The need for a new formula in Syria

The need for a new formula in Syria

It is not possible to disagree with a remark by Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu when he said the “Syrian situation has become deadlocked” – it is possibly something that everyone paying attention to the tragedy in Syria could say nowadays.

It means that none of the formulas presented to end the four-year civil war in Syria have collapsed – namely the American, Russian, Geneva and, of course, Turkish formulas.

But making the remark that all formulas have failed, Davutoğlu said in his conversation with a group of reporters in New York on Sept. 26 that they failed because the rest of the world has failed to listen and do what he has been saying for the last four years, that is, “since September 2011, when Bashar al-Assad turned down our suggestion to help him in return for reforms.”

Despite President Tayyip Erdoğan’s acknowledgement – following a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sept. 23 in Moscow – that al-Assad could have a place in the “transition period,” but not after that, Davutoğlu rejected that idea, too. He said any inclusion of al-Assad in the “transition period” would only serve to make al-Assad’s presence permanent, which was not something desired by the majority of Syrian people.

“We neither want DEASH [Islamic State of Iraq and Levant – ISIL] nor the Syrian regime next to our borders,” Davutoğlu said in the same interview. He said the Syrian Kurds under the Democratic Union Party (PYD) fighting against ISIL were not considered by his government to be any different than the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) “since they share the same human resources and the weaponry” while also making a call to the Americans to take sides with Turkey’s government. 

“Does al-Nusra’s fight against DEASH make them a legitimate power?” Davutoğlu asked the U.S. administration, to whom Turkey has opened its strategic İncirlik base for strikes against the ISIL. (As an aside, France joined the airstrikes against ISIL on Sept. 26 after Turkey joined the U.S.-led coalition.)
But that is the main discrepancy between the Turkish government and others in the fight against ISIL. It is only the Erdoğan-Davutoğlu administration who think that the fight should also be carried out against the al-Assad forces, too. The Western governments have their U.N. Charter caveats, but Russia and Iran, as two supporters of the al-Assad regime, have stood strongly. Following Turkey’s opening of its İncirlik base and the beginning of attacks against both ISIL and the PKK, Russia stepped up its military presence in Syria and in the eastern Mediterranean, ruling out the Turkish government’s formula of forming an “ISIL-free zone” on the Syrian side of its border.

Davutoğlu’s idea was to form a 45-by-98-km zone between Jarabulus and Marea to both accommodate refugees “who want to go back” and who would be protected from ISIL and al-Assad attacks by coalition flights from the air and by “moderate opposition forces” on the ground while also preventing Syrian Kurdish forces from linking up on the Turkish border.

The so-called “moderate Syrian opposition forces” were to be trained and militarily equipped according to an agreement between Turkey and the U.S. Without having a proper answer to “who we call a moderate,” as they simply called anyone who is not firing on them at that time a “moderate,” the program has started.

While the Turkish and American officials had been anticipating thousands, only dozens applied. And the fiasco was at last admitted by the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) on Sept. 25 that the last bunch of 75 so-called “New Syria Forces” had handed over six truck-loads of ammunition and weaponry to the al-Nusra Front, in return for making their way (possibly from Turkey) into Syria. That was a quarter of the total “issued equipment” by the U.S.-led coalition to the “moderates.”

Yet, Davutoğlu said in New York that more importance should be given for training and equipping the “moderate opposition forces.”

Not only Russia and Iran, but from the U.S. to Germany, from Saudi Arabia to Israel, no one prefers ISIL over al-Assad, despite al-Assad being a brutal dictator who brought nothing but oppression, war and suffering to his own people.

It is clear that a new Syria formula is needed, as pressed by the recent refugee flood to Europe. None of the American, Russian, Iranian, Saudi or Turkish formulas are working so far; it seems Erdoğan has seen it and ultimately Davutoğlu, as the architect of Turkey’s Syria policy, will see it, too.

That is why all eyes are set on Putin’s meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama in New York. Both are aware of their allies and counterparts’ opinions. Turkish Foreign Minister Feridun Sinirlioğlu has also met with Russian and American counterparts Sergei Lavrov and John Kerry. The Iranians and Saudis (and Qataris) as well as the European Union (nowadays voiced by Angela Merkel of Germany) are in the picture. They’d better find a formula to end the civil war in Syria and to open the way for Syrian people to reconstruct their country through a more representative regime, not by rewarding the oppressor.