By Ivan Watson and Yesim Comert, CNN
Istanbul, Turkey (CNN) - Turkish officials engaged in last-minute shuttle diplomacy with their restive neighbor Syria and repeated calls for restraint ahead of what is expected to be another violent day of protests across the Arab nation on Friday.
Turkey's National Security Council met on Thursday in Ankara to specifically address the increasingly bloody crisis, which some analysts fear could spill over to the Turkish side of the border.
The council issued a statement calling for Syrian security forces to act with restraint and for the government to implement swift reforms to satisfy demonstrators.
"It is important that necessary steps are taken rapidly and in a determined way in order to establish social peace and stability in brotherly, friendly Syria, to put an end to the violence and to maintain security of life, basic rights and freedoms," the council announced.
Also, the head of Turkey's national intelligence agency, the MIT, traveled to Damascus on Thursday for high-level talks.
The wave of unrest that has swept across the Arab world this year surprised the Turkish government as it was dramatically expanding ties with its Arab neighbors.
Syria has perhaps been the greatest beneficiary of what the Turkish government calls its "Zero Problems" foreign policy initiative with Turkey's neighbors.
In the late 1990s, Syria and Turkey were on the brink of war because of Syrian support for Kurdish rebels battling the Turkish state.
But in recent years, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have become close political allies.
The two leaders have vacationed together with their wives along the Turkish coast. And last year, Erdogan lifted visa restrictions on Syrian visitors and announced Syrians should treat Turkey as their "second home."
When pro-democracy protests erupted in Egypt, Erdogan was swift to call for embattled Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak to listen to the voices of his people and step down.
But Erdogan has been much more restrained about criticizing al-Assad, even as Syrian tanks encircled the rebellious southern town of Daraa and more than 400 demonstrators were killed across the country in the growing government crackdown.
"Turkey has to reckon that in some cases of the Arab Spring, it just may be on the wrong side of history," wrote Turkey expert Henri Barkey, in an article released this week by the Carnegie Endowment for Peace.
"As much as Turkey thought it was on the side of change, it has become a status quo power ... with its own vested interests, commercial concerns, and close ties with regimes."
As the death toll mounts in Syria, a growing number of voices in Turkish newspapers normally sympathetic to the Erdogan government have been calling for Turkey to re-evaluate its cozy relationship with the Assad regime.
"'Zero problems' with neighbors who know how to kill," wrote Yavuz Baydar in the pro-government Today's Zaman newspaper this week.
"Ankara should not resort to double standards when it comes to autocratic regimes in the Middle East killing their own people," wrote columnist Lale Kemal in the same newspaper.
Turkey has also come under fire in Libya from rebels who have accused Ankara of supporting the Moammar Gadhafi regime in Tripoli.
Last year, Erdogan received a human rights prize from Gadhafi, and earlier this month, the Libyan opposition movement refused to allow a Turkish ship to dock in the rebel stronghold of Benghazi.
Demonstrators also staged a protest outside the Turkish Consulate in Benghazi.
The escalating Syrian conflict may not only embarrass the Turkish government; some analysts warn it could destabilize Turkey.
Experts point to Saddam Hussein's crackdown on rebellious Kurds in northern Iraq in 1992, which resulted in a flood of refugees spilling over the Turkish border.
Over the past two years, much smaller numbers of refugees fled to Turkey to escape the crushing of pro-democracy protests in Iran - another authoritarian neighbor that enjoys booming economic ties with Turkey.
So far, Turkish officials say they have not seen an increase in the number of Syrians fleeing government persecution. But officials are clearly worried about this possibility.
"You have to think of all kinds of scenarios," said Selim Yenel, undersecretary of Turkey's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in a phone interview with CNN.
"People have asked if we are our reassessing our visa policy [with Syria]. And we're not," Yenel said.
Instead, Yenel said Turkey's intelligence chief traveled to Damascus on Thursday leading a delegation that is offering to advise the Assad regime on how to implement reforms aimed at satisfying the growing protest movement.
"They were going to talk about public administration, how to reform it economically and politically," Yenel said. "All this has to be done as quickly as possible so people can feel the changes."
This is really too bad. For all their complaints and beating the US over the head, Middle Eastern leaders seem to care more about their money and status than their own people (not too different from some US Congressmen). What does Erdogan have to lose by distancing himself from the Assad regime and asking Assad to step down "gracefully"?
