Back to a no-fly zone over Syria, after so many lives
“The Americans will always do the right thing, after they’ve exhausted all the alternatives.” That quotation is impossible not to recall after hearing U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speak in the U.N. Security Council meetings on Sept. 21 in an address to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov about grounding Russian and Syrian planes during the delivery of humanitarian aid to certain designated zones. Kerry was practically suggesting a temporary no-fly zone over Syria, limited to humanitarian aid deliveries, which was also backed by Germany.
It is not exactly the same suggestion that Turkey has been putting forward since 2012 as a method to contain the Syrian civil war, but it is a small-scale version of it.
That’s why I recalled that well-known quotation, which (like almost all wise political quotations throughout human history) is often wrongly attributed to British statesman Winston Churchill. The original quotation was actually as follows: “Men and nations behave wisely when they have exhausted all other resources,” spoken by Israeli statesman Abba Eban in Japan in 1967.
The suggestion for a no-fly or security zone was first discussed in a meeting in Ankara between Turkish and American officials back on Aug. 23, 2012, a time when post-Assad scenarios had started to be brought to the agenda. The meeting, attended by diplomats and military and intelligence officials from both countries, had been planned during a meeting between then Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and then U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Istanbul on Aug. 11.
The suggestion was considered worth working on by then French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabious, who visited the refugee camps in Kilis on the Syrian border together with Davutoğlu on Aug. 17.
The idea was to create a safe zone for those escaping the clashes in Syrian territory so that refugees would not pour into neighboring countries like Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon. It was also suggested as a preemptive measure to avoid the spillover of the civil war.
In an interview with daily Hürriyet at the time, Davutoğlu pointed out that the number of refugees in Turkey from Syria had reached 80,000, and if that number reached 100,000 it would create serious problems for Turkey that would have to be handled via international cooperation.
Russia, backed by China, objected to the idea immediately. It was clear that there could be no U.N. Security Council decision on a no-fly zone over or a safe zone in Syria as mandated by the U.N. There were elections ahead of the Barack Obama administration in November and Washington did not want to get involved in the Syrian quagmire, which would effectively mean a face-off with Russia.
At the time, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) did not even yet exist, as it only announced its establishment in 2013. Raqqa and Mosul in Iraq were therefore not yet occupied by ISIL and ISIL terrorists had not started to broadcast their inhuman violence across the world.
The number of those killed in the civil war had not yet reached one-tenth of the current 470,000, and the number of Syrian refugees had not hit anything close to today’s 6 million, 3 millions of whom are in Turkey.
To cut a long story short, if the world is now go back to square one - the no-fly zone over Syria to protect refugees and people in humanitarian need - why on earth were four very important years lost amid the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives and millions of displaced people, ruining a country and seeing the emergence of one of the worst terrorist organizations in history?
President Tayyip Erdoğan, who was Turkey’s prime minister four years ago, repeated the same suggestion only two days before Kerry in his speech at the U.N. General Assembly.
It is understood that Russia thinks a safe zone would not be a recipe for peace in Syria. Perhaps that is true, but it could be a formula to save more lives and moderate the atmosphere a little.
Yet the rapprochement between Ankara and Moscow regarding Turkey’s anti-ISIL operations in Syria is an indication that this time there may be some hope to find common ground.