Syria the Arab Spring Term Paper

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Syria

The "Arab spring" has become one of the most important movements in the Arab world of the last decades. It has resulted in the regime change in countries such as Egypt and Tunisia, with wide reverberations in Libya, Syria, and even Iran.

The countries of the Middle East are now engaged in a process of transformation, not solely in terms of the regime change but also in terms of the mentality and social development. Although the actual spark of the Arab spring is rather hard to determine, as there were sufficient initial signs to point out this inevitable development, the Arab world, and in particularly these countries are now on the path of transformation, regardless of the resolution of this movement.

The case study focuses on Syria, as one of the most important Middle East countries, especially from the point-of-view of the regime that is in place at the moment and the international response to this regime. Currently, the Bashar al-Assad regime is under intense scrutiny from the international community, the Arab League as well as its neighbors for the way in which the regime decided to deal with the uprisings, the demonstrations, and the desire to change and improve the Syrian regime in the country.

The focus of the current research is on the relations between the Syrian state and its neighbor, Turkey, in the current development of the Arab Spring, with particular focus on the way in which Turkey contributes to the rise of the Syrian opposition.

Turkey -- Syrian relations

It is a well-known fact that the power relations in the Middle East have a strong religious component and the way in which the Muslim world is divided plays often represent the diagram of the political support that one country offers to another. The relations between Syria and Turkey are no exception to this rule. The first aspect to be taken into account is the religious one. More precisely, it must be pointed out that the two countries have a wide majority of Sunni population, while the Shiite are clear minorities in both Syria and Turkey. This aspect is important because the religious connection that exists in countries of the Middle East often provides the assurance of political and international support in case of need.

The relations between the two have not always been considered as the most privileged of the Middle East. One of the reasons for this has been the situation of the Kurdish minority in Turkey that had been constantly supported by the Syrian government as a result of the important influence the Kurds exercise in the country. At the same time though, the Kurdish PKK movement has been known to have initiated, led, and fully conducted terrorist attacks on Turkey in an attempt to ensure rights and a different status for the territories with Kurdish majority in Turkey. The leader of the PKK, Abdullah Ocalan was eventually expelled by Syria, reason for which the diplomatic and political ties were reconsidered since 1998. Since then, "Relations steadily grew closer, resulting in a free-trade agreement in 2004 and an unprecedented three-day joint military exercise in 2009. That same year, the two countries lifted visa requirements and began the highly symbolic practice of joint cabinet meetings."

. Therefore it can be said that until the Arab Spring the orientation of the Turkish foreign policy took into consideration the acceptance of the Asad regime and the potential benefic aspects of closer ties with its Syrian counterparts.

That orientation and change of perspective in the Turkish foreign policy was greatly influenced by several aspects on the international scene that made Turkey reconsider its neighbors and especially Syria. Among other issues, the Turkish relation with the European Union changed as a result of the constant Turkish bid to enter the EU to no avail until this day. The reasons for this unsuccessful bid are numerous and include aspects such as population, the size of the country, and the cultural, religious, and political differences that exist between the EU and Turkey, despite obvious attempts from the Turkish side. Therefore, there was a clear shift in orientation towards the Middle East, in the conditions in which Turkey and Israel had no longer a strong common connector in the EU.

The current state of affairs between Syria and Turkey is relatively complex, especially given the policy changed that Turkey had adopted years ago. At the moment the Asad regime is under clear pressure not only from the neighboring countries but also from the Arab League that suspended its seat in the Council. Also, the United Nations has outspokenly condemned the killing of more that 5,000 Syrian people since the riots began in March 2011. Among the crimes committed in Syria since the outbreak of the conflict there are "cases of torture and ill-treatment of detainees; rife or systematic attacks against civilian population, including the killing of peaceful demonstrators and the use of excessive of force against them; and the persecutions of human rights defenders and activists"

. Furthermore, there have been attacks on several embassies and consulates in Syria that further determined the international community to address the issue of Syria and its current regime as being violent and in breach of international law in terms of diplomatic, humanitarian, and political actions undertaken on the ground.

From this point-of-view, the Turkish stand is relatively complex, particularly because of the good relations that were being fostered with the Asad regime until the Arab Spring. The shift in the political stand vis a vis Syria had to change in order to ensure that the Turkish state is not associated with the violent acts undergone by the Asad regime. This is largely due to the fact that Turkey had previously announced a general change in the way in which democracy can be adapted to the Middle East and as a result of the Turkish bid to enter the EU, it also developed a new strategy of becoming an example of Middle East democracy that included, among other aspects, the changes Turkey had to adhere to and which is now considering as elements that can be exported to other Muslim and Arab countries in their transition to democracy. However, such an example was not compliant with the eventual support of the Asad regime and its violent crimes against the Syrian population and international staff stationed throughout Syria.

The shift in the orientation of the Turkish regime did not come immediately after the start of the riots but rather after the constant attempts by the Turkish side to mitigate, moderate, and advise the Syrian authorities failed. More precisely, as presented by Asli Aydintasbas, "four main factors drove Ankara to drop its support for the Asad regime: Assessment that Asad was either too weak or unwilling to reform, Influx of refugees, Sunni sentiments and Hama, Iran's influence."

These aspects focus in fact on several key areas of development that were crucial for the Turkish side. More precisely, on the one hand, the intent that Prime Minister Erdogan had initially envisaged was a clear brokerage of the crisis that was developing in Syria immediately after its offset. This could not however be the case because of the weak leverage Asad had within his own structures and therefore the possibility that Turkey may reduce the impact of the Syrian crisis was no longer viable but only an eventual association of Turkey to this situation, to which the Turkish side was reluctant. Therefore, from a political point-of-view, the failure to ensure Asad's peaceful transition to certain reforms was one of the first signs for Erdogan that the Syrian regime was not able to reform at the velocity required by the riots and that an association with such a regime would not be benefic for the wider long run foreign policy conducted by the Turkish state in the region.

Secondly, the influx of refugees from Syria was a very important aspect to be taken into account from two points-of-view. On the one hand the pressures that a large number of refugees would put on the population near the border with Syria would have been immense. On the other hand, the political visibility of such a crisis was not acceptable for the Turkish side.

Thirdly, the religious part that is present throughout the Middle East took its toll on the Syrian Turkish relations. Despite the fact that the majority in each of the two countries is Sunni, the fact that the Asad family had been previously engaged in massive killings and abuses determined a wide sense of disapproval among the Turkish public. At the same time though, given the wide change in Turkey in terms of the new perceptions on democracy and the role of the civil society, the Turkish government was not able to ignore demonstrations and protests that took place in the country as a result of the abuses undergone in Syria. As a result, the Turkish side further withdrew its support for the Asad regime.

Finally, another aspect is… [END OF PREVIEW]

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