Since Friday morning 6 March, a tentative ceasefire has been in place in Idlib. Russian president Putin and Turkey’s president Erdoğan came to this agreement at their meeting in Moscow on Thursday 5th.
The deal makes provisions for a security corridor covering the area around the M4 motorway which goes through Idlib from Aleppo to Latakia, and Russia-Turkey patrols starting in mid-March. It did not secure any withdrawals by Assad from any of his recent gains in Idlib province, or a safe zone for the million people who have been displaced by the latest round of fighting.
Despite being a member of NATO, Turkey has over time shifted towards a much closer relationship with Russia than with Europe or the United States. America has been largely absent from the recent conflict. Erdoğan has asked publicly that the US give him military aid in the war against Assad, but so far he has been offered only words.
Erdoğan’s relationship with Europe is even worse. The slide away from any semblance of liberal democracy had certainly put the brakes on Turkey joining the EU, but now Erdoğan has done something truly unforgivable to the leaders of Fortress Europe: ceased to act as their border guard. As I write this on 9 March, he is meeting with EU officials in Brussels to discuss the refugees.
There has been violence in Idlib since the ceasefire, but only between the Syrian army and the Turkistan Islamic Party, an Uyghur Muslim jihadist group which is condemned and classified as a terrorist group by the Turkish government as well as the Syrian.
It still remains to be seen if and for how long the ceasefire will hold.
There is a saying about the Kurds that they “have no friends but the mountains”.
Since Donald Trump pulled the vast majority of American soldiers out of Syria the “Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria” (NES), more commonly known as Rojava, has been forced into attempting a closer arrangement with the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad.
Already at the time of Assad’s final offensive into Aleppo in 2016, the YPG (majority-Kurdish militias which form part of Rojava’s armed forces) were tacitly collaborating with Assad on territory swaps. At various points the Kurdish forces relied on Russian air support available thanks to the Russia-Syria alliance.
Not that the YPG has been complicit in Assad’s butchery, or even that Syria and Rojava have been unambiguous allies. There have been numerous clashes between Assad’s and Kurdish forces.
In their fight for self-determination the Kurds have ducked and dived, and called for no-fly zones or military intervention from big imperialist powers such as Russia, Syria, and the United States. Such manoeuvres go with the terrain: the red line is that forces like the YPG should not be at the beck and call of imperial ambitions.
Now YPG-Assad relations have seriously soured. On Thursday 5th, Assad said at a press conference that the Kurds cannot take American support and still expect to have any sort of relationship with the Syrian government. He said he could accept autonomously Kurdish-governed areas only if they are part of a federalised Syria and ultimately subordinate to the central government.
He demanded “Syrian patriotism” from the Kurds, and “reminded” them that they are in Syria because they fled Turkish persecution.
In an interview with the Kurdish news site Kurdistan 24, the NES senior official Bedran Çîya Kurd speculated that Assad may be attempting a diplomatic overture to Erdoğan by distancing himself from the Kurds.
He may be hinting at a return to the Adana Agreement, a deal which committed the Syrian government to repressing any groups linked to the PKK (in Erdoğan’s eyes, any Kurdish organisations), and made provision for Turkey to pursue PKK suspects up to five kilometres across the border.