The Dimensions of a Syrian-Turkish “Settlement” Are Far Greater Than 900 km Why is it in Our Interest, as Syrians, to Push Towards Reaching a “Settlement”?
Over the last few months, talk of a Syrian-Turkish reconciliation or a settlement of relations between the two countries occupied a great deal of space in the media and politically. Kassioun has covered in a number of articles and editorials different aspects of this subject. In this article, we look extensively at the most prominent points raised by Kassioun about the dimensions of any Syrian-Turkish reconciliation. We will also ponder its potential implications and the role it could play within the framework of the general solution to the Syrian file with its various dimensions, and in relation to the full implementation of UNSC Resolution 2254.
Official Reactions and Statements on the Issue
As expected, there were many statements and reactions about the possibility of a Syrian-Turkish settlement. We will limit the discussion to official reactions and statements by some of the relevant countries and some of the Syrian sides. We will also only look at a timeframe limited to the last few months, though there were statements possibly less clear over the last few years, when regional and international – and possibly even local – conditions were yet ready enough to propose this issue in the clear form we have witnessed over the last few months.
One of the first clear statements about the issue was that of Iran’s Foreign Minister, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, during his visit to Damascus at the beginning of last July, where he said: “Iran understands Turkish concerns, but it opposes any military action in Syria… We are trying to resolve the misunderstanding between Syria and Turkey through diplomatic means and dialogue”.
The Russian side also made several statements about the issue during this period, including what was said in a joint press conference last August in Moscow, between Russia’s Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, and his Syrian counterpart, Faisal al-Miqdad. At that time, Lavrov pointed out that Russia has worked, since the outset of the Astana track, on restoring normal relations between Syria and Turkey. Regarding the importance of the Astana guarantors’ role, he said: “Russia, Turkey, and Iran are the guarantors of this process. Syria as a country is participating in the form of delegations loyal to the government and the opposition. Representatives of Damascus and Ankara hold meetings on the margins of the international meetings on Syria… the aim of the process is to implement UNSC Resolution 2254 and execute the agreements reached in the Astana format”. He also clearly said that Russia “has been seeking for years” to resolve the issue of the relations between Syria and Turkey.
Russia’s Foreign Minister has also made other statements on the issue, including in another press conference a few days ago, when he said: “Despite Damascus’s sensitivity regarding the Turkish presence, nevertheless, this presence and the formation of the Astana tripartite has been accepted as a reflection of reality and a reflection of the necessity to engage in a practical dialogue. Through this tripartite, many agreements have been achieved within different frameworks, including ones between Russia and Turkey with the Syrian leadership’s agreement… We will work hard so that there are no encroachments on Syria’s territorial integrity. This, by the way, is the position of the Astana tripartite… In the context of this understanding and these agreements, we are keen that, on the basis of the Adana Agreement, which is still in effect between Syria and Turkey, that these two countries can resume dialogue – and it seems that the conditions have ripened in this direction – to resolve specific issues related to the provision of border security, taking into account the legitimate concerns of Turkey, which Syria, since the era of Hafez al-Assad, has recognized and does now too”.
The Turkish side has also made several statements about the issue over the last few months, nearly all of which point in the same direction. These statements started appearing more clearly in the media and by official sources since last August, when an article in Turkish media outlet, Anadolu Agency, mentioned that Turkey’s Foreign Minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, had said during a press conference he held on August 11 that “he had a short conversation with the Syrian regime’s Foreign Minister, Faisal al-Miqdad, on the margins of the Non-Aligned Movement meeting held last October”. Cavusoglu added: “I reaffirmed that the only way to end the crisis is a political solution, eliminating terrorists without any distinction among them, and reaching an agreement between the regime and the opposition; and Turkey supports these steps... We have to somehow reach an agreement between the opposition and the regime in Syria, otherwise there will be no lasting peace”. He also said: “The Russian side has long expressed desire to hold meetings between the Turkish and Syrian sides, and President Putin sought a meeting between Erdogan and Assad. However, President Erdogan told him that the ongoing meetings between the intelligence services would be useful... the intelligence services used to communicate with each other, and now this communication has resumed after a period of interruption; important topics are covered during these meetings”.
