Turkish columnists focus on Idlib

Columnists in Turkey’s pro-government media lined up on Monday to express their concerns over the fate of Syria’s Idlib province where Syrian government forces are poised to launch an offensive.

No less than four columnists in Daily Sabah, addressed the topic.

“Russian leader Vladimir Putin painted himself into a corner when he rolled up his sleeves to do what he calls cleaning up Syria from terrorists,” said Hakkı Ӧcal, suggesting that Moscow was determined to preserve its military bases in Syria regardless of the humanitarian consequences.

But he also suggested Turkey would not put up with a new refugee crisis resulting from military action in Idlib. “The temporary solution would be a ceasefire,” he said.

Burhanettin Duran, meanwhile, said that whilst Friday’s summit in Tehran between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Russian and Iranian counterparts had not produced a political solution to the Idlib issue, Erdoğan “convinced his counterparts, Vladimir Putin and Hassan Rouhani, to give the cessation of hostilities a chance.”

Duran went on to suggest that, “it won't be easy to preserve the ceasefire that Turkey, Russia and Iran declared in Tehran.” A particular problem will be protecting, “the ceasefire from the (Syrian) regime's manipulations and acts of provocation by radical groups. Therefore, it is absolutely necessary to remove the HTS (Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham) and other radical groups from, at the very least, critically important areas.”

Another Daily Sabah columnist, Kılıç Buğra Kanat, took a different approach, focusing on how, he said, that Turkey aside, the international community had failed to take appropriate action to ease the human suffering resulting from Syria’s long civil war.

“After showing insensitivity for the last seven years, now the international community, that failed in multiple different tests, is facing another very serious exam in Idlib,” he wrote. “This one, however, is even more serious than previous tests. The regime and its allies are prepared to attack a city with approximately 3 million civilians living in it. Most of these residents of Idlib are internally displaced people that fled from the violence that was incurred to them in the cities and towns of Syria by the regime. Everybody watching the unfolding of the civil war in Syria has learned the meaning of the air strikes by the regime and its allies. These air strikes have been responsible for most of the atrocities and casualties in war. Now, after so many years of bloodbath, the regime aims to adopt the same strategy one more time.”

Another columnist in the same newspaper, Yahya Bostan, attempted to predict what was likely to happen next in Idlib following the Tehran summit. In his opinion the joint communiqué issued following the summit gave grounds for hope. “Reading the text,’ he wrote, “one could start expecting good things to happen in Idlib. The call on armed groups to lay down their arms could be seen as a sign that the regime and its supporters will pause their attacks on Idlib and coordinated strikes against terrorists will begin.”

However, like Duran, he also drew attention to probable difficulties in implementing the terms agreed. “Sometimes, the situation on the ground tends to be quite different from what one finds in official papers,” he wrote. “Throughout the Syrian civil war, various parties failed to keep their promises on countless occasions. As such, it is crucial to closely monitor what steps the regime and its supporters will take in the future.”

Columnists in other pro-government papers showed a similar fixation with Idlib, underscoring the Turkish anxiety about what may happen there and the likely negative consequences for Turkey. Yasin Aktay, writing in Yeni Şafak ― another English language paper that supports the government ― was also critical of the lack of international support for Turkey’s efforts in Syria, in particular criticising the European Union and warning of severe repercussions in Europe should Idlib degenerate into a bloodbath.

He also offered a pessimistic take on the outcome of the Tehran summit. “The solution anticipated by this troika in Idlib does not suggest any other result than the death of tens of thousands of people in an air strike, which doesn’t discriminate between civilian or terrorist, the destruction of the city and 3.5 million civilians mass migrating out of the city as refugees.”