Al-Assad’s card between Turkish elections and the impossible settlement
Enab Baladi – Khaled al-Jeratli
Turkish political parties, starting with the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and ending with parties with a modest influence, are repeating their statements about plans to come to terms with the Syrian regime and its president, Bashar al-Assad, within the framework of marketing electoral projects whose features began to take shape in the middle of this year.
The Turkish government did not respond to the statements of its officials about its readiness for rapprochement, while similar statements were made by officials of the Turkish opposition parties, which fall within the same context.
Al-Assad, a front for “anti-refugee file”
The opposition parties are trying to present the issue of the Syrian refugees, who number more than 3.5 million, as one of the country’s biggest problems, and that they are seeking to provide solutions to it. With the start of every election in Turkey, the file of the Syrian refugees comes to the fore.
Dialogue with al-Assad, reaching a settlement with him, or normalizing relations occupies a greater share than that of previous election campaigns in the context of preparing for the upcoming elections.
In the latest official position, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced that he had offered his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, a tripartite meeting at the level of leaders that would include Bashar al-Assad.
Erdogan said that, as of now, “we want to take a step like the trio of Syria, Turkey, and Russia,” in press statements he made after his visit to Turkmenistan.
The Turkish political researcher and journalist Levent Kemal told Enab Baladi that the head of the Syrian regime, Bashar al-Assad, is not a really decisive issue in the Turkish elections, contrary to what the statements of Turkish politicians on all sides portray.
Talking about sitting with al-Assad, making concessions to him, or offering negotiations with him is nothing but an “anti-refugee trend,” which the Turkish opposition has tried to exacerbate over the past years, and it is a “very shallow” point of view, with which the opposition wants to antagonize Turkish President, according to Kemal.
“Over the past years, the opposition has tried to strengthen this position by turning refugees into enemies. What we see today is a partial success of the opposition in politicizing the refugee file. Today, we see that Erdogan and his “close circle” have succumbed to this anti-refugee trend,” the Turkish journalist said.
By building its position against Syrian refugees, Kemal believes, the Turkish opposition is, in effect, transforming its opposition to Erdogan into a “political framework that supports al-Assad.”
Reviving ties, harmful or beneficial?
The Turkish statements in the context of the rapprochement with the Syrian regime and the announcement by opposition parties to send delegations and request meetings in Damascus implied that al-Assad could actually offer political benefits to any future Turkish government, even if the matter was limited to the upcoming elections.
However, the Turkish researcher Levent Kemal believes that al-Assad is “the leader of a failed state divided among the shareholders of power”; therefore, he has nothing to offer the Turkish political parties in terms of economy, politics, or security.
He added that the Syrian regime has nothing to offer, whether to the Turkish opposition or the ruling party alike, but the Turkish opposition’s hostility to Erdogan is “blind” to the extent that political parties that describe themselves as “democratic” do not hesitate to support a “dictator” to achieve electoral gains.
In view of the experience of Jordan’s rapprochement with the Syrian regime, it is possible to see the extent of the damage left by the regime on Jordan’s southern borders, in terms of dangers in terms of national security, and turning the region into a corridor for drugs.
In this context, the Turkish journalist and researcher said that all the Turkish political parties involved in today’s election race, starting with the ruling party and down to the smallest political parties, “did not think about this issue in detail.”
Moreover, reconciliation with the regime today, or even making “peace” with it, “will have a long-term cost to Turkey.” The issue is not only “drug terrorism” through Iranian-backed groups but also a miscalculation, according to Kemal.
“The rapprochement with the regime will not end its relationship with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has existed since the seventies, and Turkey will find the outlaw PKK, which is classified as a terrorist group, cooperating with Damascus and Iran on its southern borders, which will naturally lead to doubling the dangers of today,” he says.
Kemal gave an example of the Iraqi situation today, where, with the support of Iran and Baghdad, the PKK still represents “a serious problem against Turkey in Iraq.”
It is clear at the field level today that Turkish relations with the Syrian regime are too complex to be resolved through a meeting of foreign ministers or a closed intelligence meeting.
Turkey is currently calling for a political transfer of power in Syria and securing a safe environment for the return of Syrian refugees, while the Syrian regime is calling for Turkey to withdraw its forces from Syrian territory completely.
