President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan called on European countries once again Wednesday to take concrete actions on Turkey’s policy toward ending violence in northwestern Syria’s Idlib and a proposed safe zone east of the Euphrates River, saying Turkey cannot shoulder the burden of any possible refugee influx.
“We expect much stronger support from European countries both on Idlib and east of the Euphrates. Words are not enough for us anymore,” Erdoğan said during his address at the Beştepe Presidential Palace Complex for the new higher education academic year.
“We host 3.6 million refugees in our country. This is unprecedented in the world. Then the West must do something similar. We are openly saying that we cannot shoulder the burden of 4 million people living in the region if we cannot provide calm in Idlib,” Erdoğan said.
The Idlib province is the only remaining bastion of groups opposing Bashar Assad’s brutal regime in Syria. Most of Idlib’s territory has been controlled by terrorist groups led by al-Qaida-linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham since early 2019 as the regime mainly targeted moderate groups throughout the course of the 8-year-long civil war and facilitated the crossing of extremist fighters into the region.
Ankara and Brussels signed an agreement in 2016 to find a solution to the influx of refugees heading to the union. According to the deal, Turkey was promised a total of 6 billion euros in financial aid, which was initially designed to be given to the country in two stages and be used by the Turkish government to finance projects for Syrian refugees. Visa freedom for Turkish citizens was also to be provided under the agreement. Lastly, the customs union was also to be updated in accordance with the deal.
In exchange for these promises, Turkey took the responsibility of discouraging irregular migration through the Aegean Sea by taking stricter measures against human traffickers and improving the conditions of more than 3 million Syrians living in Turkey.
Despite significant developments in the control of migration traffic, the EU has not delivered on its commitments.
Erdoğan further said upcoming months would be indicative of whether the Syrian crisis will be resolved in peace or whether it will deepen.
The president reiterated once again that Ankara will deploy its own plans within two weeks if the ongoing safe zone plans and implementation with the U.S. in northern Syria prove unfruitful.
“By bringing the area east of the Euphrates to a safe condition, we can resettle 2 to 3 million refugees living in our country and in Europe according to the depth of the safe zone,” he added.
On Aug. 7, Turkish and U.S. military officials agreed to set up a safe zone in northern Syria and develop a peace corridor to facilitate the movement of displaced Syrians who want to return home. They also agreed to establish a joint operations center.
The agreement also envisaged setting up necessary security measures to address Turkey’s security concerns, including clearing the zone of the PKK and its Syrian affiliate, the People’s Protection Units (YPG). The U.S. has supported the YPG in the fight against Daesh, regardless of objections from Turkey.
The PKK has been responsible for the deaths of nearly 40,000 people in Turkey, including many children, women, and infants terror group for more than 30 years.
However, the two countries are still at odds on how deep the safe zone will extend into Syrian territory and whether large cities and towns in the area will be cleared of the YPG.
When it comes to the formation of the constitutional committee for the political solution to be reached in the war-torn country, Erdoğan reiterated that all the members of the committee were approved during the latest Astana meeting in Ankara on Monday.
“All the complications regarding the formation of the committee have been eliminated,” the president said.
Forming a commission to create Syria’s post-war constitution is seen as a stepping-stone to elections in the war-torn country and is part of the Astana process. The first meeting of the Astana process was held in Turkey in January 2017 to bring all warring parties in the Syrian conflict to the table to facilitate U.N.-sponsored peace talks in Geneva. The Astana talks support the establishment of the U.N.-backed constitutional committee in Syria as a part of finding a political solution.
Such a committee to carve out a constitution was decided upon at the Syrian national dialogue congress in Sochi on Jan. 30, 2018, and generated indisputable U.N. support as a means of reaching a political solution to the protracted crisis. It’s expected to have 150 members equally representing the Syrian government, the opposition and civil society groups of independents, tribal leaders and women.
Under the guidance of the U.N. and the Astana process guarantors, the committee formation process was started shortly after the Sochi congress in January 2018 but had kept running into difficulties due to disagreements regarding personalities suggested by the Assad regime and the opposition.