Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu has said reconciliation between opposition groups and the Damascus government is needed for lasting peace in war-ravaged Syria, adding that he previously underlined the importance of such a political reconciliation during a brief conversation with his Syrian counterpart, Faisal al-Mekdad, local media reported.
The top Turkish diplomat on Thursday hinted at normalizing ties with neighboring Syria after more than a decade during a speech at the 13th Ambassadors Conference in Ankara, detailing Turkey’s plan to repair diplomatic relations.
Çavuşoğlu stated that he had a brief conversation with al-Mekdad on the sidelines of the two-day Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) summit in Belgrade last October in which he stressed that there would be no lasting peace in Syria until a political reconciliation is achieved.
“There must be a powerful government in place to prevent the partition of Syria, and there must be an administration that can control the country’s entire territory. This can only be achieved through unity,” Çavuşoğlu said in remarks a week after he stated that Ankara was prepared to assist the Syrian government in its efforts to flush out members of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militant group from energy-rich areas in northeastern Syria.
Turkey considers the YPG to be an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey and much of the international community.
“The territorial integrity and peace of a country next to us affect us directly. … We always support the fight against separatist terrorist organizations. After all, we have no designs on Syrian territory,” the minister added.
Turkey has deployed forces in Syria in violation of the Arab country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Ankara-backed militants were deployed to northeastern Syria in October 2019 after Turkish military forces launched a long-threatened cross-border invasion in a declared attempt to push YPG fighters away from border areas.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and other senior officials have said Damascus will respond through all legitimate means available to Turkey’s ongoing ground offensive.
The Hürriyet daily said in a report back in April, citing informed sources, that discussions were taking place in Ankara on restoring normal relations with the Syrian government.
“The balanced policy recently adopted by Turkey and the role that Ankara has played in recent months, especially in resolving the war in Ukraine, have made the current time appropriate for resolving the Syrian crisis,” Hürriyet said.
Meanwhile, the Türkiye newspaper, close to Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) government, recently reported rumors that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Syrian regime President Bashar al-Assad may hold a phone conversation as suggested by their Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, who met with Erdoğan in Sochi last week.
The rumors regarding the possibility of a phone conversation between the two presidents were categorically denied by high-level Syrian officials soon afterward, the Prensa Latina news agency reported on Thursday, citing sources talking to the Lebanese al-Mayadeen television channel.
Çavuşoğlu’s remarks and rumors regarding the possibility of a phone call between Erdoğan and Assad prompted protests in northern and eastern Syrian territories controlled by Turkey and Turkish-backed opposition forces, local media reported on Friday.
According to Turkish media outlets, thousands of people on Thursday took to the streets in Idlib, Afrin and Azaz, among other places, demonstrating with flags of the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army (SNA). Protestors also reportedly burned the Turkish flag in Azaz and stoned a checkpoint where some officers from the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) were stationed.
Following the protests, the Turkish Foreign Ministry issued a statement about Çavuşoğlu’s remarks.
“Since the beginning of the Syrian conflict, Turkey has been the country that has done the most to find a solution to the crisis in this country in line with the legitimate expectations of the people,” said a written statement released by Foreign Ministry spokesperson Ambassador Tanju Bilgiç.
“Turkey, which provides temporary protection to millions of Syrians, continues its active contribution to efforts to prepare favorable conditions for the voluntary and safe return of refugees and to find a solution to the conflict in accordance with the roadmap set out in UN Security Council Resolution 2254,” Bilgiç said.
The resolution Bilgiç refers to was adopted by the UN Security Council in 2015, and it sets out a “road map” calling for a peace process where “the Syrian people will decide the future of Syria.”
“Turkey, in cooperation with all stakeholders of the international community, will continue to make a strong contribution to efforts to find a lasting solution to this conflict in line with the expectations of the Syrian people,” Bilgiç said.
Protesting groups announced on their social media accounts that the protests would continue on Friday.