June 14, 2021 Special Dispatch No. 9392

Russian Middle East Expert Mirzayan: Let Turkey Choke On Idlib

June 14, 2021
Russia, Syria, Turkey | Special Dispatch No. 9392

In an investigative report for RIA Novosti titled "Acting as if It Owned the Place, Turkey Occupies Foreign Lands" Kseniya Melnikova describes how Turkey is consolidating its control over Northern Syria. Turkey was making the region part of Turkey by imposing its curriculum, connecting the region to the Turkish power grid and distributing identity cards while invalidating Syrian issued documents. The Assad government protests but is basically helpless. Melnikova hopes that Russia will curb Turkey's actions and compel it to leave Syria. Middle East expert Gevorg Mirzayan considers Turkey to be a rival of Russia and has no love for Turkish President Recep Erdogan. However, instead of advocating Russian intervention like Melnikova, he diabolically recommends allowing Turkey to strengthen its hold in Idlib Province. This would prod the Iranians, who have been happy to see Russia do the heavy lifting, to deter Turkey not only in Syria but in the Caucasus. The Arabs will be up in arms against Turkey as they see Turkey encroaching on Arab land. Turkey will be under constant threat of a war, in which its NATO allies will abandon it.

Below are both articles. Melnikova's article appears first[1] and is followed by Mirzayan's:

Syrian children atop a Turkish tank in Afrin, Syria (Source:

"Damascus has practically no control over the north and northeast of Syria. Ankara builds hospitals and schools in the region, distributes identity cards to the residents, and puts the Turkish lira into circulation. Turkmens and Sunni Arabs are being settled in Kurdish areas. RIA Novosti inquires whether Turkey threatens the sovereignty of the Syrian Arab Republic [SAR] and how Russia can influence this process.

"Illegal Entries

“The Syrian Foreign Ministry condemns the Turkish regime’s actions, which has created a civil registry in the terrorist-controlled areas of Idlib. Syrian identity cards and family documents are revoked and are replaced by illegal Turkish ones. This is the peak of the Turkization policy,” reads the statement of Syrian news agency.

"Damascus also criticized an 'illegal entry' into the country by delegations from France and the Netherlands. They visited the territories controlled by the Arab-Kurdish troops of the 'Syrian Democratic Forces' (SDF). The Syrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs termed the visit 'aggression against Syria' and 'a flagrant violation of international law.'

"The Kurdish Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (NES) transferred to the Dutch government four relatives (a woman and three children) of Islamic State militants. A French delegation from the Daniel Mitterrand Foundation and the Administration of Paris visited the town of Qamishli. The goal of the visit was not reported. However, Damascus was not informed about this visit.

"The West is acting defiantly, demonstrating that the northeast of Syria is not under control of the central authorities. Actually, it’s not entirely true. For example, in the May 26 presidential elections polling stations were operating in the cities of Qamishli and Al-Hasakah.

"Creeping Turkization

"The situation in the north, bordering Turkey is very different. Ankara was engaged in the “Olive Branch” (from January to March 2018) and “Euphrates Shield” (from August 2016 to March 2017) operations against the Kurds there. Pro-Turkish forces of the Syrian opposition remain in these areas, as well as in the Idlib de-escalation zone.

"Over the years, the Western and Arab media have been reporting the Turkization of the region: localities receive Turkish names; the Turkish lira has force out the Syrian pound. The demography is also changing: Turkmens and Sunni Arabs are being resettled in Kurdish areas.

"As usual, Ankara is wielding soft power. Reconstructed or rebuilt schools teach a Turkish curriculum. For example, the term “Ottoman occupation” has been replaced by “Ottoman rule” in history textbooks. Thousands of teachers are paid by the neighboring state, and the Turkish language is taught from first grade. Graduates are offered admission to Turkish universities.

"Ankara is also financing the restoration of hospitals. In late May, [Turkey's] Anadolu news agency announced that Turkey had restored the electricity supply to Idlib. The repairs lasted for seven months. Previously, electricity was provided for only two hours a day.

"On May 29, militants, who are active in the Turkish Armed Forces' area of responsibility, forbade schoolchildren from taking exams mandatory for state diplomas. Armed men stopped the buses with the schoolchildren and sent them back.

"Many Claims

"In early June, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, US ambassador to the United Nations, paid a visit to Turkey. [The visit resulted] in reaching an agreement on the uninterrupted supply of humanitarian aid to the north of the Syrian Arab Republic via the UN Bab al-Hawa border crossing. The Bloomberg agency called it 'an initiative to curb Russia’s attempts to block support for Syria.' The UN mandate for the Bab al-Hawa border crossing expires on July 10. The West along with Turkey are urging its extension, while Russia is categorically opposed.

