The point that we have reached in Syria is clearly a desperate one in humanitarian terms. While the world watched, a country, a nation, a generation has been torn apart by civil war.
Behind this long conflict lie the interrelated interests of several regional and global countries. Some of them have directly intervened in the conflict, some have engaged through proxy wars, and some through their intelligence organizations. Experts on ground report that there are five countries directly involved, while 23 have played an indirect role in the war in Syria. The end result has been deep destruction.
The results of seven years of war are terrifying. One million Syrians, many of them civilians, have been massacred. A country with a population of approximately 22 million was mercilessly bombed and those whose homes were destroyed were forced to flee to other countries as refugees. About 7 million Syrians fled to more than 40 countries, including 4 million in Turkey alone. And so the latest flashpoint in the desperate conflict is turning out to be Idlib, a province in the northwest of Syria about 35 km from the border with Turkey.
On Sept. 4, Russian warplanes pounded civilian and opposition targets in Idlib, which is home to more than 3 million Syrians. Many of them had fled other cities attacked by the regime, which has now announced plans to launch a major offensive in Idlib.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has warned that an attack on Idlib, an opposition enclave, would be a massacre. Ankara is worried that an attack on the city will trigger a further mass exodus of refugees fleeing to the border. Turkey already hosts more refugees than any other country and the leadership is under pressure from other political parties not to take in any more.
Undoubtedly, Turkey has legitimate concerns about its own security and the possibility of a fresh wave of refugees. From the beginning of the conflict, the humanitarian crisis was the main issue to which Turkey attempted to draw the attention of the international community. Though bearing a heavy burden in hosting the refugees, and despite its problematic relationships with European countries, Turkey has tried to avoid becoming a transit station for refugees, to stop them from continuing on to Europe. One of the main reasons for the European nations backing Turkey against the US, despite several issues on which they clash, is the refugee issue.
Beside the refugee situation, Idlib is important to Turkey for another reason: It serves as a shield that prevents the PKK terrorist organization from expanding its area of operation in the war-torn country. Thus, the stability of Idlib is crucial in curbing PKK gains, which would add a new variable in Syria.