Turkey’s Syrian refugee problem and the potential domestic policy gains to be achieved by weakening the Kurds in north Syria forces Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to make a U-turn in his policy toward the Syrian government, Kurdish journalist Fehim Işık said in an interview with the Mezopotamya News Agency on Thursday.
Erdoğan and some other high-rank officials of the Turkish government in recent weeks have been signalling a possible reconciliation with the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, following a more-than-a decade long animosity over Erdoğan’s support to Syrian rebels seeking the ousting of Assad.
The softening rhetoric of the Turkish government is a result of a complex web of relations among international powers engaged in the Syrian conflict, according to Işık. The Turkish government, whose main priority in Syria is to prevent the emergence of an autonomous Kurdish territory near its border, have not succeeded in gaining the support of its NATO allies to launch an extensive offensive into northern Syria, said Işık.
This forced Erdoğan to turn to Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose ultimate aim is to re-establish the relations between the presidents of Turkey and Syria, the journalist said.
As the Turkish President failed in persuading US President Joe Biden to accept Ankara’s demands over Syria, Erdoğan chose to use his close relations with Putin to threaten the United States and the EU, he added.
“This situation also enabled Russia to impose its policies on Turkey. This has been a lucrative relationship for Russia as well. The situation of Assad, whom Russia has been aiming to keep in power for years in Syria’s civil war, has now become stronger,” Işık said, noting that Putin has been using Erdoğan to protect his own interests in Syria.
“Erdoğan has used all of his cards till today to prevent any type of Kurdish gains in Syria” the journalist said. “But the hands of the Kurds got stronger nevertheless”. The Turkish President fanned the flames of the Syrian civil war not because of his animosity toward Assad but because of his hostility against the Kurds, according to the journalist.
Another problem for Erdoğan is some 3.6 million Syrian refugees in Turkey where anti-refugee sentiments are on the rise as Turkey’s economic crises exacerbate with rising prices and growing poverty. The return of Syrian refugees is one of the main issues of possible negotiations between Turkey and Syria, Işık said.
Yet, Işık thinks Assad is in no rush to restore ties with Erdoğan. “We have been learning that Assad is trying to string out negotiations with Erdoğan. It is being said that Assad will particularly slow down the situation until the results of elections in Turkey scheduled for 2023 become clear. It has been openly stated that Assad will not take steps that can strengthen Erdoğan’s hand in the short term,” the journalist said.
In case Erdoğan decides that Turkey’s complex relations with its NATO allies and Russia is not protecting its interests, the Turkish President might resort to launching a large-scale offensive into northern Syria, which might end with the invasion of Kurdish-controlled territories, according to Işık. This will be a move that would increase Erdoğan’s popularity for the upcoming elections, but the Turkish president cannot easily get what he wants due to the increasing strength of the Kurdish administrations in the region, he said.
“Independent of what Turkey does, this will not change the reality that the Kurds are one of the main actors in the Middle East,” the journalist said.