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Syria Today – Erdogan’s Refugee Conundrum; SDC Comments on Arab Normalization; Little Amal Reaches US

Your daily brief of the English-speaking press on Syria.
Syria Today – Erdogan’s Refugee Conundrum; SDC Comments on Arab Normalization; Little Amal Reaches US

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, as part of his effort to win a third decade, highlighted the repatriation of one million Syrian refugees as a crucial focus of his campaign. However, fulfilling this promise will present significant challenges. Simultaneously, the Syrian Democratic Council, led by the Kurds, has urged Arab countries to prioritize the inclusion of UN Resolution No. 2254 in their agenda to establish normalized relations with Syria. Additionally, a 12-foot puppet named Little Amal, symbolizing a Syrian refugee, will embark on a journey across the United States to increase awareness about immigration and refugee issues.

Erdogan’s promise

According to Reuters, the ongoing conflict in Syria poses challenges to fulfilling this promise. The focus on refugee return has raised concerns among the 3.4 million Syrians living in Turkey, where resentment towards them is growing. 

Many refugees come from areas controlled by President Bashar al-Assad and believe they cannot return as long as he remains in power. Erdogan’s plan involves building new housing in rebel-held northwest Syria with Qatari assistance. 

This strategy, Reuters adds,  reinforces Turkey’s commitment to the rebel-held area, despite Assad’s demand for the withdrawal of Turkish troops. Erdogan aims to ensure the return of one million refugees within a year to opposition-held areas. However, security concerns and unstable conditions in northern Syria make large-scale returns challenging. 

Turkey’s diplomatic approach to Syria has shifted, with the reopening of channels to Assad, but progress has been slow due to Turkey’s deeper involvement and the presence of other foreign forces. Analysts believe Turkey is unlikely to agree to a withdrawal timetable, as it could trigger a mass exodus of Syrians to Turkey. 

Kemal Kilicidaroglu, Erdogan’s opponent in the election, had discussed refugee returns with Assad, but his defeat relieved many Syrians in Turkey. Erdogan’s chief foreign policy adviser emphasized a safe, dignified, and voluntary return, in line with international refugee law. Despite the election outcome, policy changes on migration are not expected.

SDC calls for including Res 2254 in the Syria-Arab states normalization

The Syrian Democratic Council (SDC) called, during a meeting of its Executive Body, on Wednesday, for the UN Resolution No. 2254 to be included in the agenda of Arab countries for normalizing ties with Syria, North Press reported.

The SDC called for the active participation of the representatives of the Syrian people without exceptions, and determining the Syrian government’s responsibilities.

The SDC is the political wing of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES). It was founded in 2015 and includes all the communities of North and East Syria.

During its meeting, the SDC Executive Committee stressed the importance of the Arab community in playing a vital rule in the Syrian crisis, and called for a comprehensive political settlement.

The SDC discussed the causes and motives of Arab normalization with the Syrian government since the international community considers dealing with Arab countries more effective and positive than dealing with Turkey and the countries of the Astana Peace Talks.

The Astana Peace Talks process to end the conflict in Syria was launched in January 2017 at the initiative of Turkey, Russia and Iran.

The Executive Committee held the Syrian government responsible for slowing down international efforts to find a settlement for Syria, as well as accused it of claiming that lifting economic sanctions and the reconstruction process are conditions for the return of refugees.

It called for efforts to continue to hold meetings between democratic forces and personalities and to focus on the opposition national parties.

HTS to hand over foreign fighters to Turkish intelligence

Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS, formerly known as al-Nusra Front) transferred four foreign detainees, one of whom is of French nationality, from Prison 107 in Idleb City to the Bab al-Hawa border crossing on Thursday, in preparation for handing them over to Turkish intelligence, North Press reported.

A security source told North Press, “The leadership of HTS’ General Security Apparatus, represented by Abu Maria al-Qahtani, has issued orders to transfer the detainees to the security office at the Bab al-Hawa crossing under tight security escort. They will be handed over to the Turkish intelligence during the upcoming night hours.”

The source added that the names of the detainees were sent from the Turkish side, including Abu Bilal al-Faransi, a member of the militia of Ghuraba al-Sham Front that includes French fighters. He was arrested by HTS about two years ago.

This operation is the fifth of its kind in 2023. HTS’ prisons contain dozens of foreign militants whom Ankara wishes to receive, without knowing the purpose behind it.

Little Amal, a 12-foot puppet of a Syrian refugee, will travel to the US

Little Amal, a 12-foot puppet representing a Syrian refugee, will travel across the United States to raise awareness about immigration and migration, Arab News reports

Starting in Boston on September 7 and ending at the US-Mexico border on November 5, Little Amal will visit historic sites like the US Capitol and the Edmund Pettus Bridge. 

