By Prof. Bessam Abu Abdullah, Damascus, Syria
The following is an article that Prof. Abdullah has published in the Syrian daily newspaper El Watan. The article explores the ground, need and conditions for a rapproachment between the Syrian Arab Republic and the Republic of Turkey.
‘Our path crosses Ankara, although it is a difficult path’
Previously I have written many articles for Al-Watan newspaper, assessing whether it is possible to restore the Turkish-Syrian relations and the possibilities of such a restoration in diplomatic relations. Although this issue is very complicated, sophisticated and multi-layered case, I still think this is a necessity and the right way to do it is only through Ankara. The truth is that every time I have written about it, I was faced with a series of questions about the feasibility of this normalization. I constantly faced comments such as “The Turks stabbed us in the back. We gave them anything they wanted. We have handed over our entire economy, industry and security to them. We can never trust the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan”.
The people who lost their children in this brutal and malicious war and whose riches that were built for years were plundered, are much more furious in their criticisms of Turkey and the Erdogan Government, which they referred to as “brothers, partners and allied countries in common destiny” back then when close relations were built between 2000 and 2011. They oppose the reestablishment of closer relations with Turkey especially as long as the Erdogan government is in power. They are already convinced that this is not possible by any means. There is a strong belief that Assad, in cooperation with his allies Moscow and Tehran, is hindering Erdogan’s Ikhwanist mindset and the “New Ottoman Vision”, and therefore Erdogan has a “Inferiority Complex” against Assad.
I understand these criticisms that were put forward in this aspect. The wounds caused by this war in Syria are very deep. The AKP government’s role in this humanitarian catastrophe that was funded by Petro-Dollar-rich Arab countries, was immense. This war of destruction and terror unleashed upon Syria, has been the most destructive and devastating war our region has witnessed since the Second World War. So, what has changed over this time, that we now say the restoration of these relationships possible and necessary? So what is behind the latest newspaper article at Hurriyet News on April 4 about Syria, the rekindled TV debates on Turkey’s policy towards Damascus, and many other media reports among the Turkish newspapers? Why is it on the agenda that now it’s the time to start a new chapter with Damascus, the conditions now seem more favourable and that whether the possibilities for a reassessment of relations between Damascus and Ankara are possible now?
7 important points
I will try to briefly list some of the important reasons behind this:
1. In principle, Turkey cannot improve its relations with Damascus without opening the doors for the Arab countries such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates and above all to Israel. That’s because these Arab countries are prominent both politically and economically. As for Israel, this country is basically the key of Washington’s heart. And a possible normalization with Damascus would not be easy for Ankara without provoking the USA, which still strongly opposes normalization with Syria. In this regard, objectivity is quite essential in terms of understanding the obstacles that stand in the way of relationships. And my purpose here is not to justify the behavior of the Turkish government, but to explain the factors that have an influence on it. And no matter how prepared or brave you are, in these circumstances of the world today, people and governments are prone to obligations, rather than preferences. And the Erdogan Government is currently stuck between obligations and choices. We are at a point where needs prevail over preferences.
2. It is very difficult for Ankara to establish strong and stable relationships with Arab countries in the long term without restoring its relations with Damascus. And it also wouldn’t provide Ankara with any desired benefit anyways. Syria also acts as a land bridge for Ankara to the central and southern regions of Iraq, bypassing Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States and even northern Iraq. This route sits as the most essential trade route for Ankara. It is the economic blood stream especially for Turkey’s provinces along the Syrian border. The alternative sea routes that could deliver Turkish goods to the consumers at the Gulf region are thinly stretched and quite expensive. A heavy price has been placed on the Turkish commodities especially under these conditions, where the costs of logistics and transportation going up at a slippery slope.
‘Turkey is facing an economic challenge’
3. The 2023 elections are just around the corner. And Turkey is facing a serious economic challenge. The general picture of the economy puts a very serious pressure on the government. Especially the provinces located on the Turkish-Syrian border, on a line from Hatay to Sirnak, are the regions most damaged by the economic crisis due to the Syrian war. An unjust income that a small group of individuals obtained illegally by plundering the oil and agricultural resources of the war zones, cannot cover the economic losses of these provinces. A serious damage occurred in the exports of the agricultural products due to the war in Ukraine as well. In addition to the problems and difficulties caused by the export of up to 90 percent of agricultural products to Ukraine and Russia, the increase in the cost of transportation to the Arabian Gulf markets has also dealt a real economic blow to trade of Turkey. And the deterioration of the relations with Damascus and the disruption of the transit trade, has brought the bankruptcy of many private-owned companies as well.
