7 min read  | Aleppo, Idlib, Politics

‘We will not reconcile’: Syrians respond to Turkey’s Foreign Minister


August 12, 2022

AMMAN — “Do not reconcile! Even if they give you gold, I wonder if I were to gouge out your eyes, and replace them with two gems, would you see? These things are priceless.”

Syrians used this line by Egyptian poet Amal Donqol over the past two days in angry response to statements made by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu. “We have to somehow get the opposition and the regime to reconcile in Syria. Otherwise, there will be no lasting peace,” Çavuşoğlu told reporters on Thursday, on the sidelines of the 13th Ambassadors Conference in the Turkish capital Ankara. 

He also revealed that he met with Syrian regime Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad in October 2021 at the Non-Aligned Movement meeting in the Serbian capital, Belgrade.

On Friday, thousands of Syrians demonstrated across most areas of Turkish influence in northern Syria, as well as areas controlled by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) in Idlib, in condemnation of Çavuşoğlu’s statements. Protests also broke out Thursday evening. 

Protestors chanted slogans rejecting Çavuşoğlu’s remarks and burned tires in the street. On Thursday, the Turkish flag was burned in Azaz city. Meanwhile, large numbers of Syrians responded on social media, using the hashtag “We will not reconcile.” 

“Disappointment” with the latest Turkish statements was described by a number of civilians, activists, political figures and opposition military figures Syria Direct spoke with on Thursday and Friday. All rejected the idea of reconciliation. 

Maged Abdelnour, a journalist living in Idlib, described Çavuşoğlu’s remarks as “a treacherous stab in the back of the Syrian revolution.” Syrians “counted on Turkey to the point that we lost the surrounding Arab countries to please Turkey,” he said. “But the latter turned our factions into mercenaries in Libya and Azerbaijan, in exchange for Turkey’s continued support for our revolution and our cause.” 

Thunaa al-Ali, who is from the southern Idlib town of Kafr Nabl and now lives in Idlib city, participated in the demonstrations on Friday “to confirm our rejection of reconciliation with the regime,” she said. “It is impossible to forget our displacement from our homes, the blood of our martyrs and the pain of our detainees.”

“If Turkey and the opposition want to reconcile with the regime, that is their business,” she said. “We are steadfast, revolutionaries forever, in spite of Turkey and Assad.” 

As for Aisha Sabri, a Syrian journalist living in Turkey, she read what Çavuşoğlu said as “political maneuvering for the upcoming 2023 Turkish elections, to please the Turkish street.” She also characterized the stance as making way for “the planned military operation [against the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG)] in Tel Rifaat and Manbij.” 

Apart from Turkey’s interests, the issue for Syrians is “the cause of a people who revolted against authoritarian rule, not political differences that can be resolved through reconciliation,” Sabri said. At the same time, she stressed that, if Syrians continue to protest, it should be through “peaceful demonstration.” She believed Ankara would respond to Syrians’ demands, “because it realizes the danger of an upheaval of the Syria street, which was side by side with the Turks.” 

Facing Syrians’ reaction to Çavuşoğlu’s statements about reconciliation, Turkey’s Foreign Ministry put out a statement on Friday stressing that Ankara would continue its “efforts to find a solution to the Syrian conflict in line with the expectations of the Syrian people.” Prior to that, an Arabic-language article published by the state-run Anadolu Agency modified Çavuşoğlu’s remark, swapping the word “reconcile” for “agreement” between the regime and the opposition. 

Opposition stance

Syrian opposition political and military figures, including those backed by Turkey or working in its areas of influence, have hastened to reject the idea of reconciliation with the regime. Commanders and members of the Syrian National Army’s Hayat Thaeroon for Liberation posted a number of tweets on Friday. The body’s General Commander Fahim Issa, tweeted that “Bashar al-Assad is the head and source of terrorism in Syria,” saying “there is no place or Assad or the regime in Syria’s future.” 

The National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces issued a statement on Friday saying “the Assad regime is a genocidal regime that has committed thousands of war crimes against the Syrian people.” It called for “serious work by all countries of the free world in order to establish an international coalition tasked with holding the Assad regime accountable.” 

