There have been a few attempts at peace in the past, but they failed miserably, making everyone believe that a peace deal in Syria was impossible. The blame was always disputed and many people blamed all sides, yet it is clear that there are those who do not want a peace deal under any circumstances.
These latest deals however do not include the United States, Britain or France, which has given many people hope that a serious deal can be reached. The three main foreign nations speaking with the sides in Syria are Russia, Turkey and Iran.
Turkey has been involved in the Syria conflict from the beginning and Erdogan has made no secret of the fact he supports the opponents of the Syrian Government. He’s been funding and arming many groups, including ISIS, called on NATO to bomb the government and shot down a Russian plane fighting against the militias. Most likely this was to create “New Turkey”, as shown on leaked maps coming from the government, of Turkey’s borders growing larger to include Aleppo and Mosul. Perhaps with helping ISIS take these areas, Erdogan’s plan was to then act like the only genuine fighter fighting them and come in and annex the lands, whilst slowly moving Turks into the area to ethnically cleanse it, similar to what Turkey does in Northern Cyprus. This form of neo-Ottoman colonialism is something that instead of hiding, Erdogan has used to promote himself.
However, after an attempted coup, believed by most in Turkey to be the work of the West, Erdogan has changed much of his tactics, rebuilding relations with Iran, Russia and less publicly Syria. In fact, the coup took place the day after Erdogan announced he was ready to rebuild relations with the Syrian government anyways. This may have a big part to play in why he was targeted, along with the fact that his closest ally David Cameron has just stepped down as Prime Minister of Britain, being replaced by Theresa May who put Boris Johnson in the position of foreign secretary. Boris, being an old-fashioned colonialist, being obsessed with Turkey (Someone sometime in his family history was Turkish apparently) and having a deep hatred for Erdogan (even winning an anti-Erdogan poetry competition with a racist limerick accusing him of sleeping with a goat), would no doubt have been an influencing factor in the decision for Erdogan’s removal.
Since then Erdogan has announced he would work with Syria to fight ISIS, immediately after which the Syrian Arab Army attacked a Kurdish village, ending their shaky truce with the YPG, a Kurdish militia fighting terrorism in Northern Syria. It’s obvious that, as usual, a peace deal in the region may rest on making a common enemy of the Kurds. Erdogan is now referring to the YPG and ISIS in the same sentences, as terrorist groups, trying to make the case that they are the same thing. Turkey has been fighting the PKK, a Kurdish separatist group in Turkey, for decades and this has stepped up since Erdogan took power.
Russia has been allied with the Syrian Arab Republic since the cold war. The Communist ideology of the Soviet Union was close to the Baathist ideology of Syria, a form of Arab Socialism. Russia saw Syria as an ally in the region to counter “Israel”, an ally of the Western imperialists. Russia has supported the government throughout the conflict, knowing that if they fell, Syria would most likely become a Western puppet and a new spot for US bases to launch an attack on them. Russia’s international actions are usually based on how best to defend themselves from what they view as an inevitable invasion by the US. Russia has been selling weapons to Syria and at the beginning of 2016 began airstrikes in the country, answering a call for help from the Syrian government.
Iran has tried to publicly distance itself from the Syria conflict, most likely due to the fact that they are seen as representing Shia Muslims by many in the Muslim World and that their actions can contribute to sectarianism. They do however fund Hezbollah, a Lebanese militia currently fighting in Syria and have kept good relations with the government. There are also Iranian generals in Syria, helping to coordinate the fighting.
Iran have had a long-term alliance with Syria and both share anti-Imperialist and anti-Zionist ideologies, despite having two completely different ideologies on domestic running of their countries.
At the end of 2016 Aleppo, Kanarkir and Damascus, were almost completely taken by the Syrian Army, whilst Palmyra was retaken by ISIS. The Syrian Army claim their communications were scrambled in Palmyra by a foreign force, believed to be the United States. The situation however has become obvious, Syrian victory is now inevitable unless the West can push for more intervention, which is unlikely as public opinion in the West has become extremely anti-war.
