January 7, 2023
In 2009, the communique issued at the end of the Damascus meeting of the “Turkish-Syrian High-Level Strategic Cooperation Council” referred to a “strategic partnership”, at the time a fashionable label for Türkiye’s external relationships. It mentioned common threats and challenges confronting the two countries. A year later, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, in remarks to the press with his Syrian counterpart in Latakia, underlined that the exemplary relationship between Syria and Türkiye was serving as a model for regional partnerships and that the two countries were aiming at total economic integration with neighbors.
Two years later, Türkiye’s “democratic” AKP government decided that President Assad was a dictator and Ankara joined hands with the US, other Western countries, and the Gulf states to oust him from power. But they were not united on who should succeed him. Aspiring to bring the Muslim Brotherhood to power in Damascus, Ankara took a leading role in the regime change project.
The so-called “Friends of Syria Group” held its first meeting in Tunis on February 24, 2012. On April 1, 2012, it met for the second time in Istanbul. In a few years, it was history. Today, Türkiye is still struggling to put behind this self-inflicted foreign and security policy disaster that has also turned into a major problem with Washington. Monday’s earthquakes have shown unmistakably that cooperation is the dictate of wisdom for countries sharing borders.
Like Türkiye, Syria was also struck by two major earthquakes. Moreover, the war in Syria has already devastated the country. It has led to enormous suffering and loss of life.
The West is supporting Ukraine against the Russian onslaught. It is providing military assistance worth billions of dollars. Western countries have opened their frontiers and homes to Ukrainian refugees for humanitarian reasons.
What is going on in Syria is a proxy war. The West dreads Syrian refugees heading toward their borders because for Western countries “cultural differences” always prevail over humanitarian considerations. But they can at least take a step to bring peace to Syria. For a change, they can write a “success story” in the Middle East after decades of interventions every one of which violated their much-advocated “rules-based international order”.
President Assad is neither a democrat nor the Taliban. But he is there to stay. Expressions of sympathy by the West for the additional suffering brought by the earthquakes do not rhyme with the continuation of proxy wars.
So, it is time for the West to engage him and Russia to end the more than a decade-long suffering of the Syrian people. The war in Ukraine should not be an obstacle to such engagement. Perhaps engagement in Syria may even crack the door to stopping the bloodshed in Ukraine.