Turkey stops shelling PYD positions before ceasefire begins

Turkey stops shelling PYD positions before ceasefire begins

The six-year-long Syrian unrest is observing its first agreed truce between rival groups as of Feb. 27, following lengthy diplomatic work by the United States and Russia. The two countries’ foreign ministers, Sergei Lavrov and John Kerry, reached a preliminary deal in their Munich meeting earlier this month that later turned into a multiparty agreement involving the Syrian regime and the Free Syrian Army (FSA). 

The situation in Syria is still very fragile and there is little hope that this “cessation of hostilities” will last very long. The fact that there are various armed groups in Syria with different point of interests, under the influence of several regional and world powers, makes the sustainability of this truce very difficult.
A sustainable truce would ease international efforts for a political solution to the Syrian problem in line with the U.N. Security Council’s resolution, as U.N. Special Envoy Steffan di Mistura announced that stalled negotiations between the regime and opposition would begin on March 7 in Geneva.

However, it’s very hard to find a diplomat in Ankara – Turkish or foreign - speaking optimistically about the continuation of the truce for very long, given the complexity of the Syrian unrest and the contrasting interests of relevant parties. 

The Turkish leadership is also not very optimistic about the situation but it is careful to voice full support for the agreement. Presidential spokesperson İbrahim Kalın expressed Turkey’s worries about the Syrian ceasefire deal at a press conference a day before the ceasefire was set to begin. 

“We support this ceasefire in principal. But the fact that Russian planes’ bombardments and al-Assad’s forces’ attacks on the ground have been continuing - during and after the Geneva meetings and even when approaching the date of implementation for the Munich Agreement – gives us serious concerns about the future of the ceasefire,” Kalın said.

He was also keen to note that Turkey “played an active role” in forming the Syria ceasefire plan. This active role of Turkey in reaching the truce has also been hailed by the United States. 

A senior U.S. official told the Hürriyet Daily News that Turkey has been playing constructive role in this process by “encouraging groups that it has relations with to try this cessation of hostilities.” The same official underlined that Turkey was making sure these groups understand it is to their advantage not to be the first party violating this agreement, thus putting Russia and the regime forces under pressure.

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s statement underlining that the truce is for Syria and does not bind Turkey in the event that its national security or borders are threatened by forces within Syria was obviously well received by the U.S., as Secretary of State John Kerry publicly said they recognized Turkey’s sensitivities. Kerry’s line followed a senior US official’s statement that Washington would re-evaluate its support for the Democratic Union Party (PYD) in Syria if Turkey provided concrete and detailed information proving the link between the PYD and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).  

Meanwhile, Turkey has apparently halted its military campaign against the PYD in recent days, with the Turkish military suspending its shelling of PYD positions in northwest Syria around Azaz. According to officials, Turkey has not been shelling the PYD or its armed wings since last weekend.  

Despite skepticism over this cessation of hostilities, Turkey seems to have begun to act in line with its international obligations, and in line with its role as a member of the anti-ISIL coalition. Indeed, Turkey should realize that it is to its own advantage to continue as part of the solution rather than part of the problem in Syria.