Turkey recently announced that only Syrian refugees would be allowed to cross the border to fight against the so-called Islamic State (IS) in the besieged town of Kobani. In an email interview, Sinan Ülgen, a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe, discussed domestic influences on Turkey’s Syria policy.
WPR: How unified is the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) on Turkey’s Syria policy, and how does the Turkish opposition view the AKP’s policy?
Sinan Ülgen: The Turkish government’s policy on Syria has never really been popular. There are no dissenting voices within the ruling party given the strong party discipline. But both with regard to the political opposition and public opinion in general, Syria policy remains one of the less popular foreign policy initiatives of the AKP government. The reason is that Turkish public opinion has traditionally been cautious and wary of intervention in other countries’ domestic affairs, which is a long-standing principle of Turkish foreign policy. But the AKP government, following the refusal of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in August 2011 to heed to Ankara’s calls for initiating democratic reforms, adopted an aggressive stance and started to champion regime change in Syria. This sudden departure from the established tenets of Turkey’s foreign policy, as justifiable as it may have been, failed to garner much support among the Turkish public. Today, faced with the myriad security spillovers from the Syrian crisis, Turkish public opinion is less supportive of this ambitious agenda.