Some activists called on Turkey to invade Syria, but Erdogan uncharacteristically decided instead of escalating the war he was going to try and genuinely make peace. Turkey and Russia sat down and discussed a peace deal to allow the militants of Jaysh al Fateh (Army of Conquest) to leave Aleppo peacefully.
Jaysh al-Fateh are a grouping of different militias brought together by Saudi Arabia, including Jammat al-Nusra (who claim to be part of al-Qaeda) and Nuradine al-Zinki. They are an alternative coalition to the Free Syrian Army, whom some analysts doubt even exist anymore, and ISIS. Fighters from Jaysh al-Fateh then attacked civilians in two Shia villages under their control, most likely these were carried out by al-Nusra fighters who were being frozen out of the peace talks. The governments allies responded by attacking Jaysh al-Fateh fighters leaving Aleppo, this attack was most likely carried out by Liwa Abu al-Fadhal al-Abbas, a Syrian Twelver Shia militia fighting alongside the Syrian Army. These attacks broke down the ceasefire, prompting Turkey and Russia to invite Iran to join the talks, to represent the Shia voice in the conflict. A day after the first ceasefire occurred a new one was signed allowing the villagers to leave to government controlled areas, this time Jaysh al-Fateh, again most likely al-Nusra, fighters attacked the buses on their way to collect the villagers. Yet Turkey, Iran and Russia seem determined to allow the ceasefire to hold.
All three sides have agreed that the sovereignty of Syria must be respected and that the Syrian people have the right to decide it for themselves. The election in 2014 shows this means the Syrian government and Turkey’s acceptance of this fact is a turn around. Also, the fact that all sides agreed that this conflict cannot be ended through military means, shows a change in Russia’s thinking.
There will now be a chance for real peace as representatives of Syria, Turkey, Russia, Iran and different militias within Syria will meet in Kazakhstan. Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad has stated that the government is “ready to negotiate on everything”, whilst a supposed leader of the Free Syrian Army has stated that no peace deal can include Assad’s continuation. Assad’s resignation may be a small symbolic sacrifice for the government to make in order to give the militants something, even though they have lost.
Turkey, Russia, Iran and Syria have all stated that ISIS and Jammat al-Nusra will not be part of negotiations and that they will continue to fight them. This means that to be part of the discussions, other groups in Jaysh al-Fateh would have to break of links with al-Nusra. This is complicated as other groups in Jaysh al-Fateh have allegedly claimed allegiance to al-Qaeda at different times and one group has splintered from ISIS. Some may see working with the government against their former allies as too much of betrayal. It may be possible that Saudi Arabia may have enough influence on Jaysh al-Fateh to bring them to make the necessary sacrifices. Erdogan has invited both Saudi Arabia and Qatar to the talks, which would bring the four most influential Muslim nations in the region to the table and could go on to creating the conditions for peace talks in the even bigger crisis taking place in Yemen currently. It seems unlikely that Saudi at least, if not Qatar, will join the talks without the US’s permission.
The government also says that they are willing to compromise with any Syrian opposition groups, however they will not talk to any groups made up of mainly foreigners, which unfortunately make up the majority of militias in Syria.
There have been a few attempts to sabotage these talks, firstly the Russian ambassador Andray Karlov, was assassinated in Turkey. Despite having no evidence to link the attack to the Turkish government, the West started claiming this would break down the talks, some even compared it to the assassination of Franz Ferdinand which triggered the First World War. Both Russia and Turkey responded that it would not and it seems the plans to destroy the peace talks failed.
“Israel” has also been heavily involved, already acting as an unofficial air force for the Free Syrian Army and Jaysh al-Fateh in Southern Syria. Recently they have sent planes as far Damascus, bombing Syrian Army positions.
It is clear that there are those who will try and stop this peace deal and that with so many different interests even between different supposed allies, it may seem like an impossible mission. Yet it is obvious that whatever your political ideology and whatever side you lean towards, it is irrelevant when the war has reached this level. Peace must be the first priority for all those who genuinely care about Syria and are not just using the disaster there for their own interests.