Devil’s Advocate: How Turkey Is Seeking to Save Its Syrian Proxies

Devil’s Advocate: How Turkey Is Seeking to Save Its Syrian Proxies

On July 28, the U.S. Treasury Department, vowing to keep pursuing accountability for perpetrators of human rights violations in the country, imposed sanctions on the Turkish-backed Ahrar Al-Sharqia, a faction in the Syrian Civil war, that committed the outrageous murder of Kurdish female politician Hevrin Khalaf in 2019. The decision, made at the insistence of the Biden administration which can hardly be considered friendly towards Turkey, has made Ankara worry for the fate of its allies in northwestern Syria.
Realizing a potential threat of further sanctions, Ankara was quick to take what can be called preventive measures. After the secret visit of Turkey’s defense minister to the Syrian border city of Azaz, five armed groups of the SNA (formerly the Free Syrian Army) announced on September 9 their full merger, forming a new faction named the Syrian Front for Liberation. It includes the Sultan Suleiman Shah Division, Hamza Division, Al-Muatassim Brigade, Suqur Al-Shimal Brigade and 20th Division.
This series of mergers continued when the SNA joint operations room Azm claimed that six groups, namely Sultan Murad, North Brigades, 9th Division, Muntasser Brigade, 112 Brigade, and Sham Revolutionnaries, agreed on their complete unification under the name Movement of Revolutionaries. The official statement that was released on the establishment of this new movement read that their true aim was to reduce the number of groups operating as part of the Azm coalition.
Nevertheless, it’s worth noting that in both cases armed factions emphasized that they broke away from their past names, flags, and emblems in an obvious attempt to cover their own traces and escape justice in a new military formation which hasn’t spoiled its reputation yet.
Many experts believe that the situation on the ground will remain as it was even after the groups transformed and rebranded. The armed factions will apparently act in the same way and under the command of the same leaders who are responsible for atrocities against civilian populations. Except they’ll be committed under new names.
Such attempts by Ankara to save its proxy forces in Syria can undermine the efforts of the international community to effectively investigate war crimes and bring perpetrators to justice.
Even Salem Al-Meslet, the president of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, surprisingly confirmed how effective the impact of sanctioning Ahrar Al-Sahrqia was to help rein in the lawless pro-Kurdish groups. And this is despite the fact that this body was designed to support the Free Syrian Army (currently the SNA).
In fact, Turkey had and has something to be worried about. Ahrar Al-Sharqia constitutes one in the long list of Turkish-affiliated Syrian factions accused of extrajudicial killings, kidnappings, torture of civilians, seizure of private property, robberies, and destruction of archeological sites.
Human rights organizations report that the list includes most of the armed groups active in northwest Syria, including Hamza, Sultan Suleiman Shah, Sultan Murad Divisions, etc.
The United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Syria documented a myriad of violations committed by the SNA factions towards national minorities such as Kurds, Yazidis, Armenians, and others living in Turkish-controlled areas of Syria.
Syrian armed groups are also blamed for a huge number of enforced disappearances of women. According to Missing Afrin Women Project, more than 150 women and girls were kidnapped at the hands of the SNA fighters in Afrin alone since 2018.
It’s no secret that Turkey aims to finally join all opposition forces together, including jihadist organisations like the Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham in Idlib province, under the aegis of its controlled SNA. With this aim, Turkish leadership will trying hard to hide loyal criminals and bandits behind the SNA and clear their reputation, using any and all means, particularly disinformation campaigns. (It was on the second anniversary of Hevrin Khalaf’s killing.) Pro-opposition accounts and media outlets published false information about U.S. plans to lift sanctions from Ahrar Al-Sharqia over the lack of evidence.
Although Ankara positions its politics towards Syria as supportive of freedom and the revolution’s true opposition, such maneuvers have nothing to do with the goals it announced.
In turn, Europe and the United States should account in their diplomacy towards Syria that the murderous opposition forces are therefore doomed to failure and have no chance of survival in a long run.
The Reverse Side of Turkish ‘Aid’ to Syria

The Reverse Side of Turkish ‘Aid’ to Syria

From the beginning of its illegal invasion of Syria, Ankara has been trying to put right its crimes with international community by thinking up arguments and suitable excuses while at the same time veiling real motives for its presence and military actions on the Syrian territory.

The main pretext for these actions is the struggle with Kurdish People Protection Units that pose a threat to Ankara by operating in the areas that border Turkey. Turkish authorities believe that the creation of a Kurdish autonomous state (Rojava) will lead to terrorists flowing into Turkish territory.

For the achievement of his geopolitical goals, in 2016 Turkish President Recep Erdogan declared the beginning of Operation “Euphrates Shield,” directed to fight against ISIS and the Kurdish “Syrian Democratic Forces” in the north of Syria. This was the beginning of the occupation of the Arab republic. The following operation, “Olive Branch,” was conducted in 2018 and resulted in the occupation of Afrin, while another Turkish military operation in 2019, “Peace Spring,” led to the occupation of more territories in northern Syria that had been under Kurdish control.

