Turkey-Syria is at an impasse
The meetings that have taken place up to date were never really anything beyond exploratory talks. Despite this, an air of having reached agreements on certain issues and of a readiness to sign agreements on these matters to make them a reality was given.
These days, it seems as if the enthusiasm of the recent past is nowhere to be seen. Both sides attempted to gauge the intentions of the other; or rather, Syria tried to gauge Turkey’s intentions during this process, and evidently, neither side is happy with where things currently stand.
DAMASCUS DID NOT END TALKS WITH THE SYRIAN DEMOCRATIC FORCES
Let us start with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Turkey wants Syria to have a clear stance towards the SDF. Syria, on the other hand, is in no rush to do this due to two other concerns. The first is the im(possibilities) of circumstance the country finds itself in. As long as the U.S. remains in the region, it is not easy for Syria to take any steps that will cause the U.S. to take a tougher stance. The second is that Syria is aware that it is easier to come to an agreement with Syrian Kurds than it is to war with them, in addition to the fact that it does not want to entirely eliminate the Kurdish dynamic in the region, in which case Syria would be left one-on-one with Turkey. As such, Syria wants to choose the diplomatic solution as opposed to the military one. And also for this this reason, a delegation from the Kurdish side recently held talks in Damascus that lasted for three days.
No concrete result came of the talks, but it is stated that both sides showed willingness on issues such as the territorial integrity of Syria and the presence of the Syrian flag in the regions dominated by the SDF.
However, whatever the outcome for now, this meeting points to another very important situation: Although the Kurdish delegation could not meet with high-level interlocutors, Syria also did not give the Kurdish side the response, "We are currently meeting with Turkey, we are busy.” For this reason, these talks show that while the engagement with Turkey continues, Syria is also considering alternatives — even ones that may be against Turkey or may anger Turkey.
If the preliminary talks with Turkey had strengthened the possibilities of positive scenarios for the near future, such a situation would not have happened.
TURKEY’S ARMED TERRORIST ORGANIZATIONS DEAD-END
The other issue is that of armed groups fighting against the administration. Syria, which classifies these groups as terrorist organizations and which is currently at war with them, expects tangible steps from Turkey. The control of these groups is entirely in Turkey’s hands. More precisely, the government has a sentimental bond with these organizations and does not want to let down the organizations it has collaborated with until today. Because the issue is not just a matter of terrorist groups, it is a matter of terrorist groups with whom the government has a closeness.
Really, whatever the religious moves of the government are in Turkey, the exact same is the case for Syria.
But no matter what happens, let us consider for a moment that Turkey turns its back on these groups. In that case, these groups will redirect their anger towards Turkey. In other words, there are factors that are being approached with reservation even though they are in consideration for a long-term, unified cooperation.
Another issue is the matter of refugees. The administration in Turkey wants to get rid of the Syrians as their presence creates a hostile attitude towards them in the public eye. But how will it do this? The administration knows that deporting a couple of people will not solve the problem, and it also knows that attempting to deport people will create significant ramifications. As a result, it cannot take concrete steps in this matter.
THE TEHRAN – DAMASCUS LINE COMES TO LIFE
The Iranian Chief of Staff was recently in Damascus where he met with the Syrian Chief of Staff and suggested "joint military exercises.” Israel was mentioned in the relevant statement. The possibility of Iran being left out in the Turkey-Syria normalization process has evidently prompted Tehran. On the one hand, Syria is talking about normalization steps with Turkey, but it is unwilling to create consequences that will lead Iran to be left out of the equation.
The increasing traffic between Tehran and Damascus these days is another sign that Iran “does not want to leave Syria alone against Turkey.”
Russia supports the Turkey-Syria normalization and is making efforts to this end. But the problems are diverse and layered. Putin is caught in the middle. The priorities of the two sides, and more importantly, the desire of both parties to be given priority, complicates the business.
Of course, the authorities of the two countries may meet in the upcoming days. However, these negotiation(s) will not mean that there has been progress on the bargaining clauses blocking the process. Many problems in the field can cause a return to the past between the two countries.
*Musa Ozugurlu worked as an editor, reporter, and program presenter in the newsrooms of many radio and TV channels. In 2010, he worked as the Syria representative of TRT Turk. He is one of the few foreign journalists who documented the process on the ground that started in Syria in 2011 until 2016. His field of expertise is Syria, first and foremost, but also the Middle East. Currently, he presents the "Day Begins" program on ARTI TV every weekday between 08:00 - 11:00 AM.