Turkey joins Russia and Iran in supporting Syria

Members of the delegations take part in the peace talks on Syria in Astana, Kazakhstan, in this December 22, 2017 photo. (REUTERS)
Updated 25 December 2017
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Turkey joins Russia and Iran in supporting Syria

ISTANBUL: Russia, Turkey and Iran have reaffirmed their “strong and continued commitment to the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of the Syrian Arab Republic”.

The three nations issued the statement giving their support after the Astana summit on Dec. 21-23.

As the Russian Foreign Ministry is currently preparing a list of participants to attend a peace congress in Sochi on Jan. 29-30, it also stated that the congress would not be a platform for those wanting the removal of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

The list is reportedly being prepared by taking into account the positions of the guarantor countries of the Astana peace process, i.e. Russia, Turkey and Iran.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s special envoy to Syria, Aleksandr Lavrentiev, said that if the opposition intends to attend the Sochi Congress to prioritise its insistence on Assad leaving power, then there is no place for it there.

For experts, the removal of the Assad regime is no longer a priority for Turkey considering the latest developments on the ground, but Ankara is trying to handle this delicate process through the transition process.

Serhat Erkmen, a Middle East expert at the Ankara-based 21st Century Turkey Institute, said that for a while now Turkey has not been insistent on Assad removal's from power.

“At the rhetorical level, Ankara didn’t give up from its objective of leadership change. But, considering the actions in Syria, Assad might act as a counterweight to the People’s Protection Units (YPG) considered by Turkey as a terrorist group,” Erkmen told Arab News.

Assad recently showed a harsh reaction against the YPG and considered them “traitors”.

“But currently Ankara negotiates indirectly with the representatives of the Assad regime during Astana meetings,” Erkmen said.

Mete Sohtaoglu, an Istanbul-based researcher on Middle East politics, thinks that Turkey is no longer insisting on the Assad’s removal from power.

“Ankara is planning to remove Assad in an official manner through ballot boxes in and out of Syria, which will be monitored by the United Nations,” he told Arab News.

However, Bora Bayraktar, a Middle East expert from Istanbul Kultur University, said: “Turkey actually did not soften its stance or step back in its rhetoric regarding Assad regime.

“Ankara understood the reality in Syria and changed its priorities,” Bayraktar told Arab News.

“Turkey is trying to solve the regime problem in Syria through the transition process. It doesn’t have a policy of actively pursuing Assad’s removal from power. It supports the opposition and the drafting of the new constitution,” he added.

For Ankara, Bayraktar said, the priority now is its border security and resolving the issue of YPG and its political wing PYD which is seen as a direct threat to territorial integrity due to their links with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

As a concession to Ankara, the PYD will reportedly not be invited to the Sochi Congress, but to ensure a broader representation ahead of the political settlement in Syria, other Kurdish representatives will be present.


German Daesh ‘shoemaker’ pleads to come home from Syria

Updated 12 min 15 sec ago
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German Daesh ‘shoemaker’ pleads to come home from Syria

  • Speaking in near-fluent English peppered with Arabic words, Sufyan recounts his winding journey to what he thought would be a pious life under Islamic rule
  • Sufyan was hired at a hospital in Daesh’s de facto Syrian capital Raqqa, using his 12 years’ experience as an orthopaedic shoemaker

RMELAN, Syria: From northern Syria, Muslim convert Sufyan is imploring his native Germany to take him back, having been captured years after joining the Daesh group’s so-called “caliphate.”
His beard neatly buzzed, Sufyan is one of hundreds of foreigners held by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in war-torn Syria, accused of fighting for Daesh.
The 36-year-old insists he was not a fighter, but a misguided civilian making orthopaedic shoes and prosthetics in Daesh territory.
“I am not Jihadi John, I am not Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, I am not Adnani,” said Sufyan, listing Daesh’s infamous British executioner, its elusive chief, and its now-dead spokesman.
“I just made limbs,” added the pale-skinned Sufyan, who refused to give his real name and said he was from Stuttgart in southwest Germany.
He was selected to speak to AFP by the YPG, who detained him around a year ago and were present during the interview.
They have refused to try accused foreign fighters in their custody, urging Western countries to take them back.
Some foreign governments have agreed to do so, but most are reluctant.
The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces are holding several alleged German Daesh members, including Mohammad Haydar Zammar, a Syrian-born German national accused of helping plan the September 11 attacks.
Berlin is not known to have repatriated anyone, but Sufyan hopes he, his Syrian wife and their son can start afresh in Germany.
“People make mistakes and I was naive,” he said, dressed in a yellow hoody with a side zip, cargo pants, and black beanie.
“I just want to go back to my old life.”
Speaking in near-fluent English peppered with Arabic words, Sufyan recounts his winding journey to what he thought would be a pious life under Islamic rule.
In 2014, Daesh declared a “caliphate” across large parts of Syria and neighboring Iraq.
The following year, Sufyan traveled across Europe and Turkey, finally crossing into Syria in March 2015, four years into the Syrian war.
Once inside, he says, Daesh shuffled him among safe houses for weeks alongside Australians, Central Asians, and Russians.
He was given one month of military training and assigned to a battalion, but claims he never fought.
“I didn’t fight and I didn’t kill anyone,” he said.
“I never killed any person in my life.”
Instead, Sufyan was hired at a hospital in Daesh’s de facto Syrian capital Raqqa, using his 12 years’ experience as an orthopaedic shoemaker.
“They teach me over there prosthetics. Until I came to YPG, I was doing this job... making prosthetic and orthopaedic shoes,” he said.
In 2016, he married a Syrian woman from northwest Idlib, and they had a son.
They stayed in Raqqa until YPG-led forces surrounded the northern city in 2017, forcing them to flee to the Daesh-held eastern town of Mayadeen.
Sufyan took up the same work there until Mayadeen came under attack, this time by the Russia-backed Syrian regime.
He said he had grown embittered toward Daesh by then and decided to pay a smuggler to bring him and his family to a YPG checkpoint.
“I was not ready to kill someone or to die, so I decided to go out,” said Sufyan. “Everyone was running away.”
A year later, Sufyan lives separated from his wife and son, who are detained in a Kurdish-run camp. He desperately wants to be reunited with his family.
Kurdish authorities say they have in their custody around 520 male foreign Daesh members, 550 women and around 1,200 children from 44 countries.
According to a European Parliament report in May, Germany estimates there are 290 children with claims to German citizenship in Iraq and Syria.
“If I can come back to Germany and if Germany want to punish me, I will accept this, to stay in prison,” Sufyan told AFP.
“I hope it will not be a long sentence, because I miss already my wife and my son,” he said.
He hopes to study or open his own business in his homeland, for which he has renewed appreciation since meeting Syrians who “see Germany as something like a paradise on earth.”
“I know Germany is a country with a lot of ‘rahma’ with a lot of people. I expect that Germany will have also ‘rahma’ with me,” he said, using the Arabic word for “mercy.”
Sufyan has written to his parents in Germany, who replied and also sent a letter and money to his wife.
Included in his parents’ reply was a picture of a bicycle, which has kept Sufyan’s hopes of returning home alive.
“My brain says, why will my mother and my father buy a bicycle for my son if he is in Syria? I hope I can go back to my country and make a new start.”