Later in August, another Anadolu Agency article quoted Turkey’s President as saying: “We have to take advanced steps with Syria through which we can thwart many plans in this region... Why do we host this number of refugees, is it so that we are constantly at war with the (Syrian) regime? No, but because of our ties with the Syrian people, especially in terms of the values of faith, and the next stage may bring more good”. He added that political or diplomatic dialogue cannot be completely abandoned between states, and “such dialogues can take place at any time, and they must take place... The relationship must not be severed, even if it is a thin thread, because it will be needed one day”.
As for the Syrian sides, the opposition and regime extremists, as usual, despite appearing contradictory, their positions from this issue were in essence similar, in that they rejected possibilities or propositions of a Syrian-Turkish reconciliation. On one side, the extremists in the opposition completely rejected the subject and considered that “the idea of reconciliation with Assad is unacceptable and impossible” and that “calling for reconciliation with the Assad regime means reconciliation with the bigger terrorist source in the region and contradicts all relevant international resolutions”. On the other side, extremists within the regime had a position that at best could be described as obstructive, based on official statements and the way official and semi-official Syrian media dealt with the issue. The same was with “SDC”, which was ago against any Syrian-Turkish reconciliation, because “Turkish normalization with the Syrian regime would not being peace, but would deepen the crisis”, even though going towards a dialogue between Damascus and Ankara would be expected to naturally result in the chances of a Turkish military operation diminishing or even vanishing.
The Most Important Implications of a Syrian-Turkish Settlement
Kassioun, especially over the last few months, has discussed the dimensions of a reconciliation between Damascus and Ankara, which we will review here and add thereto some details. This could shed light on its potential implications and the role it could play within the framework of a solution to get out of the Syrian crisis, including a comprehensive political solution through the full implementation of UNSC Resolution 2254.
Reducing the US’s ability to sabotage
Making any progress in improving Syrian-Turkish relations necessarily means narrowing the margins within which the US can play in Syria and the Syrian file. This means facilitating the expulsion of the US from Syria, politically and militarily, because a reconciliation would change the balance, politically and on the ground, through reducing the contradictions that the US exploits to extend its stay in Syria. It is worth nothing that Turkish statements on the subject and in general have lately touched on, and increasingly so, the negative role the US is playing in obstructing the solution in Syria.
Reducing the role of the Westerns “Small Group”
Since Turkey was added to the Western “Small Group”, which now also include Arab countries too, this has given the West he ability to exploit Turkey’s presence in the Small Group and at the same time in the Astana group to ensure there is not enough agreement with Turkey, and using that as a way to continuously intervene and use the polarization between the two groups to prevent any process in the political process. One way to reduce the ability of the Western group, even in its current format, from influencing the Syrian file to the point of obstructing a solution is with greater rapprochements between the Astana group and non-Western countries in the Small Group.
This is taking place to a large extent, as Russia’s relations with major Arab countries are continuously improving, and there is some dialogue between Saudi Arabia and Iran supported by Russian and Chinese mediation. There are also some indications of relations starting to improve between Turkey and some Arab countries, which had been previously severed. All of this can contribute to excluding the Western group or at least reducing its effect on the Syrian file and its ability to obstruct making progress therein. However, this exclusion cannot reach an advanced point where the curve start going in a positive direction without a Syrian-Turkish settlement that constitutes a major link in starting positive progress towards a solution through reducing the sabotaging margins for the West and the US.
