On Monday, September 17, THO hosted a teleconference on “Syria’s Idlib: Challenges and Expectations.”
The teleconference was moderated by THO Executive Director Elvir Klempic and featured the following speakers:
Yahya Al Aridi– Spokesperson, Syrian Negotiations Commission
Aylin Unver Noi – Associate Professor, Istinye University
Mouaz Moustafa – Executive Director, Syrian Emergency Taskforce
Commenting on a question regarding the stalled peace negotiations between Turkey, Russia, and Iran, Yahya Al Aridi begun the decision by providing a brief overview of the how that war in Syria has shaped out since its beginning, and the different powers involved. Keeping the current situation Mr. Aridi started by mentioning that Idlib has over 3 million Syrian civilians. From the beginning of the Syrian conflict, Turkey played a role because of its geopolitical location, the fear of a humanitarian crisis, and the number of refugees crossing Turkey’s border. As time passed outside powers were slowly getting involved into conflict, starting with Russia coming to the aid of the Syrian regime in order to counter UN resolutions in regards to ceasefires, amongst other resolutions. Later, Iran would become involved, according to Mr. Aridi this was a trick by Russia in order to balance things to its advantage in the conflict. Mr. Aridi went on to explain that Idlib is different than the rest of Syria and Idlib is of a national security concern to Turkey, the targeting by Russians and Iranians have caused harm to civilians in the area.
Ms. Univer Noi went on to explain that Idlib is important because this is the last remaining territory which belongs to the Syrian opposition, and is now a target by numerous attacks by Russian and Syrian forces. Ms. Univer Noi noted that Turkey fears that a massive attack will trigger a large wave of refugees from the region to Turkey. She went on to explain that this is not just a problem for Turkey, but a problem for Europe in general, this is the first time that the opposition and the government in Turkey support taking measures to prevent a refugee crisis in Idlib. Ms. Univer Noi also mentioned the growing disparity in the views of refugees among European countries, noting the actions taken by some nations to prevent refugees from crossing their borders.
Mouaz Moustafa continued the discussion by explaining the current situation on the ground in Idlib. Mr. Moustafa went on to say that it is important to remember that Assad cannot declare military victory unless he takes Idlib. He went on to explain that wanting to bombard and occupy Idlib is something the Assad regime believes is very important, because this is the final chapter before they turn to the East.
Touching on the expectations in Idlib, Mr. Moustafa mentioned that a postponement of a much larger more intense offensive is credit to Turkey’s military and diplomatic core, now he also added that the question is if a military offensive can be completely prevented? He added the international community and the United States have to play a much bigger role and have to understand that Turkey remains a strategic ally, and understand how to align our policy with Turkey in a way that can help prevent a more massive refugee flow.
Mr. Aridi added on to say that the United States can definitely play a more important role, he also noted that it has been evident the strategy in Syria has changed with the Trump administration. All three speakers agreed that a strong U.S.-Turkey cooperation is what’s needed in order to curb the moves of Russia and the Assad regime. Mr. Aridi furthermore added that sometimes a misunderstanding of objectives and issues prevents the U.S. and Turkey from cooperating in the area, however according to Mr. Aridi, the emerging issues in Idlib give an opportunity for the two sides to once again cooperate, given that both sides are against a massive attack in Idlib, and of course against a chemical attack.