Turkey can avoid new mistakes in Syria
There is probably not much meaning in questioning what grave mistakes Turkey has made in Syria. Such a question with obvious answers will not help resolve the explosive situation produced by the wrong policies. Now, there is the exacerbating Idlib problem.
Turkey has appealed to the Americans, Russians, Iranians and even the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Damascus to avoid an all-out war in Idlib that may produce not only an incredible massacre of “civilians” but up to an additional 2.5 million refugees. As a country that officially already has over 3.4 million refugees (unofficial figures exceed four million), naturally, Turkey is very worried about such a prospect.
According to self-proclaimed security experts, this time Turkey will most likely try to settle the refugees inside the Syrian territories under the control of Turkey-friendly “mild Islamists” or de-facto under Turkish control. There are claims that roads have been built to facilitate logistics required to cope with such a challenge while efforts have been underway to construct refugee camps.
Can Turkey indeed succeed to stop refugees entering its territory this time and contain the problem within Syria? Seeing refugees climbing over the wall Turkey constructed all through the hot points along the Turkish-Syrian border and allegations that people around that area turn their backs to such developments in exchange for a few greenbacks, it might be an over optimistic expectation to say there will not be an additional refugee burden on Turkey. In any case, even if refugees from Idlib are settled within Syria, the financial and security burden will still be on Turkey. Yet, one major problem may be avoided.
What is that problem? Does anyone remember how Aleppo was evacuated by “milder Islamists” that the Turkish government, at least during that time, was hesitant to declare as terrorists? Were those Islamist terrorists, together with the civilian population evacuated from Aleppo, with Russia’s surprising understanding and help, not settled in Idlib?
Like many Western countries and the Russians, Turkey may start to brand some of those “mild Islamist” groups as terrorist, but the problem will not be resolved. As Russians are now saying, it will be Turkey’s responsibility and task to separate who is civilian, who is a lesser terrorist and who poses a threat to Turkish security. That is perhaps one reason Turkey has been calling for a truce to the aerial bombardment of Idlib to avoid a land war.
Could the Assad regime use chemical arms on Idlib? No one can provide sufficient assurances that it would not, as the recent history of that country testifies villainous undertakings by the Syrian government on civilian populations, as well as opponents indiscriminately. Does it still have chemical arms? Aside from the Americans, French and their allies, many people are skeptical if not totally firm that Assad no longer has such a capability. Reports from Russia, on the contrary, claim Americans have been using banned chemical agents in their attacks on Syria. Of course, there is war propaganda as well.
The bottom line, unfortunately, is the fact that millions of people were killed and millions were forced to become refugees because of this war. How these people were killed or how they were compelled to abandon their homeland ought to be a secondary issue to the pressing need for a resolution. It is a fact that the Syrian government, with active Russian support, has been expanding the area under its control.
Since the departure of Ahmet Davutoğlu from the Prime Ministry, Turkey has made a considerable U-turn in its Syria policies, but so far, has stopped short of reestablishing direct contacts with the “legitimate government” in Damascus. What the opponents of all sorts demand or aspire might be important, but without the engagement of Damascus, there cannot be a diplomatic victory for peace.
Old mistakes cannot be corrected, but Turkey can avoid new mistakes in Syria.