Ending the Continuous Threats of Military Operations in the North
Northern Syria is living in a constant state of tension as a result of the constant presence of threats of Turkish military operations. Therefore, the priority is to prevent a new ground invasion and ensure removing this constant threat. Working towards a Syrian-Turkish settlement could be a key factor in achieving this, as the settlement could include handing over the borders to Syrian border guards. This must be accompanied by efforts at the internal Syrian level within the framework of dialogue among the Syrian forces and distributing roles among them to reach the goal of restoring the country’s unity and sovereignty, in parallel with preserving people’s dignity and recognizing their rights.
Increasing the Chances of Solving the Problems in Northwester Syria
The ceasefire and the de-escalation zones on the basis of the Astana understandings, have proven their fragility and vulnerability to collapse in the event the outstanding issues that some use as a pretext for violating the ceasefire from time to time are not resolved. These include the outstanding issues in the northwest, including the failure to reopen the M4 international highway and ending the presence of Jabhat al-Nusra until now. This may be among the more complicated matters. However, any settlement between Damascus and Ankara will certainly have a positive impact on the situation in the northwest and will increase the chances of resolving the issue completely and at a reasonable speed.
Ending the Catastrophic Internationalization of Northeaster Syria
Western, especially American, exploitation in the Kurdish issue continues, not in Syria, but in the entire region, in all the countries in which the Kurds are present. The continued failure to resolve the Kurdish issue in a just manner has always been used as a pretext for Western and American intervention, turning the issue into a point of regional and international conflict, and using it as a constant mine that can be used to destabilize the region whenever the West so desires.
On the other hand, any Syrian-Turkish settlement, in parallel with real internal dialogue and understandings, could end the West’s ability to exploit this file, as the nature of this problem could change in a real way to take on its natural dimension as part of the Syrian internal problem, and on the table within the set of problems that can and must be resolved through a political solution. Therefore, a Syrian-Turkish settlement can, in this sense, reduce the degree of internationalization of the issue, but only if that comes in parallel with starting a real intra-Syrian dialogue on the basis of UNSC Resolution 2254.
Breaking the Siege and Starting to Resolve the Most Important Economic Problems
Taking a quick look at the neighboring countries and the possibility of relying on them to break the siege imposed on Syria, it can be concluded that the Syrian-Turkish border is almost the only one capable of achieving this task. Kassioun had previously addressed this issue in Kassioun editorial 1083. What makes the Turkish borders the most important today to play this role are several things, including that other neighboring countries are unable to play that role.
Starting with Lebanon, where the economic situation is disastrous, is subject to some sanctions, and threatened with additional sanctions. Additionally, the Lebanese-Syrian borders cannot be relied on to break the siege of a country the size of Syria. Iraq is also suffering from catastrophic security, political, and economic conditions, to say the least, not to mention that US influence there is sufficient to undermine any chances of breaking the siege on Syria through Iraq. As for Jordan, in the economic sense and the length of its borders with Syria, may make it partially able to break the siege. However, politically and even militarily during the past ten years, all the way up to the Jordanian initiatives (Kassioun touched on some of them here and here) and other roles that Jordan played and is still playing, all these make Jordan part of the Western orbit. Therefore, Jordan cannot be a gateway to breaking the siege on Syria.
Therefore, the Syrian-Turkish borders, which extend for more than 900 km, remain theoretically the main gateway to breaking the siege, including breaking the fuel siege and resolving the electricity crisis. Even if there was some entity that wants to provide Syria with fuel, and assuming there was no corruption, the maritime routes, in light of the current international tension, are very complex and costly, which makes them unable to meet the needs. However, land borders as long as those with Turkey – which also has better reach with countries like Russia, Iran, China, and India – are the only practical outlet to breaking the siege, especially on fuels, gas, and electricity, which could be a starting point to breathe some life back into the dilapidated economy.
