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‘Normalization’ with Assad is the brand new regular in Turkey

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The refrain of Turkish officialdom calling for engagement with the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is rising louder by the day. The strikes are calculated to attract votes forward of elections and weaken Kurdish aspirations for autonomy. They are backed by Russia because it seeks to drive wedges between Turkey and its Western foes.

On Monday, Devlet Bahceli, chief of the far-right Nationalist Movement Party and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s high coalition ally, stated he thought of the steps taken by Turkey relating to Syria to be “valuable and fortuitous.” Bahceli was responding to final week’s announcement by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu that he had spoken, albeit briefly, together with his Syrian counterpart, Faisal al-Mekdad, in Belgrade in October final 12 months. Not solely that, communication had resumed between their intelligence officers, Turkey’s high diplomat revealed.

Today, Cavusoglu thanked Bahceli for his assist in an interview with personal broadcaster NTV. “Any lasting solution in Syria is a political one. The regime and the opposition need to reach a compromise,” he stated.

Hayati Yazici, deputy chairman of Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) who’s counted amongst Erdogan’s most trusted lieutenants, chimed in together with his personal endorsement.

“Relations with Damascus could become direct and the level [of representation] could be upgraded,” Hayati contended in an announcement at present. Many interpreted his phrases to imply {that a} high-level official go to to Syria is likely to be imminent.

The essential opposition Republican People’s Party, which has lengthy advocated making peace with Assad, aired its approval.

Is Turkey about to throw its Sunni Syrian opposition proteges beneath the bus and make peace with the Syria chief they collectively sought to overthrow?

Such fears drove a whole lot of Syrians throughout Turkish-occupied areas of northern Syria to stage demonstrations during which they referred to as the Turkish presence an occupation. “No reconciliation with the butcher,” they chanted. Two protestors had been detained and handed over to Turkish custody for burning the Turkish flag. The act captured on digital camera ignited fury on the Turkish Twittersphere and panic among the many tens of millions of Syrian refugees inside Turkey who face mounting racist violence. “People are terrified; they are scared of being killed,” stated Wafa Ali Mustafa, a Syrian journalist and activist whose father was “disappeared” in 2013 by the Assad regime.

Cavusoglu accused overseas and home “provocateurs” of twisting his phrases. He had referred to as for “compromise,” not “peace,” between the Assad regime and the Sunni opposition, he insisted.

As pundits ponder the supposed distinction, well-placed Turkish sources informed Al-Monitor that efforts to have interaction with Damascus had been being pursued with renewed vigor and the Kremlin’s assist. “Iran, Russia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates — they are all part of these conversations,” one of many sources claimed.

There are a number of elements that make reconciliation with Assad, or speak of it at any fee, more and more engaging. The most quick is Erdogan’s personal survival. Presidential and parliamentary elections are set to be held by June 18 subsequent 12 months. The Turkish financial system, whose success for lengthy years underpinned Erdogan’s personal, is in a free fall. Anti-immigrant resentment is hovering. Random assaults on Syrians are rising frequent. The opposition says that as quickly because it involves energy, it is going to “send the Syrians home.” Hence, normalization with Assad “is a must.” All of that is music to Turkish voters’ ears.

Erdogan is probably going hoping to steal the opposition’s thunder by taking part in the identical card. Admissions about contacts with the regime are not more than a political gambit, or so the opposition reckons.

Ziad Hajj Obeid, a commander of the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army (SNA) primarily based within the northern Aleppo countryside, informed Al-Monitor, “Turkey will not change its position toward the Syrian revolution. We communicated our fear of a Turkish rapprochement with the Assad regime to the Turkish officials. The Assad regime is our enemy and that of Turkey as well. The Turkish officials made it clear to us that Turkey will remain supportive of the Syrian revolution until meeting the demand of getting rid of the Assad regime.”

Mustafa Sejari, a distinguished chief within the SNA’s political bureau who commutes between Turkey and the northern Aleppo countryside, stated, “We do not believe that there will be any change in Turkey’s policy toward the revolutionary forces and the Syrian people. Our relationship with our brothers in Turkey is strong and deep.”

Their religion is misplaced. Erdogan is the grasp of U-turns, reaching out to Israel and Egypt after years of indignant confrontation and shaking palms with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman after highlighting his position within the homicide of Jamal Khashoggi. But none was fairly as spectacular as his determination in 2016 beneath Russian stress to let Aleppo fall to the regime, successfully renouncing Turkey’s bid to topple Assad and turning its opposition proxies on the Syrian Kurds as an alternative.

Levent Gultekin, an Islamist turned liberal commentator, says Erdogan’s core base of pious Sunnis will modify to such shifts with the utmost ease. “They will say, ‘If our leader is doing this, he knows what is doing; he is doing it for the good of our country,’” Gultekin informed Al-Monitor.

In any case the Syrian opposition in the end has little say. “What makes Syrians say Turkey won’t reconcile with the regime is their helplessness and despair,” Mustafa the activist informed Al-Monitor.

It isn’t any secret that the Kremlin has for a while sought to fix fences between Turkey and Assad. However, preliminary makes an attempt failed largely due to Assad’s intransigence. Ibrahim Hamidi, senior diplomatic editor of Saudi Arabia’s Asharq Al-Awsat and a distinguished Syrian journalist who was pressured to flee the nation in 2013, informed Al-Monitor, “Based on what I know, the Russians managed to have the Syrian and Turkish heads of intelligence, Ali Mamlouk and Hakan Fidan, meet more than once for security coordination.”

