Starting with Abu al-Zandeen crossing, Syrian regime and Turkey move towards economic normalization

Abu al-Zandeen crossing connecting the areas controlled by the Syrian National Army and the Syrian regime in eastern rural Aleppo – March 18, 2019 (Enab Baladi)

Abu al-Zandeen crossing connecting the areas controlled by the Syrian National Army and the Syrian regime in eastern rural Aleppo – March 18, 2019 (Enab Baladi)

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Enab Baladi – Jana al-Issa

At the end of last June, the local council of the city of al-Bab in eastern Aleppo province announced that the Abu al-Zandeen crossing, connecting the area controlled by the Syrian National Army (SNA) and the areas under the control of the Syrian regime, would be opened.

Commenting on the opening of the crossing, most expert analyses indicated that the move had more political advantages than economic benefits. However, the location of the crossing as a link between the regime and Turkey raised questions about the economically benefiting parties and the extent of the benefit to northern Syria from reopening it.

Gateway to Turkey

The Abu al-Zandeen crossing connects the city of al-Bab in northeastern rural Aleppo in the Euphrates Shield operation area controlled by the opposition under Turkish sponsorship, and eastern Aleppo city under regime control. It is located to the west of al-Bab city, near the village of al-Shamawiyah, which is under regime control.

While the local council of al-Bab city announced the opening of the crossing, local parties in the city demanded that it be handed over to a civilian authority to avoid protests against its opening, especially given the opposition factions’ long history of fighting over crossings, as they represent an important economic resource for the region.

Meanwhile, other discussions suggested that opening the crossing posed economic and security risks to the areas controlled by the Syrian National Army in northern and eastern rural Aleppo.

The same crossing previously witnessed several prisoner exchange operations between the National Army and regime forces, under Turkish-Russian auspices and the supervision of the United Nations and the International Red Cross.

The crossing itself also witnessed forced displacement operations from southern Syrian provinces to the north, as it previously saw the passage of displaced convoys from Damascus and Quneitra at different times.

Limited economic impact

Many experts agreed that opening the Abu al-Zandeen crossing might be seen as an initial step on a long path between Turkey and the Syrian regime and is the result of preliminary understandings between the two sides under Russian sponsorship, expecting that other crossings might be opened in the future.

This decision can be described as more political than economic, according to political economy researcher Yahya al-Sayed Omar. He explained that trade movement through this and other crossings existed previously but in an unofficial and undeclared form, often as smuggling operations. Currently, this movement will take a legitimate and declared political form.

Regarding the expected economic impact of opening the crossing, al-Sayed Omar told Enab Baladi that the impact is relatively limited, with political significance outweighing economic impact.

The researcher believes that the main parties negatively affected by this decision are the armed factions in northern Syria, which managed smuggling operations, and the armed militias from the regime’s side, as these groups benefited from the crossing.

 

Producers, particularly farmers on both sides of the crossing, might benefit by exporting surplus agricultural products from opposition-controlled areas to regime-controlled areas and vice versa. If the passage of civilians is allowed, the crossing might have a humanitarian impact by facilitating communications between Syrian families on both sides.

Yahya al-Sayed Omar, Political Economy Researcher

 

The economic impact of opening the crossing for opposition-controlled areas is also limited, according to researcher al-Sayed Omar, as the main trade dealings are with Turkey. The regime would see no significant benefit unless the crossing is used to transport oil from areas controlled by the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) to regime-controlled areas, which is currently unlikely, in his opinion.

Al-Sayed Omar believes that the political environment in opposition and regime-controlled areas, characterized by mutual hostility, does not support real economic activity, as shown by the popular protests in opposition-controlled areas against opening the crossing.

Turkey benefits

Regarding the biggest beneficiary, assistant researcher in economic affairs at the Harmoon Center for Contemporary Studies, Najah Abdel Halim, believes that Turkey is the biggest beneficiary of reopening the crossing. The resumption of commercial traffic through the crossing will allow Turkish trucks to pass through regime-controlled areas to Jordan and the Gulf countries, thereby facilitating export operations.

Abdel Halim ruled out any long-term benefits or any real economic revival in the area, especially if the crossing remains under military faction control.

She told Enab Baladi that some people see that reopening the crossing will have positive effects on northern Syrian areas economically, as it encourages investment and increases trade activity.

 

Indeed, there may be an increase in trade activity in the north, but I rule out any long-term benefits or seeing real economic recovery in the region, especially if the crossing is managed by military factions.

Najah Abdel Halim, Assistant Researcher on Economic Affairs at the Harmoon Center for Contemporary Studies

 

The assistant researcher confirmed that the Abu al-Zandeen crossing is one of the most well-known smuggling points between the opposition and regime-controlled areas, but reopening it officially might have negative repercussions for the north in terms of drug entry and flooding it with Captagon drugs.

The regime might also benefit from resources from the north that it cannot import due to the foreign currency shortage. Moreover, the regime’s political and moral benefits would be significant, as this step represents a legitimate recognition by the Syrian opposition, according to Abdel Halim.

Economic normalization with three priorities

Since December 2022, Turkey has shifted its hostile stance against the Syrian regime and its reluctance to normalize relations with it. Turkish diplomats and politicians, including the President of Turkey, made statements courting the Syrian regime’s head, Bashar al-Assad.

Throughout 2023, Russia and Iran attempted to sponsor negotiations to achieve progress in the rapprochement process between Turkey and the regime. However, high demands from both sides prevented any progress in the process.

Syrian journalist specialized in economic affairs, Ziad Ghosn, considered in an opinion article published by the Lebanese Al-Mayadeen website on July 5, that restoring economic relations between Turkey and the Syrian regime is one of the primary concerns for both parties, in addition to the main issue of “defining terrorism and agreeing on a unified perspective towards it.”

Ghosn said that the economy, according to initial indicators, will be an entry point for normalizing bilateral relations between the two countries, considering the opening of the Abu al-Zandeen crossing in rural Aleppo represents a clear indication of the stage reached by the Syrian-Turkish negotiations to resume their relations. This is similar to the photos from Qamishli, showing the rehabilitation of the Nusaybin crossing with Turkey, in his opinion.

The Syrian journalist sees three main priorities currently dominating the thoughts of economic officials in both countries: reopening some land border crossings, which could resume trade exchange between the two countries or regional transit trade; increasing bilateral trade exchange; and securing a share of the “reconstruction cake” in Syria. However, this priority might face obstacles such as western sanctions on the regime and delays in regional and international consensus on resolving the crisis.

 

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