Turkey's 'inkblot' test
October 24th, 2012
05:22 PM ET

Turkey's 'inkblot' test

By Soner Cagaptay, Special to CNN

Editor's note: Soner Cagaptay is a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and a GPS contributor. You can find his other posts here. The views expressed are solely those of the author.

Ankara is struggling to accommodate the tide of Syrian refugees looking to enter Turkey.   As of this month, there were more than 100,000 Syrian refugees in the country, a number that Turkey has already declared as the “psychological limit” in terms of the number it can host. Ankara can also be expected to try to accommodate many refugees on the Syrian side of the border. Indeed, without apparent interference from the Syrian government, temporary zones are already forming like inkblots across the national boundary from Turkey into Syria.  But can Turkey cope?

The refugee influx poses potential security concerns for Turkey, not least because of the potential for armed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) members in Syria to use this as an opportunity to cross into Turkey. As a result, Ankara has already temporarily closed some of its border crossings and increased security controls for refugees fleeing across the border.  This has translated to increased waiting times for entry, which has in turn only added to the back-log of refugees on the Syrian side of the border.

As the Sunni Arab exodus from Syria continues, areas with favorable geography and nearby border crossings have been confronted with the greatest numbers of refugees, leading to the formation of what could be described as “inkblot” zones, where refugees on both sides of the border live under Turkish care.  The Syrian government has all but abandoned such areas.

Since August, Turkey’s official humanitarian relief agency, the Disaster and Emergency Management Directorate (AFAD), has been dispensing aid at key crossings, including to camps inside Syria.  Meanwhile, signaling a defensive posture over the “inkblots,” Turkish military forces equipped with anti-aircraft installations have been positioned within range of the camps.  According to some reports, helicopters used by forces loyal to Bashar al-Assad have periodically been chased from these areas by Turkish fighter jets.

But as they grow in size and number, these “inkblots” will further erode the integrity of the Turkish-Syrian border, a border that seems to be merging into the terrain itself, especially in areas where large Sunni Arab communities live on both sides of the border crossings.

These areas also have the potential to place genuine strains on ties between Ankara and Washington.  After all, there are already policy differences between the two countries on Syria: Ankara appears to want to move fast and potentially with force vis-à-vis Damascus, whereas Washington is exercising caution.  So far, Turkey has managed the relationship well, publicly at least. But last month, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan chided U.S. President Barack Obama for "lacking initiative" on Syria.

An expansion in the number of “inkblots” could put pressure on Ankara to press publicly for U.S. assistance against the al-Assad regime, including asking for U.S. backing to convert the refugee settlements into internationally sanctioned safe havens.

Ultimately, these settlements might best be seen as something of a Rorschach test of U.S.-Turkish, with Ankara viewing them as the stepping stone to the next stage of the push against al-Assad, and Washington seeing them as merely a temporary fix in the ongoing Syria crisis.

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Topics: Middle East • Syria • Turkey

soundoff (12 Responses)
  1. Joseph McCarthy

    The very first thing the Turks need to do is to get together with the Kurdish PKK and negotiate a timetable for Kurdish independence and then talk to the Assad regime about how to end Syria's civil war once and for all and resettle the Syrian refugees. Most of all, the Turks need to quit taking orders from Washington and London!

    October 24, 2012 at 7:15 pm | Reply
    • Ferhat Balkan

      Sorry Joseph, but it will never happen. Kurds already have their place in Northern Iraq. Let me tell you again about the PKK. The PKK is not only a terrorist organization, but also a regional cartel. Just yesterday, the Turkish police seized 5 tons marijuana valued at least $2 million near the border with Iran. Most of these drugs usually get smuggled into Europe and the profits are then used to buy weapons to fund PKK's bloody campaign. This has nothing to do with Kurdish rights. Kurds enjoy as much freedom in Turkey as Turks do. The only aim that the PKK has is the establishment of a Communist state within Turkey's borders, thus in effect, adding another destabilizing situation in the region. The PKK carry a book with them at all times and read it like their bible. This book is basically a copy of Mao's 'Red book' translated into Kurdish and given credit to Abdullah Ocalan as it's author. Children as young as 16 years old are recruited into their ranks and given weapons to fight for their cause. They are so brain washed, that they think every Turk is out to kill them. To the contrary, when the Turkish forces capture them, they're usually sent to prison for a 1-2 year term, then released and even given a Turkish citizenship.

      October 24, 2012 at 7:42 pm | Reply
      • Joseph McCarthy

        Gee Ferhat, do you really believe all that right-wing propaganda that you just spewed above? If the British used the term "terrorist" back in the 1770's, that could just as easily have been applied to our own Founding Fathers here in America. In fact, the British conducted their own "war on terrorism" between 1776 and 1783 according to your views!

        October 24, 2012 at 7:49 pm |
      • Ferhat Balkan

        Joseph, it's common knowledge. That's why the US and EU label the PKK as terrorist.

        October 24, 2012 at 8:29 pm |
      • Leftcoastrocky

        Ferhat, your understanding and facts are more accurate than those of Joseph.

        October 27, 2012 at 1:09 am |
    • Qhozha

      If the British used the term "terrorist" back in the 1770's, that could just as easily have been applied to our own Founding Fathers here in America.
      Did your Fathers smuggle drugs?.. Did they kidnap and often execute civilians like teachers and doctors working in the region?.. Did they attack and burn schools?.. Did they employ/draft kids in their ranks?.. Did they oppress religious freedom and promoted communism?.. If you say yes (and that makes a ignorant fool), then yes they were terrorists!

      October 25, 2012 at 11:39 am | Reply
  2. Marine5484

    The Turks need to bolt the NATO alliance but won't since their politicians are both bought and paid for! This is how the right-wing thugs in Washington run things around the world! How repulsive!

    October 24, 2012 at 7:56 pm | Reply
    • Patrick

      Thank you, Marine5484. I couldn't agree more!

      October 24, 2012 at 8:00 pm | Reply
  3. j. von hettlingen

    The author suggested to "convert the refugee settlements into internationally sanctioned safe havens". This would mean boots on the ground to secure these "safe havens". Would Assad allow foreign troops on Syrian territory? Also such a move would probably require a resolution from the UN Security Council. Would Russia and China go aboard?

    October 25, 2012 at 5:01 am | Reply
  4. deniz boro

    " and Washington seeing them as merely a temporary fix in the ongoing Syria crisis" that is actually the answer to this article. The fix will hopefully last till the elections.

    October 26, 2012 at 6:31 pm | Reply
  5. deniz boro

    At times like this I sincerely feel that too much sacrifice is asked of Turkey and no one can compansate the lives taken or will be taken in the next 11 days as the president elects cleverly discuss "abortion". USA stands for the most powerful and manipulating country of the world...but that means the world stops and caos takes over when America goes to the election rounds. Maybe they should give the power over to a arbitration commitee before they get into election frenzy.

    October 26, 2012 at 6:41 pm | Reply
  6. deniz boro

    By the way, I must add that Syrian refugees were served the traditional Sacrifice Holiday "eid ul adha" meal (made of the meat of sacrificial animals) and the children were given pocket money and toys so that they can realy have a holiday.

    October 26, 2012 at 6:50 pm | Reply

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