Embattled Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad probably gets very few visitors these days, and rightly so. Still, it appears Assad can count on the friendship of the Republican People's Party (CHP), Turkey's main opposition party, which recently sent a high-level delegation to visit the Syrian autocrat in Damascus. Reports the Hurriyet Daily News:
A parliamentary delegation from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad early yesterday. The three-member group, which consisted of deputy leader Şafak Pavey and deputies from the neighboring Hatay province, Hasan Akgöl and Mevlut Dudu, was in Syria following an invitation from al-Assad, according to CHP sources.
Al-Assad told the team there was “a need to distinguish between the stance of the Turkish people, who back stability in Syria, and the positions of Premier Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government, which supports terrorism.
“The Syrian people appreciates the position adopted by forces and parties in Turkey that reject the Erdoğan government’s negative impact on our societies, which are multi-religious and multi-ethnic,” al-Assad added.
The Turkish delegation stressed “the Turkish people’s refusal to interfere in Syrian affairs, and its commitment to good neighborly relations,” the statement said. The visitors also “warned of the risks of the Syrian crisis’s impact on Turkey and other countries in the region.”
The CHP visit may seem clueless, but it's worse than that -- it's part of a strategy, albeit a misguided one. Unable to figure out how to stop the ruling Justice and Development Party's success at the polls, the secularist CHP has resorted to appealing to Turks' deeply ingrained fears of regional entanglements and by stoking a suspicious anti-western sentiment that still resonates with many segments of Turkish society. Although about the CHP's unhelpful stance regarding the AKP's current "peace talks" with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), a recent Hurriyet Daily News column by analyst Semih Idiz could very well be describing the party's Syria policy: "Whatever the case may be, the CHP gives the impression that it is playing its familiar game of pandering to the outmoded Kemalist nationalism of its old guard, which is more suited to the 1930s than today."
The AKP's Syria policy should not be immune from criticism, but knocking it by visiting Assad not only undermines international and regional efforts to isolate Assad but also undermines what should be the CHP's main cause these days: making itself once again relevant as a political force.