Violence Sweeps Northern Syria and Turkey Amid Diplomatic Shifts

Violence fueled by social media hysteria and deep-seated resentment marks a crucial moment as Ankara and Damascus edge closer to re-establishing ties.

Riots erupted across northern Syria and throughout Turkey on Monday, fuelled by Turkish anti-Syrian sentiment. While social media fuelled hysteria and led to the outburst of violence, the underlying issues on both sides that underpinned the chaos may be indicative of an imminent deal to secure a normalization of ties between Ankara and Damascus.

Dozens of Syrians and Turkish soldiers were killed and injured in north-west Syria on Monday after Syrians responded with violent protests against the targeting of refugee communities living in Turkey. Fuelled through social-media-driven allegations regarding the reported sexual abuse of a Turkish child by a Syrian refugee, anti-Syrian mobs took to the streets to attack businesses and assault random people identified as being from Syria. “Armed demonstrators and Turkish forces engaged in armed clashes… in the city of Afrin,” it was later reported in al-Monitor, while exchanges of fire also took place in Jarablos.

For some time, a major issue in Turkish politics has been the desire to relocate millions of refugees who fled Syria due to the war that began in 2011 back to their country of origin. A large part of the major push to achieve this goal of repatriating the refugee population has been the growing anti-Syrian and broader anti-Arab sentiments in Turkish society. Turkey’s President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has long sought to conclude this issue and pledged to send some 1 million refugees back to Syria last year.

The outbreak of violence at the beginning of the week represented a long-festering resentment that has been on the rise against Syrians in Turkey, as well as anger from opposition groups based in north-west Syria towards reports that Ankara was moving towards normalizing ties with Damascus. Last week, Turkish President Erdogan said that he doesn’t rule out meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to discuss re-opening ties between both nations, sparking outrage from the range of armed groups that control the north-western Idlib province of Syria.

It was therefore not surprising that Syrians, carrying the flag of the country’s opposition, decided to confront Turkish soldiers with weapons along the border area between both nations after protesters took to the streets and flocked to points of contact such as the border.

According to a Syrian security source, who chose to remain anonymous due to the issue’s sensitivity, a normalization agreement is currently being worked on behind the scenes and is allegedly “90% finished.” MintPress was informed that a deal mediated by the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Russia, China, Iran and Iraq is currently working to normalize ties between Ankara and Damascus comprehensively.

The source says that the agreement would be aimed at dealing with the Kurdish issue in north-eastern Syria, equivalent to an “Adana 2.0”, referencing the 1988 agreement, which coordinated upon the expulsion of the Kurdish PKK party from Syrian territory in collaboration with Turkey. A detail noted to have been discussed was allowing a situation in which “Turkey will be able to launch operations against the Kurdish SDF [Syrian Democratic Forces] with a depth of 30 km into Syria but in a joint capacity with the Syrian army”. In addition to this, there are still discussions ongoing to ensure a “Turkish withdrawal will start from north Aleppo and end in Idlib, although the timeline for the withdrawal of forces is yet to be settled.”

If a deal of this nature is being negotiated as the source suggests, it would be a game-changer on the road to concluding the bloody civil war that has plagued Syria since 2011. Under such an agreement, the US military’s occupation of roughly one-third of Syrian territory will be put to the test, especially if Turkey sends its armed forces further into north-west Syria to fight the SDF that maintains control of the area. When Turkey launched Operation Olive Branch in 2018 and Operation Peace Spring in 2019, the US withdrew its forces, abandoning its Kurdish allies, to prevent any conflagration between it and its NATO ally.

While talk of Syria-Turkey rapprochement has gone on for years, the recent clashes may make the possibility of such a deal more likely. How such an agreement will play out and whether it leads to further escalation remains to be seen.

Feature photo | Syrians participated in the funeral of a man killed during clashes with Turkish forces in Afrin, northern Syria, on July 2, 2024. Rami Alsayed | AP

Robert Inlakesh is a political analyst, journalist and documentary filmmaker based in London, UK. He has reported from and lived in the occupied Palestinian territories and hosts the show ‘Palestine Files’. Director of ‘Steal of the Century: Trump’s Palestine-Israel Catastrophe.’ Follow him on Twitter @falasteen47