Istanbul, Asharq Al-Awsat – Turkish officials yesterday acknowledged that the sanctions announced by Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu did not constitute a significant “leap” in Ankara’s dealings with Syria, particularly as many of the sanctions announced on Wednesday have already been in place for months. However Turkish officials have strongly defended the actions taken by Ankara, and Turkish presidential adviser Arshet Hormozlo told Asharq Al-Awsat that these sanctions represent a “first step”, and their objective is to “convince al-Assad of the necessity of reviewing his calculations and returning to the path of prudence.”
The Turkish presidential adviser also told Asharq Al-Awsat that the sanctions announced by Davutoglu only represent one package of sanctions which may be followed by additional sanctions. Hormozlo, who utilized the expression the “Syrian administration” rather than the “Syrian or al-Assad regime” throughout his interview with Asharq Al-Awsat – as part of a symbolic gesture to underline the 180 degree change that has occurred in Syrian – Turkish relations – also stressed that “these sanctions are a first step, we will now wait to see the response of the Syrian administration and whether it returns to the right path that leads to a peaceful transition of power or not.”
As for Ankara’s response if Syria does not respond to these sanctions, Turkish Presidential Adviser Arshet Hormozlo told Asharq Al-Awsat that “[in this case] there will be additional sanctions that the Syrian administration will find truly painful.”
Ankara’s sanctions on Damascus have incited internal debate within Turkey about the Turkish government’s position on the Syrian crisis. Turkish opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu strongly criticized the economic sanctions that the Turkish government has imposed on Damascus. The leader of the Turkish Republican People’s Party, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, who is the main opposition leader to the Recep Tayyip Erdogan government, reportedly accused the Turkish government of “implementing the policies of foreign countries on Syria” adding that Ankara was “interfering in the internal affairs of a foreign state.” Kilicdaroglu reportedly accused the Erdogan government of being a tool of foreign powers, adding that the actions taken by Ankara do not befit a country such as Turkey.
Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc responded to Kilicdaroglu’s accusations and condemnation by stressing that the Syrian people have legitimate demands and that Ankara’s relations with foreign governments cannot come at the expense of the people.
Speaking during a press conference in Istanbul yesterday, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said “we have spoken with them [the Syrians] in a language that they understand [sanctions], and we have supported and endorsed the resolution adopted by the Arab League because this is the right and correct option.” He added “at the same time, we are keen to ensure that these sanctions do not affect the Syrian people, and so we will not cut off the water or the electricity no matter what happens…because the Syrian people would be affected by this.”
Arinc also stressed that Turkey is not keen to see military intervention in Syria, saying that Turkey would ideally like to see “transition of power [in Syria] without bloodshed”. The Turkish Deputy Prime Minister added that “foreign intervention [in Syria] is not the right move…and Turkey does not support any foreign military intervention in Syria.”
As for the issue of a buffer zone along the Turkish – Syrian border, Arinc stressed that Turkey is unlikely to take such a step, but added that “if there is a requirement for this [buffer zone] Turkey can move – in coordination with the Arab League – to implement this…if the Arab League requires.”
Whilst Syrian opposition spokesman Ahmed Ramadan told Asharq Al-Awsat that the Syrian opposition has not asked Ankara to establish a buffer zone, adding that should the Syrian opposition decide to make such a request, they will direct it to the Arab League and the United Nations. He told Asharq Al-Awsat “we do not want any foreign military intervention, for the Libyan scenario is no good for Syria.” He added “the [Syrian] regime is weak and fragile, and may collapse sooner than people think.”
Ramadan praised the actions taken by Turkey, saying that the coordinated Turkish, Arab League, and international sanctions on Syria has helped to delegitimize the al-Assad regime in the eyes of the Arabic and Islamic world, as well as the international community. Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, the Syrian opposition spokesman revealed that the Syrian opposition is working to isolate the al-Assad regime on three levels: economically, politically, and diplomatically. He said “the al-Assad regime cannot bear this isolation, because it is different from the regime that existed under Hafez al-Assad and which relied upon such isolation…whereas the current regime has outside interests and engagements and will be unable to continue under such [political] isolation.”
Ramadan described the Syrian opposition as being “relaxed”, adding that it is awaiting “important developments this month.” He added “we are working to completely besiege and isolate the Syrian regime, whilst preserving our internal movement and completing the program to dismantle the regime.”