‘Turkey’s interests are with Eurasia’
4. Even if we assume Erdogan’s decision to open a new chapter with Damascus is not a strategic but a tactical decision, we still see that the Turkish economy and its national interests are with West Asia (the Middle East), China, Iran, Russia and Central Asian countries, when we look at the true extent of Turkish economic interests. Before the war in Ukraine, the share of the Turkish export goods in European markets was only at 30 percent. And the majority of these exports is with Germany. Trade balances with other European countries are even smaller and draw an unfavourable picture for Turkey. The significance and the location of Syria and its relations with Moscow, Beijing and Tehran, are clearly a key importance for Turkey’s future. We must assume that relations with Arab capitals, Tehran and Moscow cannot be evaluated independently of Ankara’s positive or 5- The issue of the Syrian refugees, which the opposition has been using against Erdogan and his party, is an important issue used to prove the failure of the government policies. The sociological and psychological impact of the harsh economic conditions on the Turkish citizens will be used against the government. There is a significant portion among the Turkish population who will attribute the unemployment and high prices to the presence of Syrian and other refugees. There will surely be internal and external forces agitating this issue and using it for their own political agendas. There is also a very high probability of a civil war or activities that fuel social conflicts over the refugees. Reactions, that hold the government responsible for bringing in refugees who supposedly cause citizens be unemployed, increasing housing rents and the food prices, will rise. Long story short, those who once planned some plots and operations against the Syrian government through the refugee card, now have to live it, which was caused by them. In other words, this card turned around like a boomerang. It got out of being a favour card for Erdogan, and turned into a pressure card.
As for those who say that they can solve this problem by deporting the Syrian refugees to areas controlled by the Turkish Armed Forces in Northern of Syria; it is simply not possible to implement this project, which has no solid feasibility and is disconnected from the reality of the region. This would put even heavier burdens on Turkey’s shoulders, and would be very costly. Ankara will be responsible for all services including employment, security, housing, electricity, water, heating, education and food supply for millions who are intended to move there. How long can Ankara do it and with what budget? In addition, millions of refugees living in Turkey did not flee from that specific region of Syria anyways. At least half of it, have flown from areas that are currently controlled by the Syrian government. These people left their houses, their livings, their lands and their memories at those areas. How would you force them to be resettled in another area of the country? And how will the original owners of those settlements react to this? In summary, this solution will only lead to new problems. The healthiest and the most correct solution on legal terms, would be to gradually settle this issue by reaching an agreement between the governments of Ankara and Damascus.
The most important security issue: The US-Israeli backed Kurdish Corridor
6. The most important issue concerning the national securities of these two countries is the US-Israeli backed ethnic “Kurdish” separatism issue, which pressurises them to restore the Ankara-Damascus relations. The “Kased” militia in Syria and the police force of the YPG, has strong ties to the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) in Turkey. Perhaps one of the most important outcomes of the Syrian War is the proof of HDP and the YPG being the two sides to the same coin. With that, we have seen how these two organizations abuse and usurp the concerns and demands of our Kurdish brethren, how they destroy the values of democracy, justice, freedom and law, which they claim to vigorously defend only in the name of their own clan interests, and how these values make up only a tool for them. Both structures were proven to be only a tool in the hands of the United States-Israel and some European powers. The YPG, which claims to protect all Syrian people, but especially the Kurds, have been making arbitrary arrests, kills, forced migration, plunder, arson, forced seizure of crops on anyone who do not comply on their commands even in the holy month of Ramadan, and polices the military bases, the interests and the oil riches of Syria, on behalf of the invader United States and their European puppets and the imperialist, Zionist forces.
These organizations, which are promoted and advertised by the western media with their secular and pro-feminist works, are only collaborators and puppets of the United States and Israel. Another important task of them is to change the demographic structure of the region, to build a separatist ethno-state over Syria, and to influence and spread over Turkey from that region. These ethno-separatist organizations that break up the countries in the region, fuel ethnic conflicts, take actions against the countries of the region and in favour of the United States, Israel and some European powers, pose the greatest threat to the national securities of Syria and Turkey together with the fundamentalist extremist puppet organization acting in the name of religion. The restoration of Ankara-Damascus relations is also urgent in the elimination of these threats.
7. The reasons we have listed above, all provide a favourable environment for this change. The restoration of closer relations between Ankara and Damascus will be supported by an overwhelming majority of both the Turkish and Syrian people. It will surely create the opportunity for Syrian refugees to return home peacefully. The Turkish public will surely approve and support this open arms policy towards Damascus. This positive mood and content in the society will also contribute greatly to the Turkish economy, its politics and security. The political debates over refugees, which is an open topic for political abuse and usurpation by many domestic and foreign powers, will also be shelved in addition to that.
As a sincere friend of Turkey and the Turkish people, and one who absorbs the importance of Damascus-Ankara relations, I wanted to underline where the interests of Turks and Syrians are. If Ankara manages to show sincere steps and goodwill, Damascus will surely accept these positive steps with a great diplomatic maturity and responsibility. It will consider all these efforts in terms of their own national interests and priorities. It is quite essential for the Turkish Army to withdraw from the Syrian territory and that Ankara to respect the Syrian territorial integrity, sovereignty, security, unitary state structure and its independence and to not support any organizations that undermine these solid principles. It is the Syrian people themselves, who decide on their constitution or other issues concerning Syria itself or its future. They would not accept any interference from outside. The Turkish people are also a neighbouring and friendly nation that attaches great importance to its own independence and sovereignty. Just as the foreign interventions and the foreign factors who are involved in these interventions or their puppets at home are disturbing the Turkish people and the state, the same fact is true to the same extent for both the Syrian Arab Republic and its people.