Deputy Turkish Prime Minister Recep Akdağ said Wednesday that Bashar al-Assad has no place in Syrian politics, claiming he was responsible for the ongoing suffering of many Syrians – an accusation which the Syrian government has denied, insisting that the Syrian Army and other government forces are simply fighting terrorist groups to protects Syria’s existence as a democratic, secular state.
"A free and democratic Syria can only be built without [Bashar] Assad. He has killed many of his fellow citizens and brought much suffering to his country," Deputy PM Akdağ on May 16, as cited by Turkey’s Daily Sabah newspaper.
With regards to Ankara’s plans for Afrin – a part of northwestern Syria which the Turkish Army seized via operation Olive Branch, as ordered by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in January – the deputy PM said they will hand the territory over to the “local population,” not the Syrian Army or other forces of the Syrian government.
"We want to give Afrin back to the local population, who should be there to decide for themselves. A local Afrin council has been set up, which is a decision-making body with local representatives. Therein also Kurds sit," he added.
Prior to Akdağ’s comments, relations between Damascus and Ankara were seemingly improving, with Turkey jointly working with both Iran and Russia via the Sochi process to reach a political solution to the Syria crisis.
In any case, Ankara will almost certainly have to establish some level of communication and ties with Damascus once the war winds down, to facilitate the return of Syrian refugees living in Turkey and to bolster bilateral trade, among other matters.