Erdogan-Assad rapprochement: “Syrian refugees and Kurds will be the scapegoats”

Erdogan Assad rapprochement Syrian refugees and Kurds will be the scapegoats

For months, the announcement of an agreement between the Syrian and Turkish regimes, enemies since 2011, has been circulating in the media of the Middle East. Panic gripped Syrians living in Turkey, but also Kurds in northern Syria. Following the meeting between the Turkish and Syrian Defense Ministers in Moscow on December 28, and Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s statement on January 5 on the possibility of an interview with Bashar el-Assad, the latter immediately made it known that the negotiation was open, on condition that it be chaperoned by the Russians.

In 2011, Erdogan was the first leader to react against Assad. He opened the borders of his territory to refugees, and Istanbul hosted the Syrian Islamist opposition. The Syrian National Council, dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood, was founded there the same year. Erdogan has been seen as a savior for the refugees. Photos of him were omnipresent on social networks, with this slogan: “We love you, great brave man”. Syrians have named their child born in the Turkish camps “Recep Tayyip”, in tribute to the Turkish dictator. These refugees were blackmailed by Erdogan, in response to European criticism of his policy of supporting jihadist groups used against the Kurds and the Assad regime. Jabhat al-Nusra, split from Al-Qaeda, is a good example. In 2018, the tanks of this organization supported the Turks in the battle against the Syrian Democratic Forces, the army of the Kurds of Syria.

Opposition to Erdogan firm against refugees

Today, the Erdoganian “tenderness” towards the refugees has become a threat. More than three million migrants in Turkey live in fear of being deported. A million and a half Kurds in northeastern Syria are preparing for a great geopolitical change. The two enemies, Assad and Erdogan, are not far from becoming allies. Will these refugees be the scapegoats of this new project?

In Turkey, the presidential and legislative elections, scheduled for May, are approaching. The opposition is growing stronger. Protecting the country from refugees is a priority on their agenda. Refah, the “prosperity party”, opposing Erdogan, announced last December that it was ready to meet Assad to settle the problem of refugees and that of the Kurds. Party leader Meral Akşener has certified that she will send all Syrians back to their country if she wins the elections. This firm policy finds a positive echo among Turks tired of the economic crisis. In 2022, the Turkish lira lost 28% of its value against the dollar. According to one published study on the Al-Monitor research site, 59% of Turks are in favor of a meeting between Erdogan and Assad. But Syrians in Turkey are not ready to return to their homeland after rebuilding their lives, let alone fear being attacked by Syrian police. This is the case of Fozia Al Darid, a researcher at Artuklu University in Mardin, a city in southern Turkey, who told Al-Monitor: “We need time to rebuild our lives here, to solve the daily problems and forget the terrible memories of the war, I can’t imagine being able to live in Syria again”.

For Erdogan, pulling the rug from under the feet of the opposition, by playing the same card, is a solution to win the votes, and appear as the protector of the country. Mohammad Dibo, a Syrian living in Berlin and director of the newspaper Syria Untold, confirms that the prospect of an agreement between Erdogan and Assad is already having its effects on Syrian refugees from Turkey: “They live in insecurity, in fear to be kicked out overnight”. At the same time, this journalist thinks that the expulsion of millions of Syrians to their own territory is not realistic. According to him, “it is possible that thousands of refugees, not more, will be sent back to Syria before May”. For Mohammad Dibo, this agreement does not solve the main problem: “We must look further, towards the real protagonists in this affair: the Turks, for example, cannot attack the Kurdish Democratic Forces without collaborating with the Americans , the main supporters of the Kurds in Syria.”

“An Enemy That Doesn’t Exist”

Hochnek Hassan, Kurdish journalist, editor-in-chief of the North Press agency, who lives in Kamechli, in the North-East of Syria, confirms to us that the agreement between Erdogan and Assad is today the main subject of conversations between the Kurds. “They are panicking about an agreement between the Turks and the Americans which could lead to an attack on them. I personally think that an attack from Turkey will take place in the next few months. Erdogan wants to forget the economic crisis of his country, by embarking on military operations against an enemy that does not exist. The Kurds, for him, constitute the main danger for the borders of his country, it is the propaganda of his regime”. However, Hassan specifies that “for some Kurds, their victory against Daesh in 2018 is the guarantee of the continuation of the support coming in particular from the European Union, and especially from France, which will not abandon the Kurds for Erdogan”. For Said Al Haj, specialist in Turkey, this rapprochement will not go as far as the expulsion of the traditional Syrian opposition which resides in Turkey. “A major change is not expected in Turkey’s political and military relations with the Syrian opposition, but the Syrian opposition will be affected. Turkey has become the most important player in recent years,” he said. -he writes on the Al Jazeera website.

To continue the meetings between his regime and that of Turkey, Assad had set one condition: to put an end to the Turkish occupation of northern Syria. Turkey, in collaboration with Islamist militias and others considered to belong to the Free Syrian Army, occupies more than 1000 municipalities, on an area of ​​8835 km2. The majority of the inhabitants of these towns are civilians who fled the Assad regime. Ali Mohammad, a displaced person living in this area, assured in an investigation published by the Syrian radio Rozana 3 that the decision to return these cities to Bashar el-Assad is “a mass death sentence”. In this same survey, Abu Khaled, a migrant from Homs, expressed his fear of the closure of the borders between Turkey and Syria to force the refugees to return to the area controlled by the Damascus regime: “We will be besieged between the Turkey and Assad, and if we accept the return to the dictator, they will not leave us alive, we are all wanted by his intelligence services”.

Erdogan’s plan will not be so easy to execute. On the one hand, he is preparing for the presidential election, and on the other, he is forced to present himself as fulfilling Osman’s dream by grabbing part of Syrian territory. Its former Prime Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, announced in 2009, during a meeting with advisers from their AKP party: “we are the new Ottomans, we must take care of the countries around us, even North Africa, where Sarkozy must see the Turkish flag everywhere”. For their part, the Russians, who have supported the Syrian regime since their armed intervention in 2015, have an interest in calming the situation in Syria. For Putin, there is no question of entering a new war in addition to the Ukrainian front. This is why the meeting between the two Syrian and Turkish ministers was held in the presence of Sergueï Choïgou, Russian Defense Minister. Bachard el-Assad, for his part, can no longer bear the economic consequences of a civil war that has been going on for twelve years. It must normalize relations with its neighbor to increase their trade. And, above all, eliminate the opposition political parties, especially the Kurds, at war against him since 2011.

In this context, whoever wins, the victims will be the refugees. They will remain as the greatest, and perhaps the only losers in this conflict between dictators.