Turkey's premier looks at realigning relations with Syria's regime

Turkey's premier looks at realigning relations with Syria's regime
3 min read
20 Aug, 2016
After five years of tensions between Syria's regime and Turkey which almost bubbled over into out-and-out war, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim appears to be offering Damascus an olive branch.
Yilidrim's appointment as PM has seen Turkey make some major foreign policy shifts [Getty]
Turkey's prime minister believes that the Syrian regime might be reconsidering its relationship with Kurdish militias after days of fighting between separatists and government loyalists in north-east Syria.

Over the past five years of war, the Syrian regime and Kurdish People's Protection Units [YPG] have enjoyed tense but sometimes cordial relations.

Cities such as Hassakeh and Qamishli have been jointly controlled by the two sides, while the bigger threat of the Islamic State group hung a shadow over these eastern regions.

Shadow retreats

The groups have also led joint attacks on Syrian rebels in Aleppo and both sides took part in the stranglehold of the opposition-held east of the city.

Now that the threat of IS has retreated after successful Kurdish-Arab offensives in Raqqa, tensions between the regime loyalists and Kurdish separatists have resumed.

Fighting broke out between regime militias and Kurdish fighters earlier this week in Hassakeh city.

It led Damascus to use its war planes to bomb YPG positions for the first time in the war.

This in turn forced the US-led coalition to scramble jets to protect US advisers working with Kurdish fighters around Hassakeh. 

The tacit 'no-fly-zone' was ignored by the regime jets much to the annoyance of US officials. 

Washington already has seen relations with its NATO ally Turkey fray after the US partnership with the Kurds in Syria against IS.

Ankara also insists that a failed coup against the Turkish government was planned on US soil.

Amid this, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said on Saturday that tensions between the YPG and regime militias show that Damascus now views Kurdish forces as a threat to Syria's stability.
This is a new situation... It is clear that the regime has understood the structure Kurds are trying to form in the north [of Syria] has started to become a threat for Syria too.

With this, he linked the fight in Hassakeh to Ankara's owned war against Kurdish insurgency just over the border saying the two countries had a common cause - and a common foe.

"This is a new situation... It is clear that the regime has understood the structure Kurds are trying to form in the north [of Syria] has started to become a threat for Syria too," Yildirim told reporters in Istanbul.

De-facto peace

Kurdish forces now have full control over much of northern Syria and northern Iraq, and they have discussed a federation in Rojava [Syrian territories].

Once the war against IS - and possibly the regime - is over, then Ankara fears their next target would be Kurdish areas in Turkey.

During the speech, Yilidrim appeared to reach out to the Syrian regime, following years of tensions over Ankara's support for rebels in the war.

Echoing a similar comment a couple of months ago, Yildirim said that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad could remain temporarily in power during a transition period. 

"He is one of the actors today no matter whether we like it or not," he commented.

Instead, he appeared to imply Syrians should consider war with Kurdish forces as well as the Islamic State group

"We believe that the PKK [Turkish-Kurdish rebel group, linked to YPG], [IS] and Assad should not be in the future of Syria," he added.

It is probably Turkey's most explicit offer of an olive branch to the Syrian regime since war broke out in 2011. It comes as Ankara recently patched up broken relations with Israel and Russia.

Yildirim said Turkey will take a more active role in solving the crisis in Syria.

This is significant as days earlier Turkish officials has met counterparts from Assad's chief military backer - Russia - and spoke about forming a possible alliance.

If Moscow was given a promise that it could retain its influence in Russia, it might just be willing to drop Assad and allow less tainted regime officials to lead negotiations with opposition forces.