On Saturday 15 April, the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) publicly announced their willingness to begin a dialogue with the Syrian government and all active Syrian forces.
On Saturday 15 April, the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) publicly announced their willingness to begin a dialogue with the Syrian government and all active Syrian forces. The AANES also blamed the failure of previous initiatives to solve the Syrian crisis on ‘Excluding some active Syrian forces from the dialogue process, and insisting on external solutions.’ The statement also emphasised the need for all political actors and minorities to be given a seat at the table when the future of Syria is being discussed.
This topic is incredibly important, especially at this moment due to the fact that quadrilateral meetings between Syria, Turkey, Iran and Russia have been planned and the foreign ministers of Syria, Turkey and Russia have already met with the Syria crisis being the first topic of discussion. In addition, the potential outcome of the Turkish presidential elections to be held in May will undoubtedly have a massive effect on the lives of Syrian people.
Undoubtedly, when the AANES stressed the need for a solution for the Syrian crisis to be internal, it had these quadrilateral meetings in mind. Officials in North and East Syria (NES) have previously shared their concerns about these meetings taking place, particularly the process of normalisation between Damascus and Ankara. Yasser Al-Suleiman, a senior official in AANES, said:
“The quadripartite meeting won’t produce any results in favour of Syrians or end the Syrian tragedy, because it perpetuates the Turkish occupation of the Syrian territories, whereas the Syrian regime is not in a position to defend these territories.”
The AANES, specifically Kurds involved in the administration, have often come under fire, being accused of separatism or trying to deepen divisions in Syria by establishing their own autonomous region. It is possible that these efforts for an internally driven dialogue for the purpose of solving the Syrian crisis will put these criticisms to bed. But of course, new criticisms may arise. Most likely from Syrian rebel groups who oppose Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and any process to normalise his position in power. When the rapprochement process between Damascus and Ankara was first announced rebel-controlled areas in Syria saw protests in response. But despite the AANES’ willingness to engage in dialogue with Assad, they have previously offered the same opportunity to Syrian rebel groups.
Syrian Democratic Council (SDC) co-chair Ilham Ahmen said, recalling protests against an Ankara-Damascus deal organised in rebel-controlled areas:
“This was a message to the forces that control these areas. Our hand is extended to hold dialogue with the parties that staged these protests.”
The rapprochement process has had a rocky start, with Assad showing reluctance due to Turkey’s continued presence in the north of Syria and with a meeting intended to be held in April being postponed.
Presidential candidate Kiliçdaroǧlu has expressed willingness to engage in dialogue with the Syrian government, specifically concerning coordinating efforts to return Syrian refugees.
Another important factor is if opposition leader Kemal Kiliçdaroǧlu of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) wins the upcoming Turkish elections. Kiliçdaroǧlu has repeated shown his openness to discussion with the Syrian government, including encouraging current president Erdoǧan to begin dialogue with Assad, and to work together to return Syrian refugees to Syria. Following the earthquakes which took place in Syria and Turkey in February, the CHP candidate send a letter of condolence to Assad, saying:
“As this disaster and the pain we have experienced show once again, we are partners and neighbours in our grief, we share the common pain of our peoples. Therefore, I take this opportunity to express my condolences to you and your people and hope that we will not share our sorrows but our hopes in the future.”
Will these efforts by the AANES to bring an end to the Syrian conflict be listened to, will they be given a seat at the table? Will Syrian rebel groups see this as a potential solution, or as purely an effort to normalise Assad? If Kiliçdaroǧlu is elected, will he listen to both the AANES and Damascus’ criticism of Turkish occupation? Will he normalise Assad and not hold him accountable for the crimes he has committed against his country? I know I am not alone in watching the developments of the Turkish electoral process from the edge of my seat, I know I am not the only one who has more questions than answers at this time. But I am certain, for better or worse, that things are changing in Syria and I believe these next few months will determine which direction these changes will go – watch closely.