Second Northern Syria Buffer Zone
The Second Northern Syria Buffer Zone, or known as Sochi Agreement (Turkish: Soçi Mutabakatı, Russian: Сочинское соглашение), is a buffer zone in northern Syria set up following an memorandum of understanding in Russian city Sochi on 22 October 2019 by the Russian and Turkish presidents in an attempt to end the ongoing conflict in the region.
|Second Northern Syria Buffer Zone|
|Syrian-Turkish border, Syria|
|Length||Sajur River delta to Tall Abyad and Ras al-Ayn to Iraq–Syria border 30kms deep excluding Qamishli town|
|In use||1 November 2019 – present|
|Events||Syrian Civil War|
Following months of tension and threats, the first agreement to establish the Northern Syria Buffer Zone was reached in mid August 2019, between the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the United States on the one hand, and Turkey on the other. The deal aimed to limit the Turkish offensive on Syria's north through a process of gradual withdrawal of SDF, removal of fortifications and joint US-Turkish monitoring and patrols, while still allowing the area to remain under the civil control of the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria and the military control of the Syrian Democratic Forces military councils as per the first buffer zone agreement. Despite initial progress being made its implementation, however, Turkey grew more and more dissatisfied with it, issuing more demands which were rejected by the SDF.
In early October that same year, following a phone call between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and US President Donald Trump, Trump announced the withdrawal of US forces from the region, which allowed Erdoğan to dismiss the first buffer zone deal and launch his 2019 offensive into north-eastern Syria against the SDF, which Turkey considers to be an extension of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, an organization considered by Turkey as an outlawed terrorist group. Having previously dismantled their fortifications and having their positions observed as part of the first deal, and now stripped of military backing, SDF units reportedly faced a 'desperate' challenge in having to defend their territory against both the Turkish Army and the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army. Despite initially offering armed resistance, SDF units were nonetheless forced to withdraw, triggering a wave of over 300,000 displaced people, amid Kurdish fears that Turkey would resort to ethnic cleansing against the Kurdish population. Although Turkey's invasion was widely condemned internationally, the SDF stood little chance against the Turkish Army and the TFSA. Amid what one SDF commander described as a choice between "compromise and genocide", the SDF turned to the Syrian Government, with which they have had a lukewarm relationship, for help.
The United States negotiated a 5-day ceasefire in Northern Syria on October 17, which required the SDF to withdraw from the border areas, but at the same time allowed the SDF time to negotiate further with Russia and the Syrian government.
Seeking to avoid further expansion of Turkish control within Syria's territory, Bashar al-Assad's government agreed to a deal with the SDF to move the Syrian Army into the border areas. Subsequently, the Syrian Army entered several SDF-held towns and positioned troops on the seam lines between the two sides in a bid to stop the Turkish offensive.
The agreement was negotiated between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on 22 October 2019, at a diplomatic summit in the Russian resort town of Sochi. The negotiation of the agreement took six and a half hours to conclude.
The Second Northern Syria Buffer Zone was thereby formed as a buffer zone in northern Syria following a memorandum of understanding in Russian city Sochi on 22 October 2019 by the Russian and Turkish presidents in an attempt to end the ongoing conflict in the region.
Terms of the agreement
- A buffer zone would be established in Northern Syria. The zone would be around 30 kilometres (19 mi) deep, stretching from Euphrates River to Tall Abyad and from Ras al-Ayn to the Iraq-Syria border, but excluding the town of Qamishli, the Kurds' de facto capital.
- The buffer zone would be controlled jointly by the Syrian Army and Russian Military Police.
- All YPG forces, which constitute the majority of the SDF, must withdraw from the buffer zone entirely, along with their weapons, within 150 hours from the announcement of the deal. Their withdrawal would be overseen by Russian Military Police and the Syrian Border Guards, which would enter the zone at noon on 23 October.
- The YPG would also withdraw from the cities of Manbij and Tell Rifaat.
- Following the YPG withdrawal, joint Russian-Turkish ground patrols would be held in the buffer zone area, but only within 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) from the border and not including Qamishli.
- Turkey would retain sole control of the areas it had captured during its offensive between the towns of Tell Abyad and Ras al-Ayn.
- The Syrian Government would construct and man 15 border posts on the Turkish-Syrian border.
- The parties would launch a joint effort to resettle Syrian refugees in a "safe and voluntary manner".
- The parties would agree to "preserve the political unity and territorial integrity of Syria" as well as protect the "national security of Turkey".
- The parties would agree to reaffirm the importance of the Adana Agreement. Russia will facilitate the implementation of the Adana Agreement.
Implementation and incident timeline
- On 22 October: senior YPG officials stated that the group had completed its withdrawal from the buffer zone region.