The journey aims to create empathy and highlight the experiences of vulnerable children. Local artists and community leaders will collaborate to organize special events at each of the 35 stops. Crafted by the Handspring Puppet Company, Little Amal requires a team of puppeteers. This initiative seeks to contribute to discussions about refugees, immigrants, and migration in the United States and was inspired by a previous trek across Europe.

The puppet of the 10-year-old girl will visit the US Capitol, Boston Common, Joshua Tree National Park and the Edmund Pettus Bridge among other sites during a trek which starts in Boston on Sept. 7 and ends Nov. 5 along the US-Mexico border.

“There is something in the act of welcoming a stranger which redefines you,” says Amir Nizar Zuabi, the artistic director. “I think that’s part of what we’re trying to create when walking into places that have a beautiful, complicated, defining history.”

Stops are also planned for Philadelphia, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Detroit, Chicago, Atlanta, the Tennessee cities of Nashville and Memphis, New Orleans, the Texas cities of Austin, Houston, San Antonio and El Paso, as well as the California cities of Los Angeles and San Diego.

“Obviously there’s a lot of specific points in our American history that we felt that we needed to address and that’s the reason why we’re starting in Boston,” says Enrico Dau Yang Wey, lead puppeteer and co-associate artistic director. “The reason why we’re finishing in San Diego is that there’s just such a thin line between the United States and Mexico.”

Little Amal demands empathy, the puppet of a vulnerable, naive girl who is in a strange place after surviving a long ordeal alone.

“She’s just a symbol of millions of children,” says Zuabi. “Just having a community breathe together and walk with Amal for a stretch in the streets becomes a very, very meaningful act.”

Organizers are reaching out to community artists and leaders at each of the 35 stops — including places revered in Civil Rights Movement history like Selma, Alabama, and recent scenes of gun violence like Uvalde, Texas — to create more than 100 special events anchored by each place visited.

“We work very closely with our local partners and try and understand what is the story they’re trying to tell and try to co-create an event that resonates in this place to this community,” says Zuabi. “I think that’s part of why this project becomes so emotional for many people.”

Iran plans to escalate attacks against U.S. troops in Syria, documents show

According to leaked classified documents and intelligence officials, Iran is reportedly providing support and arming militants in Syria for the purpose of carrying out lethal attacks against U.S. troops in the country, The Washington Post reports

The documents reveal that Iran, in collaboration with Russia, is working on a broader strategy to drive American forces out of the region. The reports suggest that Iran and its allies are developing and training forces to use more advanced armor-piercing roadside bombs, specifically targeting U.S. military vehicles and personnel. 

The use of these powerful explosives could escalate the conflict and increase the risk of a wider military confrontation between the U.S. and Iran. The leaked documents also indicate that Russia, Iran, and Syria are seeking to oust the United States from Syria, with the goal of allowing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to reclaim territories currently controlled by U.S.-backed Kurdish forces. 

The leaks have significant implications for the U.S. and its allies, prompting investigations and assessments of the damage caused. The situation in Syria is becoming more volatile, and the leaked documents suggest a potential escalation of tensions.

Did the Ukraine War Begin In Syria?

Aris Roussinos writes a thought-provoking essay in UnHerd arguing that the Ukraine conflict was prefigured in Syria, where American delusions about history moving the world inevitably in our direction were upended by direct and decisive Russian intervention:

In Syria, Putin’s gamble turned out to be correct: Assad’s victory was indeed a historic turning point, marking Russia’s return to the world stage as an actor able to direct the course of history. While American officials insisted there was no military solution to the Syrian war, Russia promptly delivered one. 

The Russian intervention in 2015 made Assad’s victory inevitable, allowing America to turn with some relief to the campaign against Isis, then ravaging European capitals, and to quietly divide the country into two spheres of influence separated by the river Euphrates. As Putin foresaw, even America’s final chosen proxies in Syria, the Kurdish-led Syrian Defence Force, would find themselves abandoned over time as the White House’s revolving door upended any coherent long-term planning. In a hasty rewriting of recent history, the fractious rebel alliance which took part in Turkey’s invasion of north-eastern Syria, which included factions previously armed by the US, was now denounced by Washington as renegade war criminals. 

In Russia’s eyes, the uncertainties inherent in America’s increasingly chaotic democratic system were the greatest vulnerability for Washington’s allies. Rather than the arc of history leaning towards liberal democracy, the abrupt policy shifts inherent to its system meant that liberal democracy itself was its own greatest strategic weakness.

Now, this is an interesting argument, but I tend to think that it strangely reinforces the maximalism about Syria in retrospect. Back in 2015, one plan floated was that America would send 40,000 troops to Syria to help rebel groups hold on to the slivers of land they still controlled in Syria — and then we would just wait until further developments or outrages moved public opinion in a way that would license the regime change desired by hawks in Syria.

I still find this crazy, in that the best-case result would have extended and exacerbated the refugee crisis hitting Europe for years as our radical Sunni allies butchered and cleansed their nation of Alawites who benefit from the Assad regime.

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