Turkish opposition and the Syrian deadlock

At the Turkish opposition's conference on Syria, it was openly stated that the path to peace passes through dialogue with Damascus. However, certain basic dilemmas should be overcome if an alternative way out is to be developed. The opposition should not fall into the trap laid by the government.

Since the beginning of the Syrian crisis, we have been writing over and over again that the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government cannot get enough of catastrophe, while the opposition party Republican People's Party (CHP) cannot offer enough of a counterweight. The opposition is buckling under accusations of being "Assadist," and has not been able to develop a strong language against this and suggest a way out.

Throughout this process, I have had the opportunity to meet with party seniors and convey my thoughts in two search conferences and one round table meeting. Every time concepts like "the red lines of the state" and "the interests of the state" were brought up, I was convinced that CHP would not be able to shed its mission of being a "party of the state."

Fortunately, in the ninth year of the crisis, CHP finally got the show on the road and organized a Syria conference. However, by excluding the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which control almost one-third of Syria, and the actors on the east of Euphrates that make up the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (NES), the "red lines" of the state were once again respected. This approach indeed crippled the claim of the conference, which was to come up with a solution. Nevertheless, it is noteworthy that it was openly stated that the path to peace passes through dialogue with Damascus. It was indeed very important to voice recommendations in the direction of the respecting Syria's territorial integrity and the right of the Syrian people to decide their own future as well, following a consistent and coherent policy based on independence and sovereignty, reviewing Turkey's actions that lie contrary to international law, and the functioning of diplomacy with all legitimate actors.

I was able to convey my thoughts on this matter through Skype at the conference held on September 28. Some of the deadlocks concerning Syria in which the government got stuck hold true for the opposition's approach as well. For instance, while the motto "Peace at home, peace abroad" is essential, the military operation in the name of blocking the "Kurdish corridor" that turned into a kind of "ethnic cleansing" of Kurds in Afrin was legitimized and supported as a "national security issue." After this green light was given that freed the hands of the government, any kind of opposition developed against the Salafi jihadist groups that accompanied Turkish Armed Forces to Afrin—and their acts of murder, kidnapping for ransom, torture, looting and theft—somehow lost its value. The Arabization of Afrin (in the Kurd Mountains) where Kurds have lived for a thousand years and what has happened to the Yazidis were just minor details. Moreover, after all this time, displays of sensitivity towards Syria's sovereignty and territorial integrity have no meaning.

Just as our Syrian policy was based on groundless data and distorted information, the factors that made up the "national security" strategy do not necessarily reflect the facts on the field. It is a trap that the opposition is also drawn into as the AKP government puts its own ambitions and failed ventures under the umbrella of concepts like "national security" and "matter of survival," and treats them as frameworks of state policy. If an alternative way out is to be developed, then the confusion regarding a couple of very basic dilemmas needs to be clarified.

The government does not want to see the Syrian state and the Syrian national army, which it treats as illegal in its own way by calling them the "Assad army" and "Assad regime," at the Turkish-Syrian border. Well, what is the alternative to that? The alternative is to continue to keep the Turkish military presence in the field, such as in the Idlib pocket and the triangle between Azaz, Jarabulus, and Al Bab, and to maintain control through proxy militias such as the Salafi jihadists.

The consequences of this policy will be serious. The war will be prolonged. The dangerous, unlawful and indefinite engagement with the militia forces, supported by the Turkish army and national intelligence, will continue. The assurances about Syria's territorial integrity and sovereignty will remain unfulfilled. Syria will remain open to interference by other foreign actors.

In order to be able to see where we are going, we need to remember where we came from:

  • Due to the AKP government's incorrect choices, Turkey shouldered almost 70 percent of the burden in the conspiracy against Syria. The first degree of responsibility lies on them for paralyzing the country. This operation will have a deadly and sinister legacy for Turkey. As all the jihadists are tossed out of Syria, they will fall into Turkey's lap.
  • By opting for a safe zone for an intervention into Syria, advocates of the Palestinian cause have made Israel the side that has profited the most in this process.
  • Those who were complaining the most about Iran's influence have given Iran the opportunity to operate from Iraq to the Mediterranean.
  • Those who ranked Russia highest in terms of security issues have provided the opportunity for Russia to return to the Middle East. It is now impossible to think of the region's future without including Russia.
  • The political perspective that put YPG-PYD at the top of the threat list has been tarnished to such an extent that it relied on groups like Ahrar al-Sham and the al-Nusra Front, and then later upon ISIS attacks, to overthrow the autonomous structure. In the end, instead of lending a hand to the Kurds and making this a catalyst for peace with its own Kurds, they have condemned the Kurds to rely on the US. Thus, the US was able to enter Syria, the country it was trying to penetrate for decades.
  • In the end, a new path has been taken in which a Joint Operation Center has been formed as a part of the safe zone east of Euphrates, and the US military presence in Syria has been made permanent with links? on Turkish soil.
  • The Syrian venture, which started out as a proxy war, has turned out to be very complicated. It has transformed domestic politics just as it has increased Turkey's dependence on Russia and the US.

