Turkey and the Syrian regime.. “withdrew papers” in the “electoral file par excellence”

Official statements in Turkey regarding the country’s relationship with the Syrian regime have not ceased since last August. And while she first hinted at a “new path”, it subsided for a period of time, with an emphasis on continuing intelligence communication, so the words of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan came on Thursday, and what might happen was postponed until after the elections scheduled for June 2023.

It was remarkable that what Erdogan announced came in exchange for statements in the same context and at the same time by the leader of the “Republican People’s Party”, the largest opposition party, Kemal Kilsdar Oglu.

In response to a question about the possibility of meeting the head of the Syrian regime, Bashar al-Assad, and Turkey’s relations with Syria and Egypt, the Turkish president said: “There is no resentment or eternal disagreement in politics. We can do that again, especially after the June elections,” and “Based on that, I hope We can continue on our way.”

For his part, Kilicdaroglu stated that if they come to power in the 2023 elections, “they will open joint embassies with Syria,” adding: “The first thing we will do when we come to power is negotiate with the legitimate administration of Syria. If you are going to solve a problem, you have to talk.” to the person dealing with the problem.

Over the past four months, and at a time when Turkish statements regarding the relationship with the Syrian regime continued, the latter did not show any positive gesture. On the contrary, its officials, led by Faisal al-Miqdad, sought to exclude any close political contact.

The Turkish position was mainly echoed by the presidential spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin, and Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, and Erdogan joined them three times.

On the other hand, the Syrian regime committed itself to responding to what Turkish officials were saying in two contexts. The first was among the “offensive” reports published by semi-official media outlets, such as Al-Watan newspaper, in addition to what was announced by its Foreign Minister Al-Miqdad at separate times.

“pull papers”

After 2011, relations between Turkey and the Syrian regime deteriorated to a large extent, reaching the stage of “estrangement”. Nevertheless, the “intelligence” communication between the two sides did not stop, as Reuters recently revealed a meeting of this kind that took place in Damascus, in the presence of the head of the Turkish intelligence service, Hakan Fidan, and his Syrian counterpart, Ali Mamlouk.

This meeting, which was neither denied nor confirmed by the two sides, came at a time when Turkish politicians’ statements abounded regarding the intention to communicate in order to resume relations, and the possibility of transferring intelligence talks to political ones.

So far, there has been no breach at the political level and the “path of communication of foreign women”, while observers who spoke to Al-Hurra website excluded the occurrence of anything new at the level of rapprochement, considering that the repetition of statements, whether by the government or the opposition, “indicates that the file is electoral par excellence.” .

As part of its preparations for the upcoming elections, the Turkish government has been working for a while on a policy closer to “zeroing problems.” The same applies to the opposition parties, which have exported files of great concern to the internal street, especially the file of the Syrian refugees and the issue of their country.

Turkish analyst and researcher residing in Ankara, Omer Ozkizelcik, points out that while Turkish officials made repeated statements towards Damascus, they maintained “Turkish policy on the ground.”

“The change in Turkish discourse can be mainly attributed to the electoral process in Turkey,” he said in an interview with Al-Hurra.

The Turkish opposition – all except for the “Future Party” led by Ahmet Davutoglu – says that it will solve the Syrian refugee issue by normalizing relations with the Assad regime.

Therefore, at the present time, Ozkielcik believes that “the government is taking this political card out of the hands” of these parties.

As for the Turkish political researcher, Hisham Gunay, the statements related to Turkey’s relationship with the new Syrian regime do not depart from the framework of “elections” and the tracks of “drafting cards.”

He explains his speech by saying to Al-Hurra website: “With the elections approaching, we see that sensitive files have begun to be opened one after the other.”

Among these files, which have been discussed recently, is the “hijab issue” raised by the opposition leader, Kilsdar Oglu, announcing that he is ready to pass a law related to the freedom to wear it in public places.

Erdogan quickly responded to this initiative by announcing his intention to raise the veil issue in parliament, in order to vote on it and put it in the constitution.

With regard to the file of Turkey and the Syrian regime, Gunay considered that the first thing that raised it previously was the opposition, as it sent a delegation to Syria years ago, only to face an accusatory response at the time of being “traitorous and conspiring against the country by dealing with a person who killed his own people.”

The researcher added, “Today, Erdogan has begun to adopt a stronger approach towards the Syrian regime. On the other hand, the opposition is responding in the same way, because it says that it is the one with the initiative, and therefore it does not want to lose this card.”

What after the elections?

