Syria with or without al-Assad?
Perhaps a more popular question today may be “with or without Boris Johnson?” New U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May might have wanted Johnson, one of the Brexit knights, to clean up the mess he left, as a bold political maneuver also aiming to eliminate a potential rival. But the response she received over Johnson’s appointment as foreign secretary has caused a wave of mockery across the world - not only about Johnson, but also about the judgment of the new prime minister of the United Kingdom, the one-time empire on which the sun never set. Personally, I wonder how Foreign Secretary Johnson will look into the face of Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan, about whom he wrote that awful poem mocking him in a widely criticized manner.
But the question of peace in Syria, with or without Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, is much more vital to the security of the entire world. The Syrian civil war, ongoing since 2011, has caused enormous trouble, not only for its neighborhood but also for many countries, including the mind-blowing terror of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and the biggest wave of migration since World War II. Without peace in Syria - and Iraq as well - it will not be possible to push the terrorism problem back down to levels where it is at least under control.
Following an exaggerated period of friendship, in which al-Assad and Erdoğan called each other “brothers” and took family holidays together, the Turkish government has been one of the staunchest opponents of the Baathist regime in Syria. Turkey is one of the countries that have suffered the most because of the Syrian civil war - because of terrorism from both ISIL and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the nearly 3 million refugees that the country hosts.
The Syrian civil war has also caused extra problems for Turkey with its closest military ally, the U.S., over the PKK’s Syria branch, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), and its military wing, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which collaborates with the U.S. against ISIL in Syria. It has also meant big problems with Russia and Iran, which are both strong allies of the Syrian regime. Ankara is now trying to mend ties with Moscow, after Erdoğan sent a letter to Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin over the downed Russian jet last November.
Another recent move by Turkey was to start normalizing relations with Israel after six years of strain.
Following this normalization, a statement by Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım, addressing the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AK Parti) local heads on July 13, underlined Turkey’s “need for better relations with Syria.” This led many to wonder whether Syria was next in line after Russia and Israel.
But within 24 hours of that speech, Yıldırım told the BBC that a change in Syria could take place only if al-Assad was replaced as the head of the country. That is actually very much in line with the “al-Assad must go” statements by U.S. President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, the current presidential candidate for the Democrats, when she was Obama’s secretary of state.
Peace in Syria is only likely to come through talks between the U.S. and Russia, with the U.S. acting as the voice of the West or NATO and Russia acting as the voice of the Russia-Iran-Syria bloc backed by China.
The Russian response to the question of a Syrian peace without al-Assad is that the Syrian people must decide, and it is not possible for peace in Syria without the Syrians themselves. In fact, Russian spokespeople are not as wedded to the name of al-Assad as Irans; however, they are certainly interested in blocking the possibility of Western domination in Syria and protecting their own military interests.
Anyway, speaking of the Syrian people, some 6 million have already raised their voice by fleeing the country headed by al-Assad. Even more are displaced within the country and some are fighting against al-Assad or against each other. Al-Assad has lost control of large chunks of Syria’s territory and only maintains control over the remaining 20 percent thanks to Russian military support.
Syria has turned to ruins under al-Assad and nobody could believe in the decency of any election under the current circumstances. It is not very politically correct to say so, but the Syrian people have already said what they have to say. Now it is time for Moscow and Washington to take their turn.