Syria’s political and armed opposition have urged their decade-long backer Turkey to reaffirm its support for their cause after the highest-level talks between Ankara and the Damascus governments since the Syrian war began in 2011.
Turkey has provided support and a base for political opponents of President Bashar al-Assad’s government while training and fighting alongside rebels against his troops. Ankara has also sheltered millions of Syrian refugees who fled al-Assad’s forces.
The Turkish and Syrian defence ministers met in Moscow on December 28 with the topics of migration and Kurdish fighters based on Syria’s border with Turkey on the agenda, according to a Turkish official.
That has caused unease within the Syrian opposition.
The head of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, which has fought against al-Assad’s forces, said in a video address released on Monday that talks between Syria, Russia and Turkey were a “dangerous deviation”.
Ahrar al-Sham, another armed group, said that while it “understood the situation of our Turkish ally”, it “cannot even think of reconciling” with the Syrian government.
Ankara sought to reassure the opposition with Defence Minister Hulusi Akar saying Turkey would not take any steps that would cause problems for them.
“They should not take any different attitudes by relying on any provocation or false news,” Akar said on Wednesday.
The Syrian National Coalition, an opposition umbrella organisation, met Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Tuesday. He assured it of Turkey’s continued support “to Syrian opposition institutions and Syrians in the opposition-held areas”, said Abdurrahman Mustafa, the head of the Turkey-backed opposition’s provisional government.
Turkey’s talks with Syrian officials in Moscow mainly focused on the fight in northeastern Syria against the People’s Defence Units (YPG), a Kurdish militia in Syria, Mustafa reported Cavusoglu as saying.
A senior Turkish official told the Reuters news agency it had seen the reactions of rebel factions to the meeting but “Turkey determines its own policy.”
“It is unrealistic to expect an immediate result from the first meeting of ministers,” the official said.
He also said Ankara asked Damascus in last week’s talks in Moscow to recognise the YPG as a “terrorist” organisation.
Turkey sees the YPG as the Syrian wing of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is considered a “terrorist” organisation by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.
Turkish-Syrian rapprochement seemed unthinkable earlier in the conflict, which has killed hundreds of thousands of people, drawn in numerous foreign powers and splintered Syria into various zones of influence.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has called al-Assad a “terrorist” and said there could be no peace in Syria with him in office while al-Assad has called Erdogan a thief for “stealing” Syrian land.
But meetings between the two countries’ security chiefs last year paved the way for the defence ministers to meet.