We have been told, even by our friends, that Turkey should hand over the northern Syrian enclave of Afrin to Bashar Assad’s regime. Most recently on Monday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov acknowledged that Russia did not oppose Turkey’s operation in Afrin, but added Ankara should give the area back to the Syrian regime in Damascus.
Is this possible? Of course not!
Our friends and foes have to remember that northern Syria was under the rule of Assad’s murderous regime before the civil war broke out. Soon after the conflict began, Assad withdrew his forces from the area and allowed the terrorist organization PKK seize control of these places as an act of revenge against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Decades ago, it was Hafez Assad, Bashar’s father, who gave the PKK bases in Syria to fight against Turkey. That area also included Afrin. When the civil war broke out, Bashar Assad decided to pull out of the areas neighboring Turkey and allowed the PKK, which fights a secessionist war against Turkey, to prosper in the north of the country.
In other words, Assad forfeited his claims over Afrin and the northern parts of Syria freely. He purposefully created a security hazard for Turkey right on its doorstep. In the end, the PKK was unable to hold on to some of the border areas and Daesh settled in to these places only to be thrown out by Turkey during Operation Euphrates Shield in August 2016.
Since then, Assad’s regime has become illegitimate and cannot claim sovereignty over the country. Only after a political settlement is reached in Syria and a proper regime is installed in Damascus will it be reasonable for Turkey to hand over Afrin and other parts of northern Syria to the legitimate government. Can any other country involved in Syria say the same? Will Russia withdraw from Syria? Will the various Iranian-backed groups pull out of the country? Will Israel withdraw from areas it has occupied even beyond the Golan Heights? Will the United States really leave the country?
Turkey has not entered Syria to conquer land. The country has legitimate security concerns and, when no one addressed them, Ankara took matters into its own hands and erased the sources of the complaints. So once Turkey is satisfied that northern Syria no longer poses a security hazard, then these lands will definitely be returned to their rightful owners— the Syrian people.
First, Assad is not legitimate and thus Turkey does not have to hand over any land to this regime. The fact that Assad kills his own people in cold blood and has no regard for human life means he does not deserve to be given the right to decide the fate of anyone in Syria.
Beyond that, Turkey has serious security concerns. Even if there is a settlement in Syria, Turkey’s security concerns need to be addressed in any final settlement. We have to make sure that the PKK and its affiliates are never able creep back into these areas.
This means a security zone has to be established inside Syria that will end the security threats against our southeastern provinces. Both Daesh and the PKK have shot missiles into our towns and cities in the past. This should never happen again.
The PKK must never be allowed anywhere near our borders once all terrorists and their affiliates are removed from northern Syria.