Ankara’s attempt to approach Damascus has caused concern
Ankara’s attempt to approach Damascus to repair relations between the two countries has caused concern in the Syrian opposition and in the Kurdish north, in the context of the rearrangement of the geopolitical chessboard in the region caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The plans of the Turkish government include the mandatory return of millions of Syrian refugees to their country, who have been in Turkey for many years.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan signaled the change in Turkey’s stance a few days ago, saying that “political dialogue or diplomacy cannot be interrupted between countries. We need to take further steps with Syria.” Turkey has backed rebels fighting to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and cut diplomatic ties with Damascus in the early stages of Syria’s 11-year war.
During Erdogan’s recent meeting with Vladimir Putin in Sochi, the Russian president suggested Turkey work with the Syrian government to address violence along the Syrian-Turkish border. The Turkish president had warned that Turkey might launch a new offensive in northern Syria, against Kurdish fighters there, to expand a “safe zone” where, according to Ankara, 3.6 million Syrian refugees would be able to return.
But it seems that Putin convinced him not to invade Syria again. Erdogan’s statements were followed by Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, who said that Turkey does not set conditions for dialogue with the Syrian government and that the talks should focus on achieving the goals, thus taking another step in softening Ankara’s stance. against the Damascus regime.
“The country needs to be cleansed of terrorists… People must be allowed to return,” the Turkish minister added. As the Guardian notes, the statements were made on the eve of the ninth anniversary of the largest civil massacre in Syria, the sarin gas killing of 1,300 civilians in a suburb of Damascus – which traditionally supported the opposition – by the Assad regime.
In the following years, Russia and Iran helped Assad’s forces prevail in the civil war, but much of the population remains outside the control of the central government and the country is barely holding together.
In the northwest, the war continues, as this week, the Russians bombed 13 targets in Idlib province, where most of the rebels and opposition are now based.
Ahead of elections in Turkey, Erdogan wants to find a way to get rid of most of the refugees, hoping to win votes amid a massive economic crisis. Turkey has already announced that it will send one million refugees back to Syria and is funding the construction of housing near areas where Syrian Kurds live in the northwest and northeast.
As the Guardian reports, Putin has mediated to mend relations between Assad and Erdogan, as the Turks want to strike the Kurdish PKK and this is the first time they “need” Damascus.
Most Syrian refugees do not want to return to a country where Assad still rules at the risk of imprisonment and torture by the regime, while at the same time they have to deal with the hostility of the Turks and the Lebanese towards them. “I’d rather try my luck in this broken place than go to Bashar’s prisons. There is no life there,” Mustafa Hilani told the Guardian, a Syrian refugee who has been living in Beirut for six years.