Hamidi added Putin desires now “to move relations to a political level” so as “to coordinate against the United States and its Syrian Kurdish allies” who management the northeast of the nation and the majority of its oil and water assets. This was one of many high agenda objects throughout Erdogan’s Aug. 5 summit within the Black Sea resort of Sochi with Vladimir Putin.

Hamidi added that some international locations just like the United Arab Emirates that had already normalized relations with Assad “to put him in a stronger position against Erdogan and Iran” had shifted course consistent with their very own warming ties with Ankara. US and EU sanctions towards the Assad regime are unlikely to ease any time quickly. As such, Gulf funding might assist lubricate a grand cut price between Assad and Erdogan, which could additionally assist steadiness Iran’s affect in Syria, or so the considering goes.

In July, Erdogan publicly asserted for the primary time that he believed the United States wanted to withdraw its forces from northeast Syria. To that time limit, Ankara’s formal place was that Washington ought to ditch the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and workforce up with Turkey and SNA factions towards the Islamic State (IS) as an alternative. Erdogan’s feedback adopted a gathering in Tehran with Putin and Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei and its president, Ebrahim Raisi.

Turkey has been urgent the United States and Russia alike to greenlight one other navy assault towards the SDF. But it is hit a wall. Washington refused, primarily on the grounds that this may detract from the struggle towards IS. The Kremlin desires to leverage the specter of a Turkish invasion to get the Syrian Kurds to chop their ties with the United States and throw of their lot with the regime.

At the identical time, it is taking part in on Ankara’s fears that if it doesn’t hurry and make up with Assad first, the Kurds might properly rekindle their outdated alliance with the regime and prepare their weapons on Turkey as they did till 1998. That is when Ankara and Damascus buried the hatchet and shaped a standard trigger towards the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Turkey presents the truth that the SDF is staffed by Kurdish militants who fought throughout the PKK ranks as justification for its continued assaults towards northeast Syria.

Ankara hopes {that a} comparable settlement to the 1998 Adana Accords is likely to be struck — however taking Syria’s new realities into consideration. However, Assad insists that till Turkey withdraws its troops from Syria, no significant progress will be made. He might properly even be considering that with opinion polls exhibiting Turkish opposition candidates constantly within the lead, why ought to he do his nemesis, Erdogan, any favors earlier than the elections? And what’s to say that after they’re behind him, Erdogan received’t revert to assist for the opposition?

Salih Muslim, co-chair of the Democratic Union Party, which shares energy within the Autonomous Administration in North and East Syria, likened the makes an attempt at reconciling Assad and Erdogan to a “forced marriage.” However, Muslim informed Al-Monitor, “We have to take these moves seriously because the sides (Assad and Erdogan) are taking their orders from the same place — from Putin.” Muslim added, “The fact they are aligned against the Kurds is no surprise to the Kurds.”

Mustafa the activist concurred, saying, “I never really believed that Turkey was our ally. To me at least it did not take a lot of effort or intelligence to figure out that Turkey was definitely thinking about the PKK and the Kurds from the very beginning [of the Syrian conflict],” she stated.

Washington’s silence within the face of the touted rapprochement has added to Kurdish unease. It has additionally stated little of Turkey’s focused assassinations of senior PKK and SDF figures inside northern Syria utilizing armed drones. Today, yet one more civilian perished — a 12-year-old within the border city of Kobani — in a Turkish drone strike. There had been unconfirmed stories that a number of Syrian regime troopers had additionally died in Turkish assaults on Kobani at present.

“America neither relinquishes hold of us nor does it defend us. It is pursuing the worst possible policy,” a PKK militant in Iraqi Kurdistan talking not for attribution informed Al-Monitor.

The State Department didn’t reply to Al-Monitor’s request for remark.

Elizabeth Tsurkov, a doctoral scholar at Princeton University who has written extensively about and spent protracted spells in Syria since 2011, observes that no matter Ankara’s motives, reconciliation with Assad is one thing of a fantasy.

“What will block such a deal is the completely uncompromising position of the Syrian regime, which would be unwilling to give Turkey any guarantees on security and which is also incredibly weak militarily,” Tsurkov informed Al-Monitor. “Even if it wanted to contain the PKK, it currently does not have the military capability to do so. And of course, any guarantees the regime may provide for the people in the northwest and northeast are meaningless.

Tsurkov continued, “The regime’s military and security will go after anyone who is perceived as an opponent in areas outside its control. Therefore, Syrians who live in these territories will attempt to flee and produce a massive exodus that will need to either be met with live ammunition on the border or lead to a massive refugee influx into Turkey.”

“This is something incredibly risky and would possibly be career-ending for the Turkish president,” Tsurkov noticed.

Yet the established order seems equally untenable. Turkey’s occupation of northern Syria prices round $2 billion yearly, in keeping with The Financial Times. The authorities says it spent a minimum of $40 billion on 3.7 million-plus Syrians inside Turkey. The opposition claims the actual determine spent on Syrians is nearer to 5 occasions that quantity. Meanwhile, the social toll of their presence is rising by the day. Ultimately, Turkey’s fears of the emergence of yet one more Western- backed Kurdish statelet on its borders trumps all different considerations. As such, whether or not it’s by means of some cope with Assad or by going it alone, the one certainty is that Turkey will proceed to do its greatest to avert such an consequence.


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