Turkey accustoms itself to life with Syria’s Assad

Turkey accustoms itself to life with Syria’s Assad

The sudden leave of Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has drastically shifted the political agenda from international problems to questions about who will replace him, with further curiosity over how President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will manage to bring about an executive presidential system. 

The Turkish capital nowadays is full of rumors and bets over the identity of the next prime minister, but at the same time very much preoccupied with how all these changes will affect the core issues on foreign policy. 

The immediate concern is the fate of the migrant deal between Turkey and the EU, which is supposed to introduce visa liberalization to Turkish citizens at the end of June, if the government is able to comply with the five remaining benchmarks. 

Erdoğan’s statement on May 9 on the occasion of the Europe Day nourished hopes for the continuation of the implementation of the deal despite the fact the benchmark which calls for Turkey to align its definition of terrorism with that of the EU will surely require though negotiations between Ankara and Brussels. 

The mood in the European Parliament is not that positive in regards to the vote on visa exemption for Turkish citizens and EU Minister Volkan Bozkır’s visit to Strasbourg, where he will hold talks with the leaders of all political groups, is planned to address this negative mood. 

The EU deal is not the only foreign policy preoccupation of the Turkish government, however. Developments in Syria have won another dimension, with a recent deal between Russia and the United States that stipulates the continuation of the cessation of hostilities in a number of areas which would also help prolong the Geneva talks. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed his hope in a statement on May 10 that cooperation with the U.S. will fundamentally change the situation in Syria, obviously hinting while on the one hand the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) will continue and on the other Syria’s defiant leader, Bashar al-Assad, will be protected in power. 

It has been almost clear that Washington’s current leadership will not lift a finger for the removal of al-Assad, as its main priority is to clear Syria and Iraq of ISIL’s presence.

Meanwhile in Ankara, there are sufficient indicators that Turkey is also getting more and more accustomed to the idea of the continuation of al-Assad’s rule in Syria, although it will continue to consider the Damascus regime illegitimate. One can no longer meet any Turkish official talking about the immediate toppling of the Syrian leader.

The Turkish government, which will not be that noisy over the fate of al-Assad, will instead give priority to two other issues: 

First, it will intensify its military efforts to push ISIL jihadists off its borders, given rockets fired from the Syrian side of the border have caused unprecedented consequences in the southeastern province of Kilis and elsewhere. A team of special forces crossed the border in recent days to better coordinate Turkish artillery shelling on ISIL positions, while the Turkish and American militaries have stepped up efforts to completely clear the Mare-Jarabulus line. Many in Ankara expect that this cooperation will intensify in the coming days and weeks. 

Second, Turkey will continue to urge its counterparts over the role of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its armed wing, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), an organization Ankara considers as the offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The fact that the PYD is getting more acknowledgement in the West increases Ankara’s concerns that the group is getting closer to its ambitions to establish an autonomous region in northern Syria. 

The question is, which of them would make the best neighbor to Turkey, al-Assad, ISIL of the YPG?