What are Turkey and Syria Fighting About?

Erica Chenoweth Oct 4 '12

Political scientist Idean Salehyan argues refugee flows are at the heart of the crisis:

in addition to being a humanitarian catastrophe, refugee flows can foster wider conflict in the region. This is especially true when transnational rebel organizations are able to move across borders along with legitimate refugees.

First, refugee flows threaten to spread civil conflict to neighboring countries. This dynamic especially threatens Lebanon, which suffers from frail political institutions and a delicate sectarian balance; if the crisis becomes any worse, it could also jeopardize gains made in neighboring Iraq. Second, refugee camps and cross-border militant groups exacerbate conflict in their country of origin  It is well known that the Free Syrian Army operates freely from bases inside of Turkey (although it may now be in a position to move its command center into Syria). The ability to move back and forth across the border makes a government victory especially unlikely, meaning that we may be in for a very protracted war. Third, refugee flows and transnational rebel bases can spark conflict between states. Syria and Turkey have had numerous diplomatic rows and even exchanges of artillery fire after Syrian forces violated the border. Recently, the Turkish Parliament upped the ante by approving military action against its neighbor, potentially sparking a regional war.

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