2:46am

Thu October 4, 2012
NPR Story

Turkey, Syria Exchange Fire For A 2nd Day

Originally published on Thu October 4, 2012 8:19 am

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

Turkey is retaliating against its neighbor, Syria, with a second day of shelling after a Syrian mortar hit a Turkish village, leaving five villagers - all women and children - dead. Turkey's parliament also just voted to authorize its military to conduct operations in Syria, if needed. Today's parliamentary action, combined with the back-and-forth attacks raise the risk that Syria's bloody conflict will spill over into the region and draw in the international community. It has also led to a flurry of diplomatic activity and meetings at the U.N. and NATO.

To get some perspective, we turned to analyst Hugh Pope. He's based in Istanbul for the International Crisis Group, and we reached him in Germany.

Good morning.

HUGH POPE: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: For those who have not been following these events, tells us what exactly happened. Syria actually has shelled Turkey at least once before. But what's the difference in this time?

POPE: The difference this time is that the bomb killed five people in Turkey and wounded nine or 10 others. And that has had a shocking impact on Turkish public opinion, forcing the government to react. And the artillery shelling across the border yesterday was not just the first time that Turkey has shelled across the border in the Syria dispute, but I think this is the first time that Turkey has fired across the border at a - as a state actor for nearly 90 years.

So this is a problem for Turkey, but Turkey's going to make sure that everyone else hears about it.

MONTAGNE: So the parliament, they're gearing up for military operations. It's also asked NATO and the U.N. for some sort of back up. What exactly does that mean?

POPE: At the rhetorical level, it's Turkey's government showing that it has international backing. And, in fact, it would be very well-advised to make sure that it stays within an international consensus and that its allies are with it, because certainly, from Secretary of State Clinton on down, everyone is voicing outrage, condemnation and support.

But if Turkey gets dragged into anything more than strictly proportional responses to what was possibly just a stray shell over the border, then it may find itself getting ahead of its allies.

And if there's one lesson of the Syrian dispute so far, it's that no one country can make any critical difference in Syria. And Turkey's efforts to softly persuade President Assad in the first months of the crisis and then to threaten him and then to basically give free rein to armed insurgents operating over its border, all those measures have made no difference to the main course of events.

MONTAGNE: How likely is it, then, that the U.S. and Turkey's other NATO allies might be drawn into this?

POPE: I think at this point, it's very unlikely on the basis of the shell today and a shell a few days ago and the crisis over the Syrian border. All these have been somehow digested by the system. And I think at this point, it's clear that Syria's not intending to start a big fight with Turkey. The Syrian government has basically apologized immediately. And for sure, they would not want to open a new front with Turkey. So it's quite possible that this fades away.

But this is becoming a domestic issue in Turkey. The prime minister may feel that he has to react more strongly. And it's not just the area of the border where this terrible incident happened yesterday that worries Turkey. There's also a big question of the empowerment of Syrian Kurds in other areas of the border where an insurgent group that has been fighting Turkey for nearly three decades has become very powerful. And that's another big worry for Turkey. So it has the potential to be very messy, unless everyone's very careful.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much for joining us.

POPE: Thank you for having me on your program.

MONTAGNE: Hugh Pope is the project director for Turkey with the International Crisis Group, and has been based in Istanbul for the past 25 years. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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