Turkey knows pullout from Afrin is must

Alwaght– Turkish offensive on the city of Afrin in northwest Syria in late January should be regarded as symbolizing Ankara’s foreign policy in dealing with various regional cases.

Turkish military forces, along with allied Syrian militant groups, have managed to seize the predominantly Kurdish Syrian canton after a 58-day aggression, which is one of the three Kurdish cantons controlled and governed by a federal governing council. Regardless of whatever Turkish excuses are for the attack on the Kurdish enclave, the Turkish army’s presence in northern Syria is illegitimate and a violation of the Syrian national sovereignty.

From 2011, the year the devastating Syrian crisis sparked, up to 2015, the Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan repeated calls for the allies to set up a safe zone in Syria’s north, covering an area between Azaz to Jarabulus, with estimated 90-kilometer length and 50-kilometer depth. But he was unsuccessful in getting American and European allies on his side about the plan, and so apparently failed to take practical steps towards controlling the Syrian border areas with Turkey which reach 700 kilometers long.

After 2016, Turkey made a clear political U-turn on the Syrian case and opted to get close to Russia and Iran, both staunch allies of the Syrian government, and then engaged in Astana peace process, cultivating an atmosphere in which it hoped to make considerable gains. However, after nearly a month since the Turkish army claimed control of Afrin, Tehran and Moscow want Ankara to hand over the seized region to the central government in a gesture of respect to the Syrian government representing a sovereign state.

Russia and Iran ask Turkey to return Afrin to central government

In the past few days, there were brazen comments from the Iranian and Russian officials about the need for Ankara to hand over the enclave and other opposition-controlled Syrian territories to Damascus government. The Russian Foreign Minister Sergei was the top official to ask for that from Erdogan.

“[Turkish] President [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan has never said that Turkey wants to occupy Afrin. We always proceed from the fact that the easiest way to normalize the situation in Afrin now that Turkish representatives say that the main goals they set there have been achieved would be to return the territory under the control of the Syrian government,” Lavrov said, as was quoted by Russian Sputnik news agency.

The Iranian Defense Minister General Amir Hatami was also clear in his Afrin handover call. Talking to the RT Arabic, General Hatami stated: “Respecting the sovereignty of all countries is a principal policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran. We have told our Turkish brothers that if you have security concerns in relation to the Syrian conflict, you should settle them through cooperating with the legitimate Syrian government. I hope that the Turkish brothers will show respect to the Syrian territorial and national integrity. I’m sure this will happen. Because those who deployed forces to the Syrian territories without coordination with the central Syrian government will have to withdraw at the end of the road.”

Turkey pledges pullout after the crisis ends

Following the remarks made by the Russian foreign minister and the Iranian defense minister, Turkey reacted. Bekir Bozdag, Turkey’s deputy prime minister, on Wednesday told the reporters that Ankara is not there (in Syria) to occupy, and it does not hold plans to stay there permanently. He went on to suggest that Turkey respects Syria’s territorial integrity. He added that the Turkish forces successfully cleared the city of “terrorists”, continuing that the troops are involved in landmine-removing efforts.

The Turkish official held that Syria is now experiencing power vacuum, and the nation is witnessing the activity of various opposition groups. He noted that Turkey gives the rule of Afrin to its locals. He highlighted the need for a political settlement to the eight-year-old conflict, adding that Turkey will pull out of Syria as long as the state reaches a solution to end the crisis. He stressed that the Syrian situation cannot be solved militarily.

“Turkey from the very beginning said conflicts in the region [Syria] must be stopped and problems here could not be resolved through military means,” Bozdag told reporters in the capital Ankara.

Turkey obliged to leave Afrin

But the Turkish response to Moscow and Tehran calls for withdrawal from Afrin seems like an open showcase of time-wasting and playing with the words. Linking the withdrawal of occupying forces to end of the crisis in Syria is a trickery tactic. Under any conditions, the Turkish leaders can claim they still have their own border security woes and that they consider the crisis still standing to justify their military presence in Syria’s north.

What is certain is that the Turkish military presence there is illegal. The Syrian government can file a case at the UN Court of Justice against Ankara for violation of its sovereignty. On the other side, the Turkish decision-makers should have in mind that their success in foiling establishment of an autonomous Kurdish government is a corollary of Ankara’s closeness to the Moscow-Tehran front. Having in mind that Damascus certainly will move to liberate its terrorist-held territories in Idlib province and the north in the future and will definitely continue to enjoy backing from its key allies, there are risks of Syrian-Turkish military confrontation. In case of a war with Damascus, Erdogan’s military successes risk diminishing into a big defeat on the Syrian stage. Meanwhile, the most appropriate move will be Turkey and Ankara-backed Syrian opposition groups’ pullout from Afrin and other areas through dialogue and an accord that will see the central government offer adequate security assurances to Ankara that the Kurdish militant units will not build new military dominance in Afrin and other border areas with Turkey.