How do various actors on the ground in Idlib and its environs see the new Turkish-Russian agreement over the northwest region? I am very much open to hosting opinion articles and analyses from people on the ground. In this regard I am publishing an exclusive guest post article for my site by Abu Shu'aib al-Masri (Talha al-Musayyir/Talha al-Masir), an Egyptian cleric who used to be in Ahrar al-Sham and then Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham and is currently independent. I interviewed him on my site last month regarding his assessment of the battles and general situation in northwest Syria.
Below is Abu Shu'aib al-Masri's article for my site on the recent Turkish-Russian agreement over the northwest region and the outcomes he expects from it. In the translation I provide, any parenthetical insertions in square brackets are my own.
The Turkish Guardianship Over Idlib and Its Outcomes
By Abu Shu'aib al-Masri
The recent years in particular since the exit of the mujahideen from Aleppo have witnessed Russian-Turkish mutual understandings that became prominent in the conferences of Astana and Sochi and the most recent product of the multiple mutual understandings was the Turkish-Russian mutual understanding I Moscow on 5 March 2020, which affirms matters among them:
- Continuing the work on the process of Astana and Sochi and taking into account the Geneva process
- Combating all forms of terrorism and destroying all the terrorist groups in Syria as defined by the Security Council.
- Establishing a secure passage 6km long on each of the two sides of the M4 highway present in the liberated areas, and facilitating joint Russian-Turkish patrols on them.
- That there is no military solution to the conflict in Syria and it can only be resolved through the political process that Syria has facilitated in what concords with the resolution 2254 of the Security Council
- The unit of Syrian lands
And this agreement followed Russian-Turkish meetings during which the Turkish Foreign Minister affirmed that the south of the M4 highway will be subjected to Russian monitoring and the north of it to Turkish monitoring, and this really means the Turkish desire to hand over many areas of the liberated lands in Jabal al-Zawiya and south Idlib countryside and Hama countryside and the Sahel [coastal area] to the Russian occupier.
This agreement coincided with great Turkish mobilizations in the different areas of Idlib that cannot be considered as merely monitoring points, but rather they have multiple military and political assignments.
So what are the expected dimensions of these developments?
First: Turkish guardianship over Idlib
These Turkish military mobilizations in Idlib that were followed by the Turkish-Russian agreement mean Turkey desires guardianship over the Idlib area and to define its fate, and what appeared to be the toughening up of the Turkish army with the Nusayri regime was merely pressure to divide influence and to ensure realization of Turkish interests in portfolios like East Euphrates, Tel Refa'at and Manbij. And likewise the Libyan portfolio with Russia, and the portfolio of anti-aircraft with America, and the portfolio of refugees with Europe. For Erdogan was saying before his travel to Moscow: "We will launch a wide-scale operation against the regime forces in Idlib if the regime does not withdraw to behind the Turkish points during this month of February." Then it became clear that these words were not sincere and it was only media pressure before the conference to achieve political gains.
And what that confirms is that Turkish policy on the Syrian portfolio since 2011 has been proceeding on one arrangement, and the bloodshed, the destroyed towns, the regions that have seen displacement and the male and female prisoners during those years have not been a motive for influential direct Turkish military intervention in the Syrian portfolio. Rather, what occurred from limited intervention in the recent years is connected with the separatist Kurdish militias to protect Turkish national security. And the areas that Turkish has seized in Afrin, Euphrates Shield and Olive Branch with regards to the revolution against the Bashar regime have transformed into areas of freezing frontlines and drawing up areas of influence.
And this Turkish practice is similar to its practice with what the revolutions of Egypt, Libya and Yemen faced during the past years, for Turkey is a state that complies with the regard for the direction and pressure of the global system, so it is possible for it to receive refugees or support with some wealth and arms or condemn and rebuke. As for undertaking a fateful military alliance between it and those revolution, it is a conception very far removed from the reality and the Turkish policy.
And the Turkish state is a national state in accordance with the global system in order to realize material interests for its people. As for the Syrian revolution, it came out against the Nusayri regime that is one of the footprints of the global system and part of the collaborationist states affiliated with the global states. Therefore enlisting the revolution again to the current global system is working to end the revolution and thwart it.
So the Turkish control and its guardianship over Idlib mean:
- Turkey's compliance with subjecting the area to the global system
- Turkey's application of what it agrees with the global forces in this area, like: the political solution, demilitarization, inserting directorates of other governments to Idlib
- Turning the revolution into a mere pressure force that regional states direct in the direction that realizes the interests of those states.
