Ankara heavily involved in Turkish-controlled northern Syria - analysts

Turkey is extensively involved in northern Syria’s Tel Abyad and Ras al Ayn regions, where it has maintained military control since a military incursion last year, analysts at the Carnegie Middle East Center wrote on Friday.

October 2019’s Peace Spring came after U.S. President Donald Trump announced the country’s withdrawal from northern Syria, where it had been supporting Kurdish-led multi-ethnic Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in their bid against the Islamic State (ISIS).

Turkey considers the SDF to be affiliated with the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), which is designated a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the European Union, and the United States.

Since the operation, Turkey has started to provide municipal and civil services in the region, including for postage, property, healthcare and education, and expansion of the country’s control in these areas “has fundamentally altered the nature of Turkey’s border areas with Syria,” the analysts said.

 “While stopping short of outright annexation, such integration (with Turkish border provinces) has reshaped the social and economic framework,” they added.

The region stands isolated from the rest of Syria, and as such, is not viable for the return of Syrian refugees, as Turkey had planned to do, they added. Administrators in local councils have coordinators in Şanlıurfa, across the border in Turkey, who facilitate Turkish aid to the region and secure funding for the services offered.

More than 15,000 students in Ras al Ayn are enrolled in Turkish schools, while universities in Turkey’s border regions have scholarships available for Syrian nationals after they take the country’s university exams for foreigners.

Agricultural machinery was allowed to pass through Turkish-controlled areas in May, travelling between Ras al Ayn and Tel Abyad as the two areas are not directly connected. Some 1,500 farmers were also allowed to cross into Turkey to travel to their fields in Syria.

Official disaster response in Turkey, the Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD), as well as conservative-linked aid groups like the Humanitarian Relief Foundation (İHH) are handling distribution of resources in the absence of Western aid agencies.

The region’s isolation from the rest of Syria has encouraged smuggling, with building materials like cement and steel being cheaper under Turkish control, and fuel products in Kurdish controlled areas as they produce oil.

“This indicates that while the area is technically in a border zone with Turkey, it also acts as a border between Turkey and the rest of Syria,” the analysts said.

A local commander told Carnegie that resources and infrastructure in the region were barely enough for the people already living there. “We don’t want anyone to come back,” he said.

“As its administration of these areas has in many ways been successful,” they added, “Turkey may be encouraged to replicate such a model east of the Euphrates,” where previous military incursions achieved control of previously-Kurdish-held areas.