Turkey’s Triumph of Humanitarian Diplomacy: Sochi Summit

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Sochi Deal has been the first achievement of the ‘enterprising and humanitarian Foreign Policy’, which was, declared during the 10th Ambassadors Conference on 13th August 2018 in Ankara. Turkey showed a great diplomatic success at Idlib crisis with its public diplomacy aiming at prevention of a humanitarian catastrophe by winning over the support of international community and public opinion.

A potential major scale military operation of Russia, Assad’s regime and Iran-backed militias against Idlib, which is the last bastion of the armed opposition groups, has brought the Syrian crisis on the international agenda again and at the same time it has accelerated the international diplomacy traffic. Such in a manner that, Turkey has had to perform such an active diplomacy again since it might be the most effected country by the human catastrophe and flood of millions of refugees as Idlib is located on its borderline.  First Turkey focused on dealing with the Idlib crisis at Tehran Summit which was broadcasted live on 7th September 2018, but Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s cease fire call which he suggested in order to prevent the humanitarian tragedy at Idlib, was rejected with a diplomatic language by the Russian President Putin due to the absence of the armed opposition groups of the region at the meeting.

Upon this, while it was thought that Astana talks would be dispersed and Turkish-Russian cooperation would be over, especially looked forward by the US, actors of Astana process announced a 12-point-declaration and ensured the continuation of the talks. The rejection of the Turkey’s ceasefire call has created the impression of the failure of the Tehran Summit.

However, even though it was rejected by Russia and Iran, Turkey’s call for ceasefire during the live broadcast was welcomed by international society and world public opinion. Hence, Turkey was appreciated by the international community as the sole actor of Astana Talks wanted to prevent the humanitarian tragedy at the Summit. After, President Erdoğan made his ceasefire call this time to the international community in order to prevent a potential humanitarian crisis and influx of millions of refugees after a possible military operation in Idlib, with the article he wrote for the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) on 11th September 2018. On the same day, during the UN Security Council meeting, both the US and the UK’s declarations, that they support the President Erdogan’s ceasefire calls at Tehran Summit and on his article at WSJ, showed that Turkey had had gained the support of international community on its Idlib diplomacy.

Not satisfied with these developments, Turkey succeeded at conducting a quadruple conference among the diplomacy senior advisors of the presidents of Germany, France and Russia on 14th September, a week later than the Tehran summit, in order to create a balance with Germany and France against Russia and Iran for the ceasefire of Idlib crisis. On the same day during the Foreign Minister of Russia Lavrov’s visit in Berlin, Germany’s attitude that they do not want to encounter an influx of refugees after a potential operation on Idlib, like in Turkey’s policy, put Russia under Europe’s pressure. In this regard, Turkey created a balance against Russia and Iran by taking Germany and France on its side. In this way, Russia had to accept Turkish Idlib thesis due to the international community that had been influenced by Turkey’s ceasefire call and European pressure. In this way, Turkey’s humanitarian diplomacy that started with its call for ceasefire in Idlib, which welcomed by European states and international community, came to effect at Sochi Summit.

Turkey’s standpoint on Idlib crisis of ‘humanitarian catastrophe and refugee crisis based diplomacy’ which was supported by international community and public opinion, and therefore disagreed by Russia, helped to accomplish the goal which it could not attain at Tehran summit but at Sochi. In this regard, Turkey’s Idlib diplomacy can be regarded as the first achievement of the principle of ‘enterprising and humanitarian foreign policy’ that was declared at Ambassadors Conference on 13th August 2018 after Turkey’s shift to the presidential system.

‘The Memorandum of Understanding on Stabilization of the Situation in Idlib’s De-Escalation Zone’ was signed at Sochi Summit between Turkey and Russia on 17th September 2018. According to this MoU, parties agreed on establishment of a de-militarized zone in Syria between the opposition forces and the regions under the regime’s control. Therefore, Turkey undertakes the establishment of a 15-20 km de-militarized zone in Idlib. This also means that Turkey undertakes a very problematic mission of persuading opposition groups to disarm. Addition to that, as Turkey and the US did at Manbij, Russia and Turkey will conduct patrols in coordination in order to control the borders of disarmed zones in Idlib.

Furthermore, with this MoU, opposition groups in Syria will be able to remain where they are already situated. This also means Turkey’s operation in the region will continue. Otherwise, a potential military operation in Idlib could have caused the destruction of Turkey backed-opposition groups by Asad regime. This might have led the Asad regime to become the sole actor and might have resulted in Turkey to acknowledge the new Syria with the Asad regime.

The most striking article of the MoU, which Turkey could not achieve at Tehran Declaration but did in Sochi, is that the one where the terror group PYD/YPG is described as the main structure aiming to destruct the territorial integrity of Syria and national security of Turkey. The provision of the MoU, that reads as ‘the biggest threat to the future of Syria is the PYD/YPG terror nests on the east of the Euphrates rather than Idlib’, directly points at the US.

The US stands out as the unwanted actor at the Syrian equation as the common policy of Russia and Turkey. In this context, the reference to the east of the Euphrates and YPD/YPG demonstrates that Russia and Turkey adopt a joint position in order to leave the US out of the Syria equation. This progress also disproves the arguments that Turkey will turn onto the US by withdrawing from the cooperation with Russia after the Tehran Summit.

To conclude, Turkey’s humanitarian diplomacy that prioritizes Syrian people prevented a possible humanitarian tragedy in Idlib. In fact this is not a new concept. Yet, Turkey pursued humanitarian diplomacy in the framework of political resolution strategy rather than military one in order to prevent a massacre in Aleppo before Idlib crisis. In this sense, it can be said that Turkey consistently maintains its political solution oriented policy since the beginning of the Syria crisis. With this aspect, it can be seen that while Turkey has been trying to support Syrian people, Russia and Iran have been pursuing policies to sustain Esad‘s regime. As a result, Turkey’s humanitarian-based policy which aims at enabling Syrian peoples peaceful coexistence is welcomed by particularly Syrian peoples and by international community, since Turkey both shelters around 4 million of Syrian refugees on its soil and it ensures ceasefire, before in Jarabulus, Azez, Al-Bab and Afrin and now in Idlib. In fact, Turkey’s Syria policy, in this context, constitutes the most attractive story of Ankara that can tell the world with public diplomacy.

Doç. Dr. Muharrem EKŞİ
ANKASAM Kamu Diplomasisi Danışmanı