Abdel Bari Atwan
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been performing a great many U-turns and other diplomatic gear changes these past weeks. First, full normalization with Tel Aviv, then a clear and unequivocal apology in writing to Moscow; currently, a new an openness towards Cairo, and shortly, we believe, the beginning of some door-knocking in Damascus.
On Saturday, a Saudi newspaper quoted anonymous Turkish foreign sources as saying that Ankara might accept the survival of President Assad for a short transitional period for six months in order to thwart the formation of a Kurdish State on its borders.
The choice of newspaper for leaking such a shift in the Turkish position was calculated carefully: to give some kind of credibility to the news first, and secondly, to reflect that this is a joint Saudi-Turkish position and that the two allies of the Syrian opposition have agreed this change.
I don’t believe it’s a coincidence that these leaks come at the same time as Moscow resumes its air flights into Antalya airport in southern Turkey, lifting its boycott on the country’s tourism industry (Russians flock to Turkey in their thousands). Nor that it comes five days after bombings near the Holy Mosque in Madinah, and last months attacks on the Atatürk International Airport in Istanbul; the so-called ‘Islamic State’ appears to be the most likely culprit in both outrages.
The Turkish sources quoted leave some room for a change of heart but the most significant words are that Ankara ‘accepts’ that the Syrian President may continue in office after a cessation of hostilities for a transitional period of six months. In fact, the Turkish Government is no longer in a position to ‘accept’ or ‘reject’ not only matters on the Syrian file, but the files of the entire region, after Ankara and its allies have failed miserably in their ongoing attempts over five and a half years to topple Assad.
If this u-turn is, as we suggest, linked to the threat of a Kurdish State on its border, and the likelihood that a renewed struggle for independence will incite Turkey’s own Kurds to fight even harder for their own state, this means that Ankara will become a captive of the Syrian regime, not the other way around. The Turks desperately need Assad to help counter this Kurdish ‘threat’ since their official allies, the US, continue to support the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party, whose military arm has proved so effective in countering the Islamic State in Syria.
Another point we find remarkable is that Ankara puts a time limit on its ‘acceptance’ – six months, during which, presumably, it hopes Assad will effectively battle the Kurds. Afterwards, by this logic, it will return to its previous position of seeking his demise or even execution.
It is the height of arrogance and bungling, that President Erdogan imagines that his Syrian counterpart will be eager to provide this service, to co-operate to prevent a Kurdish State, free of charge, after all that has happened over the last five years
Relations between Turkey and Syria need to be repaired, that much is certain in the interests of bringing to an end the bloody war that has killed nearly half a million Syrian’s brother, and displaced at least 8 million. We hope that media reports that there is an ongoing dialogue between the two countries taking place in Algeria are correct.
Erdogan’s Turkey has offered these concessions because of her sense of isolation, the risk of fragmentation, economic meltdown, and the sense that his American and European allies are no longer ‘on the same page’ where Syria is concerned. He now wishes to jump onto the Russian train at the very last minute and this will deliver him straight to the gates of Damascus. Perhaps we will see him fulfil his wish to pray in the Umayyad mosque – maybe he will even have President Assad by his side.
Nothing surprises us any more in our area of the world.