Turkey continues to work to strengthen its influence in northern Syria by adopting a strategy based on strengthening its military presence, while supporting the intervention of the authorities in the civil, economic and security affairs of the population of the region, and work to “leave it”, in preparation for its final annexation in the future.
The beginning of the Turkish intervention in the region dates back to August 2016, where Ankara launched a military operation that raised the ostensible slogan of eliminating the terrorist organization “Daesh”.
By 2017, Turkish forces had made significant progress, taking control of part of the border between the two countries, from Jarablus in the east, Azaz in the west, and al-Bab in the south.
Turkey’s “hidden” goals are becoming clearer later. Ankara has repeatedly said it wants to halt any expansion of US-backed Kurdish forces in any areas west of the Euphrates.
Turkey, in cooperation with its armed groups, launched a military operation in the region in January 2018, the first of which was to control Afrin, which is under the protection of Kurdish fighters.
After tightening control of Afrin, Turkey began changing the region’s demography by replacing the Kurds with others displaced from areas that the Syrian government had recaptured from factions that owed allegiance to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government.
Turkey also relied on Ottoman documents to justify its control over the cities of Jarablus and Manbij in Aleppo province, and cited the presence of Ottoman leaders’ tombs in other areas of northern Syria to exert influence.
From Idlib to Afrin in Aleppo, Turkish ambitions to control more Syrian territory have not ceased under the pretext of confronting Kurdish armed groups, which Ankara considers an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in Turkey.
Turkish intervention in Syria was not limited to land grabbing, but Turkish hegemony extended to school textbooks, road signs and public institutions, which are now rife with Turkish.
In addition to the military presence, Turkish government institutions and private companies have found a foothold in the relatively safe area of northern Syria over the past two years.
Ankara, for example, set up a power grid in the city of Jarablus, where a picture of Turkish President Erdogan was hung on a wall at its main hospital, which is backed by Ankara, according to a report published by “Agence France Presse” last October.
There are also shops in the Azaz market that sell Turkish goods such as sweets, clothes, cleaning materials, soft drinks and food such as obesity, sugar and oil.
Some residents get the goods through the official Turkish General Directorate of Post, which has opened an office in the city of Azaz, staffed by Turkish and Syrian officials.
The post office is only allowed to use the Turkish lira, which has fallen to its lowest level against the dollar in recent months, resulting in higher prices for imported materials from Turkey.
The latest Turkish moves in northern Syria were the opening of Gaziantep University to three colleges in towns located in that region, according to “Reuters” the Turkish Gazette on Friday.
The university will open a faculty of Islamic sciences in Azaz, Syria, another for education in Afrin, and a third for economics and management sciences at Al Bab.
Ankara has already built hospitals, repaired schools and trained fighters in northwest Syria, while Turkish media reports said the government planned to set up an industrial zone there to provide jobs for 7,000 people.
Erdogan’s expansionist dream
Complementing the Turkish expansionist plan, Washington and Ankara reached an agreement last August to establish a safe area between the Turkish border and the Syrian areas east of the Euphrates River, which is under the control of the YPG.
Turkey seeks a safe area with the United States as a gateway to the geographical expansion in which the Turkish nationalists believe. The expansion map in Iraq includes the provinces of Mosul, Dohuk, Erbil, Sulaymaniyah, Kirkuk and Salah al-Din.
Ankara is pushing hard to build the buffer zone to complete its expansion plan, the Defense Ministry said on Friday that Defense Minister Hulusi Akar told his US counterpart Mark Esper by telephone that Turkey was determined to end work with the United States on the establishment of the “buffer zone” in Turkey. Northeast Syria if Washington lags on this.
The ministry said in a statement that Akar told the US Secretary of Defense that Turkey is seeking to establish a “safe area” at a depth of about 30 km in Syrian territory east of the Euphrates River and called on the United States to stop its support completely to the YPG.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said last month that the United States was delaying the implementation of an agreement to establish a “safe area” in northern Syria.
He explained that the US approach to the Safe Zone Agreement is not satisfactory, adding that the steps taken by the “formality” only, adding, “We believe that the United States is entering a phase of disruption, and trying to get Turkey to get used to this process of disruption.”