Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
Syria is a political minefield. The Russians support Bashar Assad’s regime. The Americans want him gone and some of Syria‘s neighbors support the American position. Daesh has sparked violence in parts of rebel-held Syria. Syrian Kurds have fought alongside anti-Assad rebels, but Turkey, which is no friend of Assad, is keen to take down Kurds to keep its own Kurds on a leash. Iran supports the Assad regime, while Israel opposes it. It is in this complicated and explosive situation that Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Friday that there must be a reconciliation between the rebels and the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Damascus. He said the 11-year-old civilian was going nowhere. Cavusoglu said: “We must somehow bring the opposition and the regime to reconciliation in Syria. Otherwise, there will be lasting peace, we always say.
There has been an outbreak of protests across the rebel-held north under the control of Turkish troops. The rebels have an argument. They paid the price for the rebellion with the deaths of half a million people and over a million people who fled the country and lived as refugees in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. George Sabra, a well-known anti-Assad rebel wrote on Facebook: “If Cavusoglu is concerned about reconciling with the Syrian regime, that’s his business. As for the Syrians, they have another cause for which they have paid and continue to pay the highest price.
Cavusoglu said he had a brief meeting with his Syrian counterpart Faisal Al-Meqdad in Belgrade, and that Turkish and Syrian intelligence services were in contact. He said there was, however, no meeting between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Syrian President Bashar Assad, despite Russia pressing Turkey for such a meeting. Cavusoglu said that Turkey will however continue to fight against terrorism in Syria, and this is a sign that Turkey will fight Kurdish rebels in Syria although the Kurds are fighting against Assad. Turkey fears that the Kurds of Syria and the Kurds of Iran will unite to fight against Ankara as well as against Damascus.
Turkey is a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), but it is also close to Russia. In the war in Ukraine, Turkey acted as an intermediary between Russia and Ukraine and helped facilitate the export of grain from Ukraine via the Black Sea. Neither America nor NATO objected to Turkey playing the role of intermediary. But Turkey’s position on Turkey has been problematic because it does not toe the line of either Russia or America. Cavusoglu’s statement should be seen in the context of Turkey’s concerns against the Kurds.
Whatever his political motives for encouraging reconciliation between the rebels and the Syrian regime, it may not be acceptable to rival camps in Syria. One of the reasons for the outbreak of the 2011 civil war in Syria following the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings was Bashar Assad’s refusal to cede ground to legitimate rebel grievances. It is unwilling to share political space and political power with others in a democratic configuration. His Baath Party, with its socialist creed, has been the only ruling party in Syria since his father, Hafez Assad, took over the political reins in 1971. The elder Assad aligned himself with the then Soviet Union to strengthen Syria’s military strength. And the Syrian-Russian alliance continues in the post-Soviet period. His son is now stuck in the old political groove, although for a time it looked like he would break Syria out of the old Cold War mould.