With no end in sight
I know I had promised last week an imaginary phone conversation between President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and a possible U.S. President Donald Trump for this article. But sometimes events take over, and that is what happened this time. After all, we have all the U.S. primaries ahead of us to speculate, don’t we? So let us come back to our jungle, the Syrian crisis.
Turkey started a ground attack over the weekend on some Syrian targets where it saw movement among People’s Defense Units (YPG) and/or Bashar al-Assad troops. The critical target is the town of Azez. It is an interesting place to bomb. Four years ago when I was able to walk over the landmined fields of olive trees and pay 100 dollars to anyone with a car to drive us, I managed to enter Azez. Illegally that is. Even then, there were very few inhabitants there. Syrians had packed their cars, pickup trucks and even motorcycles and had started leaving the village. There were two big regime tanks that were blown to pieces. There was a huge military intelligence building that had become the target of clashes. Al-Nusra was the “hip thing” in town. They were even controlling the Turkish border.
So, now Turkey is so unhappy with al-Assad forces or Kurds controlling this unmanned town that it is shelling it day and night. Turkey’s prime minister is making statements like “we will not let it fall into regime hands” as if it is a town of Turkey. Falling? Falling where? It would be foolish to remind Mr. Ahmet Davutoglu of the word “territorial integrity,” but unfortunately Azez and so many other places are still in Syria, as far as I know.
Turkey could have closed the border three years ago if it was so eager for a no-fly zone, or a secure zone. Turkey could have acted more decisively to convince the allies about an international intervention three years ago. But no. Arming the “moderate-Sunni/so-called-but-so-unfairly-labeled jihadist/opposition” was a better option. After all, al-Assad was about to fall, right? So now, after more than 2 million refugees, hundreds of thousands dead, more on the Aegean shores and in European capitals, Turkey claims that its policies are working. Let’s see what is working.
Intelligence experts told me the mechanics of things. If there are clashes in a place (be it Azez or Cizre), people start to leave. Then, other groups start filling the vacuum (a universal law). Then government forces come. Then fighting starts. One rebel/terrorist group may leave (i.e. the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant - ISIL), then others come in (i.e. YPG). There is no endgame to this because you forced the people to vacate their homes and villages and they will never come back (i.e. Sur, Azez, Aleppo, you name it).
Let us look inwards now. After the government forces “clean up” Cizre, İdil, Sur, et cetera, who will come and enter the buildings that will remain vacated. ISIL? Hezbollah? Do we have a plan for this? What if the alliance that is built against ISIL ends up eyeing Turkish territory to hunt down terrorists?
Turkey wants to show its hard power in the region by shelling targets inside Syria. Sadly, the more Ankara seeks to divert its message on the PYD from the Syrian quagmire and link it to the PKK, the bigger the linkage gets with no end in sight.