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What are Erdogan's intentions for Syria?

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan gives a speech in Ankara, Turkiye on August 24, 2022. [ Ali Balıkçı - Anadolu Agency ]
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan gives a speech in Ankara, Turkiye on August 24, 2022. [ Ali Balıkçı - Anadolu Agency ]

In my previous article, I discussed the motives for the Turkish government to normalise relations with the criminal regime in Syria. Were the statements made by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, I asked, and before that by his Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, one way of bargaining with Russia, whereby normalisation with Damascus is in exchange for supporting Turkiye's project to control Manbij and Tal Rifaat? Or was it simply a Turkish tactic rather than a strategy that has already been adopted and is being implemented?
I believe that the Turkish decision has already been made, but its implementation on the ground will take a long time and will not lead to complete normalisation. Rather, it will be a difficult and dangerous path, so we will see gradual steps, politically and in the field. There is no guarantee of success, although the Turks are skilled in tactical manoeuvres, seizing opportunities and employing them in their favour. As such, I believe that Turkiye will not abandon its relations with the Syrian opposition, at least for the time being, as they are one of its most important cards in the Syrian file and its role internationally and regionally.

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We know that Turkiye provided a safe haven for most of the Syrian opposition factions, whether political, such as the Syrian National Council and the Syrian Interim Government, or armed, such as the Syrian National Army in the liberated areas of Syria. This created a sense of loyalty towards Turkiye, and they work in accordance with Ankara's instructions in a manner appropriate to its foreign relations with the countries involved in the Syrian arena and the intertwined interests shared with such countries.

Unfortunately, therefore, these opposition factions are under Turkiye's control and are far from the popular mood and goals of the Syrian revolution. The violence that the revolution has gone through over the past 11 years proves that the leaderships of these factions are divorced from the people on the streets. There is a large gap between them due to the fact that they did not come about by a popular mandate. They were imposed on the revolutionary forces, as demonstrated in the disaster of the Astana path, which Turkiye imposed on the military factions and the national council despite being rejected by the people. They believe that it is a misleading and malicious path that deviated from the path of the revolution and shifted its compass. The Syrian people did not rise up against the murderer Bashar Al-Assad, sacrifice everything precious to them, and offer hundreds of thousands of martyrs for a political solution from two enemies, Russia and Iran, who have destroyed their country and killed their relatives and friends to keep the murderous regime in power.
The deceptive Astana path both angered and split the opposition. When the downfall of the council was demanded, a member responded by saying: "Organise protests and call for our resignation; do what you want. We were appointed to our positions through decisions from states, not from you, so they will be the ones to dismiss us, not you."

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There is no doubt that the Astana process, and the constitutional committee that was formed by a decision of the participants in the Syrian National Dialogue Conference in Sochi in 2018, with contributions from Turkiye, Russia and Iran, has whitewashed the brutal regime and saved it from negotiating most of the provisions of UN Security Council Resolution 2254, the most important of which is the transitional governing body. It also bypassed the issue of detainees and the legitimate rights of the Syrian people stipulated in the resolution. Instead it confined the discussion to one contentious part, the constitutional process, which gave the regime a golden opportunity to deceive the international community for years under the illusion of engaging in negotiations without having anything to show from over three years of work by the Constitutional Committee.

The Astana meeting is no longer useful, but it benefited the regime. It ended the presence of the forces that rejected the regime across Syria and, given the decline of the opposition regionally and globally, it is similar to the Oslo Accords for the Palestinians, which rescued the occupation and eliminated the PLO as a national liberation movement.
Despite the fact that Russia is not serious about advancing the Syrian constitutional track, as it is the one which disrupted it by suspending the ninth round, it occasionally takes steps that suggest it supports the constitutional track in Syria. For example, it is currently taking such a deceptive step to move the course of the Constitutional Committee, in line with the atmosphere of normalisation looming between Turkiye and Damascus, as Moscow wants to show that it is ready to support reconciliation between the regime and the opposition to encourage Turkiye to move forward with such an option.

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What Turkiye has done since agreeing to Russia's entry into Aleppo in 2016, even though Aleppo was a red line and was not allowed to become a new Hama; and after Erdogan backed down from the "we will pray in the Umayyad Mosque [in Damascus]" policy, and followed the path of Astana and the Constitutional Committee, and the four de-escalation zones, Turkiye has reached the point of talking about reconciliation between the regime and the opposition or a return to the Geneva track. Russia will completely reject this and Turkiye cannot make much progress in normalisation as long as Russia does not intend to find a serious solution to the Syrian issue. The solution, meanwhile, is there for all sane people to see: remove the butcher of Damascus from power and overthrow his regime by forming a transitional governing body with full powers, as stipulated in UN Security Council Resolution 2254.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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