Ankara’s Fear of Kurdish State Drives Turkey to Compromise Over Assad

The Turkish leadership “has given a green light” to Bashar al-Assad playing a role in Syria’s interim government, Turkish journalists note, assuming that at the core of a potential thaw lies Ankara and Damascus’ intent to preserve Syria’s territorial integrity.

Ankara “has given a green light” to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad remaining in an interim government in Syria, Murat Yetkin of Hurriyet Daily News noted, calling the move “a major shift in Turkey’s Syria policy.”

“The most important priority for us is to stop the bloodshed as soon as possible,” Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim told a press conference in Istanbul on August 20, as quoted by the journalist.

A fighter from the Kurdish People Protection Unit (YPG) poses for a photo at sunset in the Syrian town of Ain Issi, some 50 kilometres north of Raqqa, the self-proclaimed capital of the Islamic State (IS) group during clashes between IS group jihadists and YPG fighters on July 10, 2015
Conflict in Syria: Alliances Tested as Turkey Steps Up Kurdish Bombing
Yetkin highlights that it was Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus who admitted a significant shift in Turkey’s Syria policy by saying that Ankara’s previous foreign policy strategy toward the country was “a source of many sufferings for Turkey today.”

Thus far, Ankara has signaled that it could contribute to the settlement of the Syrian crisis together with Russia, Iran, the US, Saudi Arabia and other parties concerned.

“But will that solution be with or without Bashar al-Assad?” Yetkin asks.

The journalist underscores that up to now the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has insisted that Bashar al-Assad should step down and claimed that his resignation is a “must” for the Syrian peace process.

However, while Yildirim says that “Assad cannot be part of Syria’s future, as he is not a unifying element for the Syrian people,” he also acknowledges that “for a transition [government], it is possible to sit and talk [with Assad].”

“It is obvious that, whether we like it or not, al-Assad is an actor,” Yildirim admitted as quoted by Yetkin.

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim at the Cankaya Palace in Ankara (File)
Turkey to Expand Military Role in Syria, Says Assad May Be Part of Transition
Still, the journalist clarifies that it does not mean that the Turkish leadership will itself “sit and talk” with the Syrian president.

“It is out of the question that we will talk with him. They [al-Assad and the opposition] are the counterparts. They should sit and talk… Fixing an issue to one thing or person means you consenting to the deadlock,” the Turkish prime minister told Hurriyet Daily News.

What lies at the root of Ankara changing its position on Syrian President Assad?

Amberin Zaman, a Bengali-Turkish journalist and public policy scholar at The Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, DC, suggests that a potential thaw could have been triggered by the fact that both Ankara and Damascus oppose the creation of a Kurdish independent entity in northern Syria.

“Speculation about a possible thaw between Ankara and Damascus intensified over the weekend when Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim dropped fresh hints that Turkey would no longer be pushing for Assad’s ouster,” Zaman writes in her article for Al-Monitor.

Syrian army troops. File photo
© Sputnik/ Mikhail Alaeddin
Allies No More? Kurds Fight to Conquer Syrian Government-Run Enclave
She cites the Turkish prime minister who said: “It is clear that the [Assad] regime has understood the structure the Kurds are trying to form in the north [of Syria] has started to become a threat for Syria too.”

Zaman recalls that while Ankara and Damascus are still on opposite sides, both denounced the so-called Northern Syria Federation, declared by the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) in March, as “illegal.”

It was reported that the relations between Damascus and the PYD’s military group People’s Protection Units (YPG) have recently become tense in Syria’s al-Hasakah province.

In an interview with Sputnik Al-Hasakah Mayor Muhammed Zaalan Al-Ali narrated that Kurdish militants had allegedly blocked the al-Hasaka-al-Qamishli road, thus far preventing the advance of the Syrian government’s forces.

“We appreciate Kurdish forces’ help in the fight against terrorists last year, when 500 Kurdish soldiers were killed and 900 more wounded. But we wonder why the PKK [the Kurdistan Workers’ Party]has now turned their weapon against the Syrian Army and other government organizations, even though the country’s army previously supported the Kurds in their fight against armed terrorists,” he told Sputnik.

For its part, Turkey has signaled that Syria’s territorial integrity remains one of the important parts of Ankara’s new plan aimed at resolving the Syrian crisis