Syrians should be prioritized over the national agendas pushed by various countries that are using the conflict in Syria as a theater for proxy wars, Turkey's presidential spokesperson said Saturday. Attending the 19th Doha Forum, a panel on Syria in the Qatari capital of Doha, İbrahim Kalın asked whether, after "eight years of fighting," the Syrian crisis was "seen by some as a political opportunity to advance other political agendas in the region." Underlining that the conflict in Syria must come to an end, Kalın argued that it has been a scene of much "grandstanding" and "political muscling in the region." He asserted that the international community should prioritize the plight of Syrians, adding: "We have to put the Syrian people first, before any other national agenda."
Turkey is home to some 3.6 million Syrian migrants who fled the civil war, which has been ongoing since 2011 when Bashar Assad's regime brutally began repressing peaceful calls for democracy. Sharing a 911-kilometer border with its southern neighbor, Turkey has repeatedly proposed establishing a safe zone in northern Syria to stop further refugee influxes into its own territory and into Europe, and to relocate Syrians living in migrant camps in Turkey while providing conditions allowing others to return. Kalın called on all countries to join forces to solve terrorism as well as the migration crisis, which he said was a result of terrorism, adding that all international actors, such as the U.S, Russia and Turkey, must find a way to produce a solution for the Syrian people and give them hope. Noting that Turkey sought for Syrian refugees to return to their homes voluntarily and safely, he said: "We have never forced anybody to go back to Syria involuntarily, or to go anywhere they didn't come from, and we want to follow the same principle."
"We began this work (of repatriation) with the UNHCR. We are in talks with the U.N. secretary-general as well as with the UNHCR to advance the program. We're doing a very detailed study of who came from where and where they can go back to in Syria," he said. Kalın warned the international community of military action against northwestern Syria's Idlib province, which he said would be extremely dangerous and would lead to fresh migration waves. "It will put more pressure on us (Turkey), and that will put more pressure on the Europeans. But Idlib cannot be solved on its own. It will be part of a larger political settlement in Syria. That's why the political process is extremely important," he said. Underlining the importance of the Syrian Constitutional Committee, Kalın said the committee must be "supported by all." "If the constitutional committee does its work, and produces some binding documents with the support of the international community under the U.N. umbrella, then we can envisage a situation where the Syrian people, both inside and outside, can go to the ballot box and vote," he said.
Idlib, home to 1.5 million people, is the last opposition enclave in Syria. Last year, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin reached an agreement in Sochi on Sept. 17. According to the agreement, the cease-fire in the Idlib region was to be preserved with the withdrawal of heavy arms and radicals from the region. The meeting in Sochi was part of the Astana process, the of which was held in Turkey in January 2017 to bring all warring parties in the Syrian conflict to the table to facilitate U.N.-sponsored peace talks in Geneva. Ankara often warns the international community and regional countries that a new offensive could trigger a fresh refugee wave toward the West. "We have to really work with the international community with everyone, the U.N., the U.S., Russia, Iran, all of us have, to work to make sure that free and fair elections under international observation can be held in Syria," he stressed. Kalın also criticized the international community for not taking responsibility, saying: "Everybody's talking about not having any more Syrian refugees coming out of Syria, or going from Turkey to Europe, but they're not doing anything to address the problem."