Türkiye pursues diplomacy, relief as Syrian civil war drags on 

It has been 12 years since unprecedented demonstrations against the Assad regime began in Syria, on March 15, 2011. Initially viewed as a continuation of then ubiquitous “Arab Spring,” the unrest soon escalated into an all-out conflict between the opposition and the regime.

For Türkiye, it was a turning point in the relatively warm ties with Syria. Siding with those who suffered at the hands of the regime, Türkiye today remains the main hub of refugees from its southern neighbor.

Its humanitarian policy is unchanged as home to more than 3 million refugees, but Türkiye’s diplomatic efforts, which brought its victories elsewhere, have now turned to the normalization of ties with Syria. On Thursday, a Turkish delegation will be in Moscow for two-day talks with the representatives of the Assad regime, in quadrilateral talks between two countries, Russia and Iran.

In the lengthy conflict, the Assad regime lost much but drew a weak response from the international community for the killing of civilians and other human rights violations. It conveniently ignored a U.N. Security Council resolution calling for a political solution while the opposition complains of a lack of deterrence from the international community in the face of the regime’s actions. Türkiye is among the main backers of the political solution which now lies within the meetings between the regime and the opposition that failed to gain momentum despite successive talks. The Astana Format meeting of guarantor countries remains the only path to a political solution for now.

Türkiye also secured a truce in Idlib with a deal with Russia in March 2020 and since then, both sides of the conflict did lose little territory. Ankara’s other concern lies in a certain region in Syria’s north controlled by the terrorist group YPG/PKK. Under the pretext of a semi-autonomous entity, the terrorist group poses a threat to Türkiye but enjoys support from Ankara’s ally the United States. Türkiye has also signed a deal with the U.S. for the withdrawal of YPG/PKK from an area near the border but the commitment was not fulfilled yet. A similar commitment was provided by Russia but the terrorist group still remains an occupying force on the immediate border with Türkiye.

This week’s talks in Moscow will likely be dominated by Türkiye’s demands from the Assad regime to ensure Syria’s territorial integrity and joint cooperation against the terrorist groups, an intertwined issue for Ankara. Türkiye also hopes to secure a concrete solution from the talks which will be held on a higher level in the near future if they succeed, on the issue of a political process that will be inclusive of the Syrian opposition. In the end, Türkiye may secure what Ankara calls a “dignified” return of the Syrian refugees to their homeland.

Humanitarian aid

Türkiye has drawn praise from the international community for its assistance to Syrian refugees, from temporary accommodation at modern camps in the first years of the civil war to basic relief work for families who took shelter in 81 provinces of the country. Türkiye also strives to increase the schooling rate of young Syrians who face the risk of being a “lost generation” without proper education and job prospects.

More than half a million refugee children were enrolled at schools with aid schemes for refugee families. Along with addressing to the needs of the refugees it hosts, Türkiye is active in Syria’s north its army helped liberate from terrorist groups. In areas where the internally displaced took shelter, Turkish nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and government-sponsored projects to build basic houses for Syrians. In towns liberated from Daesh and YPG/PKK, Turkish aid contributes to rebuilding infrastructure and improving the lives of those who returned to their hometowns they fled years ago.

The Feb. 6 earthquakes, which have been devastating both for Türkiye and Syria, added to the woes of Syrians suffering from the fallout of the lengthy conflict. A border crossing between Türkiye and Syria that was used for the delivery of U.N. aid to Syria was open while Ankara called for the opening of two more border crossings for faster delivery of post-earthquake aid to thousands.

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