While Assad loyalists are continuing their siege of a Kurdish neighbourhood in Aleppo, northern Syria, Erdoğan is again arresting dozens of Kurds for their made-up involvement into the so-called Kobani events. Yes, these two recent developments have everything to do with each other: Assad and Erdoğan are allies, and have always been. But let’s broaden the scope a little bit. It’s not just Erdoğan and Assad who are allies. If next year the alliance between opposition parties will win the elections, nothing much about the Syria approach would fundamentally change.
Erdoğan and Assad may officially have opposed each other during most of the Syrian war, they are cut out of the same fabric, and have the same ultimate goal: to violently crush anybody aspiring freedom and autonomy in order to stay in power and not jeopardize the status quo of the unified nation-state. This is why I called them ‘allies’ in a speech I was giving at the Kurdish Conference in the European Parliament six, seven years ago. Eventually, I said, ‘the people’ don’t count for them, and sooner or later they will openly be friends again.
The audience of activist Kurds understood what I meant, but outsiders basically thought I had lost my mind. After all, on the every day stage of regional and global politics, Erdoğan and Assad seemed to oppose each other vehemently. It hadn’t been too long that Erdoğan travelled to several countries in the region to show his support for the Arab Spring. He was often welcomed as sort of a hero to whom many in the region looked up as an example of how islam and democracy could blend. When the protests against Assad started and gradually spiralled into a civil war because Assad just wouldn’t step down, Erdoğan insisted that if the people don’t want you anymore, you will have to go. That’s the narrative that many observers followed: Erdogan’s stance was that Assad had to go.
On a shallow level: yes. But the situation on the ground has changed, and it’s clear to everybody now that Erdoğan wanted Assad to go under the circumstances at the time. Assad is going to ‘win’ the war – although we do need to see to what extent the war in Ukraine will weaken Putin and what repercussions that would have in Syria – and Erdoğan will be trying to make the best of it. The sentiment against Syrian refugees has turned ugly in Turkey, Erdoğan wants them to return to their country and a dictators’ stability in Syria would further that goal.
More importantly: Assad taking control of the whole country again, also means that the autonomously governed regions in Syria’s northeast will crumble. That’s one of Erdogan’s long-time policy goals – he is a pragmatist but not when it comes to Kurdish self-rule. If Erdoğan will instantly leave the zones in Northeast and Northwest-Syria it has occupied, remains to be seen, but a dictator crushing Kurds is Erdogan’s friend.
And here we come to Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader of the biggest opposition party, the CHP. He is in an alliance now with five other opposition parties and hopes to not only overthrow the Erdoğan government in the 2023 elections but also return to the parliamentary system that Turkey had before Erdoğan changed it to a presidential system in 2018. The alliance makes it seem as if they are aspiring for democracy. But they are aspiring to return to the previous balance of power. Which is basically the balance of power in which parliament decides in unison – except HDP of course – to suppress any aspirations for autonomy.
For that, Kılıçdaroğlu and his domestic allies will not shy away from making a deal with Assad either. The members of the alliance who are in parliament now, all support Turkey’s occupation of Syrian lands, and the ones who are not in parliament now, have been prominent AKP members before and support these cross-border crimes as well. We can’t have any illusions about the deals the alliance will be willing to forge with Assad the genocidal maniac.
Even more so because the CHP and the alliance of which it is a part, is fed up with Syrian refugees in Turkey too. They have made no effort to decrease the hostility and outright violence against Syrians in Turkey but have instead put oil on the fire with hateful rhetoric and with policies in municipalities where they are in power.
Not only Erdoğan is Assad’s ally, Kılıçdaroğlu is too. Kurds can’t trust any of them.