- On 23 October: Russian forces conducted their first patrol in Northern Syria.
- On 24 October: the SDF said Turkey was violating the deal by launching a ground offensive against three villages in the country's north
- On 27 October: Turkey said an attack by Kurdish forces left one Turkish soldier dead and five more injured. Turkish forces "responding within the framework of self-defence".
- The Syrian Democratic Forces officially announced their support for the deal, stating that their fighters would deploy to new positions deeper into Syria, as they stated that Syrian Government border guards were taking up their previous positions along the border.
- On 28 October, following a large-scale deployment of Syrian Army troops to various border villages in the few days prior, the Syrian Army deployed to the town of Al-Darbasiyah along the Syrian-Turkish border for the first time in seven years.
- 45 SDF vehicles carrying troops and heavy artillery departed Amuda and headed towards the country's south. The Syrian Government stated that the withdrawal had been carried out in coordination with the Syrian Army.
- On 30 October, the Turkish President announced that the joint Russian-Turkish ground patrols within the zone would begin on 1 November, but would be limited only to a 7 kilometres (4.3 mi) deep area within the buffer zone. He however said, that the zone could be expanded to the full 10 kilometers, should SDF attacks on Turkey continue. The Turkish President further stated that he believed that the YPG withdrawal from the buffer zone had not fully taken place.
- On 31 October, heavy clashes took place between the Syrian Army and Turkish forces near Ras al-Ayn, after the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army attacked several villages to the south of the town. Syrian state broadcaster SANA said the Turkish-backed forces were seizing a water plant and thus cutting off water to the Al-Hasakah Governorate.
- Turkey's defence ministry announced that it had detained 18 people it suspected were Syrian Army servicemen, which had reportedly attacked Turkish forces near the town. It further stated that it had immediately entered into negotiations with Russia to release the captured soldiers.
- The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights stated that at least 5 Syrian Army servicemen had been killed by Turkish artillery shelling on the edge of the village of Assadiya. It also reported that Turkish-backed rebel groups had executed a captured Syrian Army soldier. The observatory added that clashes had continued past that point.
- The Syrian Army and Syrian Democratic Forces launched a joint counter-attack and reportedly recaptured some of the areas they had lost during the TFSA's assault that same day, after shelling Turkish-backed forces with heavy artillery.
- The Syrian Army sent considerable reinforcements to the front line in an attempt to stop Turkish-backed forces from advancing.
- The SDF Commander, Mazloum Abdi, said Turkey was failing to adhere to the ceasefire agreement, stating that he believed Turkey had partnered with jihadists to occupy Christian villages and threaten Assyrians with "annihilation". Another SDF spokesman stated that Turkish-backed forces had continued with their advance, including by attacking areas held by the Syrian Army. He stated that Turkey had used Syrian Airspace to aid it's army and "it's jihdaists" to attack the region.
Start of joint patrols
- On 1 November, the first joint Russian-Turkish ground and air patrol was held within the buffer zone. The joint patrol covered 110 kilometres (68 mi) of territory along the border, going up to 7 km deep into Syrian territory - less than the 10 originally set out in the deal.
- Turkey released the 18 men which were taken prisoner the previous day. This unilateral prisoner release caused considerable tensions within the ranks of the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army, drawing criticism from some fighters that the release constituted "a betrayal of the religion". The Homs al-Adiyyeh Brigade of the Sultan Murad Division of the TFSA subsequently defected to join Jaysh al-Izza in protest. Ahrar al-Sharqiya also condemned the release, but blamed Salim Idris, who serves as Minister of Defence of the internationally unrecognized Syrian Interim Government, instead of the Turkish government.
- On 3 November, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that the SDF had launched a large attack against Turkish-backed forces near Ras al-Ayn, subsequently managing to recapture 13 villages from them despite intensive artillery bombardment by the Turkish Army.
- On 5 November, the secound round of joint Russian-Turkish ground patrols were held. Russian and Turkish military vehicles, observed by Turkish UAVs, patrolled for 160 kilometres (99 mi) in the area between Kobanî and Tell Abyad. Following the end of the patrol, the Turkish Armed Forces withdrew to the Turkish side of the border. While patrolling near Kobani, the vehicles were pelted repeatedly with stones thrown by local residents.
- Turkish President Erdogan accused the United States of continuing to carry out joint patrols with the YPG in Syria. He further alleged that the YPG hadn't left their positions at Manbij and Tell Rifaat, as the second buffer deal required. He attempted to justify the Turkish-backed forces' incursions outside of their zone of control in the previous few days by stating that he believed that SDF units had gathered on the edge of the Turkish control zone around Ras al-Ayn and were preparing attacks on Turkish and Turkish-backed forces within the town itself. He added that Turkey would continue to fight until the last "terrorist" was "neutralized".
