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January 21, 2022

Is Turkey isolated? (II)

From the third week of February, it became obvious that the internal situation in Turkey is closely connected with external developments, particularly, if not exclusively, with what is happening on the Syrian front. As is known, on February 11 and then on February 22, under Washington and Moscow’s “patronage” and “sponsorship,” agreements were reached on the conclusion of a ceasefire in Syria and the re-launch of the peace process established by UN Resolution 2254 from 18 December 2015. At the same time, it is known that the current situation on the ground is favourable (the ceasefire holding despite sporadic violations) for the resumption of the peace process, which could take place in the following days. The process that started on February 11, and failed in a first stage, is not at all simple for all actors involved. In Ankara’s case, it is far more complicated since Turkey considers herself excluded from the decisions concerning what is happening and will be taking place in Syria, repeated requests on her part being constantly rejected by the main actors (sponsors or regular players). It is an assessment that consolidates itself in the perception of the Turkish leadership, certain developments being deemed of existential importance for Turkey.

Among these developments, of course the most important is the inclusion, among the ranks of the Syrian opposition, with a seat at the negotiations table in Geneva, of the political representation of Syrian Kurds, the PYD, whose military wing (peshmerga) – the YPG – is closely collaborating with the U.S. and Russia on the ground, close to the border with Turkey. Ankara is pointing out that these organizations are nothing but proxies of the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party), considered a terrorist organization – recognized as such by the U.S. and the EU – whose purpose is allegedly not so much internal autonomy within Turkey but the creation of a Kurdish state on the territories inhabited by this ethnicity in Turkey, Iraq, Syria, possibly Iran (a Kurdish mini-state already exists in northern Iraq, autonomous from Baghdad).

Ankara has clearly signalled the way she sees the realities of the Kurdish file in Syria by bombarding the peshmerga positions close to the Syria-Turkish border, thus relaying to Moscow and the U.S. its firm opposition toward their strategic orientations. Recent news show that Turkish military forces allegedly operate on Syrian territory, close to the border, in order to establish mini no-fly zones, so as to favourably position themselves in view of future developments. On February 24, Turkish President Erdogan made concrete statements in this sense, pointing out that the ceasefire concluded cannot last considering that PYD-YPG are part of the peace process thus started, moreover implicitly relaying that Ankara sees fit to act in this sense. Just as conclusive were the decisions of the peace process’ sponsors, the latter announcing the organizations excluded from the talks – thus not including PYD-YPG among them –, and Russia also took the measure to legitimize PYD by opening its international office in Moscow.

While Turkey was using its artillery to bombard YPG positions on Syrian territory, on February 20, President T. Erdogan had a phone conversation of over an hour with his American counterpart Barack Obama, during which he refused to accede to the U.S. point of view that PYD could be considered part of the opposition to the Assad regime in Syria. Erdogan firmly held on to the view that PYD is just a PKK subsidiary, a terrorist organization the likes of Al Qaeda or Nusra, excluded from the internationally agreed stipulations on ceasefire in Syria.

On February 17, according to Turkish officials, PYD-YPG carried out a terrorist attack in the Turkish capital, which left 29 dead, thus proving its affiliation to the aforementioned terrorist organization and deepening the Turkish authorities’ perception that the position adopted was the right one. This is the moment when Turkey’s European friends noticed that Ankara is in an extremely sensitive position, moreover that in Syria a final solution is being sought without the participation of this capital. Various personalities publicly expressed a position in this sense, suggesting that Turkey should be supported in her efforts and that it is the West’s duty as an ally to act in this direction. Referring to the fact that there is a dangerous slide toward a war between Turkey and Russia on one hand, and on the other hand that in spite of the backsliding registered by the Turkish leadership both domestically and internationally, the article of an important European expert outlined an undeniable reality: “Nothing has altered the connections binding U.S., European and Turkish interests together: 80 million people on Europe’s south-eastern flank in what is historically one of the most democratic, secular-minded and economically advanced of the 57 countries of the Muslim world.”

Moreover, the same article also identifies a solution favourable to Ankara’s position, in the devising of which Europe’s major interests were obvious. Outlining that U.S. and EU leaders’ selection of ISIL (Daesh) as the main threat that has to be countered – the practical basis of the agreement between the sponsors of the peace process in Syria – is an erroneous diagnosis, the Assad regime being actually responsible for a higher number of victims than ISIL, it states that “viewing everything through the lens of Isis falls into the propaganda trap that it has set. Isis-first tactics risk losing the much greater prize, a stable, prosperous Turkey. Any sustainable Syria strategy must go the extra mile to integrate the Turkish dimension.”

So that, through this stance, which opposed Turkey’s exclusion from the decision-making architecture of the solution to the Syrian civil war, defined was a trend that affirmed maintaining Ankara within the perimeter of the Western alliance, which was alike a support for her but also a warning for Russia. It has to be reminded that such a development could only be linked, in Europe, to the existential crisis of the EU, faced with the magnitude of the refugee crisis that, without Turkey, was deemed irresolvable by European officials. If today’s Syria is not seen from this angle – such a thesis states – then the danger of the wave of refugees could gain apocalyptic dimensions for Europe. Thus, “the Syrian war is a cumulative international tragedy. In the current geopolitical storms, Turkey and the West are clearly in the same boat.”

This political trend is asserting itself ever more in Europe and has become the generator of another process that is taking place in parallel with the peaceful solving of the Syrian file. Namely, the process of EU-Turkey negotiations and agreements on putting a stop to the wave of refugees from Syria and the reduction of the threat that hovers over the EU fundamentals as a result of its consequences.

At least for now, the two processes are taking place in parallel, even contradictorily, there being no signs that progress is being registered in moving their basic principles closer together. Among these principles, and this reality is becoming ever clearer, the one of avoiding Turkey’s isolation and identifying a solution that would allow her inclusion in the decision-making architecture in Syria, so that her legitimate interests would be satisfied, is essential. After all, Turkey’s place is clearly within the Western alliance. As an expression of this reality, on March 12, NATO AWACS airplanes started monitoring Turkey’s airspace, in line with an agreement with Ankara (February 11), and the Syrian-Turkish border in particular. A clear sign of solidarity between allies.

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