EXPLAINED: Why was the Russian envoy shot dead in Ankara

Russia’s ambassador to Turkey, Andrey Lavrov, was on Monday shot dead by a 22-year old cop in Turkish capital Ankara. The chilling video that captured the shooting shows the assailant,Mert Altintas, standing over the dead ambassador after gunning him down as he yelled in Turkish,”Don’t forget Aleppo, don’t forget Syria.”

He soon switched to Arabic as the stunned visitors watched. “We are the descendants of those who supported the Prophet Muhammad, for jihad.”

(Warning: Graphic footage)

(Source: Youtube)

While Russia and Turkey were on opposing sides for most part of the Syrian civil war, they both of late reluctantly decided to put aside their differences to help evacuate around 250,000 residents in rebel-held parts of Aleppo, blockaded for months by government forces.

The Putin administration has been an ally of President Bashar al-Assad in the five-year old uprising against the regime, even as Ankara reportedly armed and funded Sunni rebels who wanted to see Assad go.

After a recent thaw in bilateral relations, the Russian envoy’s assassination has again brought to fore deep-seated hostilities between the two countries.

Why are Sunnis angry with Russia?

  • Turkey, Syria’s northern neighbour, has a Sunni majority and has seen Islam making steady headway into hitherto secular state and educational institutions under President Reccep Tayyip Erdogan.
  • Assad is an Alawaite, a sect within Shia school of Islam. His religious beliefs have been a cause of friction between his regime and Syria’s Sunni majority, which forms nearly 74 percent of the country’s population.
  • So, Moscow’s siding with the regime of Bashar al-Assad seems to be the major source of discontent between Sunnis and Moscow. The Syrian president has also been often accused of entrenching himself in power, against the wishes of majority of Syrians. According to human rights groups, Assad authorised summary arrests and the use of torture to check his political opponents.
  • While Shias and Sunnis are at odds over the historical interpretation of the Quran the world over, the differences compounded in Assad’s case due to his poor human rights record and accusations of not allowing fair elections to take place in the Sunni majority country.

(Source: Youtube)

  • The Syrian civil war began in 2011 in the aftermath of Arab Spring uprisings that swept the Middle East. Religious and strategic factors prompted Ankara to come from the side of Sunni rebel groups, some of them comprising of seasoned hardcore fighters from Al-Qaeda and other banned terrorist organisations. Ankara’s  providing of arms and economic help was reportedly instrumental in these rebel groups capturing large swathes of Syrian territory, including parts of Aleppo, in initial stages of the uprising.
  • The Russians entered the war from the side of the Syrian regime in October 2015, though it was also widely believed that Moscow was providing Syrian forces with weapons even before it formally joined the war.
    A highly effective aerial bombing campaign carried out by Russian fighter jets last year degraded anti-Assad forces and tilt the balance of the civil war back in Assad’s favour.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin said at the time that Russia’s actions in Syria were “preventative”, as Moscow didn’t want the terrorists to “come to our house”. According to analysts, Moscow was worried about Islamic State making inroads in Central Asia and eventually their own Muslim dominated province of Chechnya.
  • Moscow’s involvement in the war propped up the Syrian regime and the Iran-Syria nexus in the region, much to the anger of Sunni dominated countries including Turkey and their western backers which include America. Iran is a major Shia power in the region, and its regime’s political intentions are viewed with suspicion by governments of predominantly Sunni countries.
  • Anti-Moscow sentiment apparently run deep in Turkish’s Sunni-dominated society. In November last year, the shooting down of a Russian Su-24 fighter jet heading toward a bombing mission in Syria by a Turkish F-16 led to a major diplomatic crisis between the two powers. Moscow reportedly hit Turkey with economic sanctions as payback, which forced Turkey’s Erdogan to issue an apology months later.

(Source: Twitter)