Syrian-Turkish intelligence meeting: pressure on the YPG
The Syrian government under Bashar al-Assad has spoken out resolutely several times against the Turkish invasion, but without consequences
Turkey has been occupying the North Syrian district of Afrin for exactly two years, and since October last year it has also been north Syrian territory between Tal Abyad (Kurdish: Gire Spi) and Ra’s al-‘Ain (Kurdish: Serê Kaniyê). Turkish President Erdogan justifies the presence of the Turkish military, which – to the detriment of the residents – is largely supported by allied Islamist Syrian militias, with Turkey’s “national security interests” against the Kurdish YPG.
From the Kurdish point of view, it is not about “security zones”, as the Turkish narrative wants to spread cosmetically, but about the establishment of protectorates that pursue a demographic goal, namely the expulsion of Kurds and the resettlement of a population, which are part of the political agenda Turkey fit. The fact that Afrin is de facto under Turkish administration, Islamized, school lessons with new teachers and new school plans, and signs of Kurdish culture removed, confirms the picture of a Turkish de facto annexation.
There are also reports of looting and brutal violations of human rights in Afrin and the occupied zone in the northeast by the Syrian radical Islamist militias allied with Turkey.
The Syrian government under Bashar al-Assad has spoken out resolutely several times against the Turkish invasion, but without consequences. There are several reasons why the government should actively intervene in Damascus. This would only be militarily feasible with the support of Russia, but the Astana agreements and two agreements that Russia made with Turkey stand against this, once in Sochi in September 2018 and finally after the Turkish attack in late October 2019 (“Operation Peace Source”) to the area mentioned above between the two cities Tal Abyad (Kurdish: Gire Spi) and Ras al-‘Ain (Kurdish: Serê Kaniyê).
Modus vivendi of Turkey with jihadists in Idlib
On top of that, according to the Astana agreements, Turkey is the “guarantee power” for opposition militias in Syria, it is supposed to ensure that they keep to agreements, for example in the province of Idlib, where Turkey has obtained observation posts to monitor the “demilitarized zone” , This is where the interests of the Syrian government, which Idlib wants to bring back under state control, and Turkey, which has agreed on a modus vivendi with the local jihadists, intersect.
The jihadists, led by al-Qaida offshoot Hay’at Tahrir asch-Scham (HTS), maintain their own government there, which follows a rigid form of Sharia law, and control the area militarily. The requirements agreed between Russia and Turkey regarding Idlib are not being met. The open question is whether this happens with a lax agreement from Turkey, because the political will for it is lacking, or because Turkey does not have the de facto power to do something against the rule of the HTS and allied militias.
So far, Turkey has opposed – mainly through the mediation of Russia – attacks by the Syrian army in Idlib, with reference to the threat to its own soldiers at the observation points and, above all, out of concern about a humanitarian catastrophe and resulting large-scale refugee movements, which are also putting Turkey under pressure bring.
However, in recent weeks, the Syrian leadership has made clear with attacks in Idilb that it is sticking to its goal of regaining control over Idlib. The offensive, which is aimed at conquering the strategically important city of Maaret al-Numan, is currently said to be exposed to the weather.
A new location?
Now there are signs of a change in the situation, possibly to the disadvantage of the Kurds in northern Syria. Over a week ago, there was a first direct meeting of senior Syrian and Turkish representatives since 2011. According to the Syrian news agency Sana and al-Monitor, the heads of the secret services, Ali Mamlouk on the Syrian side and Hakan Fidan on the Turkish, met face-to-face in Moscow, accompanied by a staff.
As far as was known, the focus was in particular on Idlib, the “cleaning up of terrorists”, the withdrawal of heavy weapons, as the Sochi agreement had already demanded, and another demand from the Russian-Turkish agreement for the Damascus government, the opening of the M4 and M5 traffic routes, the two expressways, some of which are controlled by the jihadists.
The meeting is said to have come about through a push and mediation by Russian President Putin at his meeting with Erdogan on January 8. Interesting are the negotiation points, of which the al-Monitor author Metin Gurcan has become aware – whether they correspond to the facts or have been put in order to engage in “psychological warfare” on public relations work is not feasible from this point. Future developments will provide answers to this, as Gurcan himself suggests.
Strategy against the YPG
The content he reports is very speculative. Firstly, there is a cooperation between Turkey and the Syrian government against the YPG. “Damascus and Ankara must in future (” in the coming period “) develop a common strategy against the YPG,” is – as a deal – from the Turkish side.
This is placed in the context of the renewed US presence in Syria east of the Euphrates and a renewed intensified cooperation between US troops and the YPG – and belongs in the context of the negotiations between the Syrian government and the SDF. There have recently been indications that Damascus has indicated willingness to make concessions.
However, this was not linked to any binding statements. In addition, it was said that negotiations stalled, and neither side showed any signs of rush. The Kurds were justified on the grounds that the pressure had eased due to the continued US presence.
The news from the secret service meeting that Ankara had agreed to work with Damascus to work against the YPG counteracts this impression and increases the pressure on the YPG / SDF and the Kurdish administration in northeast Syria.
As the al-Monitor report suggests, the meeting of the secret services even gave a chance that Erdogan and al-Assad could meet, who would then negotiate about the Turkish presence in Syria and the Kurds. This is a long way off, but emphasizes the signal to the Kurds.
Idlib “giving up” against concessions in Libya?
The extent to which the information provided by the al-Monitor author on the content of the secret service meeting reflects pure speculation will soon be evident from the situation in Libya and Syria. At the heart of the content being transmitted is the question of whether Turkey is leaving Idlib to the government in Damascus in order to negotiate a deal in return for accommodating Russia in Libya: “Stopping Haftar’s offensive on Tripoli”.
“In any case, Ankara seems increasingly willing to give up its territorial claims in northern Syria and seek Damascus’ support to contain the YPG and to work with the United States,” concludes Metin Gurcan. But in reality there are considerable obstacles.
Libyan General Haftar recently showed in Moscow, when he refused to sign a ceasefire agreement, that he was pursuing a course of his own that was resisting to some degree against political pressure, and that Erdogan was referring to the Turkish protectorate in Afrin and its resettlement plans in It is hard to imagine northeast Syria giving up easily. [end]
The author of the article is Thomas Pany. Thomas Pany studied political science with Kurt Sontheimer at the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich, plus modern history and Semitic studies. The original article has been published in Telepolis. Translation and editing by Defenseweek’s team.