According to the pro-government Hurriyet newspaper, the Turkish administration is considering ways to create a conversation channel with the Syrian government.
“The balanced approach recently implemented by Turkey and the role that Ankara has played in recent months, especially in settling the war in Ukraine, have made the current era favorable for resolving the Syrian issue,” the Turkish daily said, citing unidentified sources.
According to the report, the bilateral talks will focus on three key issues: protecting the Syrian state’s unitary structure from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party’s (PKK) activities, preserving Syria’s territorial integrity, and allowing the safe return of roughly half of the Syrian refugees currently residing in Turkey.
So yet, neither Damascus nor Ankara have responded to the Hurriyet report.
According to Arab News, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is embracing a political opportunity with a potential rapprochement with Syrian President Bashar Assad, according to Francesco Siccardi, a senior program manager at Carnegie Europe.
“After portraying himself as a beneficent leader in the Russian-Ukraine conflict, he might do the same in the Syrian scenario.” “The perception of these posturing that will assist him boost his image both at home and abroad is secondary to the reality that both endeavors failed,” he said.
Improved diplomatic relations with Damascus might also assist Ankara in lessening the political and economic strain of hosting 3.7 million refugees in the face of rising inflation and declining purchasing power. The presence of an uncontrolled number of refugees is frequently blamed for the country’s economic troubles.
According to Siccardi, if a percentage of the Syrian refugees now in Turkey are permitted to return to Syria, this plan might benefit Erdogan greatly.
According to Hurriyet, Assad’s journey to the United Arab Emirates last month was viewed in Ankara as a sign of his desire to take new steps and collect new support in order to stabilize the country.
Meanwhile, normalization of relations between Turkey and Egypt is on the horizon, with unsubstantiated claims of a Turkish ambassador being appointed in Cairo after nearly nine years.
Experts say that Turkey’s continued efforts to normalize relations with Middle Eastern and Gulf countries will ultimately lead to the resumption of relations with Syria.
Turkey sees itself as an increasingly prominent player in the crisis diplomacy area, according to Samuel Ramani, an associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute in London.
“Turkey has served as a facilitator and mediator in talks between Russia and Ukraine, and it is now attempting to apply that knowledge to Syria.” “Despite Turkey’s enmity against him, Ankara knows that Assad is Syria’s sole leadership alternative,” he told Arab News. Assad’s recent visit to the UAE shows his ongoing normalization with Arab countries.
Given that Turkey is attempting to de-escalate tensions with regional countries such as the UAE and Egypt, removing Syria as a source of conflict serves that strategy, according to Ramani.
Turkey has conducted repeated military operations in Syria’s northern provinces since the start of the civil conflict in an attempt to retaliate against Syrian Kurdish insurgents it identifies with the PKK.
The 1998 Adana Memorandum between Syria and Turkey requires both parties to take the necessary steps to remove PKK fighters from Syria’s border.
Thousands of Turkish troops have been deployed to Syria, along with dozens of military outposts and facilities, which Damascus considers a breach of Syrian sovereignty.
The Astana process’s most recent meeting involving Turkey, Russia, and Iran took place in December. It remains to be seen how Turkey’s prospective conflicts with Russia over its pro-Ukraine neutrality stance will affect Syria’s dynamics.
Turkey has attempted to compartmentalize its disagreements with Russia over Ukraine in its involvement with Moscow in Syria, according to Ramani.
“Russian and Turkish patrols in northern Syria have continued, despite Russian tanks brandishing the Z symbol of support for the fight, which Turkey condemns.” “Turkey’s ability to interact with Russia in theaters like Syria, while disapproving with its actions in Ukraine, is a paradigm for Western countries to follow,” presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said.
Ramani believes Moscow will have no issues to talking with Ankara in Syria because Turkey has not joined Western sanctions against Russia.
He added, “It will also welcome negotiations between Turkey and Assad.”
Turkey, according to Siccardi, has a lot to lose in Syria, and a change in the status quo in Idlib might be disastrous for Ankara.
“There are around 3 million civilians who have sought safety there.” An onslaught by the Assad administration, backed by Moscow, could result in a large number of refugees streaming into Turkey, where around 4 million Syrians have already sought refuge. This would be extremely harmful to Erdogan, who is attempting to ensure the safe return of the majority of Syrian refugees presently residing in Turkey. Turkey will continue to be cautious and protective of its relations with Moscow in order to avoid this outcome.”
Last year, Erdogan raised the prospect of a fresh Turkish military assault in northern Syria against Kurdish forces. For the time being, such an offensive is not on the table in the United States.
“However, with the country’s legislative and presidential elections in 2023 in mind, any new plan for a military intervention in Syria will help Erdogan connect with his nationalistic constituency and stir up support,” said Aydin Sezer, an expert on Turkey-Russia ties.
“Last year, Russia refused to give Syria permission to launch a military offensive. However, given the current state of relations between Russia and the United States over the Ukrainian war, Russia may seek to launch a military offensive in Syria against Kurdish militants in order to entangle US forces in yet another conflict,” he added.
According to Sezer, if the Ankara-Damascus reconciliation yields fruit before the elections, refugees could be repatriated with certain political concessions.
“Damascus can urge Ankara to return Syrian National Army combatants who are largely Turkish citizens, and give its assistance in the repatriation of Syrian refugees,” he said, adding that “if Turkey coordinates its actions with the UAE in Syria, it should also align its plans with Russia.”
Ankara has maintained low-level interaction with Damascus through intelligence agencies for the past four years.
In 2019, Erdogan declared that Assad, “who is responsible for the deaths of more than 1 million Syrians,” would never be talked to.