What does Turkey’s call for West’s help on Syria mean?
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s recent Bloomberg article on the 10th anniversary of the Syrian turmoil, “The West Should Help Turkey End Syria’s Civil War,” was important for a number of reasons.
Turkey, a founding member of the Astana Group along with Russia and Iran to end the civil war in Syria, is, perhaps for the first time, issuing a call to the West to help Turkey end the tragedy in this country. (The article did not, in any form, mention the achievements of the Astana Group’s diplomatic efforts since early 2017, but rather identified the Joe Biden administration by name as the recipient of the message.)
Those who still recall the first years of the Syrian civil war will remember the fact that Turkey and the United States were totally on the same page concerning the crisis in the Middle Eastern nation as two active members of the Friends of the Syrian People. But things changed drastically after the emergence of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) along with other radical terror groups that stormed all of Syria and Iraq for years.
The U.S. decision to partner with the YPG in the fight against ISIL in Syria, together with Turkey’s extended cooperation with Russia in Syria, resulted in a divergence between Ankara and Washington as well as other Western capitals who were hit by ISIL operatives.
Erdoğan’s call should be interpreted as a sign that Ankara is ready to revisit the abandoned cooperation with its Western partners. It has three motives:
First, as seen in the last five rounds of the Geneva meetings, the Constitutional Committee is far from achieving a result. The Bashar al-Assad regime is blocking progress, and the Syrian opposition is still divided. Although Turkey is no longer declaring that “al-Assad must go,” it has reiterated the need for a political and democratic transition in the country. Obviously, there is more the West can do to this end.
Second, the humanitarian tragedy is growing and the COVID-19 pandemic is just adding more to it. As seen in U.N. reports, the Syrian people, particularly children and women, are suffering dearly from the enduring crisis. As there is no foreseeable end to the crisis, millions of Syrians who are displaced internally and externally are not expected to return home soon. That means the international community must immediately help the nations that host migrants, including Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon.
Third, the continued political vacuum is posing new threats to Syria, neighboring countries and the entire world as there are concerns about the resurrection of radical terrorist elements. The article repeats Ankara’s demands about the YPG, albeit in a softer tone this time. It does not urge a fresh military operation in the region either.
In the larger picture, Erdoğan’s article could be seen as part of Turkey’s recent efforts to mend ties with its Western partners, particularly the Europeans and the United States, with whom it has contrasting views about the situation in northeastern Syria.
Turkey and its interlocutors are seemingly ready to accept the status quo in northeastern Syria and divert their attention to the pressing political and humanitarian issues.