Turkey's role in Syria hampers peace efforts

Kurds, Christian minorities, and Arabs have been uprooted from their own land in northeast Syria.

By Christiane Waked (Regional Mix)

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Published: Sat 8 Feb 2020, 8:19 PM

Last updated: Sat 8 Feb 2020, 10:21 PM

The question 'to whom does Syria belong' ideally shouldn't have any ambiguous replies. The answer should be loud and clear: to the Syrians.
It is true, the country has been embroiled in a civil war for almost nine years. The situation is very complicated but that is no excuse for any country to interfere, invade, or question the rights of the Syrians.
Yet, countries like Turkey see this an opportunity. Tensions have increased in recent days between Damascus and Ankara as the arrogance of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has reached its peak. He recently summoned the forces of Bashar Al Assad's regime and asked them to withdraw from Turkish observation posts built in the northwest Syria.
Speaking at the ruling Justice and Development Party's parliamentary group meeting, the Turkish president warned that his government will take action if the regime does not withdraw its forces. What actions can a foreign country take? Perhaps, cause more death and chaos. There's not even a shred of doubt that Turkey's presence in Syria is illegal, and the forces must leave the Syrian territory immediately.
Turkey has dislodged thousands of Syrian citizens from what was their home. Kurds, Christian minorities, and Arabs have been uprooted from their own land in northeast Syria to make space for refugees who had sought shelter in Turkey.
Erdogan government is relocating these refugees at the expense of the locals in Syria, and is now pushing the envelope by openly threatening more actions. The international community, meanwhile, continues to be a meek spectator.
Turkey's intervention in Syria could have repercussion for the world at large. Hundreds of Daesh members who were once guarded by valiant Kurds have now escaped and are re-occupying the areas from where they were defeated and dragged out.
The recent clash in Idlib between Ankara and Assad regime, which is supported by Moscow, showed that Turkey has no intentions to leave Syria and it has marked its territory and interests there. Turkey has provoked the Syrian army on several occasions.
For instance, Ankara tried to 'challenge' Damascus last summer when the Turkish army sent its convoys to northern Hama to protect its point in Murk. Recently as well, Ankara repeatedly attempted to send heavily armed convoys towards Saraqib, north of Maarat Al Numan.
The bottom line is, Turkey is acting as a conqueror in Syria. It might have projected itself as the main protector of the Syrian Sunnis, but that is far from truth. In reality, it has always been about Turkey's strategic plans and comforts. Turkish forces abandoned Syrians in Idlib when their interest was to allow Moscow and Assad regime to bombard the city. And now, the Turkish government, in an unscrupulous way, is using young Syrians from the Free Syrian army to fight and die in Libya.
Libya is another territory where Erdogan wants to create more chaos. Turkey has recently signed an agreement with Fayez Al Sarraj government that allows it to assert rights over large areas in the eastern Mediterranean, which is rich in hydrocarbons.
Turkey and Moscow stand on opposite sides in Libya; the Russian government supports the national army headed by Marshal Khalifa Haftar. Both sides are settling their accounts in Syria which is complicating the peace process further.
Syria is on the verge of arriving at a solution, though the finer details might take some time. But Turkey's military presence could jeopardise that chance.
It is time that the international community put pressure on Erdogan to remove his soldiers from Syria, and help initiate the reconstruction of the country. This shall bring in companies from all over the world and benefit many countries especially Lebanon which is going through economic crisis. Most of the countries have their proposals and quotations ready.
Lebanon is on a brink of a bankruptcy, and can benefit from the exercise as the Lebanese port could be used to ship products and Lebanese hotels and tourist areas could also see a revival.
It is time to let Syria begin to heal, and with it the countries in the region.
Christiane Waked is a political analyst based in Beirut

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