Demonstrations in Idlib against Bashar el-Assad shows the spirit of the Arab Spring still lives on. The rights of the Syrian people (no less than the rights of all Arab peoples) have been trampled on, but what has been most surprising is how, in the Syrian context, the international left sees Assad as a sort of beacon and the Russian state as the angel of justice. Narratives across the alt-left blogs and newsletters have been as incomprehensible as those of the alt-right.
As Syrian opposition activist Yasin al-Haj Saleh said in an interview with the Intercept in 2016, when asked What did you expect from the left in its response to the Syrian revolution?:
‘It came to me as a shock, actually, that most of them have sided with Bashar al-Assad. I don’t expect much out of the international left, but I thought they would understand our situation and see us as a people who were struggling against a very despotic, very corrupt, and very sectarian regime. I thought they would see us and side with us. What I found, unfortunately, is that most people on the left know absolutely nothing about Syria. They know nothing of its history, political economy, or contemporary circumstances, and they don’t see us.’
At the time Saleh couldn’t have predicted that events would finally grind events down in Syria to a stalemate with the opposition surviving precariously in the Idlib enclave. All commentary still expects Assad’s thirst for terror soon to be quenched and Turkey’s insolence at suggesting peace and the beginning of a political process, to be punished with new mayhem and chaos, on the basis that tiny recalcitrant factions like Horas Al-Din and Jabhat Ansar Al-Din will throw a spanner in the works of the peace deal. But little thought is given to the fact that Turkey’s military force, the largest in NATO after the US, has been given over to counter-terror operations for the past 20 years in the Turkish South-East, and latterly in Syria and Iraq.
Turkey’s demand for peace isn’t a polite request, as Russia found out when it was informed that resistance to an Assad advance on a massive scale had been planned, and as Hay’at Tahrir el-Sham found out when it was officially blacklisted in Ankara. A copy of the Russian-Turkish one page memorandum of agreement (below), negotiated between Putin and Erdogan on 17th Sept. in Sochi, is a testament to the Turkish resolve not to bend in the face of an advance by Assad.
Ahead of Assad’s threats, Turkey reinforced each of its 12 military outposts around Idlib with 80 to 1,000 mechanized infantry and commando troops (totaling 1,200-1,300) and equipped the outposts with multiple rocket launchers and massive prefabricated concrete ramparts. Ankara then sealed off the border west and north of Idlib with military units, that planned to organise unlimited logistical support for the rebel fighting units. A long drawn out conflict would have shaken the continued viability of the Assad régime, which could well have endangered the status of the Russian military bases at Tartus and Hmeimim nearby. Furthermore, Iran’s absence on 17th September in Sochi and its failure to comment on the agreement showed its lack of enthusiasm, at least at this juncture, for Assad’s braggadocio at his allies’ expense.
In the agreement, Putin agrees to Turkey playing the role of “guarantor” of ceasefires throughout Syria, and accepts the continuing reinforcement and expansion of Turkish military forces in the Idlib governorate under the formula of “fortification” of Turkish “observation posts”, while their number (currently 12) is not restricted in area size or limited in terms of invested personnel and arms. Putin also agrees to “take all necessary measures to ensure that military operations and attacks on Idlib will be avoided and the existing status quo will be maintained.”
Meanwhile, the full extent of the new Turkish-ruled territory has been postponed, according to the wording of the Sochi pact. “The delineation of the exact lines of the demilitarised zone will be determined,” Point 4 says, “through further consultations.”
— Zeina Khodr (@ZeinakhodrAljaz) September 19, 2018
See the original Russian memorandum of agreement: