September 15th marked an important accord between Turkey, Iran and Russia in the 6th round of Astana Talks that first started on January 6th of this year. The nexus agreed to add a fourth region to the establishment of de-escalation zones, which they decided in the May meeting of Astana for a period of six months. The target in Astana was to give security for civilians by creating these de-escalation zones, which Turkey had been demanding for a long time. However, the de-escalation zone is not the same as the previous safe zone proposals but rather a “new concept” according to President Erdogan.
This decision proved to serve the purpose since hostilities diminished sharply in the first three agreed zones with the help of some of the associated states. The three guarantors decided to send 500 observers each to support the ceasefire and monitor the violations. The Foreign Minister made a written statement concerning the aim of forming this zone by saying that the observers’ mission will be to prevent clashes between “the (Syrian) regime and the opposition forces, and any violations of the truce”.
Reaching a consensus is unquestionably a positive progress for the long-established conflict in Syria and is considered as a unity against the radical groups like Al-Qaeda and ISIS. Creating the fourth de-escalation zone is particularly important in the eyes of the affiliated countries due to various factors. First of all, Idlib has a border with Turkey and is close to the city of Hatay. Since armed radical groups are dominant in Idlib, including the ones transferred from Aleppo, Turkey was concerned there would be a wave of influx of these groups in case there was an escalation in conflict there. However, as a result of the negotiations in Astana, the armed radical groups are to be retreated in a region in the midway of Idlib, which would prevent them to advance to the Turkish border.
Idlib is also important for the YPG because it was their target province to proceed to reach the Mediterranean Sea. It’s quite interesting that the terrorist group announced this following the agreement of the de-escalation zones signed in May in Astana. However, by this final decision, Afrin is surrounded on the three sides and hence the YPG forces are unable to move down to the South. Through the Operation Euphrates Shield, Turkey had halted YPG to join the cantons of Afrin and Kobane by taking control of the region in between. Taking Idlib under the authority of the Turkish, Russian and Iranian observers, is certainly a big blow for this terrorist group. The primary reason for the US to take Idlib seriously is that the region is Al-Qaeda’s closest spot to the West. Moreover, the US does not consider Al-Qaeda’s existence as a temporary but rather a long-term struggle. Besides, Idlib is home to some US-backed opposition groups that function along with them during clashes.
Given the significance for the involved parties, before the Astana agreement was finalized, there were rumors that some operations would take place in Idlib either by Turkey or the US or Russia. Even analysts from Turkey were contemplating it would meet Turkey’s best interests if it initiated simultaneous operations on Idlib and Afrin. Yet, this latest improvement led to different steps to be taken. While the Russian military and Chechen leader Kadyrov’s police forces will be deployed on the eastern part of Idlib, Turkish troops will be stationed on the western parts to sustain stability in the province. Since the contract instructs “rapid, safe and unhindered humanitarian access”, international humanitarian aid will continue to be delivered via the Turkish border of Cilvegözü to the estimated 2.5 million people who inhabit the four de-escalation zones. Additionally, within the same Memorandum, parties also came to a conclusion concerning the need to take confidence building measures such as the exchange of prisoners and corpses as well as identification of missing people.
While this positive development takes place, a new project that would jeopardize the territorial integrity of Iraq is in effect. The Northern Iraq Regional Government insists on an independence poll to take place on September 25thdespite strong rejections from the regional countries including Iran and Turkey. Given the current situation in the region, another national breakdown is the last thing anyone needs. Not pleased with this, the Iraqi Supreme Court declared the ruling concerning the preparations of the referendum to be halted after receiving several “requests to stop the referendum.” This is definitely a sound decision for the well-being of the region because such fragmentations will generate new conflicts since the ultimate plan for the PKK and its affiliates is to form a communist state consisting of Kurdish minorities located in Turkey, Iran and Syria.
Only the regional players can provide the security in the Middle East. Powers participating from the outside give priority to their own interests. Therefore, it is essential for the three guarantors to be in consensus and harmony as much as possible. Stability can also be obtained via our own power, and sustaining the unitary structure of the states is of utmost importance. Therefore, the final memorandum of Astana beginning with the guarantors’ determination to protect “the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of Syrian Arab Republic” is noteworthy. The PKK is playing with fire by trying to create an “autonomous Kurdish state” in Northern Syria alongside the Turkish border. Nevertheless, Turkey, Iran and Russia will never allow the region to be fragmented whatsoever similar to defeating the plots formulated inside Syria and succeeding by taking solid steps on the way to attain peace.
Adnan Oktar’s piece in Tehran Times & Jefferson Corner (USA):