Unless the international community rises to the challenge of history, the Assad regime, in cooperation with Putin's Russia and Iran, will deal a fatal blow to Syria's democratic revolution
Istanbul is full of Syrians from Aleppo that magnificently founded promising enterprises all over Turkey. Mustafa, a businessman, told me with sadness: "Most of my fellow citizens have already fled to Turkey, Europe, Lebanon or other parts of Syria. Others are braver and determined to live in our beautiful city despite the deafening bangs of the tyrant's warplanes and his gangs' cruelty. Everybody knows that Turkey shared the biggest burden of the revolution and the consequences of the Syrian dilemma will continue to affect Turkey."
"For God's sake," Mustafa asked: "Why doesn't Turkey take bold steps to deter [Bashar] Assad and Russia?"
"Despite the barbaric escalation of the regime's offensive, the world is unable to maintain a ceasefire" replied Abo Ahmed, Mustafa's partner. "Do you want Turkey to challenge the whole world?"
Abo Ahmed sighed: "Washington and Moscow have agreed to teach the Arab world a harsh lesson in Aleppo and nobody would help us but Allah."
In light of the recent developments in Aleppo, many activists called on Turkey to bolster its role as a potential leader and revive its regional power by taking a step forward to end the massacre. Hundreds of Aleppo residents have been killed in a week of Russian and regime airstrikes.
It is no secret that Turkey and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan succeeded to capitalize on their growing influence across the Arab world, particularly at the Arab Spring's outset. However, the escalating upheavals in turbulent neighboring countries undoubtedly constituted imminent challenges to the Turkish government.
Fighting for Aleppo and the revolution's future
The latest Russia-backed offensive against the rebels corresponds with the failure of the Geneva peace talks, and the international community's silence tempted the regime to go on with its onslaught to secure a military victory and maximize its gains.
The fall of Aleppo, Syria's largest and most significant, would embody a potentially conclusive setback to the revolution and a breath of life to the Assad regime to revive his legitimacy as a fighter of terrorism.
The battle in Aleppo triggered demanding humanitarian crises; a couple of days ago, Staffan de Mistura, the UN special envoy for Syria, said that one Syrian citizen is being killed every 25 minutes and one wounded every 13 minutes.
Despite de Mistura's appeals to invigorate the peace talks and maintain the ceasefire, international powers seem to be turning a blind eye to the massacres.
Since the inception of the Syrian revolution, the international community's inaction in delivering aid to the towns and villages besieged by the Assad regime has created a base of disbelief in the trustworthiness and legitimacy of such international bodies to mediate the peace talks.
For Syrians, the role of their biggest and most hospitable neighbor persists. Mustafa's wishful thinking and idealist approach argues that Turkey is a powerful Muslim country that recently solidified its strategic ties with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf, and thus would be able to mobilize them to lead a coalition against Assad and his supporters in Tehran and Moscow, or at least to put pressure on the United States to take bold measures to end the bullying and arrogance of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Assad.
Abo Ahmed's realist and pragmatist approach, however, argues that there seems to be no hope of building a unified, multi-sect democratic Syria - at least in the short term - particularly after the Arab Spring turned into a quagmire of perplexing policies from the international community embodied in US President Barack Obama's policy of retrenchment and strategic retreat from the Middle East as well as NATO's passivity accompanied by the brutality and ruthlessness of Assad and his backers.
In the long run, such an international stance most likely will lead to the partitioning of Syria into an Alawite zone along the coast, a Kurdish zone in the northeast and a Sunni zone in the rest of Syria. Neither Turkey nor the Syrian rebels are keen on a partitioning taking place.
Nevertheless, defeating the rebels in their stronghold of Aleppo would definitely enable the regime to encircle and eventually crush the whole revolution. For Ankara, the prevalent concern is how Assad will satisfy those who helped him survive, namely, the Syrian Kurds represented by the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its People's Protection Units (YPG), whose dream of an autonomous state could be realized if Aleppo falls. This is why Turkey is under immense pressure to preclude the emergence of a Kurdish state on its southern border as such a Kurdish enclave would be hostile to Turkey and cozy with Assad.
A shady deal in Syria
An extremely shocking video of YPG fighters parading bodies of Free Syrian Army fighters in Afrin circulated on social media networks. It was not the first time YPG fighters displayed corpses of their opponents; a move recalling images of DAESH torturing its hostages.
It was not only Amnesty International that condemned YPG practices and accused them of war crimes, but also Mark Toner, the US State Department deputy spokesman, condemned the video and considered it a violation of human rights.
Unfortunately, main stream media outlets in the West portrayed the video as a celebration of the Kurdish people after deterring a number of DAESH fighters in a failed offensive on the outskirts of Afrin.
In the context of American reluctance to adopt Ankara's stance on Syrian Kurds, Turkey has limited room to maneuver in the aftermath of the Russian warplane's downing in December.
Due to the international paralysis to contain the plight of Syria, it is unquestionably true that the posed burden on Turkey increases, especially in the light of Turkey's unwillingness to get involved militarily without a clear vision of the desired result of any military action.
Obama repeatedly claims his frustration because of Turkey's hesitation in fighting DAESH. However, Turkey insistently calls for a comprehensive war against the terrorism of DAESH as well as the Syrian regime. Ankara believes that the threat of Assad is equally dangerous, if not much more, as DAESH.
Ankara repeatedly reiterates the humanitarian necessity to establish a safe zone in northern Syria to contain refugees. But recently, Obama responded negatively to Ankara's demands on the pretext that the proposal is impractical.
Obama's refusal weakens the likelihood of unilateral Turkish action to impose a solution, particularly with the repercussions of Russia's actual intervention that is still ongoing despite Russia's alleged withdrawal.
Although Ankara might get support from the newly formulated coalition of Muslim countries, it is still inevitable to have international consent whether from NATO or the United States for any military action in Syria, and both do not seem to be ready to approve such a step.
Since the Syrian revolution began, Ankara sided with the Syrian people and approached Syrians' legitimate demands for democracy and freedom from the point of view of realpolitik even though the international media stigmatized Turkey as a backer of terrorism. Ankara assumed a high degree of responsibility and commitment to the international law and challenged the slanderer to prove its claims. Expectedly, none of them has managed to prove the bogus allegations.
Ankara continues to employ its open and parallel approach that empowers its position in the Syrian political process and guarantees the Syrian people's rights.
The Turkish government will not accept a plan B that would lead to the partitioning of Syria and eventually the constitution of a hostile autonomous entity for the PYD, which is the Syrian affiliate of Turkey's outlawed PKK. Politically, Ankara would increase its coordination with Saudi Arabia and the Islamic coalition calling for a "Muslim League" instead of an Arab League. On the humanitarian basis, Turkey would never give up support for the fair and just demands of the region's people and would keep upholding the value of the people's power and privileges.
The world would definitely lose from abandoning Aleppo, as the fall of this city would lead to new influxes of refugees. In addition, the people of this region definitely are no more able to buy the pseudo-democracy of the West. These democracies authorize the slaughtering of children because the children are being killed with barrel bombs instead of chemical weapons and they belong the Sunni majority and not Yazidis or minority Christians.
Should Aleppo fall to the regime it will mark a real turning point in the conflict and the whole world will have to take responsibility of the pending, enduring geopolitical mess if Assad regains his legitimacy on the ruins of his country and the remains of the bodies of Syrian children.
* Ahmed al-Burai is a lecturer at Istanbul Aydin University.