Skip to: Content
Skip to: Site Navigation
Skip to: Search


Turkey Urges Immediate Intervention in Bosnia

At a conference of Muslim nations, President Ozal calls for concerted action with West to halt Serb attacks

By Sami KohenSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / January 12, 1993



ISTANBUL

TURKISH officials, acting on their sympathy for the Bosnian Muslims and their desire for a larger role in the Balkans, are pressing for more immediate intervention in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Skip to next paragraph

President Turgut Ozal yesterday said the United States has "all the military capability" to help stop the Bosnian war, but that Turkey and other nations would be willing to "contribute symbolically" to a coalition force. He was attending an emergency meeting of the 51-member Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) in Dakar, Senegal.

With the support of the Islamic world, Turkey succeeded last month in having the UN General Assembly pass a non-binding resolution, which it introduced jointly with Bosnia-Herzegovina, calling on the UN Security Council to take stronger action and giving the Serbs a Jan. 15 deadline to stop their aggression. The resolution provided for taking all measures necessary, including military ones, to force the attackers to comply.

Now only a few days from the deadline, with no sign of any easing of the situation on the ground or of any dramatic progress in UN-sponsored peace talks in Geneva, the Turks are determined to push for such action.

Turkish diplomats believe that concerted action by the OIC will give weight to their efforts. Foreign Minister Hikmet Cetin has even declared that the Islamic world could use oil "as a means of pressuring the West to put an end to their inaction."

Yesterday the OIC's secretary general, Hamid al-Gabid, said a military incursion in Bosnia is needed immediately: "It is quite obvious that the use of force has now become an urgent and unavoidable necessity if one really wants to end the massacres in Bosnia-Herzegovina." Officials insisted, however, that any action would have to take place within an international framework.

The Turkish government has from the start of the Bosnian conflict early last summer urged "limited military action." Prime Minister Suleyman Demirel has repeatedly told Western leaders that mere talk or negotiations while Serbian attacks continued would not lead to any solution. "The West has indirectly encouraged the aggressors by stating repeatedly that a military intervention in Bosnia-Herzegovina cannot be envisaged because of the various dangers involved," Mr. Demirel said last week.

Turkey has advocated joint military action in the form of precise and limited air attacks against Serbian targets. This, the Turks believe, would be enough to force the Serbs to stop their artillery attacks and their aggressive and defiant attitude.

Turkey's diplomatic efforts now are aimed at forcing the international community, particularly the US, to decide on such action. What the Turkish government has in mind, according to insiders, is the following scenario: the immediate enforcement of the UN's "no fly" regulation; a warning to the Serbs to stop their attacks or to face military action; and preparation for air attacks. In the case of Serbian flexibility, the government would advocate the disarmament of Serbian forces; in the case of countinu ed attacks, engagement in a joint, limited military action.

Turkish officials have repeatedly expressed anger at what they call the West's double standards. Many Turkish politicians and commentators see a predominately Christian West that is indifferent to the plight of a Muslim population, a feeling that is gaining currency even among secular, intellectual Turks.

Muslim solidarity partly explains the motive behind Turkey's active role in the Bosnian issue. Although the country is constitutionally secular, public concern over the killings of the Muslims in neighboring country is vigorous. The Demirel government, which has repeatedly warned the West that its inaction would provoke Islamic radicalization, is under strong public pressure. Some opposition parties have gone so far as to ask the government to take unilateral military action and send arms to the Muslims if the West declines to act.

But the government has made clear that Turkey will not act alone. Foreign Minister Cetin has insisted that there are technical difficulties in a solo military action - Turkish aircraft would need permission to use Greek or Bulgarian airspace, which would probably not be forthcoming - and that Turkey itself would become the target of international criticism.

"We have to act together with the international community," Cetin says. "We are ready to bring all our contribution to any action, including a military one."

The Turks are also concerned about the Bosnian Muslims because of the close historic and cultural ties Turkey has had with Bosnians.

The Bosnian Muslims, known here as Boshnaks, are ethnic Slavs who were converted to Islam under Ottoman rule five centuries ago. Bosnian Muslims have since felt an affinity to the Turks and vice-versa. There have been several waves of migration from Bosnia to this country, where today more than 2 million people of Boshnak origin live. A large suburb of Istanbul is called Yeni Bosna (New Bosna) and is largely inhabited by people of Bosnian origin.

The events in Bosnia-Herzegovina thus have been seen by Turks as a war against "one of theirs." And the fact that all this is happening in the Balkans, so close to Turkey, is another reason for Ankara's engagement. The fear is often expressed here that the possible spread of the war could drive other neighboring countries to intervene, thus making the Balkans the scene of an international conflict.

The feeling also has been growing since the end of the cold war that Turkey should emerge as a regional power and play a role in the Balkans as well as in the Caucasus and Central Asia.