A few days ago in Istanbul, a senior official gave a briefing on the government's position in foreign politics to a group of journalists, including me.
The main topic of the briefing was Syria.
With Syria in question, Turkey's relations with the West, Iran, Israel and Russia and issues like the Kurdish question, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the PKK, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) including sectarian and ethnic tensions come to the fore.
The political power's policies associated with Syria are no secret. Yet, the dynamism in the region, new actors entering the game and the constantly changing equations require perpetual and small changes in politics.
In this regard, where does Turkey stand with its state and government?
Let's start with citations from the briefing.
When Syria is in question, two problem focuses can be underlined. Terrorism and migration. Within this scope, there are three objectives that involve Turkey's policies: (1) Wiping out ISIL from the border, (2) Preventing the PYD-PKK from becoming a menace, (3) Providing the conditions to stop the migration flow. And when all these are put together, the most important thing is to protect Syria's unity, or create a structure that doesn't ruin Syria's historical and cultural texture (also underlined by the senior official.) For the AK Party, the prior condition in order to establish this is a Syria without Assad.
This is the big picture...
Yet, the real matter is in the details and in this question:
Does Turkey have the necessary conditions and strategies for an Assad-free Syria? How will it combat ISIL? What is the viewpoint toward the PYD in Rojava after the latest developments? With the new point we are at, with new players in the picture, are there any new risks or moves?
Before answering these questions, it is important to touch on how Turkey perceives the new developments in the region… Starting with ISIL...
The senior official evaluated ISIL as an Iranian project: It is certain that Syria and Assad are necessary elements for Iran's expansion policy. When Iran saw the Free Syrian Army (FSA) as a threat to Assad, it decided to constrict it and show it as a threat to the world, thus, it created a terrorist organization that would push the Assad issue aside. Syria ensured the release of al-Qaida-like militants in Iraqi prisons and sent them to the already prepared environment in Deir ez-Zor. Iran helped them be organized. This organization, ISIL, did everything that was expected from them, and overtook the Syrian cities starting from east to west, that were under the rule of the FSA, with the air support of the Syrian regime. It stopped when it came to the regime line in the west. It then moved toward the north and the east. When ISIL overtook Mosul and captured the arms of a great army, the world stood up. Operations started yet were not enough to remove ISIL from the region. Iran got what it wanted and was successful enough to confuse the equation.
And then Russia came into the picture...
In brief, the Syrian regime is having trouble controlling the 14 percent area it holds, despite the ISIL factor. The statement Bashar Assad made at the start of July, “I can no longer control the whole of Syria, I have to renew my line of defense and found a line of defense in a smaller area” caused Iran to panic. And thus, Iran pushed Russia into the game. This step was planned by the two countries in Moscow in July/August. Why Russia? Because Russia wants to come to the point and power which the world will notice. It wants to create power regions where it can deny entry to others. Just as Syria is irreplaceable for Iran's objectives, Iran is irreplaceable for Syria's goals. Therefore, Iran has been under protection since 2011. Russia joining into the game didn't overturn the equation, but caused risks and changes to occur. The risk of migration from Aleppo is one of these. Russia is using the PYD against the FSA, and especially to open a corridor between Aleppo and Afrin. This is another risk.
I would like to underline the following words of the official: As time passed, the war ossified and polarization deepened, the presence of foreign players started to increase. These include state and non-state players. Non-state players have goals that they want to achieve. Besides they have international connections. “Foreign fighter” is now a term that has gained worldwide recognition. On one hand, it turned into a rise against the world exercise. Therefore, it started to attract those looking for adventure. Movements were made to turn the war in Syria into a sectarian war. There is ISIL and Al-Nusra on one side, and Hezbollah on the other. There are groups from Afghanistan. At this point, no one alone can end the chaos in Syria. No one can reach their desired outcome in this case; neither Turkey, nor Russia, Iran or the U.S.
This is the real picture.
I will discuss the policies tomorrow.