We are seeing crises in Arab world eg Egpy, Libya, Syria, and other parts of Arab world at the same time indicates that Law of Nature is doing its job as balancing act, where complex human minds failed to operate intelligently, wisely. Our limited mind do not have capacity to understand this Law of Nature . We go on putting different efforts, many struggles with complex mind to get favourable result. Favourable result is not possible till there is a division, doubt, suspicion, and our fixation to set ideology. We are not using our intelligence wisely to operate in such a way that there is no animity between different groups, different nations. At such time, Law of Nature get involved to balance this world affairs . Same thing apply to recent Japan Tsunami and earth quake. When our combines complex minds are not seeing the fact of increasing pollution and reducing green, thereby indirectly inviting Law of Nature to balance the world operating system as a whole. Intelligence critics of this world are acting as a superior human beomg and outpouring there accumulated knowledge with diffeent ideas and suggestions, without moving with reality of life's fact as a whole. When humanity is living in diorder with more and more complex, mechanical minds identifying with wrong conditioned ideology then there will be problems world over. Law of Nature principely operates on set formula of creation–sustainence and destruction from millions of years. Law of Nature becomes more active were human minds are living increasingly in complex, selfish and disorderly way. How to understand movement of Naw of Nature ? do two hours daily meditation for atleast 5 years and you will get all answers within.
What Turkey soarly needs to do is to grant the Kurds their well deserved independence and at the same time distance themselves from the right-wing thugs in Washington who seek to become dominant everywhere! If Sudan can do it,then why not the Turks?
I am a kurd and i am happy the way i live, so stop talking for me and for my kin. Man kind have problems because of people like you. Unfortunately mankind will allwys have problems until the end of life because of people like you. Mind your own business!!!
Are you truly a Kurd or are you speaking for the right-wing thugs in Washington,or perhaps the Turks themselves? If what you say is true,then why are so many of your contrymen fighting for independence? Of course, the West is quite happy to see things the way they are right now as they get to hoard Kurdish oil! In fact,that's why Bush ordered the unprovoked invasion of Iraq back in 2003.
@Kurd. You're talking about people like Barack Obama,David Cameron and Nickolas Sarkozy. They're the ones butting into Libya's civil war by flying NATO combat missions and sending in "advisors" to help the so-called "rebels". To bad that these bozoes don't take your "advice" and mind their own business.
Gentlemen, I am truly a Kurd was born in a smal village in Turkiye. In my village Turks and Kurds live together and we have certain values and culture based on respect for one another. I came to know the issues of Kurdish separatism and so called rights and differences. What's more ironic is that all the comments were always from a foreighner rather than a Turk or a Kurd. Unfortunately all those idiots whom fallen into the ideas of people like you are creating problems and are becoming rebels. They live in the mountains like rats fighting for something they don't even know. You people talk about us not because you love us it's because you either fall into the hatred subject or you have something out of this. Guess what people. No matter what you do or say our brotherhood will stay firm.
Sorry folks,I never posted that comment above. As a true Kurd,I resent the fact that our homeland remains divided between Turkey and Iraq as most of my countrymen do. After WW1,both the British and the French promised us a right to build our own country only to have that promise shattered by the British in 1923 in a treaty with Turkey.
The unrest in Syria could incite the ethnic minorities in Turkey, especially the most prominent ones, the Kurds to urge for independence. The are also a significant number of Kurds living in Syria and Iran. If they also rise up, there will be more chaos. Erdogan is walking on tightrope. On the one hand it shows the world – primarily the European Union, that it condemns Syria. On the other hand it is happy with its status quo with Syria, as Assad had been able to hold the country with different ethnies together. It is the fear of uncertainty that puts him and many other leaders off, to take actions against Assad.
Keep dreaming buddy. Because it's not going to happen. Because we are smarter than that. "Divide and concur" too old to fall into. Try something new it might work. Some of us maybe idiotic to fall into these but not all of us. But guess what,idiots exist in your country as well such as yourself.
The joker who posted the above is most probably a Turk himself pretending to be one of us or an agent of the C.I.A. Even Pres.Bill Clinton was in cahoots with the Turks back in 1999 when the Greeks,at his behest,betrayed our leader to the Turks in Africa.
And because of idiots such as yourself we will allways have a restless world. Leader my ass he is not my leader. You can have him and do whatever you want with it. IDIOT!!!
"What Turkey soarly needs to do is to grant the Kurds their well deserved independence"
What an arrogance..how about Canadians, Australians and US giving independence to their indigenous people? If Sudan can do it, why not Americans, Aussies and Canadians..
In fact Mike,the civil war in the U.S. was fought because the North would not let the South achieve it's independence in 1861. The Confederates considered the civil war the second revolutionary war.
Quite true Onesmallvoice,quite true.
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