Starting to Resolve the Refugee Issue
According to official UN statistics, there are nearly 6.8 million Syrian refugees in the world, more than half of them – 3.57 million – are in Turkey. Thus, at least theoretically, solving half of the refugee crisis can be actually solved through a Syrian-Turkish settlement, which can take place in parallel with moving forward with the solution. This means, paving the way to solve the larger portion of the refugee issue. The reality is that the relative weight of Turkey in the refugee issue is even bigger than half of it, because the likelihood of return of refugees from neighboring countries more quickly is higher than the likelihood of their return from other parts of the world. This large of a number returning from Turkey, or a significant portion thereof, also means an opportunity to solve the problem of massive human erosion of cadres and competencies in Syria, without the resolving of which can there be talk about any reconstruction or any real possibility of bringing Syria back to life.
Laying Solid Foundations for the Next Stage’s Economy
Syrian economy will certainly need some time to truly recover. However, in the stage immediately following the crisis, i.e., that relating to early recovery and reconstruction, foundations should be laid correctly, because that will have important consequences during the period after the crisis and later on. Early recovery, which is related to efforts that aim to reduce the effects of the crisis in the humanitarian sense, until such time a final solution for the crisis is reached. Reconstruction will be effectively the embodiment of the post-solution socioeconomic model in Syria.
Here, one should ponder historical experiences, which have proven that all reconstruction experiences linked with the West – mainly through the IMF and World Bank – failed, and practically, there was no reconstruction. What happened was that they made it possible to form a plundering political structure that is politically and economically linked to the West, and resulted in countries with unpayable debts, and therefore politically and economically subject and subservient to the West. The failed reconstruction processes became the grounds for explosions worse than the initial ones that got those countries in their crises to begin with (Kassioun had prepared a study on different reconstruction experiences, and the full file (in Arabic) can be downloaded here). Therefore, thinking about political and economic model and logic for early recovery and reconstruction in Syria is a key issue, not only to stop the crisis and rebuild the country, but also to prevent planting mines that can be detonated later.
From this point of view, the Western option is not correct. What would be best for Syria within the international balance today is to turn East. Matters should be considered in their movement and subsequent situation, which indicate that emerging systems such as BRICS and Shanghai, within a new global financial system and a new global political system that will allow countries like Syria, by investing in this historic opportunity, to end economic dependence on the West and improve the country’s infrastructure, to reach true economic and therefore political independence. This, of course, implies disengagement from currencies such as the dollar and the euro, and ending dependence on them, so consequently, the West’s sanctions turn into tools to isolate it rather than the other way around.
In other words, and in the context of the main subject here, a settlement of the Syrian-Turkish relations in the political, and therefore the economic, sense can be a channel that permits Syria to engage in a process of actually benefitting from the new international circumstance that is taking shape. It is important to remember here that Turkey has an important role in this context. It is not coincidence that Turkey has become a regional, and to a large extent international, gas distribution center. Some link that to ramifications of Ukraine, but the reality is that the way it is happening in the way it is now seems to be as if it were an organic part of the broader Eurasian project, and the Ukraine crisis merely sped up things.
Presenting Better Opportunities to Resolve the Water Problem
One of the biggest problems that Syria is facing with Turkey, historically but also to a greater degree over the last few years, is related to the issue of the dams on both the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers. During the crisis years, the situation permitted Turkey to further exacerbate the water issue towards blatantly theft of Syria’s water rights. Naturally, any political settlement between Damascus and Ankara means there would be a much better opportunity to rely on historical agreements between the two countries as well as international agreements to get things back to normal with regard to Syria as a passage country for those two rivers. Also naturally, when there are contradictions between countries on issues like this, the solution is either a war or dialogue and negotiation. Generally, but also especially in the Syrian situation today, a war is not a practical or logical option with regard to this issue. Based on a broad intersection of interests with countries that have an interest in ending tensions in our region (particularly, because this region is a vital part of its global project – i.e., the Silk and Eurasian Road) – we, as Syrians, have a crucial opportunity to possess strong negotiating cards with Turkey regarding our water rights, without a war.
