Ankara has openly backed an uprising against the Syrian regime, and now Damascus is getting its own back, giving top media billing and devoting government comment to protests throughout Turkey.
With more than a little schadenfreude, Syrian ministers have accused Turkey’s government of “terrorising” its people, and described the days of protests in Istanbul and beyond as a “real Spring.”
On Sunday, the foreign ministry of Syria, where at least 94,000 people have been killed since March 2011 according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, even advised citizens to avoid travel to Turkey, because of a “deterioration in the security situation.”
The demonstrations have been breathlessly covered by Syrian state television, which has run breaking news alerts saying protesters are calling for the resignation of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
“You have to resign if you really respect democracy. This movement in Turkey is a real Spring,” said one Syrian analyst interviewed on the state Ikhbariya channel addressing Erdogan.
“Syria stands with the Turkish people,” he added.
On Saturday, Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zohbi also suggested Erdogan should step down.
“The demands of the Turkish people do not justify this violence, and if Erdogan is incapable of using non-violent methods, then he should quit,” state television cited Zohbi as saying.
“The fact that he suppresses peaceful demonstrations proves that Erdogan is disconnected from reality,” Zohbi said, adding: “The Turkish people do not deserve such savagery.”
The following day Zohbi told reporters in Damascus that Turkey should “release all prisoners of conscience in Turkey” adding that there was “no justification for the arrest of this huge number of peaceful demonstrators.”
“Erdogan should respect the will of his people and leave to Doha,” he added. Qatar along with Turkey has been a key backer of Syria’s uprising.
The pronouncements were a chance for Damascus to turn the tables on Turkey’s government, which has publicly excoriated the Syrian regime for its bloody response to an uprising that began with peaceful demonstrations in March 2011.
Ankara’s stance on the demonstrations, and the armed uprising that followed a government crackdown on the protests, has led to a total breakdown in once-warm ties between Syria and Turkey.
But while Syrian television has carried footage of Turkish demonstrations, referring to Erdogan’s government as “the ruling junta,” no such coverage was devoted to similar protests in Syria.
Words like “popular protests,” “peaceful demonstrations” and “revolution,” all used by state media to describe events in Turkey, were never applied to the demonstrations against President Bashar al-Assad.
Instead the uprising has been described as a “foreign plot,” intended to “target” Syria, and rebels are referred to simply as “terrorists” backed by Turkey, the West, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
Syrian media even tied the Turkish protests to Turkey, saying a planned mall that helped spark the protests was the project of “Qatari investors and members of Erdogan’s family.”
Analysts have insisted that the main issue angering Turkish citizens is Ankara’s stance on Syria, describing the planned mall in Taksim as just “the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
The Al-Watan daily, which is close to the Syrian government, also joined the analysis of the unfolding protests.
“After dozens of statements criticising Syria, the Turkish prime minister allowed his forces free rein to employ excessive force and barbarism against thousands of peaceful demonstrators,” the paper wrote on Sunday.