Turkey’s Commitment To Democracy: Myth And Reality


In March 2011, the Syrian ‘uprising’ against President Bashar Al-Assad gradually progressed into a full-scale rebellion. By July of the following year – Syria was officially considered in the throes of civil war.

July, 2016 – Syria has been in a state of civil war since the last five years. Five long, bloody and barbaric years that altered the course of geopolitical history – in the country, regionally, and indeed, globally. The Syrian civil war evokes a myriad of emotions – anger, resentment, pity and primarily horror – at the atrocities committed in the name of ‘humanitarian intervention.’

The first time I learned about the principle of ‘humanitarian intervention’ was in an international law class at my alma mater at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS). Theoretically, the idea sounded very noble in principle. The notion that great nations must interveneto preserve sovereignty, human rights and the rule of law in countries rife with savagery and lawlessness seemed fairly logical. Enforcing ‘law’ in the name of human dignity and protection of the common people – who could argue with that? Interesting concept, I thought – it upheld man’s duty as moral agents – indeed, saviors – and ensured nations ought to certainly be allowed to rule freely and with sovereignty, but only if they maintained ‘civility.’

The R2P doctrine declaring a “responsibility to protect” in the moral jargon of the United Nations emphasized a greater duty to fulfill the obligation to save the peoples of the world.

Save. It’s an interesting word. How do you save people from the horrors of the chaos you unleash upon them yourself?

Did we ‘save’ Iraq in 2003, with a US invasion that was meant to discover and destroy fictitious weapons of mass destruction the country never had?

And did we ultimately save a very conservative estimate of112,667–123,284 killed in Iraq through our ‘responsibility to protect’ those supposedly wronged under the dictator Saddam Hussein in Iraq?

Iraq. Afghanistan. Libya. Syria. Pakistan. These great swathes of territory with ancient civilizations mostly reduced to dust. Those that were rebirthed from the ashes became havens to formidable terrorist groups like Al Qaeda, Taliban and the infamous Islamic State. Pakistan put up a good fight but to what avail? By losing an estimated 80,000 to the War on Terror –not to forget – 163 children among hundreds of others at the Army Public School in Peshawar.

Humanitarian intervention does become an interesting principle doesn’t it, when you position it within the political discourse linked to global realities. The enigmas engendered by great power politics tether human rights violations, sovereignty and the ‘savior complex’ in a curious light, especially when humans are ‘saved’ not to preserve the right to life but for resources, power and control in the race for global hegemony.

Three days ago – factions of the Turkish military suffered a historic defeat at the hands of a conscientious Turkish civilian population that were willing to sacrifice their bodies in the face of tanks and helicopter gunships to uphold democracy, freedom and human rights. Was this the same democracy, freedom and human rights that were actively armed, supported and facilitated in Syria?

Turkey has in effect sold out the Islamic world by promoting Western imperial ambitions through its membership of NATO and foreign policy betrayals in Syria. The year 2015 was afloat with news of Turkey and its oil trade with the Islamic State. Although the official Turkish position has consistently been one of denial, arguing that Ankara is neither arming nor trading with the rebels – independent investigations have proven otherwise.

This is plain and simple documentation of painful but tragically real facts demonstrating venal Turkish involvement in Syria. This horrid scenario turns the notion of humanitarian intervention on its head. This supposedly benevolent doctrine has repeatedly been used to lay great nations to waste. It is a terrible tragedy to see that Turkey, considered to be a prominent and progressive leader in the Muslim world, resorted to such degenerate, neo-imperial strategies to court the West.

This is why the overthrow of the Turkish coup neither pleases nor impresses me much. Instead, it only exposes a deep seated hypocrisy that preys upon those that are repressed and structurally disadvantaged both within Turkey and abroad. The cases of the Kurds and Syrians are, perhaps, the most glaring examples of state — and society – sanctioned oppression. The Turkish state’s systematic torture and repression of Kurds and now dissenting journalists and academics marks a watershed in the history of the so-called progressive Turkish republic.

Why was Turkish civil society not so able and willing to mass mobilize and rise up in arms to protect the rights of the Kurds or the Syrians for that matter? The bitter hypocrisies are nauseating as the population like a flock of dead ducks stood silent in the face of open arming of takfiri elements in Syria in the name of ‘moderate forces.’ Even more scandalously, they stood silent as consistently reports emerged of the state’s treacherous economic oil exchange and/or facilitation of cheap supplies of oil through deals with ISIS and ISIS-related forces.

We heard several names – The National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, the Free Syrian Army and a plethora of umbrella terms including extremist, terrorist elements all being supported to oust the abhorred leader, Bashar Al Assad.

When real politik truly played out, the Turks sold out democracy, freedom and human dignity. Why? That’s a question Turkish civil society must ask itself as it embraces its glory in the light of a supposed reinvigorated ‘commitment to democracy.’

Shanzae Asif is a Chevening Scholar in the United Kingdom. She has a Bachelor of Science (Honors) in Political Science from the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), Pakistan

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