"Ankara argues that without UN supervision, Syrian refugees will again flood Turkey. Moscow believes that the Bab al-Hawa border crossing is unnecessary, because the aid funneled through it is unevenly distributed and reaches mostly militants. 'The functioning of Bab al-Hawa border crossing could be replaced by deliveries within the country. The terrorists, who control the checkpoint, are not interested in transparent supplies,' Dmitry Polyansky, Russia’s First Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN, wrote on his Twitter account."

Bab Al-Hawa crossing (Source:

"Moscow and Ankara have accumulated many complaints about the implementation of the Syrian agreements reached by Russia and Turkey’s presidents last March. Both sides periodically report cease-fire violations and provide varying casualty figures. In the spring, the agreement was in jeopardy.

"Ankara blamed the Syrian military and President Bashar al-Assad personally for the attacks on the Idlib de-escalation zone and the “deaths of innocent people.” The Syrian opposition reported the raid conducted by the Russian Aerospace Forces on the Bab al-Hawa border crossing. Furthermore, the Turkish Air Force attacked Raqqa province for the first time in a year and a half.

"'The situation in the cooperation zones remains very difficult. Terrorist groups remain there which obstructs a stabilization of the situation. However, the cooperation continues. There are also disagreements on Syria,' said Presidential Press Secretary, Dmitry Peskov.

Putting A Good Face On A Bad Situation

"'The thing is that Turkey in Syria acts as if it owned the place, despite the fact that Turkish troops are present illegally in the north of the country. [They are not there] under a UN Security Council decision or at the invitation of [official] Damascus,” Vladimir Avatkov, a senior researcher at the IMEMO RAS, and an associate professor at the Y.M Primakov Diplomatic Academy of the Russian Foreign Ministry, said in an interview with RIA Novosti.

"'Basically, by using such hybrid technologies, Ankara is trying to expand its sphere of influence following the concepts of neo-Ottomanism, Turkish-style Islamism, and even neo-Pan-Turkism. The Turks argue that many local residents are Turkmen, i.e. Turks who have lived there since Ottoman Empire times. Actually by such actions Turkey is engaged in an offensive, aggressive policy. This this is true not only for the Syrian track [of Turkish foreign policy],” said the expert.

Vladimir Avatkov (Source:

"'The orientalist and publicist Andrey Ontikov agrees with him. "'Damascus' criticism about the violation of SAR’s sovereignty is justified. The Kurdish regions, for instance Afrin, will treat any of Ankara's actions with hostility. However, the Turks take advantage of the demographic changes in the region. Sunni Arabs and Turkmen, who are being settled near the Kurds, are very loyal to Turkey," explained the expert.

"'A terrorist enclave was formed in Idlib; it comprises of the most radical groups. For them, the very idea of restoring Syrian sovereignty is unacceptable. The Turks are gradually creating conditions for seizing these territories and annexing them to Turkey,' said the orientalist.

But Ankara’s actions may be curbed by Moscow, which is eager to settle the situation ad hoc through diplomatic channels. There was a serious escalation in Idlib at the beginning of 2020. The Syrians, thanks to Russia’s support, managed to liberate important strategic areas. There is a possibility that Turkey will be eventually forced to leave Syria."

Gevorg Mirzayan took stock of the situation described by Melnikova in an article for VZGLYAD titled "Russia Benefits From Turkey’s Creeping Annexation Of Idlib":[2]

"Turkey is gradually annexing Idlib. Such a conclusion can be drawn by analyzing Ankara’s actions in the Syrian governorates occupied by its troops.

"The Turks are creating government institutions there, convert education to their own standards and narratives (for instance, denying the facts about discrimination during against Arabs under the Ottoman rule), and binding the governorate to it on the infrastructure level (for example, the local electricity grid is connected to the Turkish one). [Now Ankara] is already moving to issuing passports.

"Residents of Idlib are issued Turkish papers en masse, thus making them Turkish citizens with all their rights that for instance includes the right to ask Erdogan for help in case of an attack by 'regime forces.'

"Understandably, the Syrian authorities agonizingly protest such actions. 'The Syrian Foreign Ministry condemns the Turkish regime’s actions, which has created a civil registry in the terrorist-controlled areas of Idlib. Syrian identity cards and family documents are revoked are replaced by illegal Turkish ones. This is the zenith of the Turkization policy,' RIA Novosti quoted a statement by the Syrian news agency.