- Syrian state media announced that the Syrian Army had deployed units near the town of Qamishli, in what it reported was a bid to "counter Turkey's aggression".
- On 8 November, a Syrian citizen was killed after being run over by a Turkish military vehicle, which was conducting a joint patrol with Russian forces. The man was reportedly a part of a group of residents which were throwing stones at the Turkish vehicles in protest of the joint patrols.
- The spokesman for the Kurdish-led SDF reported that Turkish troops had fired tear gas against anti-patrol protesters in Al-Malikiyah - which was under the joint control of SDF and American forces, but nonetheless part of the 10 km patrol zone. He further alleged that 10 civilians were injured by the gas. He accused Russia of complicity in both incidents, as the patrols were carried out under "Russia's auspices".
- Local residents released footage on social media, showing themselves once again throwing stones at Turkish armored vehicles during joint patrols, while ignoring their Russian counterparts.
- On 9 November, heavy clashes erupted between Syrian and Turkish forces along the buffer zone. Several people were injured, including a SANA reporter.
- The Syrian Democratic Forces released a statement in which they claimed to have killed 13 fighters belonging to the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army in combat around Ayn Issa, while sustaining 12 casualties themselves.
- The Turkish Ministry of Defense stated that they had recorded a total of 8 alleged ceasefire violations by the SDF within a 24-hour period.
- On 12 November, the fifth round of the joint Russian-Turkish military patrols was diverted from its intended route near Kobani by local anti-patrol protesters, which attacked the Turkish vehicles with stones and fire extinguishers. Nevertheless, the Turkish Defence Ministry stated that the patrols were continuing, despite what it termed to be "provocations by terrorists".
- On 14 November, sixth round of the joint Russian-Turkish military patrol completed a 45 km long area. Turkish Ministry of National Defense stated: "Turkish and Russian units accompanied by UAVs completed the sixth joint land patrol in the east of the Euphrates as planned".
- On 16 November, seventh round of the joint Russian-Turkish military patrol completed. Turkish Ministry of National Defense states: "Turkish and Russian units completed their seventh joint land patrol in the Qamishli-Derik sector with four vehicles each and UAV support in the east of the Euphrates."
United Nations - On 1 November 2019 the UN Secretary-General met with President Erdogan of Turkey to discuss Turkey's proposal to relocate a large number of Syrian Refugees in Turkey to the Safe Zone. Mr. Guterres informed the Turkish President that the UNHCR will immediately form a team to study the proposal and engage in discussions with Turkish authorities, in line with its mandate. The Secretary-General greenlighted the proposal but told the Turkish President that the relocations should be "voluntary, safe and dignified". Syrian Democratic Forces - The SDF stated that they consider themselves as "Syrian and a part of Syria", adding that they will agree to work with the Syrian Government. The SDF officially announced their support for the deal on October 27. Syria - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad thanked the Russian President for his role in the negotiation of the deal and expressed his full support for it. At the same time, he raised concerns about Turkish interference in Syrian affairs and dubbed Turkish President Erdogan a "thief". Turkey - Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan threatened to forcefully "clear terrorists" from the Syrian-Turkish border should the deal fail. He further reiterated his threat to let the Syrian refugees residing in Turkey at that point to freely emigrate into Europe, if Turkey does not receive "support" in its plan for the relocation of 1 to 2 million refugees within the buffer zone in what the Turkish President dubbed the "first stage" of their return. Iran - Iran's foreign ministry called the agreement "a positive step" and stated that it "backed any move to restore stability in the region". United States - US President Donald Trump praised the deal that he viewed as allowing "someone else [to] fight over this long bloodstained land", following which he ordered the lifting of the sanctions that he had placed on Turkey nine days prior as a reaction to the start of Turkey's offensive. Germany - German Chancellor Angela Merkel proposed that the buffer zone be enforced trough an international force. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu rejected the plan, dubbing it "unrealistic".
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- As defined by the US and SDF, based on the beginning of the YPG withdrawal, the destruction of border fortrifications and the start of US-Turkish joint patrols in late August. See the implementation timeline for the original Northern Syria Buffer Zone.
- Starting from the Syrian-Turkish border and going south into Syria
- See the "External links" section, for a link to an article containing an explanatory map of the buffer zone.
- Both of these cities are further to the south and not covered by the depth of the buffer zone, but are nonetheless explicitly mentioned in the agreement.
- No joint patrols will be held in the remaining part of the buffer zone.
- Later, the Turkish President announced that the patrols would only be held to a depth of 7km, as opposed to 10. No reason was given for this change.