So far, the Syrian regime has not shown any “positive” attitude towards the new Turkish positions, although its ally Russia was the cornerstone of that. Even its president, Vladimir Putin, had previously asked his counterpart Erdogan to communicate with Damascus to solve security problems.

On July 23, the Turkish presidential spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin, said that contacts with the Syrian regime are taking place at the level of the intelligence services, stressing that there are no plans for political contact with Damascus now.

One day later, Faisal Al-Miqdad, in remarks on the sidelines of the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York City, ruled out hypotheses of rapprochement between Ankara and Damascus, after previous positions that prepared the atmosphere for the restoration of negotiations on restoring relations.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs in the government of the Syrian regime confirmed that there are no contacts between the two countries at the level of the foreign ministries.

And before that, he had spoken from the capital, Moscow, in September that “Damascus has entitlements, not conditions,” calling on Turkey to withdraw from northern Syria, and that “not even a millimeter remains on the territory.”

And “it is very unlikely that there will be a rapprochement between Turkey and the Assad regime,” according to the opinion of the Turkish researcher, Omer Ozkizelcik.

He explains his idea by saying: “As long as the political process does not gain momentum, and the Assad regime shows willingness to form a transitional government and free elections in Syria, rapprochement seems unlikely. There are facts on the ground in Syria, as well as the Turkish guarantee for the legitimate Syrian opposition.”

But his counterpart, political researcher Hisham Junay, expects an opening in relations between Damascus and Ankara, “if the ruling Justice and Development Party wins the elections.”

He says, “What we see is a rapid trend towards normalizing relations with al-Assad, especially after rapprochement with Russia. I believe that this will be translated into reality, and perhaps there will be a meeting between Erdogan and Bashar al-Assad immediately after the elections.”

On the other hand, Günay indicated that “the closer the elections date, the more intense the conflict between the parties, and therefore we will see more cards being used,” in reference to the file of Turkey’s relationship with the Syrian regime.

Obstacles and transitions

After 2011, Turkey provided strong political and military support to the Syrian opposition, in order to overthrow the regime. It is still following this path, especially in the northern countryside of Aleppo, and other border areas in northern and eastern Syria (Peace Spring).

Turkey is considered one of the active countries in the Syrian file, politically, through the “Astana” track, which numbered 18 rounds, and another related to “Sochi”, and it also hosts more than 4 million Syrian refugees.

As for the military, the active role of Turkey appears clearly based on the field reality imposed by its forces and the Syrian factions that support it along the borders, represented by the “Syrian National Army” coalition.

Over the past three years, the features of the Turkish vision regarding the Syrian file seemed to be limited to several goals, including the removal of any threat to its national security along the northern borders of Syria, while talk has escalated significantly recently about the “refugee file” and their safe area.

In addition, Ankara has repeatedly declared that it supports the “political process for Syria”, and that it also supports the outcomes of the Astana process, which had the greatest role in establishing the borders of military control, in its current form.

Mahmoud Alloush, a researcher specializing in Turkish affairs, spoke of “shifts” that have taken place in Turkish foreign policy in the past two years, and that they are the result of three factors, the first of which is “regional and international changes that prompted various parties, including Ankara, to make a shift in their foreign policies.”

The second of these factors is “Turkey’s need to dismantle its attempt to isolate it in the eastern Mediterranean conflict,” as well as “the significant impact of its decade-long involvement in the regional conflict on the internal situation, especially in terms of the economy.”

In an interview with Al-Hurra website, the researcher believes that the three factors “will remain in force in the post-election period.”

And, “If the Turkish regional transformation is partly related to Erdogan’s need to ease pressure on the economy to secure his chances of remaining in power, the internal pressure on him may decrease after the elections if he remains in power, but he will continue the process of regional repositioning.”

The issue of Syrian refugees causes “a big problem for Erdogan at home, and it is a strong electoral card in the hands of the opposition,” according to Alloush.

Opposition leader Kilsdar Oglu has always raised the issue of restoring the relationship with Damascus to address this issue, but Erdogan actually preempted the elections by changing his tone towards Damascus, mainly seeking to “weaken the Syrian card in the hands of the opposition.”

The researcher adds, “Erdogan has a desire to quickly end the crisis with Cairo and open a new page in the relationship with Damascus, but he is trying to be more realistic in this matter, because opening a new path in relations with the two countries still faces major obstacles.”

Also, “it is clear that Cairo and Damascus are reluctant to respond to the Turkish shift, and are likely waiting for the election results to decide their steps,” according to the same spokesman.

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