Turkey is actively supporting the normalisation of Bashar Al-Assad

After concluding the last Astana Meeting in Kazakhstan, Russia, Iran, and Turkey, have published a joint statement supporting the unity of Syria and normalisation of ties with the Syrian regime. The separate statements by the individual signatories are also similar and Turkey’s statement is published below.

Russia has also recently escalated air attacks in Idlib while Turkey is demanding the dissolution of Kurdish armed groups who are controlling the North-East of Syria. Turkey, which is a NATO member, is approving of Russia’s military support for the Syrian government in its campaign to unify the country under its control.

In a surprise statement, the Kazakh government has also claimed it will no longer be holding the Astana Meetings.

1 Comment

  1. *Your outrage is entirely understandable, Mark. However, you posts about this subject fail to list the two alternatives to bringing in Bashar al-Assad from the cold, and how unpalatable they both are. Let’s go through them.

    The first option is removing Bashar al-Assad by military action. This ship sailed when America’s then president, Barack Obama, refused to take military action even though Assad’s forces had used a chemical bomb against opponents in 2013, something which Obama had previously said would be a “red line”. Following that, Assad, with the help of Russia, Iran and Hezbollah, was allowed to bomb and butcher his way to victory. Starting a war to remove Assad by military force now would be, everyone would agree (including Syrians themselves, who are exhausted with the fighting), a non-starter. The Arab Spring has failed miserably, with not a single democracy emerging from the chaos. Nobody sees much of a point in artificially prolonging it by outside forces.

    The second option against Assad would be endless economic sanctions to try and isolate him even more. However, history has taught us that economic sanctions are not effective at bringing about regime change. Cuba has endured sanctions for over 60 years but its Communist government remains firmly in charge. Sanctions have also failed to dislodge the Iranian and Venezuelan regimes and, although they may hobble Russia’s war efforts, they are not going to bring Vladimir Putin’s government down.

    The brunt of economic sanctions is felt by ordinary citizens who find it harder to access food, medicine, electronic goods and other necessities, and who find it harder to make a living because no outsiders invest in a country which is under sanctions. Meanwhile, the elites pillage, tax and smuggle luxury goods to keep living their comfortable lifestyles as much as possible.

    So where does that leave Bashar al-Assad? In an ideal world, Assad would be facing trial for war crimes but, in reality, he has won the civil war. If anyone wants to deal with Syria, and there are good reasons to do so, they will have to go through him. Reasons for engaging with Syria are, among others, so that aid can arrive and stop people from starving, so that the ruined country can slowly be rebuilt, so that some of the many refugees spread amongst so many countries (some of whom have caused tensions where they settled) can go back home, and so that the Syrian government has alternative sources of revenue to exporting fenethylline.

    This is all very unsavoury, of course, but, in diplomacy, you engage with the world as it is, not as how you wish it to be; ‘realpolitik’ in the jargon. This is what Turkey is doing. Turkey originally backed the rebels against Assad and welcomed refugees escaping the war in their millions. Now that Assad has won the war and Turkey has tired of hosting so many poor, displaced Syrians, it is looking to engage with the Syrian government in order to start sending refugees back home, and maybe even to fight Kurds in Syria. This is only the latest in Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s many U-turns, having been nice to Kurds in his first term before turning on them, and having fallen out with Vladimir Putin for a while before becoming a good friend. Erdoğan does what is politically convenient for him, so seeing him suddenly warm up to Assad is no surprise.

    Turkey is not alone in ugly U-turns. After years spent trying to install Juan Guaidó as the rightful president of Venezuela, the United States has given up and is now quietly rehabilitating the dictator Nicolás Maduro because he is the actual man in charge, and he has oil which can be used as an alternative to Russia’s. And although two consecutive American administrations have now accused the Chinese government of carrying out a “genocide” in Xinjiang, nobody is trying to bring about the Chinese government’s downfall, which would simply be an unrealistic goal.

    Of course, the Arab League is in fact the circus you accuse it to be, packed as it is with military men, dictators and absolute monarchs who never cared much for democracy or human rights in the first place, but my theory is that, despite the protestations, the United States is tacitly accepting the partial redeeming of Bashar al-Assad simply because the alternatives would not result in real progress for Syria, the region it is in, or for the world. That is not to say that Wafa Mustafa (the lady in the video whose father was disappeared), and those like her, is not justified in her disgust at seeing Assad fêted by other leaders. She entirely is. Solutions are unfortunately lacking, though.

    Here is something which is not appreciated enough: if people of a country want change, it has to come from within. When citizens of a country are being butchered or looted by their own government, they often expect bigger powers or the outside world to intervene, but, for better or for worse, outside forces only intervene if it is in interest to do so, or if they feel threatened. Outside forces may even prop up a dictator if that is deemed the safest way to achieve certain political goals or prevent chaos. This point is something which the Maltese who keep expecting the EU “to do something” against its corrupt government must also understand.

    And if you think rehabilitating Bashar al-Assad is bad, wait until you see the Taliban in Afghanistan being normalised. But how else are you going to alleviate the misery of a starving, poor and wretched people if you do not engage at all with the government of that country? The United States had the chance of propping up an Afghan government it liked by expending relatively little money and blood, but it chose to forfeit this. The Taliban then won the war and, now, the world and the Afghan people have to live with the consequences. Pretending governments in charge are not governments in charge helps no one, although anyone with principles would admittedly need a very strong stomach to negotiate with disgusting regimes.

    One last point. In your previous post about this subject, you criticised Qatar’s rejection of Assad as “coming from an Islamic standpoint rather than a humanitarian and democratic one”. That comment implies that ‘Islamic’ is an antonym to the other two virtues, but there is nothing stopping political Islam from co-existing with humanitarianism and democracy. Any political ideology is what you make of it, and Qatar makes a semi-decent fist of this. It has been consistent from the start in supporting the rebels of the Arab Spring rising up against dictators, it supports the Muslim Brotherhood, which is the only organisation in Egypt to win a free and legitimate election in many decades (during a brief but ill-fated flirt with democracy in 2012), it hosts a television station (Al Jazeera) which does decent journalism about the Arab world, and it has elections of sorts. It is also a stable and peaceful country to live in. Sure, it is no Spain, but, by Arab League standards, it has worthy principles.

    My point is that, if you are so against Bashar al-Assad’s rule being legitimised in any way, you should be applauding Qatar for walking out on Assad, not making snide comments about how Qatar’s spurning of Syria is not pure enough for your standards.

    *This comment discusses this post as well as your previous one about the subject: https://markcamilleri.org/2023/05/20/qatars-emir-amin-al-tani-leaves-the-room-as-butcher-assad-speaks/

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