Martin Chulov reports: For nearly five years of war, the Syrian border town of Azaz had been little more than a staging point. Opposition fighters used it to receive supplies from the main crossing three miles north, and casualties of the brutal conflict were sent the other way to hospitals inside Turkey.
Nothing changed when Islamic State made Azaz one of its main hubs for six months from mid-2013. The supplies kept coming and the wounded continued to leave, even as the struggle for the north slowly changed hue from homegrown insurrection to a conflict fuelled by many international agendas. The gateway remained just that – until a fortnight ago, when the Kurds of northern Syria moved towards it.
Since then, Azaz has been transformed into ground zero of the war for the north of Syria. Its fate has implications far beyond, with Turkey, especially, now more heavily invested – and exposed – to the region’s shifting dynamics than at any point since its leaders swung behind the Syrian opposition in the summer of 2011.
What becomes of Syria could well be determined in the border areas around Azaz, where a Game of Thrones-like cast of players is vying for supremacy over lands that stretch south to the ancient city of Aleppo, and north beyond the Turkish frontier, over which Ankara now has less control than at any point since the modern state of Turkey was formed. [Continue reading…]