Turkey’s pursuit of trade benefits by allying with Syria has left Ankara bracing for a flood of refugees from Assad’s brutal crackdown on opponents. Approximately 250 Syrians had crossed into Turkey by Saturday, fleeing the violence in which approximately 550 protesters have been gunned down.
"We are trying to figure out whether this is an individual event or the tip of the iceberg,” a local Turkish official told CNN. He said the group was made up mostly of young people, including women and children, who said they were persecuted by Syrian President Bashar Assad’s officials and secret police.
The refugee flow so far is only in the low hundreds, but Ankara fears that the trickle will surge into a flood. Foreign media quoted one Syrian refugee as saying that thousands of others want to flee to Turkey.
Turkish officials visited Damascus last week while the Turkish National Security Council met at a “refugee summit” and urged “friendly Syria” to halt the violence and ensure freedom for Syrians.
Assad’s tanks and soldiers turned a deaf ear and murdered more than 65 Syrian protesters the following day. The more force Assad exerts, the more the protesters show determination to stand fast – or die.
Turkish pundits have praised the new Turkish-Syrian alliance as giving the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan leverage to convince Assad to institute reforms.
Others are more skeptical. TIME magazine reported this week that Erdogan has been driven by an aim to lead the Muslim world, enjoying good relations with the United States while warming up to Assad and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
“Yet, despite strong economic ties, Erdogan does not appear to have the ear of either Assad or [Libyan dictator Muammar] Qaddafi," correspondent Pelin Turgut wrote.
He quoted a Turkey expert who wrote in an article for the Carnegie Endowment for Peace, "Paradoxically, these linkages have made Turkey into a status-quo power, unwilling to see dramatic change. And not surprisingly, first Libya, and now Syria, is creating serious headaches for Turkey."