Wasn’t it the the economic crisis that forced President Tayyip Erdogan to make peace with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whom he had declared the murderer of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was killed in Istanbul?
Wasn’t it the economic crisis that forced President Erdogan to make peace with the President of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Mohammed bin Zayed, whom he accused of providing financial support to the Fethullahists for the 15 July 2016 coup attempt?
Without those reunions, who would the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) members trust for the 55 billion US Dollars foreign funding they aspire to get to win the 2023 elections? They expect 20 billion of that 55 billion account to come from Saudi Arabia and 10 billion from the UAE.
Now let me ask again: Will the economic crisis force Erdogan to make peace with Syrian President Bashar Assad?
Think twice before saying “No, because Syria has no money”. Erdogan sees from the polls that the biggest complaint of the voters is the cost of living, but the Syrian (and now other) immigrants are in second place. And the shortest route for the solution is through Damascus.
Not only Syrians, but also PKK
When CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu proposed to resolve the problem of Syrian refugees by talking to the Damascus administration instead of trying to overthrow it, he was branded as a traitor. Later, İYİ Party leader Meral Akşener joined those who said “let’s solve it with dialogue”. Ümit Özdağ, who left the İYİ Party and founded the Victory Party, accused the CHP and İYİ of forming “fake opposition” with radical arguments against migrants. Thus, as Erdoğan and Özdağ became the antithesis of each other (not quantitatively but qualitatively), Kılıçdaroğlu and Akşener became the central point of view demanding a reasonable solution for this issue.
But the last straw that forced Erdogan to maneuver in Syrian politics was his move to bring up the issue of fighting the PKK in Syria with Russian President Vladimir Putin on August 5. In fact, Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, with whom he had met in Tehran on July 19, had told Erdogan to “talk to Damascus”, in a literal sense. We learned from Erdogan himself that Putin was suggesting the same thing, and then we started to see the signs in the pro-government press.
Ankara’s steps to reconcile with Damascus may mean killing two birds with one stone before the election.
Could the FSA prevent the reconciliation?
Talking about his meeting with Putin, Erdoğan said “our intelligence officers are in contact”. Ömer Önhon, the last ambassador of Turkey to Damascus before the relations were cut, assessed Erdoğan’s words stating that “political relations follow the intelligence relation”. As a matter of fact, after Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said that he met with his Syrian counterpart Faisal Mikdad during the Non-Aligned Movement meeting in October 2021 in Belgrade, the Syrian opposition burned Turkish flags in Jarablus.
Turkey’s support to the Free Syrian Army (FSA), later known as the Syrian National Army (SMO) to overthrow the Assad regime, could be a serious problem before Erdogan’s reconciliation maneuver. Among the elements of this movement, which was once likened to the War of Independence by Erdogan, are jihadist groups that are seen as terrorists by Russia and Iran as well as Syria.
However, if Ankara has given its strategic priority to rebuilding relations with Damascus – let’s not say reconciliation – and Erdogan has seen an electoral advantage for the AKP here, the FSA issue can be resolved with some secondary damage.
As a matter of fact, the statements from the government’s side for the last two days indicate that the preparations for the maneuver are being completed.
Ruling officials statements in line
In a written statement on 15 August, President Erdoğan’s ally MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli supported “raising the level of relations with Syria to the level of political dialogue” and attributed this to a more effective fight against terrorist organizations. Between the lines, it is possible to read the argument that the fight against the PKK in Syria – maybe including the cross-border operation – will be done better by talking to Damascus.
AKP Deputy Chairman Hayati Yazıcı said on the same day on NTV broadcast upon a question of Bahçeli’s words that making indirect talks direct and “increasing the level with God’s will” with costs will bring the solution.
Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu, also reiterated the position of this new process after the journalists question: “We have to somehow make the opposition come to terms with the regime in Syria. Otherwise, there will be no lasting peace”.
“The regime does not believe in a political solution, it believes in a military solution; The permanent solution is the political solution,” Çavuşoğlu said formulating a quite broad condition, after thanking the MHP leader for his support.
All for election: 55 billion, PKK, immigrants
“Is Assad overthrown?” Journalist Fikret Bila asked in his op-ed on the Halk TV website on August 15.
“No” he answered, adding “Did you (AKP) pray in the Umayyad mosque? No. Has the USA been prevented from establishing a PKK state? No. Was the account of the 33 soldiers martyred by Russia asked? No. As a result, the FSA members, whom he (Erdoğan) paid salaries, burned the Turkish flag.”
Finally let me also point out a noteworthy angle that BirGün writer Melih Pekdemir indicated.
“They included (Alevi) ‘peace operation’ to their move for a Syrian military operation, which they intended to be useful in the election” he wrote, making a connection between Erdogan’s recent visits to Alevi and Bektashi houses, which started 8-10 months before the election, with the steps taken towards forced reconciliation with Damascus.
An angle worth considering: the civil war in Syria also has a sectarian dimension. Against the Sunnis, who make up the majority of the population in Syria, in the Baath regime led by Assad, the weight of the Nusayris, are dominant.
Now let’s ask again: will the economic crisis force Erdogan to make peace with Assad?