ISTANBUL (AP) — Hundreds of Syrian opposition supporters rallied Friday in northwestern Syria, including outside a Turkish army post, to denounce remarks by Turkey’s foreign minister urging for a reconciliation with Syrian President Bashar Assad.
On Thursday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters that Turkey supports a political reconciliation between Syrian opposition factions and Assad’s government — for the sake of peace.
Though this stance by Ankara is not new in principle, Cavusoglu's remarks were interpreted by some as a betrayal of the Syrian opposition after years of Turkish support.
Since Syria's civil war broke out following an anti-Assad uprising in 2011, Turkey has been the main backer of the opposition. Turkey also hosts 3.65 million Syrians who fled the war at home.
Turkey has also long negotiated on the international stage on behalf of Syrian factions opposed to Assad and has supported armed groups while bringing parts of northern Syria under Turkish and Turkish-backed opposition control through cross-border military operations.
In the protest Friday outside a Turkish military post in the northwestern Syrian town of Mastoumeh, demonstrators chanted that the “Turkish army is a traitor” and that “Syrian people are not for sale.”
“We don’t want to reconcile with the killer of children,” read a placard carried by a Syrian boy in Mastoumeh, a reference to Assad.
There were also reports of overnight protests in the northern Syrian towns of Azaz, al-Bab, Afrin, Tel Abyad as well as Idlib, which is the last-remaining rebel-held area.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said angry protesters in the town of Azaz stormed security headquarters and then marched to the local council building where they brought down the Turkish flag and burned it.
In Azaz, protesters sprayed graffiti on the walls, reading, “Down with Turkey and down with the regime!” while others carried posters denouncing Cavusoglu.
There were calls for the removal of all Turkish flags from the northern parts of Syria, the Observatory said.
In his remarks, Cavusoglu also stated that Turkey has had no diplomatic contacts with Syria since their ties were severed in 2012, but added that in 2021, he had an informal conversation with his Syrian counterpart, Faisal Mekdad, on the sidelines of a Non-Aligned Movement summit in Belgrade, Serbia.
“We have to somehow reconcile the opposition and the Syrian regime. Otherwise there can be no lasting peace,” Cavusoglu said Thursday.
His remarks followed a question on whether Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan might speak with Assad soon. Cavusoglu said Russian President Vladimir Putin has for years urged the two leaders to speak and that Erdogan has preferred the two countries' intelligence services communicate with one another — which they have done on and off, and have now resumed.
On Friday, the foreign ministry published a statement reaffirming its support of the Syrian opposition and saying that Turkey has worked hard to find a solution for Syria's conflict “in line with the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people.”
"Our solidarity with the Syrian people will continue," the statement said.
Mroue reported from Beirut.
Zeynep Bilginsoy And Bassem Mroue, The Associated Press