Truce in Syria, trials in Turkey

Truce in Syria, trials in Turkey

The truce in Syria toward the end of the fifth year of the civil war was announced simultaneously by the Russian and Turkish foreign ministries on Dec. 29. 

Right before that, the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria announced that it would halt all military operations against rebels as of the beginning of Dec. 30. The same applies for the rebel forces; while Syria is expected to stop air and artillery raids on them, they are expected to stop shelling regime positions. Russia (on the regime side) and Turkey (on the rebel side) will act as guarantors of the deal, which excludes all operations against the al-Qaeda-affiliate al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) which are considered as terrorists by all parties involved. Those who violate the cease-fire could be subject to sanctions, including designating them as terrorists, too.

There have been a number of attempts and actually agreements for a cease-fire during the Syrian civil war, but this is the first time that the al-Assad regime says it will abide by one. This is Russian President Vladimir Putin’s influence on Damascus. If Russia had not piled up its military force in Syria, there might be no al-Assad regime now, as Tehran sought to impress upon Moscow in the first of half of 2015. And without Russian support, al-Assad probably would not have been able to take back Aleppo, the second biggest city in Syria, from forces against his regime. It was thanks to the Turkish-Russian rapprochement which enabled a truce in Aleppo that made the evacuation of trapped civilians from the city possible. And without the truce in Aleppo, yesterday’s announcements would not have been possible.

It is still very fragile. Still, there are a number of groups who won’t benefit from a cease-fire in Syria. But since Russia and Turkey have been openly siding with the fighting parties in Syria, there might be a chance.

If it holds, the Syrian regime will meet with opposition forces in Astana to be hosted by Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev under the guaranties of Turkey, Russia and Iran, since there are armed groups loyal to Iran which have been fighting throughout the war. Turkey supports the presence of the United Nations in Astana talks in order to extend the cease-fire to the talks for a political settlement. And if there is going to be improvement in Astana, Turkey and Russia (possibly Iran, too) will take the outcome to the Geneva talks scheduled for February for the future of Syria.

This is good. Despite all the human tragedies of the past five plus years, if there is hope for peace, that should be supported.

But the news from within Turkey is not that good, especially regarding the state of emergency rule declared following the failed July 15 coup.

Novelist Aslı Erdoğan and linguist Necmiye Alpay appeared in court for the first time on Dec. 29 on the 132nd day of their arrest for being on the advisory board of the Özgür Gündem newspaper, which was closed down by the government on accusations of making terrorist propaganda on behalf of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). There have been national and international campaigns for the release of both women.

 Perhaps with the effect of those campaigns, the prosecutor has asked for the release of both of them, resulting in a decision to release them late yesterday.

But the day started with the detention of another journalist, Ahmet Şık, because of his messages about the government and the Turkish state on social media. A few years ago, he was arrested because of a book he had written but not published yet disclosing the network of Fethullah Gülen, when Gülen was supporting the Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) governments but is now held responsible for the coup attempt against it. Şık was released after spending nearly two years in prison, the case was dropped afterwards and the prosecutors and judges who put Şık in prison are either in jail now, dismissed from their job, or escaped abroad because of their alleged links to Gülen.