Turkish Foreign Minister: This Is How to Bring Peace to Syria

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A solution to the Syrian conflict is long overdue.

The Syrian conflict will soon have left in its wake seven years of bloodshed and devastation.

Having provoked the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II and encouraged the emergence of a global terrorist threat, the impact of the Syria conflict has gone far beyond its borders and its immediate vicinity.

Sharing a 566-mile-long border, Turkey has undertaken a gargantuan and tangible effort to alleviate humanitarian disaster and counter the terrorist threat. The scale of our positive contributions in both areas have been unmatched.

Since the outset, we have kept our doors open to those who flee the atrocities in Syria, which has made Turkey the largest refugee hosting country in the world.

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Syrian refugees walk towards a border gate at the Oncupinar border crossing in the town of Kills on August 30, 2017 in Kilis, Turkey. Turkish authorities allow thousands of Syrian refugees living in Turkey to cross back into Syria to celebrate Eid-Al-Adha with family members still living in Syria. Chris McGrath/Getty

Turkey spent $30 billion to meet the needs of 3.4 million Syrians seeking refuge in their northern neighbor. Free access to medical care, education, as well as the right to join the labor force have been extended to our Syrian guests to help them better integrate into their host society.

On the security front, the Syrian regime’s brutality and the void created by the gap between the rhetoric and action of the international community have given rise to the most severe terrorist threat that has affected the entire international community.

Terrorist organizations such as ISIS, Nusra Front and PKK/PYD/YPG quickly filled the vacuum.

No one suffered as much as Turkey from these threats.

We have curtailed the movement of Foreign Terrorist Fighters (FTFs) and put our troops in harm’s way. While giving support to the Global Coalition against ISIS as a member, Turkey executed the Operation Euphrates Shield in coordination with the Coalition.  

The Free Syrian Army, supported by the Turkish military, cleared a 2,015-square-kilometer-large Syrian territory from ISIS and eliminated 2.647 terrorists. The operation helped seal Turkey-Syria border against the infiltration of the FTFs.

Thanks to its success, almost 70.000 Syrians have returned from Turkey to the liberated areas.

Yet, the terrorist threat targeting Turkey from Syria is not over and the solidarity and cooperation of the United States, our NATO ally since 1952, is far from satisfactory.

The PKK affiliate’s presence lingers in northern Syria and to our dismay it is empowered by US-led efforts aimed at countering ISIS.

The ongoing US weapons supplies to PYD/YPG terrorists not only jeopardizes Turkey’s security but also the future of Syria. PYD/YPG’s poor human rights record reflected in independent international human rights organizations’ reports (Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, SNHR Syrian Network for Human Rights and others), includes forced displacement of non-Kurdish entities, changing the demographics of the region, destruction of villages, expulsion and the imprisoning of political rivals, torture and child soldiers, that tantamount to war crimes.

Together with its collaboration with the regime and its deals with ISIS, PYD/YPG could hardly be presented as a democratic model for Kurds in Syria. Its claim to represent Syrian Kurds is also flawed against the presence of almost 300 thousand Syrian Kurds in Turkey who fled from PYD/YPG’s suppression and cannot return back home.

Organized under the umbrella of the Syrian Kurdish National Council (KNC), the legitimate representatives of the Kurdish community in Syria hold a seat at the negotiations in Geneva and deserve to be represented at the Congress of National Dialogue in Sochi.

The US’s support to PKK/PYD/YPG is an effort going terribly awry and an urgent course correction is imperative. The vision for a politically united and territorially integrated Syria will be elusive if separatist terrorist organizations are given a free hand and weapons to advance their goals.

Overall, the fight against terrorism cannot be won by siding with one terrorist organization against another. It is the very core idea of the NATO alliance that the security of an ally is prioritized over short-term tactical gains that only help create a vicious cycle of violence.

The US must step back from this grave mistake and not allow itself to be blackmailed by the terrorist outfit.

On the political front, there is hope if the international community would finally walk the talk. A lasting solution can be found through a Syrian-owned process, in line with the UN Security Council Resolution 2254.

A political solution can be reached through an inclusive, free, fair and transparent Syrian-led and Syrian-owned process, leading to а constitution that enjoys the support of the Syrian people and free and fair elections with the participation of all eligible Syrians under UN supervision.

To this end, Turkey has become active in international initiatives seeking end to the crisis. When the Geneva process was stalled and the International Syria Support Group showed little prospect of progress, Turkey stepped in to explore new avenues in order to jumpstart the political process. That could not be done without providing calm on the ground in the first place.

Warring parties cannot engage in meaningful talks when they continue to fire at each other. The evacuation of tens of thousands of civilians from Eastern Aleppo and the nationwide ceasefire agreement that were brokered with Russia were not easy achievements, but they have made profound humanitarian contributions.

This pragmatic approach led to the initiation of the Astana talks. Through eight rounds of talks that committed the support of the three guarantors, namely Turkey, Russia and Iran, the violence in Syria has been reduced and the ceasefire regime was reinforced through a de-escalation scheme.

As a result, 2017 was relatively the calmest year throughout this conflict. Most significantly, the Astana talks paved the way for the resumption of the Geneva rounds after a 10-month-long hiatus.

However, the Geneva process needs to be resuscitated. Paying lip service to its primacy as the essential platform in the political process takes us nowhere. The international community has to make the best out of all means at its disposal. The Congress of National Dialogue to be held in Sochi could serve as a complementary exercise in this regard.

In the Presidential Summit held in Sochi on 22 November 2017, bringing together the Astana guarantors, Turkey’s President Erdogan underlined two conditions, among other things, for the initiative’s success: a clear and strong link with the UN-mediated Geneva process; and the participation of the genuine members of the opposition with a clear rejection of anyone affiliated with terrorist organizations, including PYD/YPG.

If these two conditions are met, the Sochi Congress could complement the Geneva process and create a functional synergy. Certainly, this requires constructive engagement by all stakeholders. The US, too, should reclaim its role in efforts aimed at securing peace in Syria.

Syrians, their neighbors, Europeans, Americans, indeed the whole world have suffered enough. The international community must find the resolve to unite its efforts to restore peace and stability in Syria.

Turkey will continue to work hand in hand with the Syrian people in their struggle for a constitutional democracy that safeguards all Syrians’ fundamental rights and freedoms on the basis of equality and regardless of their ethnic, religious or sectarian backgrounds. This formula commands near universal consensus.

The time to make it happen is right now.

Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu is the Foreign Minister of the Republic of Turkey.

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