Reaching a Settlement, not Normalization
Any Syrian-Turkish settlement within the framework of the Astana effort necessarily aims to end the destruction coordinate, and towards a political solution that does not delegitimize any of the main Syrian, whether the regime or the opposition, but rather recognizing them. Meaning, the Syrian sides recognizing each other and sitting at the table for direct negotiations, which are not subject to political, economic, or military pressures. That is, negotiations not subject to Western extortion. All this would reinforce and speed up reaching the full implementation of UNSC Resolution 2254. This necessarily means working against Western/Zionist projects, which also use the slogans “step for step” and “normalization”, but within a framework that is completely contradictory. Here, we refer your back to a Kassioun article (in Arabic), titled: “Normalizing Relations with Syria: One Slogan, Two Contradictory Substances”
Preparing for a Project that Serves Syria and the Region, and Guarantees Stability
There are two projects clashing very clearly and openly in the region, at least with regard to energy lines and water. The first project is a Western one, the clearest and most brazen expression of this is the Zionist project that Peres articulated in his book “The New Middle East”, according to which “Israel” becomes a regional center at all levels: economic, development, energy, and even culturally, which would push all the region’s countries to link with the Zionist entity. One of the manifestations or attempts to effectuate this project was through the “Arab” gas pipeline – the Kassioun Research Unit has discussed at length this file and looked at it from several angles, many of the associated articles can be found here.
On the other hand, there is another project, which is the Eurasian project – the Belt and the Road – the interest of which lies in having the region be politically stable, so that it is able to be a main linkage between Asia and Europe. This requires stable energy supply lines, advanced and modern transportation lines with high energy, and advanced infrastructure in various fields. It is not a coincidence, as we noted hereinabove, that Turkey would become a Russian gas distribution center, because having such a center in a place like Turkey along with the development of the nature of relations and Turkish compass, is a natural development for China, India, and Russia.
Looking at these two projects, one can see that the interest of the Syrian people is naturally not with “Israel” and the project linked therewith, but with the other project that aims to achieve political stability, which mean economic stability and independence. Engaging in this project necessarily requires that a Syria-Turkish settlement takes place.
Summary and Conclusions
Based on all the above, one can conclude that it is clear a settlement between Syria and Turkey has become necessary to truly push towards ending the Syrian crisis, and to really start a comprehensive political solution according to UNSC Resolution 2254, because this settlement will:
- Greatly reduce the ability of the Western “Small Group” to obstruct the Syrian political solution;
- Reduce the West’s, especially the US’s, ability to have a destructive effect on Syria through economic sanctions and blockade;
- Reduce security and military sabotage possibilities the through northwestern and northeast Syria files;
- Allow completing the preparation of the appropriate regional and international atmosphere, which is also the stakeholder in achieving a solution in Syria, that is, Astana, China, India, and the main Arab countries; and
- Open the door before building a new economic model in Syria, characterized by ending economic, and consequently political, subservience, and developing a real material basis for subsequent real development.
Kassioun Editorial 1083: Syria and Turkey, Whereto?, 14 August 2022
Regarding Turkey’s Foreign Minister’s Statements, 22 August 2022
What is the Position of Northeaster Syria Within the Potential Syrian-Turkish Rapprochement? (Arabic), 22 August 2022
What Did Lavrov Say Today About Russian Efforts Regarding Syrian-Turkish Relations? (Arabic), 23 August 2022
Normalizing Relations with Syria: One Slogan, Two Contradictory Substances (Arabic), 5 September 2022
Kassioun Editorial 1087: The Conditions for the Solution are Ripening, 11 September 2022
“American Attention” to Syria… A Bad Omen, but Also Good News! (Arabic), 3 October 2022
Kassioun Editorial 1093: Defusing Any Potential Explosion, 23 October 2022
Kassioun Editorial 1097: “Day of Solution”!, 20 November 2022
What is Required to Prevent a New Turkish Military Invasion?, 8 December 2022
Kassioun Editorial 1099: What Do Syrians Want?, 4 December 2022
The Original Text of Lavrov’s Statements Yesterday (Arabic), 8 December 2022