the Enemy' to 'Assad the Brother': Ankara Prepares Shift in Strategy
Last week, the Turkish government took steps to mend relations with both Israel and Russia. Now, Turkish People's Democratic Party (HDP) parliamentary group leader Idris Baluken suggests that Ankara may very well be carrying out secret negotiations aimed at mending ties with Syria as well.
Last Monday, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan apologized to Moscow over the Su-24 pilot who died after being shot down over Syria by a Turkish warplane in November 2015; the same day, Ankara and Tel Aviv agreed to mend relations, ruined in 2010 following an Israeli raid on a Turkish humanitarian aid ship destined for Gaza which resulted in the deaths of 10 Turks.
Now, according to HDP parliamentary group leader Idris Baluken, Ankara may be trying to mend relations with Damascus as well. Late last month, the lawmaker tabled a parliamentary question on the secret talks allegedly being held between Syrian and Turkish officials in third countries.
Speaking to Sputnik Turkey, Baluken explained that "according to available information, secret negotiations are being conducted between Syria and Turkey, in Algeria and several other countries. As far as one can judge, the Turkish leadership is preparing the groundwork for a transition away from rhetoric of 'Assad the enemy' to rhetoric of 'Assad the brother'. It seems entirely possible that Damascus has already been sent a letter of apology."
"At the plenary session of parliament, I appealed to the government to clarify the situation regarding information of secret talks between Syria and Turkey. However, we have not received a response officially refuting this information, nor a declaration explaining the details [of such negotiations]."
The lawmaker emphasized that Turkish lawmakers, including members of his party, "have the full right to receive detailed information on changes in the government's strategy on Syria, as we are the ones to feel the brunt of the leadership's misguided Syrian policy."
"The results of this policy include the explosion at the Ataturk Airport, which claimed dozens of lives," Baluken said. "In this connection, the Justice and Development Party is obliged to inform the Turkish public about what changes are envisioned in policy on the Syrian track."
Commenting on Ankara's broader foreign policy, Baluken pointed to several other major policy reversals that have already been made. "Based on the examples of relations with Israel, with Russia and with Egypt, we have seen the kinds of changes that are occurring in the government's foreign policy strategy; they are aware on the need to change tactics in order not to lose power. To that end, the ruling party is ready to do anything, and so we assume that the information on the negotiations with Syria is true. If the government insists that this information is false, let them make an official statement to the effect that such negotiations are not being conducted."
Asked about the likely main theme of the talks, the lawmaker suggested that it may very well be the Kurdish issue, "specifically [Ankara's] desire to challenge the status of the Rojava, [the area of northern Syria inhabited by Syrian Kurds]. Erdogan wants to establish contact with the Syrian government using anti-Kurdish rhetoric. We believe that this approach is fundamentally wrong. In doing this, Erdogan and the AKP are again committing the same mistakes again."
Ultimately, Baluken suggested that it is "entirely possible that Damascus has already been sent a letter of apology, in secret. For example, we did not know anything about the letter that was sent to Moscow. Therefore, now it would not be at all surprising if it turns out that a similar letter was sent to the Syrian leadership as well. If this is the case, Erdogan must say so openly."
Whether or not secret Turkish-Syrian negotiations are underway, it remains unclear how exactly the Syrian government and ordinary Syrians are expected to accept a rapprochement with Ankara, in light of its brazen support for the militant groups which have terrorized the country for over five years.