Protests spread throughout northern Syria over the past few days, after remarks by Turkiye’s Foreign Minister hinting at a possible reconciliation with the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad.
At a news conference on Thursday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu announced that he had met his Syrian counterpart Faisal Mekdad at a conference in Serbia last October, and that the Turkish and Syrian intelligence services had restarted contact with each other.
Following those remarks, as well as pro-government Turkish media reports that president Recep Tayyip Erdogan could resume contact and talk with his Syrian counterpart Assad, demonstrators took to the streets in northern Syrian cities and towns – including major Turkish-held areas like Azaz, Jarablus, and Al-Bab – to protest against the possible reconciliation.
As the protests erupted and spread on Thursday and Friday, footage of the events circulated on social media, including controversial scenes such as the burning of a Turkish flag in Azaz.
Burning the #Turkish flag in the city of Azaz in Aleppo, northern #Syria in protest against the statements of Turkish Foreign Minister Cavusoglu, regarding his call for the reconciliation of the Syrian regime with the Syrian opposition.#اعزاز #حلب
— Shilan Chikh Mousa (@SChikhmousa) August 11, 2022
That clip ignited further tensions regarding many Turks’ discontentment with the presence of Syrian refugees in Turkiye and many Syrians’ mistrust of Turkish military presence in Syria.
Following the incident, however, elements of the Turkish-backed Syrian opposition condemned the act, with the Sultan Murad Division having reportedly arrested the individuals involved in the burning. Reports also claimed the group had discovered that the arrested men were members of the Kurdish group the Democratic Union Party (PYD), which Turkiye insists is tied to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) terrorist group.
With regards to Cavusoglu’s remarks, the Syrian opposition has been somewhat divided, as around 15 civil society groups in the north issued statements of condemnation and the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army (SNA) factions having called reconciliation with Assad a “betrayal” that will lead to “handing the region over to chaos and destruction”.
Meanwhile, the official political Syrian opposition praised Turkiye for its role in supporting the Syrian revolution over the past decade. Since the Assad regime brutally suppressed peaceful protests throughout Syria back in 2011, Ankara broke off ties with Damascus and has remained steadfast in that stance.
In recent months, however, there have emerged reports of a possible reconciliation between them, especially due to Turkiye’s pressing need to find a solution to the millions of Syrian refugees within its borders as well as the need to stave off Kurdish militias from the Turkish-Syrian border region. For both of those aims – particularly the latter – Erdogan and his government reportedly hope that the Assad regime could cooperate and assist in those Turkish national interests.