Turkey also believes that the presence of its forces in Syria thwarted a plan to establish a Kurdish entity run by groups classified on its terrorist lists, and therefore the withdrawal of its forces from Syria is considered a matter of danger to the country’s national security.
The Turkish researcher added to Enab Baladi that the implementation of the rapprochement option is impossible at the present time, as Erdogan and al-Assad cannot solve the problems in Syria through a meeting between them.
It is not possible for the Syrian regime to solve the PKK dilemma on behalf of Turkey, and on the other hand, it is very difficult for Turkey to abandon the demand for the implementation of UN Resolution 2254 (2015) regarding Syria.
The researcher pointed out that the obstacles that prevent the conversion of the Astana process (Turkey is one of its guarantor countries along with Russia and Iran) into a process that exceeds Resolution 2254 are very high, so even if a meeting takes place between the two parties, “they will not be able to solve any problem in Syria.”
Kemal interpreted Erdogan’s positive step towards the regime as evidence of the proposition that the ruling party has succumbed to the opposition’s anti-refugee policy and that Russia has an increasing influence on Ankara.
Opposition may bargain withdrawing from Syria
Last week, Turkish media websites reported that the Turkish opposition Republican People’s Party had sent a “secret message” in which it offered concessions to al-Assad if the party wins the Turkish elections scheduled for the middle of next year.
The Turkish haber7 website said on 22 December, quoting the pro-regime Syrian-Armenian journalist Sarkis Kasarjian, that the Turkish party’s message “included concessions and compensation to the regime if the party wins the elections.”
Levent Kemal said that the nationalist current of the Turkish opposition supports the operations against the PKK in Syria, but nevertheless, it will not hesitate to withdraw the Turkish army if the Syrian regime makes promises to return the refugees.
While the rest of the (non-nationalist) political parties are open to negotiating and bargaining with al-Assad regarding the Turkish army, this trend is evident from the statements made by these parties so far.
At the same time, Kemal said that the Turkish opposition does not yet have a clear program on Turkish national security issues.
However, it seems that the Democracy and Progress Party, which broke away from the Justice and Development, and the Republican People’s Party, are ready to make concessions to both the Democratic Peoples’ Party (Turkish/Kurdish) and the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), he added.
Thus, it seems that these parties are destined to link the “issue of reconciliation with Kurdish groups,” using the issue of Syrian refugees instead of national security issues in the elections. This, according to the Turkish journalist, is a “serious problem” because it will leave Turkey confronting the PKK threat from Iraq to the Mediterranean Sea.
Turkish parties’ stance on al-Assad
On 17 August, the Secretary-General of the “Vatan Partisi” party, Ozgur Bursali, declared his party’s intention to send a delegation to Syria, to meet the head of the regime, Bashar al-Assad, and “high-ranking” personalities, which the regime later refused.
On the same day, Ali Babacan, head of the Democracy and Progress Party, announced that his party is ready to meet with all parties, especially the Syrian regime, Russia, US, EU, and the UN, to ensure security in Syria and create conditions for the return of refugees to their country.
The head of the Turkish Future Party, Ahmet Davutoglu, said on the 13th of the same month that Turkish-Syrian meetings are possible according to three political goals.
The first is the regime’s display of the will to reconcile with its people, its control of the borders with Turkey, and the existence of a “positive message” from the regime for Turkey, according to Davutoglu.
On the other hand, the Republican People’s Party (the largest opposition party) opposes the position of the Justice and Development government against the Syrian regime and believes that normalization with the regime is necessary to ensure the return of refugees.
The Republican People’s Party said that it is ready to achieve this normalization if it wins power, and its president, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, previously said, “I will establish the peace initiative in the Middle East, in cooperation between Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria.”
While the position of the Turkish National Movement party is not different from the position of the Justice and Development, as it has been an ally in its electoral campaign for years, as it issued a statement in mid-August describing the steps of Turkey’s rapprochement with the regime as “valuable and accurate.”
As for the Turkish Good party (İyi Parti), it is considered one of the biggest advocates of direct talks with the Syrian regime because it believes that these talks open the door for Syrians to return to their country.
Meral Akşener, head of the party, previously addressed Erdogan, saying, “If you do not want to talk to al-Assad, then send me to him to talk to him so that he can take his people.”
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