(Photo credit: Khalil Ashawi/Reuters)
While speaking to Turkish television on 8 January, the top advisor to Turkiye’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Yasin Aktay, called for the Syrian governorate of Aleppo to be transferred over to Ankara’s control.
During the interview, which touched on the potential repatriation of Syrian refugees residing in Turkiye, Aktay said: “Aleppo was in the hands of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) in the early days. But with the help of Iran and Russia, the Assad regime swooped in there, they committed great massacres. If Turkiye had not intervened, there would have been [even more] terrible massacres.”
“If the situation in Aleppo is improved, [and] if Turkiye comes to an agreement with the Syrian regime – which I think Turkiye should demand – [then] Aleppo should be placed under Turkish control,” he said.
The Turkish advisor also said that if this were to occur, at least one and a half million Syrian refugees could return from Turkiye to Syria ‘voluntarily.’ In other words, he is essentially stating that the repatriation of refugees must depend on the occupation of more Syrian land by Ankara, even if it is temporary. This would reinforce previously made statements by Damascus referring to the Turkish repatriation plan as a ‘colonialist’ scheme.
“This may be [the way] that an environment for a peaceful solution can be formed, with the participation of the Syrian people in the long term,” he added.
Recently, Russia has led negotiation efforts in order to bring about a possible rapprochement between Damascus and Ankara, the latter of which has spent the last 13 years prolonging the Syrian conflict through support for armed groups and violation of Syrian sovereignty.
Despite Washington’s disapproval – as well as its attempt to obstruct a potential agreement which would allow the Syrian army to replace Kurdish militants on the border between Syria and Turkiye – Ankara has, for the most part, seemingly been willing to move forward along the lines of reconciliation.
Of course, this Syrian-Turkish rapprochement has barely taken its first steps, and negotiations are unlikely to officially launch until a complete withdrawal of Turkish forces from Syria is guaranteed, the possibility of which was hinted towards by Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on 29 December.
By suggesting that Turkiye assume control of more Syrian land – particularly at a time when the importance of concessions and dialogue is paramount – Aktay’s latest comments go against the grain of what Turkish officials have been saying lately.
Potentially due to US pressure, but more likely related to the Syrian opposition’s total rejection of any reconciliation, Aktay’s comments could represent a form of appeasement for groups such as Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), who have referred to Ankara’s actions as a ‘betrayal.’