Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif recently offered to act as a go-between in the Syrian crisis. The Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) have begun to spread out in Idlib after being attacked by the militia of the regime who call themselves the "Syrian army." As a matter of fact, the regime commands perhaps 40,000 regular soldiers, the rest is made up of Iranian "militia," who are in fact Iranian soldiers fighting without their uniforms, mainly the Pasdaran volunteers. The Syrian Air Force is entirely in the hands of the Russian military, including pilots, ground staff and military advisors. The zombie regime is in the hands of Iran and mainly Russia.
The totality of the Syrian population who wanted a democratic change has been evacuated, exiled, deported, imprisoned or simply executed and annihilated. This is the simple reality of Syria. This is a deep shame for all democratic countries, and I am afraid this experience has shown the inability of democratic countries, including the U.S. and the EU, to intervene and show their deterrent force. This could have been done back in 2013 when the regime used chemical weapons against the opposition. Not that chemical warfare was necessary against divided and ill-equipped opposition forces, but Bashar Assad's aim was to spread terror throughout the civilian population. Turkey and France were ready to intervene, with their air forces on full alert. President Barack Obama had cold feet and declared that the U.S. would certainly punish the Syrian regime, but beforehand he had to go and discuss this with Congress.
Both Iran and Russia saw that as a refusal to get involved in the Syrian crisis, and they have since considered Syria as "no man's land" politically, where they could do whatever they want. The result has been a totally destroyed country and population. One-third of the population left the country. They cannot go back to their homes so long as the regime remains in place. Assad took care to implement total spoliation of citizens' belongings and real estate. Anyhow, there is no security nor infrastructure for the exiled Syrians to return to. Most of the elite have been deported or assassinated.
Now that the armed opposition is on the verge of losing the war against Assad's ragtag soldiery, heavily supported by Russian air coverage and the Iranian militia, the essential question starts to take shape: how can Ankara pull the TSK forces back from Idlib and near the Turkish-Syrian border, and ultimately what to do with the armed opposition and their supporters, exceeding a million of people. Turkey hosts around 4 million refugees, mainly from Syria, and is not ready to receive an additional million refugees with all the humanitarian problems it would create.
The Algerian case
Still, it is difficult to see any other solution. The present situation reminds us of the Algerian War of Independence back in the early 1960s. Back then, Algeria did not have the status of a colony, it was considered as an overseas French territory. Three main regions were under French civilian control, namely Algiers, Oran and Constantine; whereas the south of the country, mainly the Sahara Desert, was placed under the authority of France's National Gendarmerie.
It is worth remembering that the Algerian uprising that started in 1956 has never been called a war by French authorities. Instead, the term used was "the French army's overseas operations." Around half a million soldiers were sent to Algeria for a 28-month deployment. The French army was then a militia army, where young men entering adulthood were obligated to go and serve in the military. An important number of Algerians also fought in the French army, especially as suppletive forces, for scouting and reconnaissance purposes. They were called the "Harkis," a name originating from the Arabic word "harakat," meaning operation, and their structuring was very much like the system of village guards ("korucu") used by Turkish security forces in their operations against the PKK terrorist organization.
With France recognizing, after years of warfare, the independence of Algeria, the future of the Harkis did not look promising. The Front de Libération National, who would take power in 1963, was not using lenient discourse against the people who fought alongside the French. A huge urban population migrated to France, the famous "Pied Noirs" Frenchmen who were born and raised in Algeria. This created widespread disappointment among the population, their resentment and disappointment can still be felt today in literature, music and to a lesser degree, politics.
The French army disarmed all the Harkis before leaving Algeria but also allowed them to migrate to France with their families if they wanted to do so. Around 400,000 Algerians migrated to France, a developed and rich democracy, but they felt totally rejected and sometimes unable to integrate. For decades the Harkis and their offspring fought to integrate into a very different society. Coming from a different culture, speaking a different language and practicing a different religion, their lives have not been easy. It is very difficult to offer good integration perspectives for a community in that situation.
But why has France abandoned Algeria? The National Liberation Front (FLN), despite continuous resistance and guerrilla warfare, never fought and won a large battle against the French army. The cities were strongly held by the French military, supported by an urban population that wanted an "Algérie Française."
Gen. De Gaulle and French authorities had to choose between two solutions: either grant French nationality to the whole population in Algeria or accept their independence. France left Algeria because the situation was not sustainable; a country cannot send all its young conscripts to battle, to hold a huge territory, ad infinitum.
Turkey's situation in Syria is no better. Our military is located in foreign territory to protect a sizeable local population from two foreign military forces, Russia and Iran. The reality is, unfortunately, that simple. By waging a proxy war through the remaining soldiery of the regime, these two countries will dominate what is left of Syria in the foreseeable future. They may not have enough military or economic power to dominate entire countries and regions, but they can do it in Syria and to some degree, in Iraq. This is called "the imperialism of the poor," and it can have extremely dangerous results.
Turkey does not have and never had such imperialistic visions. But the problem is what to do with the civilian population and fighters in Idlib. At the end of the day, the French solution for Algeria will probably prevail. We have to prepare for that.
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