The West Should Help Turkey End Syria’s Civil War

Around this time last year, Turkey’s military struck the Syrian regime’s positions to stop the latest attack on Idlib, the opposition’s final stronghold, and prevent the displacement or murder of innocent people. Over the course of eight days, we saved millions of lives.

Countries that sang Turkey’s praises at the time quickly forgot about the humanitarian crisis in Syria, partly due to the coronavirus pandemic. The civil war went back to being yesterday’s news — until the West’s next crisis of conscience.

Now, as talk of democracy, freedom and human rights are in vogue anew, humanity’s actions in Syria will be the ultimate measure of our sincerity. I believe that restoring peace and stability in the region depends on genuine and strong Western support for Turkey.

On the 10th anniversary of the Syrian uprising, we should remember the hundreds of thousands of people killed and tortured, and the millions displaced — all because they demanded democracy, liberty and human rights. Efforts by the regime of Bashar al-Assad and its supporters to crush those legitimate demands led to terrible outcomes, including terrorism and irregular migration. Many countries became involved in the Syrian dispute, for various reasons or with various excuses, but they missed the tragedy’s point of origin.

In the end, one of the Middle East’s most important countries has been abandoned amid a seemingly endless massacre.

I am proud to say that Turkey’s position has remained consistent since the Syrian civil war began. The Turkish people believe that creating a political system, capable of representing all Syrians, is key to restoring peace and stability. We reject any plan that does not address the Syrian people’s demand for human dignity; such options would merely deepen the crisis. At the same time, we stress that a peaceful and lasting solution will be impossible in the absence of respect for Syria’s territorial integrity and political unity.

Over the past decade, my government has backed its statements with action. In addition to hosting millions of refugees, Turkey was the first country to deploy combat troops against terrorist groups in Syria, starting with ISIS. We created safe zones in areas liberated from terrorist organizations, and took all necessary steps, patiently and decisively, to create new hope in the country.

Unfortunately, the moderate rebels, our local partners, have become the target of a coordinated smear campaign despite their hard work and sacrifice to defeat ISIS and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, another designated terrorist organization.

The safe zones, which Turkey created in cooperation with its local partners, are proof of our commitment to Syria’s future. These areas have become islands of peace and stability, as well as self-sustaining ecosystems. We have implemented basic programs to establish and train law enforcement; improve civilian infrastructure, including power and drinking water; and reopened schools and hospitals. At the same time, Turkey is overseeing the construction of permanent accommodation facilities to address the long-standing problem of housing in Syria — part of a plan that I unveiled at the United Nations General Assembly in 2019.

By taking all these measures, Turkey has sheltered Europe from irregular migration and terrorism, and secured NATO’s southeastern border. Our actions, which reflect our values, support our claim that Turkey is the hope of oppressed peoples, the guardian of innocents, and the key to a solution.

There are three options available to the West today. The first is to watch from the sidelines as more innocent people lose their lives in Syria. This would not only undermine the West’s moral claims but also give rise to new threats, terrorism and irregular migration, hurting international security and Europe’s political stability.

The second option is to take the military, economic and diplomatic measures necessary to develop a lasting solution. We have no reason to believe that Western leaders have such intentions, since they haven’t made any serious efforts along these lines for 10 years.

The third and most sensible option is to throw their weight behind Turkey and become part of the solution in Syria, at minimum cost and with maximum impact.

Our specific expectations are obvious. Primarily, we expect the West to adopt a clear position against YPG, the PKK’s Syrian branch, which attacks safe zones and plays into the hands of the regime. Instead, adequate support must go to the legitimate Syrian opposition as an investment in peace and stability.

Moreover, we call on the Western nations to live up to their responsibilities to end the humanitarian crisis, as failure to share Turkey’s burden may result in fresh waves of migration towards Europe.

Last but not least, we demand that the West invest in safe zones within Syria and unequivocally endorse this peace project. We must show the world that there is a democratic and prosperous alternative for Syria’s future.

Turkey proved that it is the only country that can do what’s necessary in Syria by leading humanitarian relief efforts, being on the front line against terrorist groups and actively participating in diplomatic processes. The Joe Biden administration must stay true to its campaign pledges and work with us to end the tragedy in Syria and to defend democracy. The Turkish people are prepared to support any initiative that will serve the interests of our Syrian neighbors and contribute to regional peace and stability.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan is the president of Turkey.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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