(By Deutsche Welle) Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s crackdown on protests in Turkey has sparked condemnation in the EU and US. But as the West moves to up its involvement in Syria, it’s unlikely to risk a break with Ankara.
Long heralded in the West as a democratic example to the broader Muslim world, Turkey has elicited harsh condemnations from its allies in the European Union and the United States in recent weeks. Reacting to Erdogan’s crackdown on protests, both powers have called on Ankara to respect the rights to freedom of speech and assembly.
In Washington, the Obama administration has – at least rhetorically – positioned itself on the side of the protesters. Presidential spokesman Jay Carney has said that the White House believes most of the demonstrators are law-abiding citizens. Prime Minister Erdogan had labeled the protesters as “looters” and “extremists.”
“We believe that Turkey’s long-term stability, security and prosperity is best guaranteed by upholding the fundamental freedoms of expression, assembly, association and a free and independent media,” Carney told reporters over the weekend.
But the protests in Turkey come during a critical juncture in Middle East, with the Western powers moving to become more deeply involved in Syria’s civil war. Last week, the Obama administration announced that it would begin supplying the Syrian rebels with weapons, saying that the Assad government had crossed a “red line” by allegedly deploying sarin gas.
Turkey – which shares a 822-kilometer border with Syria – has played a critical role in the conflict in Syria, hosting more than 380,000 Syrian refugees and the Free Syrian Army (FSA) on its territory. Western arms shipments are likely to be delivered to the FSA, which is considered to be more liberal and secular than Islamist rebel groups fighting to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad’s government in Damascus.
“For the US to be able to implement that policy, it needs to work closely with the Turkish government as a conduit for those weapons,” Sinan Ülgen, an expert on Turkish foreign policy and a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Brussels, told DW.