More than 300 thousand dead, millions displaced, over 4 million people forced to take refuge abroad and centuries-old heritage in ruins, the brutal civil war has been devastating for the Syrians.
With the war heading into its sixth year, the fallout is nowhere more evident than in Turkey.
Home to an estimated 2.7 million refugees and a 900-kilometre border with multiple security threats, Turkey could not have remained indifferent to the conflict, but its involvement in the Syrian civil war has proved to be a much tougher test for Turkey than its leaders had predicted.
It has turned out to be the worst miscalculation, out of several, that have characterised Turkish foreign policy in recent years.
The policy towards Syria has exposed the shortcomings in Turkey’s institutional capacity, particularly in intelligence and security, but more than anything else, it has highlighted the failure of the Justice and Development Party’s sectarian and Islamist policies.
The “act now, think later” approach of the government, together with a total lack of institutional checks and balances, zero-tolerance for public debate on matters of national interest and a heavily censored media, brought us to where we are now.
To be fair, Turkey was not the only country that has been mistaken on Syria.
Peter Ford, who was Britain’s ambassador to Syria from 1999 to 2003, told the BBC that the UK, too, had misread the situation in Syria.
“It was eminently foreseeable to anyone who was not intoxicated with wishful thinking. The British Foreign Office, to which I used to belong, I’m sorry to say has got Syria wrong every step of the way,” he said.
The most common mistake was the assumption that President Assad’s regime would collapse soon after the rebellion began and the moderate elements in the rebel groups would lead the way to a more democratic Syria.
The failure to understand the country’s dynamics, the violent potential of the Assad regime, the true nature of Sunni- political Islam propped up by the region’s authoritarian governments, and the misguided encouragement by outsiders of anti-Assad forces to keep fighting, have led to a civilian bloodbath and destruction in Syria.
Now, the Assad forces, backed by Russian planes and Iranian fighters have recaptured Aleppo and their decisive victory is not contested by anyone, regime change is no longer on the cards.
The balance of power both in Syria and the regional geopolitics have already shifted.
There is a bargain in the making and the venue has moved from the western capitals to steppes of Central Asia.
In January, Russia, Iran, Turkey and Syria’s representatives are going to get together at the Kazakh capital of Astana for new Syrian peace negotiations.
The United States and the United Nations are not invited.
If the fall of Aleppo has signified a new stage in the Syrian civil war, the assassination of Russia’s Ambassador Andrey Karlov in Ankara by a Turkish policeman has surely become the turning point in Turkey’s Syria policy.
If it results in undoing the harm that has been caused by the previous policy mistakes, inside and outside Turkey, the change should not be dismissed as “eating humble pie”.
The priority for everyone must be to stop the bloodshed in Syria.
If it takes an embarrassing U-turn for Turkey, so be it.
Just as importantly, the faster the Turkish troops get out of the violent swamp of the Middle East and the less Turkish military lives are lost on a foreign land, the better.
This post is also available in: Turkish