- Taking control of the organizational structure of the biggest factions and their decision-making and course.
- Repeating the Euphrates Shield experiment in which the reference authority of the courts turned from Islam to Syrian law, and the stranglehold was applied against the Islamic movements with the spread of corruption and chaos.
- Turkey's involvement in quagmires resembling what Saudi Arabia has faced when it intervened in Yemen in Decisive Storm, when it fell into attrition and its interests have been threatened and it has not achieved in the field what it aimed for.
Second: The position of the revolutionaries and the mujahideen on the Turkish guardianship
Hamza al-Khateeb was not starving looking for a morsel of bread such that he rose against Bashar.
And Hussein al-Harmoush was not afraid looking for a safe refuge when he defected from Bashar's army.
Knowing the truth of the Syrian revolution and the stages it went through is important in conceiving the expected position after the Russian-Turkish meetings.
The Syrian people were living an average life so they are not of the poor peoples nor of the abundantly wealthy peoples, and the general mass of Syrians were adorned with good customs and manners and compliance with many of the laws of Islam like prayer, fasting, zakat and Hajj, and the one who wanted to memorize the Qur'an did so, and the one who wanted to graduate from the Shari'i colleges and institutes could do so. Despite that, it was under the rule of their Nusayri enemy that controls the reins of rule, puts aside the Shari'a and is elevated over the Muslims and strikes with an iron hand the one who intervenes in matters of politics. Therefore the Syrian people revolted against that criminal gang.
And despite what the Syrians at the beginning of their revolution were surprised with from the burden of the taxation that they pay in confronting the Nusayri rule in terms of arrest, killing, wounding, destruction and dispersal, they insisted on the jihad, and declared it openly: death and not humiliation, we have no one besides You oh God, in the path of God we proceed.
- So is it for this revolution, if its end point is a plea deal from the tyrant, to accept leaving the IDPs living without bombing in a border safe zone, and under Turkish guardianship?!
- And what is the value of temporary calm from which is required the return of millions of refugees from the states of the world to the embrace of the Nusayri regime so it can exploit them in building its criminal army again in anticipation of a new offensive?
- And has anything brought more harm, damage and defeats and woes to the revolution like subjecting it to the international forces and supporters and conferences of Astana, Sochi, al-Riyadh and Geneva?
. A quick overview confirms that what has appeared in Idlib currently from declared rejection of this Turkish-Russian agreement bears inside it rejection of Turkish guardianship over the area. It also confirms the existence of general belief in the ability to continue the revolution and continue the jihad, and that the current retreat is because of the international conspiracies and their direct impacts on the major factions, and that the true remedy for the recent defeats is to correct the course and not in more connection with those regional forces that barter in the suffering of the Syrian people and cannot exit the global system that still recognizes Bashar as president of Syria.
Third: The expected outcomes of the Turkish guardianship over Idlib
The Syrian revolution is living today in a quagmire that is the result of a long series of errors in balancing between the interest of the Syrian revolution and the interest of the other states that have intervened in the Syrian portfolio, and we today are before two expected courses, and they are:
. The first expected course: correcting the course of the revolution, and that is through:
Reorganizing the priorities
Mobilizing society for the decisive battle
Activating the impeded powers and competencies
Making the Turkish role as a supporter of the revolution, and not its overseer [/guardian].
In order to change the field reality and advance to strategic areas in Aleppo, Hama, or the Sahel, and in that the revolution will come out from the bottleneck and pressure of international exploitation, and regain its flexibility and ability to deal with events.
The second expected course: increase of Turkish guardianship over Idlib, and this means:
Greater loss of the liberated areas
Continuation of the international conspiracy to exhaust the revolution
Tightening the stranglehold on the revolutionary and mujahid factions
Allowing the international political solutions to pass
But this means likewise the changing of the conflict in Idlib into new forms besides the form present currently, and likely the regional, economic, national, doctrinaire, local, greater regional, international and global conflicts will be invigorated in forms that cannot currently be limited. And the experience of Derna in Libya is not far from us, as the fall of that small town was the herald of the transformation of the conflict in Libya and its environs into many forms no one had conceived.
*And whether the future of the conflict in Idlib is the correction of the course of the revolution or increase of the Turkish guardianship, God (Almighty and Exalted is He) does not make the reward of the one who does well go to loss, and the outcome will be for the pious, and God- Almighty and Exalted is He- will confound the scheme of the disbelievers.