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The assassination of Ambassador Karlov, and victory at Aleppo: Changes in alignments over Syria

By Ekim Kilic |
January 2, 2017
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Editor’s note: Fight Back! Is publishing the following commentary by Ekim Kilic that includes a wealth of information on the role of Turkey in Syria, which will be of interest to many readers. Given the rapid developments in Syria after the liberation of Alleppo from Western-backed sectarian forces, Fight Back! will have more coverage and commentary on the situation in upcoming weeks.

For a long time, the people of Turkey have paid for the inestimable consequences of foreign policies of the Turkish government. On Dec. 19, it cost another life.

The Russian ambassador Andrey Karlov was assassinated by a Turkish police officer, who was also assigned as a bodyguard for Karlov by Turkish governmental officials.

After police officer Mevlut Mert Altintas killed Ambassador Karlov, he shouted, “Don’t forget Aleppo. Don’t forget Syria.”

From expressions of the killer and the return of Aleppo from sectarian groups in Syria, it is almost certain what kind of group committed this attack. However, there still remains a lack of clarity. The news agency Sputnik says that the Front for the Conquest of the Levant claimed responsibility, in a letter that was published online, and again in the Sputnik, on the same day, this letter was called fake.

Whether it was done by this sectarian group, or another one, the consequences of this murder will remain same. The assassination of the ambassador will be to the detriment of Turkish foreign policy in Syria. Given that Turkey was saying “Assad should resign,” and was pushing for a new government in Syria, things didn’t’t go quite as planned.

Reminder: What happened after Russian plane was shot down

Russia became militarily involved in the Syrian conflict, launching airstrikes on Sept. 30, 2015. The Russian government’s main stated political aim is to convince the other parties in the war to reach a political solution with Assad administration.

After a Russian warplane was shot down by Turkish-backed Syrian paramilitary groups, Turkey’s aggressive posture resulted in a major loss on the diplomatic front of the Syrian conflict. Moreover, Russia has already an edge in that it entered the Syrian war opposing a Western solution, and as a collaborative force for peace.

With the relative legitimacy of Russia in the region, the Russian government gained a high-level position against Turkey after the plane incident. It was a remarkable moment in the diplomatic moves of this war, because after that, Turkey was effectively pushed out of the diplomacy game.

However, the recent re-entering of Turkey to this diplomacy is of interest, because the bargaining over Aleppo started at this point. Although Turkey had put the “Assad should be gone” idea to the back of its mind, there is a big problem for Turkish government: Rojava, and the Kurdish people of Syria.

The continuous defeats of Turkey in Syria, politically and militarily, also impacted its domestic politics, as Kurdish gains in Syria affected the Kurdish struggle in Turkey, intensifying the struggle for self-determination.

Turkeys ruling party, the AKP, had been consolidating its political hegemony in the realm of consent for a long time, in which AKP has carried out its policies of economic attacks against the working masses and has been involved in corruption scandals and reactionary politics. When they got to their third term of office, which the AKP calls its ‘master’ term, the essence of their agenda became visible. They want to get control of the social opposition by the means of repression and violence. In fact, their agenda is to build President Erdogan’s dictatorship.

But Turkey’s regime faces another obstacle. One of the greatest dynamics of Turkey's democratic forces is the Kurdish national movement. The only way for the AKP and its political allies to consolidate their strength is to suppress the Kurdish people's movement today, or at least to control it.

For these reasons, Turkish government accepted the Russian deal. It was clear that Turkey is going to give on Aleppo, but the price of Aleppo will be a ‘security corridor’ between two Kurdish areas in Syria. So, this security corridor gave two precious cards to Turkey. One is that they stopped to the unification of Kurdish area in Syria. Secondly, they can maintain their physical contact with the different sectarian groups from ISIS to Free Syrian Army.

The interesting thing is that Turkey has to give on Aleppo because contradictions it faced domestically.

Just before the assassination of Russian Ambassador Karlov, the option of “Assad should be gone” was still the preferred option of the Turkish regime, and with Putin's explanation after the assassination, everything was clear.

If we go back to Karlov, Russian President, Vladimir Putin, called the assassination as a “provocation” against the rapprochement between Moscow and Ankara and attempts of resolving the conflict in Syria.

Putin said, “There can be only one answer to this - stepping up the fight against terrorism, and the bandits will feel this.” These developments left Turkey in a weak position, so on Dec. 20, Turkey, Iran and Russia signed a declaration in Moscow, which draws completely a new alignment in the Syrian war. The agreement states:

“1. Iran, Russia, and Turkey reiterate their full respect for the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of the Syrian Arab Republic as a multi-ethnic, multi-religious, non-sectarian, democratic and secular state.

2. Iran, Russia, and Turkey are convinced that there is no military solution to the Syrian conflict. They recognize the essential role of the United Nations in the efforts to resolve this crisis in accordance with UN Security Council resolution 2254.

The ministers also take note of the decisions made by the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) and urge all members of the international community to cooperate in good faith in order to remove the obstacles on the way to implement the agreements contained in these documents.

and

8. Iran, Russia, and Turkey reiterate their determination to fight jointly against Daesh and al-Nusra terrorists and to separate them from armed opposition groups.”

The plane incident was a milestone for the war. The declaration of Moscow, after the assassination, is a new milestone. Turkey entered the diplomatic game board again. One cannot be certain about future developments, because the political scene is full of provocative actors.

ISIS bombers attacked Turkish troops in Al-Bab in Syria. 14 Turkish soldiers lost their lives, 33 of them were wounded. Just after one day after this attack, ISIS released a video in which they are burning two Turkish soldiers alive.

The Turkish government pays the bill for its foreign policy with human lives – the lives of working people from different nationalities.