It's clear that the fundamental difference in approaches toward Syria centers on whether Syria will continue to be a sovereign and united country, or the civil war will bring about the disintegration of the country. First of all, before discussing the stances of the various parties, we may wonder what is more appropriate for Syria. Virtually dividing Syria into three parts and continuing the Geneva talks with this purpose in mind would provide new reasons for rekindling a civil war that has nearly burnt itself out and is hoped to end soon. However, recent developments in the country suggested that the partition of Syria has become more difficult.
To begin with, Daesh was defeated in Syria and Iraq. The PKK and its Syrian offshoot People's Protection Units (YPG), which had tried to create a corridor in northern Syria along the Turkish border extending into the Mediterranean coast, took a major blow with the Euphrates Shield and Olive Branch operations. And the Damascus government gained self-confidence thinking that it had won the civil war with support from Russia and Iran. We can also say that the missile attacks by the U.S., Britain and France against the Syrian regime are basically related to that picture. The dictator Assad has been killing his own people since 2011 with every kind of weapon, including chemicals. In a sarin gas attack in the summer of 2013, around 1,300 civilians were killed. And at least 600,000 civilians in total have been killed. Turkey has argued from the outset that Assad should be targeted to put an end to massacres and that efforts toward a new beginning should begin. However, apart from giving the initiative to Russia regarding the issue and supplying the PKK in the north with thousands of truckloads of heavy weaponry, no other development has occurred.
I don't think these preferences stemmed from former president Obama's incompetence. Because considering the conditions on the ground between 2012 and 2016, everything seemed to serve the purpose of dividing Syria into three parts. With the support from the U.S., the PKK/YPG came close to reaching the Mediterranean and conducted ethnic and political cleansing within the region. Like a master key, Daesh served as a reason for redrawing the Middle East. Russia has seemed to acquiesce, in principle, to the creation of a PKK/YPG statelet in northern Syria. Then Assad might be allowed to rule under the protection of Russia within a diminished enclave along the Damascus-Latakia line. Assad's presence was a mere detail in this scenario. He would be removed or maintained at will. Thus, Syria would have been virtually divided into two, and the part left to "Sunnis" would have faced war for years to come.
Considering that the aim was to establish a PKK/YPG state in northern Syria, everything on the ground continued in line with this plan. Assad's ongoing massacres were not made an issue at the time. Turkey kept the massacres on the agenda and persistently condemned the U.S. support to the PKK/YPG. Meanwhile, Turkey was targeted by both the PKK/YPG and Daesh. Bombs exploded in cities one after another, killing civilians and security forces. Again, nobody in the world had brought the issue on agenda. But Turkey, a NATO ally, faced serious threats within its borders and had been fighting against terrorism at home.
I think what affected the course of events radically was the repelling of the Gülenist Terror Group's (FETÖ) coup attempt in Turkey on July 15, 2016. If that coup had succeeded, Turkey would have been definitely knocked out of the game, undergone an agonizing internal conflict and probably itself gone through the same ordeal that Syria had faced. Perhaps Turkey would have been divided into two or more parts, facilitating the redesign of Syria and the Middle East. But the July 15 coup attempt was thwarted, and it was a real miracle. In fact, the peoples of Turkey, Turks and Kurds alike, came together to compose a democracy saga for the 21st century. Yet it seemed as if all the others wanted and wished the coup to succeed.
Not only was the coup thwarted, but also Turkey conducted Operation Euphrates Shield against Daesh just forty days after the July 15 coup attempt and changed the picture in Syria. The supposedly invincible Daesh suffered more than 3,000 losses and was driven further south. More than 2,000 square kilometers of area was liberated, and 160,000 Syrian refugees have safely returned to their homes by now.
Not only that, on January 20, 2018 Turkey launched the Operation Olive Branch in Afrin, this time against a terrorist organization that captured the area in 2012. Though the Afrin offensive went on very carefully and slowly so as to prevent any harm to civilians, it was concluded in such a short time as two months, with minimal civilian casualties. Hence, the western flank of the terror corridor was also seized.
In parallel with these processes, the Astana-Sochi and Ankara summits have also continued. Ankara wanted Syria to be reconstructed as a sovereign state with an initiative in harmony with the U.N. to be developed in order to establish a democratic order. This initiative by the three crucial actors on the ground has confirmed itself at the recent Ankara Summit. There was a basic consensus on ending the conflict and ensuring a political transition within a united Syria.
In short, the Euphrates Shield and Olive Branch operations, together with a consensus coming out of the said summits, led to the defeat of Daesh and strengthened the peace process during which Syria would proceed as a sovereign state, rendering impossible the desired redrawing of the region. Bombing of several facilities near Damascus on grounds of the Duma attack and raising even the specter of a third world war before the counter-attack were clearly related with that changing picture.
Indeed, if the main goal in Syria is to end the conflict, it can be said that the most opportune moment as compared to past has come. Yet it is not a bed of roses. But with support from the U.S. and coalition forces and with the path cleared for the U.N., conditions have become ripe for a political transition without Assad on the basis of an undivided Syria. Partition of Syria and the creation of mini states in contrast with the course of history and regional trends would further inflame the conflict, leading to dangerous encounters, as in the latest crisis, that could trigger a global conflict.
We cannot ignore the legitimate or imperial goals of major powers and Syria's neighbors. Obviously, the Mediterranean is a source of energy and is going to be a focus of attention in the coming years. But is it impossible to seek a reasonable solution? Or too romantic? Does history not provide enough examples of destructive paths? Can we not develop a process through consensus and collaboration, paying attention also to the unfortunate people of Syria? Or should there be a fight through proxy wars and terrorist groups, whose price innocent people have to pay?
If your answer is negative, it means that the world is drifting toward a disaster. And it will not be a problem only of Syria or Turkey.
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