In fiery speeches, the Turkish leader has vowed to continue targeting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and top U.S. officials have spoken to their Turkish counterparts repeatedly in recent days to coordinate Syria policy. But with a refugee crisis along the Turkish-Syrian border and increasing Syria-related violence on Turkish soil, many Turks say they wish their leader had never become embroiled in the sectarian conflict next door.
The need for Erdogan’s cooperation on Syria has tempered the Obama administration’s repeated condemnations of police violence against Turkish demonstrators, analysts say, despite U.S. surprise at his hard-line approach toward those who have turned to the streets primarily to protest encroachments on personal liberties. As the United States and Turkey’s government navigate what comes next, many demonstrators say that a mental barrier to voicing dissent has been broken, even as Erdogan and his associates have blamed terrorists, foreigners, Jews and news organizations for stoking unrest in the country.
From now on, “anytime the government comes up with a controversial policy, it will find opposition on the streets, organized through demonstrations,” said Soner Cagaptay, a Turkey expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. On Syria, he said, “Turkey and the United States will compete to lead from behind,” cautiously inching forward on involvement while allowing other countries to go further in their commitments to the rebels.
The political and human risks of Erdogan’s support for the Syrian rebels were underlined May 11, when two car bombs killed at least 52 people and injured more than 140 in the border town of Reyhanli. Erdogan swiftly blamed Assad’s security forces for the attack, and although Turkish officials have offered no definitive evidence, the conclusion is widely shared among Turks, who cited it as one reason for their objections to Erdogan’s Syria policy. The 363,000 Syrian refugees on Turkish soil are another, with many Turks voicing sympathy for the displaced Syrians but saying there are scarce resources to deal with the influx.
Residents of a town near the border with Syria say tensions are rising.
“Hatay is becoming a city of war because of Erdogan’s policies,” Akin Bodur, a local journalist, said by telephone.
Now Erdogan’s freedom to do as he pleases on the Syria issue will be limited, some analysts say.