It is worth noting these operations to violate another country’s territorial sovereignty had no relation to previously stated goals and looked more like colonization than any kind of anti-terrorism efforts. One of Turkey’s national security principles is countering external aggression. But neither Kurdish militia or ISIS terrorists had attacked Turkey, and Turkish forces present in Syria couldn’t be described as taking a holiday trip. Such actions are simply occupation albeit under a mountain of pretexts and false arguments to justify their intentions.

As cover for the aggressive policy which aims to strengthen the influence and distribution of “Neo-Ottomanism” in the region, Ankara opens universities and religious institutions while building houses for refugees. They also actively implement Turkish ID cards, currency, symbolism, and other attributes of the Turkish state in the occupied territories, by means of their allies in different armed groups.

Besides, the creation of the so-called Salvation Government, whose affiliated with the “Hayat Tahrir al-Sham” terror group in the Idlib province, with Turkish assistance has led to the humanitarian situation worsening. Jihadists rose to power and turned towards acts of extortion and civilians kidnapping following with forced enlistment. Therefore more and more Idlib residents desire to live in territory controlled by the Syrian government.

There is a mountain of publicly accessable evidence which proves the terrorists’ corruption. They demand huge amounts of money from civilians to leave their territories. Now, when the country faces a deep economic crisis, the payment for freedom is about $1000. That is too much for ordinary Syrian citizens.

Another facet of crimes committed by Turkish authorities and their proxies in Syria is money they profit off the pandemic. Humanity faced one of the most dangerous threats in 2020—COVID-19 infection. All developed nations, the international community, and humanitarian organizations mobilized to stop epidemic, to create a vaccine, and share it with other countries.

The Syrian government actively works on providing all territories of the country with a vaccine while Hayat Tahrir al-Sham terrorists—with assistance from their Turkish patrons—speculate on the pandemic and sell vaccine doses at $250 per. It’s another testament to the fact that Turkey turns a blind eye to the mayhem committed by its proxies. Ankara is not interested in benefiting a humanitarian situation or returning controlled areas to normal conditions with improvements in citizen’s living standards. The international community must pay attention to a growing humanitarian disaster in Idlib and take essential measures since the struggle with the pandemic remains the core task of humanity.

How Turkey Inspired Its Little Brother, Azerbaijan

How Turkey Inspired Its Little Brother, Azerbaijan

During a recent visit to the captured areas of Nagorno-Karabakh, President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliev ordered the destruction of historical inscriptions on the Armenian churches, calling them “fake.” The order aiming to erase the region’s cultural and religious identity targets all the churches on the territories that fell under Baku’s control in the aftermath of the violent escalation of conflict last autumn.

Despite their outrageous and abhorrent implications, these criminal intentions were largely ignored by the media. In this aspect Nagorno-Karabakh repeats the fate of another area subjected to occupation by Turkey and its allies—the Syrian Kurdish enclave of Afrin.

The brutal measures taken by Azerbaijan to obliterate the Armenian heritage in Nagorno-Karabakh were first tested by Turkey in Afrin, where its citizens were forced to abandon their homeland after a Turkish military invasion. Looting, forced property confiscation, desecration of shrines and graves, torture and execution of prisoners, the list of the crimes committed by members of Turkish-backed Syrian armed groups goes on. In Nagorno-Karabakh, this mission was shouldered by the Azerbaijani military, who proved themselves up to the task. Their methods were so indistinguishable from those used by the militants that one could have thought the only goal of sending the Syrian mercenaries to Nagorno-Karabakh was to instruct the Azerbaijanis in the ways of committing war crimes.

As it was the case in Afrin, the crimes of the occupants are documented and backed by extensive evidence, but the perpetrators have yet to bear responsibility for blatant violations of human rights and international law. The consequences of this impunity can be observed not only in Nagorno-Karabakh, but in other regions affected by the Turkish expansion as well, be it Syria, Libya, Iraq, and, according to latest reports, Yemen.

The ill-calculated moves of Turkey and its allies leave another trace that is less evident but just as deep. Turkish aggression not only destroys homes of Syrians, Libyans and Armenians but also crushes the hopes of the Turkish people for changes for the better in their own country. Under the leadership of Recep Erdogan, Turkey has declined from “zero problems with neighbors” to “zero neighbors without problems,” becoming a pariah state in the region and building toxic relations buttressed by political blackmail and provocations with global powers.

The same fate awaits Azerbaijan. Although Baku refuses to consider the results of the war with Armenia anything but a triumph and declares itself a liberator, should Azerbaijan continue to follow Turkey’s lead it will soon repeat the downfall of Turkey or even its mercenary allies.

To end on a less grim note, there is yet another trait shared between Afrin and Nagorno-Karabakh: popular resistance to the occupation. Both Turkey and Azerbaijan seek to make it impossible for the uprooted people to return to their homeland. Ankara has made every effort to achieve this in Syria. Baku must not be allowed to do the same in Armenia.

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