Erdogan says 3 million refugees could be returned to Syria safe zone

On Wednesday, Erdogan repeated his threat to launch military attacks against the Kurds if they are not pushed back from the Turkish border by the end of the month. (File/AFP)
Updated 18 September 2019

Erdogan says 3 million refugees could be returned to Syria safe zone

  • Turkey is home to more than 3.6 million Syrian refugees, the highest number in the world
  • Working with the US, Turkish forces are seeking to clear a swathe of northern Syria

ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip said Wednesday that up to three million Syrian refugees could be returned to a “safe zone” it is seeking to establish in northern Syria.
Turkey is home to more than 3.6 million Syrian refugees — the highest number in the world — and there have been signs of a public backlash over their presence after eight long years of war in its neighbor to the south.
Working with the United States, Turkish forces are seeking to clear a swathe of northern Syria, in part to push Kurdish rebels away from its border but also to facilitate the return of refugees.
If successful, “we will be able to house, depending on the depth of the safe zone, between two and three million Syrian refugees that are currently in Turkey and Europe,” Erdogan said in a televised speech.
Erdogan said earlier this week that he envisions the “peace corridor” as stretching right across northern Syria all the way to Deir ez-Zor and Raqqa — which he said would allow even more than three million to return.
He called for “much greater support” from Europe in realizing the plan.
For Turkey, a key priority is curbing the influence of Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which it sees as an off-shoot of the Kurdish separatists in its own territory.
On Wednesday, Erdogan repeated his threat to launch military attacks against the Kurds if they are not pushed back from the Turkish border by the end of the month.
“As we’ve said, if we don’t see results in the next two weeks, we will activate our plan,” he said.
But the YPG is firmly established in northern Syria and has been a crucial ally of the United States in fighting the Daesh group, creating a tricky balancing act for Washington.
Ankara says US promises to push the YPG back from the Turkish border have so far been “cosmetic.”
Turkey has twice launched unilateral operations into Syria against the YPG and Daesh group, in 2016 and 2018.


Ankara accuses Tehran of betrayal: Is the alliance of convenience collapsing? 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin hold talks on Syrian crisis at the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Russia, on Tuesday. (AFP)
Updated 10 min 29 sec ago

Ankara accuses Tehran of betrayal: Is the alliance of convenience collapsing? 

  • Erdogan says Iran betraying the consensus between the two countries

ANKARA: Recent developments on the ground in Syria may be proof of the demise of the already fragile partnership between Turkey and Iran, the two guarantor states of the Astana process alongside with Russia. On Monday, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi announced that Iran rejected any move from Turkey to establish military posts inside Syria, and emphasized that the integrity of Tehran’s key regional ally should be respected.
Prior to departing for Sochi, to meet with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said: “I condemn Iran’s stance on Operation Peace Spring. Unfortunately, there are splintering voices rising from Iran. This situation disturbs my colleagues and myself.”
Erdogan also accused Iran of betraying the consensus between the two countries, after Tehran condemned Turkey’s ongoing operation in northern Syria against Syrian Kurdish forces and demanded “an immediate stop to the attacks and the exit of the Turkish military from Syrian territory.”
The statements are considered by experts another sign that the alliance of convenience between the two regional competitors is ending, with their regional interests beginning to conflict.
Iran has always been a close ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad, and has been keen to engage Syrian Kurds, Assad’s government and Turkey in dialogue following Ankara’s offensive into northern Syria, within the framework of the Adana Agreement as a legal framework to establish security along the border.
Tehran also held surprise military drills near the Turkish border on the same day Turkey launched its operation into northern Syria.
Dr. Michael Tanchum, senior fellow at the Austrian Institute for European and Security Studies, said: “With the removal of US troops in northern Syria, which both Ankara and Tehran opposed for different reasons, Turkey and Iran’s conflicting strategic interests are now naturally coming to the forefront.”
Moreover, according to Tanchum, Iran has already fought elements of the paramilitary forces now that are now partnering with Turkey.
“Tehran is distressed that such elements are being empowered. While Iran needs Turkish cooperation in the face crippling US sanctions, Iran needs Russia’s cooperation much more,” he told Arab News.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi says Iran rejected any move from Turkey to establish military posts inside Syria, and emphasized that the integrity of Tehran’s key regional ally should be respected.

• Iran has already fought the elements of the paramilitary forces that are now partnering with Turkey.

However, Tanchum thinks that the idea Tehran would triangulate between Ankara and Moscow as a way of preserving its own position in Syria seems quite unlikely.
“If Iran has to choose between Turkey and Russia in Syria, it will choose Russia. In this sense, the previous dynamics of the Astana process are no longer in place,” he said.
However, Dr. Bilgehan Alagoz, lecturer at Istanbul Marmara University’s Institute for Middle East Studies, said that rumors about the death of the Iranian-Turkish alliance in Syria may be a bit exaggerated, at least for now.
For Alagoz, Iran is hesitant about cooperation between Turkey and the US, which has the possibility of creating a confrontation against Iran’s interests in Syria.
“On the other hand, Iran is uncomfortable with the US military presence in Syria. Therefore, Iran is facing a dilemma,” she told Arab News.
According to Alagoz, at this point Iran needs to pursue diplomacy with both Turkey and Russia.
“Thus, I do not think that the Iranian statements against Turkey will continue for a long time,” she added.
With the civil war now in its eighth year in Syria, Assad’s forces have gradually gained control of strategic cities in northwestern Idlib province, like Khan Sheikhoun, with Russian and Iranian support. The Syrian regime also attacked Turkish military observation posts in the region over the summer.
In the meantime, in a surprise decision on Monday evening, Turkey appointed former Halkbank executive Hakan Atilla, who was sentenced to prison in the US over Iranian sanctions breaches, as the new CEO of the Istanbul Stock Exchange.