a collective security umbrella and humanitarian relief plan that can stabilize the Turkish-Syrian border. Given Ankara's brutal human rights record against its own Kurdish civilian population and its efforts to erase the Christian population in Turkish-occupied Cyprus, any solution to the Syrian problem must quickly move to preclude unilateral military action by Turkey.

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