For sev­er­al weeks now, the Bachar regime in Syr­ia, with help from Rus­sia, has attempt­ed to destroy the last remain­ing “pock­et” of resis­tance in Idlib.

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This mil­i­tary offen­sive was expect­ed and con­sti­tutes the final and para­dox­i­cal act of the so-called Sotchi Accords, that were held on the back­ground of the changes brought on since the mil­i­tary defeat of ISIS and the Amer­i­can troop withdrawal.

Among oth­er things, these agree­ments, con­clud­ed between Iran, Rus­sia and Turkey with­out an explic­it endorse­ment by the Bachar regime, pro­vid­ed for zones of “de-esca­la­tion” and cease-fire zones. These zones, tak­en back one after the oth­er by the regime – the best known of which are those of Alep and of the Ghou­ta — were in the hands of groups and mili­tias who, while claim­ing to be from the ini­tial upris­ing against Bachar, are made up since 2012 of sliv­er groups of Jihadists and fight­ers with their own dynam­ics and interests.

These com­bat­ants and their fam­i­lies have been pushed back from one evac­u­at­ed zone to anoth­er, or led straight toward the Idlib geo­graph­i­cal area, already under the man­age­ment of allied Syr­i­an oppo­si­tion groups or of a like mind­ed Jihadist fac­tions since the regime recon­quered Alep in 2016. This zone, run­ning some 50 km along the Turk­ish bor­der (the region of Anti­och and the close-by province of Hatay) has always been an area of bor­der poros­i­ty and has played an impor­tant role in the Turk­ish regime’s inter­ven­tions in the Syr­i­an war. ISIS nev­er man­aged to estab­lish itself there.

In 2017, Jab­hat al Nos­ra allied itself to oth­er fac­tions to cre­ate Hay­at Tahrir al Sham (HTS) which already con­trolled this region of Idlib with oth­ers. In prin­ci­ple, Turkey was to dis­arm these groups as stat­ed in the Sotchi agree­ments. This was for­get­ting the Turk­ish regime’s strat­e­gy which has now recy­cled and heav­i­ly armed a num­ber of fac­tions. Some were even sent to Libya as mer­ce­nar­ies recently.

The situation around Idlib in February 2020 vs 2017

Poros­i­ty at the bor­der, move­ments of logis­ti­cal and com­mer­cial mate­ri­als as well as weapons. On the bor­ders of this geo­graph­i­cal loca­tion there also runs a major high­way, the M5, link­ing Dam­as­cus to Alep via Homs, which was also a bone of con­tention for the Syr­i­an regime. The mil­i­tary pres­ence of Turk­ish forces or of its “mer­ce­nary prox­ies” around the nevral­gic spot of Idlib was rein­forced these past few months and mas­sive­ly re-armed in total con­tra­dic­tion with the agree­ments aimed at the exact oppo­site and in which Turkey was respon­si­ble for the de-esca­la­tion of vio­lence. On the Syr­i­an regime’s side, the vio­lent mil­i­tary recon­quest has always been on the agen­da, as long as the Russ­ian pres­ence and sup­port allow for it.

One can­not detach the Turk­ish regime’s strat­e­gy in the zone from what were also the cease-fire agree­ments fur­ther North, cre­at­ing a “buffer zone” mil­i­tar­i­ly imposed against Roja­va, and the de fac­to pres­ence of the Turk­ish army, along with a pol­i­cy of eth­nic cleans­ing against the Kurds, dur­ing the exten­sion of the occu­pa­tion of Afrin in the pre­vi­ous year.
For its share, the Syr­i­an regime pur­sues the mil­i­tary recon­quest of its ter­ri­to­ry, out­side the for­mer “use­ful zone”, helped in this by Russ­ian logis­tics and mil­i­tary pow­er. This recon­quest involves a tac­it­ly imposed truce with the Kur­dish move­ment. As we know, the with­draw­al of the Amer­i­cans and the free rein allowed to the Turk­ish regime for its occu­pa­tions, along with the pres­sure from Rus­sia, forced Roja­va to pull back in order to pro­tect its peo­ple, while demand­ing its par­tic­i­pa­tion in all future peace process­es in Syr­ia – a dis­tant perspective.
The Euro­pean states are total­ly absent from the process and the EU, hav­ing no diplo­mat­ic role to play, does not inter­fere in the affairs of the NATO mem­ber that is Turkey.

