Hints of a meeting between AKP leader and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Syrian counterpart Bashar al-Assad, as well as ministerial contacts, have revealed a change in Turkey’s Syrian policy in recent weeks. But what has really changed? Erdoğan relentlessly continues his attacks and invasion preparations against northern and eastern Syria. The Turkish president has asked for a “green light” from Russia and Iran. Putin told Erdoğan to clarify this issue with Assad. Erdoğan then changed course. The question now is whether Turkey will be able to reach an anti-Kurdish deal to invade northern and eastern Syria in this way, or whether it will launch an invasion on its own initiative without getting the “green light”.
In an interview given to the ANF, the honorary president of the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) and honorary member of the Parliamentary Council of the Council of Europe, Ertuğrul Kürkçü, raised this issue.
Erdoğan has tried unsuccessfully in recent weeks to get the “green light” for his cross-border operation. Nevertheless, he continues to announce an imminent attack and, on the other hand, gives signals of “normalization” to Assad. How do you rate that?
As for Syria, Erdoğan is under massive pressure from Iran and Russia within the framework of Astana and Sochi. It was made clear that they would not allow him to intervene militarily in Syria. Not only was Erdoğan questioned, but public statements were made to this effect. The United States of America (USA), the European Union (EU) and the United Nations (UN), i.e. all major world powers, also warned Erdoğan to refrain from a such approach.
The balance of power had changed compared to previous years and it was obvious that Syria had to adopt a clearer position, especially in the face of attacks from Turkey. There was also the possibility that if Turkey ignored this and intervened militarily, all forces would come into play and the Middle East would descend into chaos with unforeseen consequences. Therefore, all the powers tried to change Erdoğan’s mind on this issue.
But Erdoğan was unable or unwilling to hold back at the ’13th Conference of Ambassadors’, even though he had promised to act within the limits set by Putin and his hands were legally tied in because of the UN Security Council resolution on the cessation of hostilities and the Astana process. He announced that he would also occupy the areas between the already occupied territories near Manbij, between al-Bab, Afrin, Gîre Spî and Serêkaniyê, declaring: “We will create a security belt by uniting these fronts”.
To be honest, after the speech of Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov at the joint press conference with the Syrian Foreign Minister in Moscow the day before, I think that Turkey does not have the power to implement what announces Erdoğan and that she will not be able to launch this offensive.
Moreover, due to the magnitude, historical dimension and social significance of the Kurdish question, Erdoğan did not intend to achieve a strategic result with the military operation he mentioned, but to create a political opportunity with her. He had hoped to present the image of a hero, a playmaker at the center of the world ahead of the election and to mediate as a “dove of peace” in the war between Ukraine and Russia. To this he is now trying to add the image of a “master of war”. But due to political and diplomatic tensions, casualties and the possible great unease that a militarily useless and useless operation would entail, the great powers blocked Erdoğan’s, and therefore Turkey’s, way, and he had to content with the limited leeway he had was given.
Does this mean that Turkey is completely blocked and that its Syrian policy has changed profoundly?
The change in the strategic balance of forces in Syria does not mean that all possible tactical lines for Turkey change. Turkey has always followed a tactical line. This has also been confirmed by international publications. Since the beginning of this year, numerous comments have claimed that Turkey will not deploy large-scale military forces in Syria but will resort to drone and artillery attacks to clear the planned so-called “security belt”.
Russia and the United States have no objection to this tactical positioning of Turkey. All experts who follow the issue believe that the United States and Russia are giving Ankara the green light for these attacks with drones and howitzers. In other words, they believe that this path was opened to let slip Ankara’s request for a ground operation. Personally, I also think that it is a realistic interpretation that explains the situation.
Why do you think that?
However limited the means with which Erdoğan had to content himself until the balance of power was again favorable to him, his noise was always taken seriously. Parliament passed his decrees and Erdoğan was allowed to send troops to Syria on his orders alone, without the need for another parliamentary decision. Suppose that Turkish forces did not cross the borders due to warnings from international powers, but moved troops to the border. Indeed, the recruited jihadist army also gathered behind the ceasefire lines. All that was missing was the order to attack.
But that should not reassure anyone. Following the drone attacks, there were numerous killings and massacres of civilians in South Kurdistan and West Kurdistan. The price of Erdoğan’s demagoguery is civilian casualties and casualties among the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The SDF are Syria’s legitimate defense force.
So far, Turkey’s drone strikes have not been able to ‘neutralise’ any of the people it has listed as ‘primary targets’, but those whose lives have been attacked have been whether or not the “primary target”, none of those killed can return or be replaced. These are heavy losses for the Kurdish people and their defense forces. In other words, even if this tactical operation has no short-term military impact, it is part of a corrosive process in the long and medium term.
Putin sent Erdoğan back to Assad. In your opinion, is an anti-Kurdish agreement between Ankara and Damascus possible in the long term?
Objectively, all states are united in their action against the Kurds. No state that relies on a “real nationality” or a “ruling nationality” tolerates even the most limited autonomy. Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey will not give up their war against the Kurdish people even when they are at war with each other. In this context, I believe that the Turkish and Syrian intelligence services are in contact even in the worst state relations. Of course, I don’t have any proof, but it’s not hard to make predictions. In this sense, we see that Turkey is exhausting all possibilities. Erdoğan has already confirmed this by saying: “We are in contact”. But now Syria is stronger, it suppressed the uprising. The regime exerted massive pressure on the “rebels”, incited, armed and equipped by Turkey, in Idlib. The Syrian army would be ready to wipe out a large part of the civilian population of Idlib as well if the attention and conscience of the world community allowed it.
This is why the reinforced regime in Damascus declared: “We will not hold negotiations at the level of Heads of State and Government until Turkey leaves Syrian territory. However, this does not mean that there are no negotiations under the table. Incidentally, this was also mentioned in Lavrov’s recent remarks, in which he meant: “Let Syria rebuild itself in the self-administered areas in the north and east. This will solve the problem for you. Why are you bothering -you ?” So I don’t think there will be a meeting between Assad and Erdoğan unless Turkey somehow renounces its claims to Syrian territory. In fact, Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu said: “There will be no meeting at the Shanghai Cooperation Summit, Assad is not invited anyway.” In other words, there will be no such agreement between Heads of State and Government in the short term.
But Turkey is in the hands of Russia. From this point of view, especially if the pressure intensifies in the electoral campaign, Turkey will be open to being “convinced” by Russia to recognize Syria, to flatter the Syrian government and to take measures to improve relations with Syria. I think Turkey and Russia need such contacts more than the Syrian regime, because the regime is now firmly in the saddle. However, Russia must bring Turkey to its side and stand with it against the West. Therefore, it is imperative that Russia supports Turkey. For Turkey, given the great difficulties in which it finds itself, there are not many other options than to follow the path laid out by Russia in Syria.