"The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs is also probably displeased with the actions of their Turkish partners. The very same partners, who lost the Syrian civil war and managed to, somehow, managed to join the winners’ camp only thanks to Russia's kindness (that is, Ankara acquired the right to determine Syria’s future along with Russia and Iran). Now, Ankara’s actions are detrimental to the process of restoring the Syrian Arab Republic's territorial integrity, which was defined by the Kremlin as the primary goal of the Syrian civil war.

"However, the irony of the whole situation is that although Turkey’s actions are unsupported by Russia, they are beneficial to Moscow as a whole. Tactical difficulties are more than offset by strategic opportunities, provided, of course, that one will consider our temporary hitchhiker Ankara to be a strategic rival in the medium- and long-term perspective. This is what Turkey is, as it wishes to control Crimea and the Muslim regions of Russia).

"First, the gradual annexation of Idlib makes Turkey more vulnerable. While no one challenges the Turkish claim on the Northern Cyprus, annexed by Ankara (one shouldn’t even take the weak EU claims and statements), Syria won’t give up Idlib. Turkey will be under a constant threat of a major conflict, which may very well erupt not at Erdogan’s behest. It is clear that the Turkish president will be unable to remain idle if the lives of Turkish citizens in Idlib are threatened. Otherwise he will instantly lose voter support of the voters and deprive Turkey of its leadership status. This will be a war in which none of the NATO allies (despite their enmity for Syria) will come to Turkey's assistance.

"The thing is that some of NATO member-states dislike Erdogan more than Assad, while others want to take Ankara's foreign policy down a notch and simultaneously give a jolt to Erdogan’s regime (whose popularity is largely based on a 'tough guy' image). A third group [will withhold support] simply because Idlib isn’t a part of Turkish territory and therefore does not fall under Article 5 of the NATO Charter [triggering intervention by the NATO allies].

"Second, the Turkization of Idlib will prompt Erdogan’s current adversaries in the Middle East to be more active. First of all, I mean Iran.

"The point is that Tehran in relations with Moscow quickly appropriated the Chinese tactic of imposing upon Moscow all the hardship in solving common problems. For example, Turkey’s actions in the Caucasus region during the Second Karabakh War (transferring terrorists from Idlib to the Iranian border; encouraging of Azerbaijani nationalism, which spread to Iranian Azerbaijan) threatened Tehran’s interests far more than those of Moscow.

"Therefore the Iranian authorities choose an extremely cautious tactics. It appeared that they hoped the Kremlin will solve all problems (which actually happened, although Moscow did it as it saw fit, disregarding Iranian interests). Considering the Syrian issue, the Iranians believe this territory to be their exclusive sphere of influence. And they are not far from the truth, after all Tehran's influence in Damascus' corridors of power is indisputable.

"Thus, the legitimacy of Idlib’s occupation by the Turks is Iran's problem, which the latter should solve by its own means, rather than trying to turn Russia into its spearhead. And if Iran decides to solve it, the country might be more active in the deterrent process not only in the Middle East, but in the South Caucasus as well. This will be undoubtedly most beneficial for Moscow.

"And finally, third, the creeping annexation of Syrian territory will be a serious blow to relations between Turkey and the Arab countries. Ankara, can recount stories to the Idlib youth on how beautiful life was for the Arabs under the Turkish rule, but the Gulf and Maghreb countries adhere to a totally different point of view. The annexation of Idlib will transform this historical knowledge and phobias into a reality of foreign policy by consolidating the Arab countries to confront and deter Turkey (which, let’s note, has already infiltrated in Libya and Qatar). Therefore. Ankara will have a bundle of new problems foreign policy-wise.

"Of course, everyone in Turkey understands this very well. The best option for Ankara would not be Idlib's annexation, but the exchange of this territory in return for significant political and economic concessions from Damascus and Tehran that would guarantee Turkish interests in post-war Syria (including pm the Kurdish issue). However, Erdogan, as is known, is no Bismarck.

"The Iron Chancellor was always capable of stopping at the right moment and not getting in too deep, however Erdogan is constantly adventurous. He very often gets carried away by his successes.

"Thus, Idlib is gradually transforming itself into a Turkish 'White Elephant.' It will be impossible to get rid of it (let’s recall the new “Turkish citizens”), as well as to annex it. And Turkey will have to bear both the economic and diplomatic costs of its maintenance."

 Gevorg Mirzayan (Source:


[1], June 8, 2021.

[2], June 9, 2021.

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