This para­dox­i­cal sit­u­a­tion in which Rus­sia is the dom­i­nant mil­i­tary force and Syr­i­an ally, but also a “part­ner” of the bel­liger­ent Turks could not lead to any­thing oth­er than a re-ener­giz­ing of the war, a mil­i­tary esca­la­tion caus­ing grave and effec­tive threats against the civil­ians caught in a vise.

These pop­u­la­tions, con­sist­ing large­ly of peo­ple who were already uproot­ed have been flee­ing by the hun­dreds of thou­sands by what­ev­er means they can find from the zones of direct assaults and bomb­ings. Many of them turn toward the Turk­ish bor­der, oth­er were tak­en in, where pos­si­ble, fur­ther North in areas already over­loaded with refugees. Hence­forth, these civil­ians are pawns for manip­u­la­tions and blackmail.

And, of course, in this sit­u­a­tion where Turkey now expects its Euro­pean allies to sup­port it against Rus­sia, we see Erdo­gan re-intro­duc­ing the black­mail using Syr­i­an refugees as a threat against Europe.

Indeed, for sev­er­al weeks now, the Turk­ish mil­i­tary sit­u­a­tion which only yes­ter­day threat­ened to recon­quer Alep has con­sid­er­ably changed because Rus­sia has con­tributed to mas­sive bomb­ings of Turk­ish troops and their allies in its sup­port of a war of recon­quest by the Syr­i­an regime. Stale­mate threat­ens the Turk­ish forces and the Erdo­gan regime is thus pulling out the “refugee” argu­ment again in order to find a way out thanks to a Euro­pean diplo­mat­ic invest­ment. Meet­ings will be held to this end. The Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil has been approached once again.

In the last few days, the Turk­ish regime has thus let some refugees slip through and has shown itself more open to those who wish to con­tin­ue flee­ing to Europe. Recent images tes­ti­fy to this, along with more numer­ous arrivals towards Greece.

réfugiées syrie

This igno­ble use made of the lives of entire fam­i­lies, caused by the war being con­duct­ed over their heads and lead­ing to the instru­men­tal­iza­tion of exo­dus, also serves through the flux of refugees in trans­form­ing the eth­nic com­po­si­tion of geo­graph­i­cal zones, a diplo­mat­ic instru­ment for Turk­ish nation­al­ist big­ots and Recep Tayip Erdo­gan. It is fur­ther com­fort­ed by the Euro­pean pol­i­cy of secur­ing its bor­ders, turn­ing the Mediter­ranean into a marine grave­yard, along with cesspools where migrants hud­dle on the periph­ery. The theme of “closed bor­ders” is pop­u­lar in the Euro­pean far right, includ­ing with the health cri­sis caused by the coro­n­avirus. We can be sure that Erdo­gan will exploit it to the hilt, over and over again.

He thus hopes to gain a frame­work for nego­ci­a­tions in which he would claim pre­rog­a­tives in North­ern Syr­ia, con­cern­ing his pres­ence there, direct­ly or by proxy. The ali­bi of a buffer zone in which to set­tle mil­lions of yes­ter­day’s and today’s Syr­i­an refugees, with the finan­cial help of Euro­pean states, requires a frame­work to which Rus­sia has yet to pro­vide its agree­ment, and even less so Bachar’s regime.

No source of peace can arise from this oth­er war in Syr­ia. Roja­va fight­ing for demo­c­ra­t­ic cohab­i­ta­tion and recog­ni­tion for the peo­ples of Syr­ia, is caught between a rock and a hard place, ordered to dis­ap­pear polit­i­cal­ly or to choose its side, with no escape routes open­ing before it.

We can also be sure that the repeat­ed threat of “inva­sions” will undoubt­ed­ly rein­force xeno­pho­bic and iden­ti­tar­i­an ide­olo­gies in Europe. And we may even expect an anti-Erdo­gan cru­sade on their part.

Translation by Renée Lucie Bourges
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Let­tres mod­ernes à l’Université de Tours. Gros mots poli­tiques… Coups d’oeil politiques…