ISTANBUL – For days, the dramatic pictures of violent unrest have led the newscasts on Syrian state TV: thousands of demonstrators in the streets calling for the downfall of the country’s leader, clashing with police and being wounded by the hundreds.
But the violence being aired isn’t from the two-year civil war raging at home. It’s from neighboring Turkey where protesters have taken to the streets in cities around the country against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Erdogan was once a close ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, but over the past two years has become one of his most fervent detractors and one of the biggest supporters of Syrian rebels. Now, Syria isn’t missing an opportunity to needle their friend-turned-foe.
On Sunday, the Foreign Ministry issued a statement advising “Syrian citizens against travelling to Turkey during this period for fear for their safety, due to the security conditions in some Turkish cities that have deteriorated over the past days and the violence practiced by Erdogan’s government against peaceful protesters.”
The country that crushed its own peaceful protests, sparking a war that has left almost 100,000 dead, has termed the Turkish unrest “popular protests.”
“I’m sure [Assad] is exceedingly happy” about Erdogan’s woes, said Paul Salem, director of the Carnegie Middle East Center.
Turkey has staved off symptoms of the Arab Spring in large part due to an economic boom, Salem said, but the protests show he too is not immune.
Syrian television has made fun of Erdogan’s statements that he could turn out five times the number of demonstrators and that the protesters are made up of “thugs” and “extremists.” Syria’s information minister said the Turkish people did not deserve Erdogan’s brutality and that he should step down if he’s “incapable of following non-violent means.”
Omran al-Zoubi said Erdogan’s defiant reaction and the heavy-handedness of the police “is illogical and reveals his detachment from reality.” Erdogan should respect the will of the people, leave the country and go to Doha, Zoubi said, the capital of the rebels’ foremost backer, Qatar.
Erdogan enjoys broad support in Turkey and there’s no sign that his government is in any imminent danger. But as long Istanbul’s Taksin Square and Gezi Park are packed with protesters, the pestering from Syria is likely to continue. “We wish the Turkish people stability and calm,” said Zoubi.