Facts and lies on Syria: A crucial crossroads
In the March 30 edition of the New York Times, Roger Cohen’s article* titled “Some Reflections on Journalism” quoted the Israeli novelist Amos Oz: “Facts at times become the dire enemies of truth.”
Keeping that enlightening remark in mind, let me list some recent facts and possibilities regarding the seven-year-old Syria war:
• Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan will host Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in Ankara on April 4. Three leaders had their first trilateral meeting to talk about Syria in Russia’s Sochi on Nov. 13. The leaders are expected to focus on the Astana process to maintain a cease fire between the Syrian regime and rebel forces while continuing the anti-terror fight and the Geneva process for the political future of Syria.
• Since then, Turkey has started its “Olive Branch” military operation in northwestern Syria, taking control of the border town of Afrin from the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the Syrian extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has for decades been in conflict with Turkey. Russia refers to the YPG as a “pro-U.S. Kurdish militia.”
• Erdoğan and U.S. President Donald Trump spoke on the phone on March 30, their second conversation in eight days. The White House readout said they talked to “advance shared interests as NATO allies and to work through issues that affect the bilateral relationship.” On the same day, a Turkish diplomatic mission headed by Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Ümit Yalçın was in Washington to talk to Deputy Secretary of State Robert Sullivan. Turkish diplomatic sources said they “got into the details” of the U.S. partnership with the YPG, while denying Turkish assistance to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
• Earlier on March 30, Erdoğan had slammed French President Emmanuel Macron over his March 29 reception of a Syrian Kurdish delegation, including YPG representatives, during which he vowed support for them. On March 29 Trump had hinted that the U.S. would not stay in Syria forever and wanted to “let other people take care of it” after the clearing of ISIL. One of Trump’s main policy lines is countering Iran, but Turkey and Iran have a common anti-PKK interest in Syria as long as the U.S. continues to partner with the YPG.
• Turkey says it wants the U.S. to keep earlier promises and withdraw all YPG militants in control of the predominantly Arab town of Manbij east of the Euphrates river. Ankara also offers Turkey’s help against any possible revival of ISIL and al-Qaeda-affiliated movements in the area. Russia, meanwhile, warned on March 30 that the YPG’s rule east of the Euphrates - especially in the city of Raqqa, taken from ISIL - has started to create discomfort among the predominantly Arab population.
• Before the meeting of Turkish, Russian and Iranian leaders in Ankara, there is a scheduled signing ceremony on April 3 for the launch of the Akkuyu nuclear power plant. The planned plant on the Mediterranean coast will be built with Russian technology and with the Russians holding a predominant share. Turkey also signed a contract with Russia to buy S-400 air defense systems, despite being non-interoperable with NATO, “because the U.S. declines to sell Turkey even pistols,” as Erdoğan said. However, there have been reports that Trump may intervene to sell Patriot systems to Turkey in a bid to stave off the S-400 purchase.
The three-party meeting in Ankara will take place at a crucial crossroads for the future of Syria and actually the entire Middle East, with the U.S. seemingly at the threshold of a major policy change. It is still not clear whether Macron’s recent comments represent a broader EU policy change, considering the more cautious stance of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
While there are so many facts to observe and cover, facts alone are often not enough to understand the truth. Still, they must indeed be covered and noted for the benefit of future drafts of history.
* I may have missed the article if Soli Özel had not shared it almost instantly.