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It is old knowledge that the conflict in Syria, if it continues unresolved, would spread beyond its borders. But few expected the crisis to engulf Turkey the way it is doing now. Ankara is paying a heavy price for the uprising in the neighbouring country and what is more galling for Turkish leaders, as they have put it, is the indifference and apathy of the international community.
Yesterday, Turkey returned fire after a mortar bomb shot from Syria landed in a field in the southern part of the country. It was the fourth day of Turkish retaliation for firing by Syrian forces that killed five Turkish civilians on Wednesday. The cross-border firing is likely to continue because Bashar Al Assad, who is gradually losing his grip on power, is not willing to listen to calls for restraint. The international community too is unwilling to intervene, leaving Ankara to fight the problem on its own.
Turkey is in danger of being dragged deeper into the Syrian crisis. No one could have foreseen what is happening now because everyone had underestimated the staying power of the Assad regime. And what started as a peaceful movement against Assad turned into an armed rebellion, with arms freely flowing into the country.
Turkey has suffered on multiple fronts due to the Syrian crisis. First, its relations with Iran, a key energy supplier, were badly damaged. Secondly, the active support for the rebels in Syria has deepened the sectarian divide in Turkey between the majority Sunnis and minority Alawites. For a country which is priding itself on its communal harmony and secular values, communal tension is something which will undermine its status and affect aspirations for membership of the European Union. Third, it is grappling with an influx of refugees. The country has nearly 100,000 refugees in camps on its territory and the number is likely to gallop as the fighting drags on in Syria.
The mood in Turkey is sombre and there is a growing feeling that things are going out of control. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has warned Damascus that it does not want war, but would retaliate against any aggression. What is happening now is not very different from war, and Turkish leaders will have to struggle hard to prevent an escalation.
In the current scenario, Ankara needs to tread cautiously. There are two options. First, the international community and Arabs should intervene in Syria to overthrow Assad and help form a democratic government. Second, the Turkish government needs to reassess its policy on Syria and reduce its involvement in the country.
There is no reason why Turkey should suffer for the indecision and indifference of the international community.