An eleventh-hour deal brokered by my government has already saved tens of thousands of Syrians. If the deal can be fully implemented, scores of American and European lives could also be saved.
Last month, Syrian regime forces were on the verge of launching a bloody attack on Idlib, the last stronghold of the moderate opposition forces in Syria. Thousands of people would have been killed or displaced in yet another gruesome spectacle of violence. As a result, as many as one million new refugees would have flooded into Turkey and Europe. In addition to pushing Turkey to the limits of its fair share — our country hosts 3.5 million Syrian refugees (including 400,000 Syrian Kurds) and has spent $33 billion to date — this would also have led to real security risks.
Thanks to a new deal brokered by Turkey and Russia, we can breathe a sigh of relief, at least for now. This is especially true for the three million Syrians living in Idlib province. But the breakthrough negotiated by Turkey needs to be followed with decisive action by the international community; otherwise, we risk a new refugee crisis.
As we have witnessed in the heinous attacks that have taken place in Brussels, Paris, and Istanbul not long ago, terrorists can infiltrate refugee groups and target innocent civilians. A new refugee flow could provide radical terrorists with similar opportunities once again. The international community’s reluctance to help protect innocent civilians plays into the hands of extremists who argue that “the West” does not care about the well-being of Muslims and acts only to serve its own interests.
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Under the agreement, Turkish and Russian troops will patrol a demilitarized zone around Idlib that will be about 9 to 12 miles deep. The first step — the removal of all heavy weapons, including tanks, mortars and artillery systems — has already been completed.
The deal in Idlib is not Turkey’s first contribution to saving lives on the ground. Through operations Euphrates Shield and Olive Branch, Turkey has also cleared an area of more than 1,500 square miles from terrorist organizations such as DAESH (also referred to as ISIS) and PKK/YPG. As a result, 260,000 Syrians were able to return to their homes in these areas.
The Syrian conflict is now in its eighth year. Throughout this period, diplomacy has persistently failed. Human dignity and decency have been stripped away as injustices have piled up. A people in need of protection have instead been largely abandoned by the international community. The conflict has claimed more than half a million lives, created more than 5 million refugees and more than 6 million internally displaced persons. It has also provided a fertile ground for terrorist organizations such as DAESH, PKK/YPG, and Al Nusra.
This is why the international community should step up pressure on the Assad regime to ensure that it complies with the terms of the Idlib deal. And this is why we must work together toward finding a political solution based on the will of the Syrian people and in line with the established UN parameters, including the preservation of the territorial integrity and political unity of Syria.
Equally important is the humanitarian dimension. The world should do more to support the neighboring countries that are hosting millions of refugees. This crisis is not only a political and security challenge, even more so, it is a test of our dedication to human values.
Serdar Kılıç is Ambassador of the Republic of Turkey.