Hadi al-Bahra, a member of the National Coalition’s political body and the Co-Chair of the Constitutional Committee for the opposition, also said on Friday that peace can only be achieved “through a comprehensive and resolute political transition, based on Security Council Resolution No. 2254 and the 2012 Geneva Communiqué.”

One former National Coalition member, speaking on condition of anonymity for security reasons, told Syria Direct that the foreign minister’s latest statements are not a shift in Turkey’s policy, but rather a continuation of its position. He said Turkey informed former National Coalition head Khaled Khoja that “Turkey does not aim to overthrow the regime, but rather is moving according to its interests and national security.” 

But while opposition institutions expressed support for Syrians’ widespread rejection of Turkey’s statements, they also sought to sit on the fence and acknowledge Ankara’s position. The National Coalition’s Syrian Interim Government (SIG) issued a statement on Friday praising what Turkey has provided at the military, civilian and service levels, calling it “an example of sincere support and the right position.” 

The SIG called for symbols to be respected, referring to the Turkish flag being burned in northern Syria. “The Turkish flag is symbolic…and we must respect this symbolism and particularity that has been encroached upon” by those the SIG described as “people with an agenda, ignorant people who do not represent the values of the revolution or Syrians.” 

While opposition figures and institutions put out statements in support of the overall position expressed in northwestern Syria since Thursday, several sources Syria Direct spoke to expressed a negative view of opposition entities. “They have not fulfilled the demands of the Syrian people,” Sabri said. 

What is happening on the ground is important, she added, to “differentiate between the opposition and the revolutionaries.” Sabri called the current moment “the last chance for the opposition to side with the revolutionary street against Assad.” 

Syria Direct reached out to the President of the National Coalition, Salem al-Meslet, and other figures for comment, but did not receive a response by the time of publication. The former official spokesperson for the SNA, Youssef al-Hamoud, also declined to comment, adding his position has been vacant for the past three months. 

Impact on relations

Some voices from Turkey also expressed shock at Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu’s statements on Thursday. “It is strange that after 11 years there is a belief that the Assad regime can make peace with the opposition,” Turkish researcher İsmail Çoktan wrote on Twitter. “If I were the head of a research center and a researcher proposed that to me, I wouldn’t leave him in his job for a single minute.” 

The burning of the Turkish flag, and its removal from the buildings of some opposition institutions in northwestern Syria, led nationalist newspaper Yeniçağ to blame “the Free Syrian Army” for the acts.

Defected Syrian Captain Abdulsalam Abdulrazaq, speaking from his residence in the northern Aleppo countryside, said he expects Turkey to try to “absorb the Syrian public’s anger.” But what has happened “could impact the future relationship between Turkey and the Syrian revolution,” he said. 

The Free Syrian Bar Association called for an end to “all forms of Turkish guardianship over the Syrian revolution” in a statement issued on Thursday. It also called for the “overthrow of every individual or body that pursues political negotiations with this terrorist regime.”

Mahmoud al-Hadi, the head of the Association, denounced Çavuşoğlu’s recent statements, telling Syria Direct “The Syrian people, who revolted and rose up in the face of oppression and injustice, are the ones who decide their fate. Nobody decides for them.” 

While reiterating the statement’s call for an end to Turkish “guardianship,” al-Hadi also noted a “need for an alliance with the Turkish side, and for relations to remain good, thanks to those who are wise among both peoples.” 

Journalist Muhammad Haj Kadour, who lives in the northern Aleppo countryside, said he no longer views Turkey as “a friend or an ally” due to its stances and policies, including “its role in the Astana agreement, after which we lost everything.” 

Turkey “will try to correct the impact of Çavuşoğlu’s statements after the response from the street,” he said, but on a personal level, “I won’t believe anything Turkey says.” 

Media activist Ahmad Rahal, who lives in Idlib, agreed. He said there can be no talk about cutting relations with Turkey, “because it is Syria’s northern window, and the region’s main artery.” At the same time, he added sarcastically, “if Turkey wants us to make peace with the regime, we call on it to achieve lasting peace with the SDF [Syrian Democratic Forces].” 

 

This report was originally published in Arabic and translated into English by Mateo Nelson. 

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