Aleppo: Why is the AKP silent?
Sinan BAYKENTA radical shift in Turkey’s Syria policy occurred after the July 15 coup attempt. As Turkey began to distance itself from the U.S. it gradually became friendlier with Russia. While Turkish officials are publicly questioning Turkey’s NATO membership for the first time since 1952, a will to join Shanghai Cooperation Organization is gradually taking shape.
This sudden and sweeping shift had to have heavy consequences. The most important consequence was a revision of Turkey’s policy on Syria, where it had directly sponsored armed opposition forces against Bashar al-Assad for years. It seems that now a compromise has been reached between Turkey and Russia on the Syrian issue. As Russia tolerated the Turkish military deploying in Syria to prevent the Azaz-Jarablus axis from being dominated by Kurdish forces, Turkey probably accepted not intervening – even on a discursive level – against the joint Syrian-Russian operations in Aleppo.
But could there be more to it?
A few days before the Syrian army took control of Aleppo, al-Assad made a statement about the future of the Syrian war. He said Aleppo represented a “turning point” and the next step would be the complete liberation of Syria. It should be emphasized that the idea of “complete liberation” encompasses not only Raqqa but also provinces such as Afrin, Tal Rifaat and even Qamishli, thus also referring to areas controlled by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG). If Russia and Syria really do agree on liberating the entire Syrian land, it would mean that battles with the YPG forces are also due.
This scenario is more than plausible. With a joint effort, a triple alliance between Russia, Turkey and Syria could suppress the YPG in northern Syria.
But at what cost?
International powers such as the U.S., France, Germany and the U.K. have heavily invested in financing and supporting the YPG in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). It is well known that these powers project, in the future, the formation of a separate Kurdish entity in Syria that would end Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) head Masoud Barzani’s isolation in the region. Would they simply keep quiet if Russia, Syria and Turkey attacked their “best” regional allies?
But above all, we should ask how Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) will manage this situation in terms of domestic policy? Politicized Muslims have begun to raise real concerns on various issues such as the silence of the AKP regarding the ongoing massacres in Aleppo, the recent rapprochement deal with Israel, and the closure of the Mavi Marmara trial. The AKP could find itself in a very complicated situation if, on top of all that, it had to negotiate and come together with al-Assad in the near future.
If that day comes, the shared struggle against the PKK could certainly be a good excuse to legitimize this alliance. However, the AKP would still face a new opposition front within its own ranks. In other words, the AKP’s silent stance on Aleppo will undoubtedly have an impact on Turkey’s domestic politics, as well as crucially on political patterns within the ruling party.