If a new page is to be turned, we have to point out that we are ignoring that the Kurds are saying, "We are a part of Syria. We are seeking a solution within the territorial integrity of Syria. Russia should use its influence for dialogue with Damascus,” and we are repeating the idea that "the US is dividing Syria." This is actually serving American interests. The planned "safe zone" not only ensures Syria's division, it also puts a mortgage on the political solution process.

The Kurds (i.e. YPG) will not be present in the constitution writing committee that was decided on as a part of the Astana Process due to Turkey's veto. A solution process in which Kurds are excluded, and in which the Kurds declare that "we will not treat the result of a committee we are not a party to as binding," will not bring a solution process—it will bring separation.

Astonishing many, the Turkification process is moving at full speed from left to right. The al-Assad Park inside the Euphrates Shield region has been renamed Yunus Emre park, which may be a reason for delight for the nationalist front, but its image for Syrians is the "return of colonization."

The position in Idlib, being a shield for the jihadist groups with 12 checkpoints, in fact corresponds exactly to the expectations of the Americans. The US is not hiding that they see the Turkish military presence in Syria as "preventing Syria's recovery." Calling that "the prevention of the victory of the Syrian regime and its allies" does not disrupt relationship between this aim and its effect.

The presentations about the plans for the east and west of the Euphrates are quite tempting for those who put the sensitivities of the state in the center: "the peace corridor against the terror corridor." When the name of the military operation is "Olive Branch," then the perception that it serves peace rises. The interventions that have terrorized and thinned down the local Kurdish population are mentioned as successful models to be replicated to the east of the Euphrates. This is being polished and presented as a "peace corridor" where 3 million refugees would be returned. This is a framework that people who see refugees as the source of many problems are unable to say no to. This plan has been marketed by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan from the platform of the UN. Those looking at the map held up by Turkey understood the following: "So, Turkey wants that much territory from Syria."

The desired outcome of this plan is to make a safe zone populated by Arabs between Turkey and the Kurds, therefore destroying the demographic foundation upon which the autonomy project is based. The only thing doled out to the Kurds from this will be "ethnic cleansing." The same goes for Assyrian and Armenian people in the region.

Height of greed

The refugee issue can be solved only with the war coming to an end in Syria and people returning to their own homes. Creating new demographic realities in the north of Syria with the aim of removing the "unwanted" parts of the population will not work other than setting people in the region against each other. It's the height of greed to turn these people into blackmail for use against Europe and get cash in return, and to link the refugees' return to housing projects designed to reap huge profits.

In short, with the current policies Turkey is conducting east and west of the Euphrates, Turkey is not serving Syria's territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence. In the Astana and Sochi declarations Turkey has signed, they have stated the opposite of this, but what the policies they’ve conducted have produced and will produce are important. The interventionist line that has been accepted in the name of "national security" has two consequences for Turkey's future: a permanent animosity with the Kurds and the strengthening of jihadist groups.

The former has the potential to make Turkey's domestic peace impossible, activating regional fault lines; the latter group, while they are useful today for use as proxy forces for adventurous ambitions, have the potential to become a threat to Turkey tomorrow.

It would be an incorrect approach for the opposition to make a shortcut and say they will "shake hands with Assad" as an alternative to the government's Syrian deadlock.

If the subtext of the proposal, "Let us remain clear of the east of the Euphrates," does not read, "Let us leave the plan for the destruction of the Kurds' autonomy to Assad," then the message to the Kurds should be more open. Dialogue with all sides cannot accommodate the contradiction inherent in the idea of “letting Assad be the sledgehammer, not us.” 

If the aim is a peaceful solution and a stable future, first of all, Turkey should change its parameters and perspectives concerning the Kurds. Ankara should not block Syria's path towards finding a peaceful solution with its own Kurds. In other words, the Kurds should not be the price of a new beginning between Ankara and Damascus. This would push the Kurds more toward the US, and the Americans would use this situation as the basis of their own plans. 

The question of what is to be done is also important. Turkey must end the dynamic of conflict west of the Euphrates. If Turkey has 70 percent of the burden of weapons, logistics and flow of fighters in the huge conspiracy against Syria, then a policy change in this area would facilitate around the same percentage of the solution to the problem as well. These are my humble views.