He was speaking at a photo exhibition in Cer Modern Arts Center in Ankara when he was hit in the back by a bullet: The Russian ambassador in Turkey, Andrey Karlov, died Monday night from the serious injuries sustained in the attack. After the shooting, the assailant — who shouted “Allah is great” and “Revenge for Aleppo” — was killed by security forces before being identified as Mevlüt Mert Altıntaş, a police academy cadet. Shortly after, gunfire echoed near the U.S. embassy.
Russian President Vladimir Putin held an emergency meeting with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and intelligence agencies, and the embassy decried the “terrorist act” by radical Islamists, whose affiliates are fighting in the Syrian opposition and who have attacked Turkey multiple times in the past. Lately, radical Islamists have been accused of protesting in Turkish cities, their black flags condemning the Russian intervention in Syria.
On Tuesday, the two nations opened negotiations in Moscow, despite the assassination, and the sides, plus Iran, said they were ready to broker a deal to end the war.
Meanwhile, hypotheses about the nature of Karlov’s murderer abounded: that it was an Islamist group opposed to the Russian involvement in Syria, a lone wolf or domestic forces intent on weakening President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Certainly the ambassador’s death casts a shadow on the shaky relations between Russia and Turkey, weakening the latter. Already broken down by the Syrian war, Ankara must now abandon its aims in Aleppo in exchange for a free hand in northern Syria, in the Kurdish Rojava.
After the timely rapprochement with Russia last summer, Erdogan is now holding out for at least part of his objective: to prevent an gains for the Kurds, who are expendable pawns for Moscow and Washington. It was no coincidence that on Monday the Turkish government claimed to have identified those responsible for the attack on Saturday in Kayseri: a Kurd, identified as E.G., from Kobane.
The explanation fits perfectly with the Turkish government narrative, but not so likely considering the tight controls at the border. Anyone trying to pass ends up in the crosshairs of the army’s bullets. Right on the border, Ankara adds, it will open a camp for evacuees from Aleppo. However, it does not specify who will be invited to enjoy the hospitality, the first decent food rations in years.
On Monday, the evacuation from east Aleppo truly began after it had been blocked three times by violations of the truce. Starting around midnight, 5,000 people arrived in the western districts: Syrian families surrounded the pickup trucks bearing aid, without crowding or pushing. Volunteers in red jackets distributed bread, water and clothes to keep warm after hours of waiting.
And the transfer continues. Around 5,000 militants and 40,000 civilians remain, many in the street awaiting evacuation. Their conditions are dramatic: The temperatures has hit 5 degrees celsius below zero, and there is barely any food or water left. The few food items available, residents say, are often confiscated by armed groups or sold on the black market at exorbitant prices: $13 for a packet of sugar or $20 for a kilo of flour.
The truce seems to be holding up despite Sunday’s attacks in Idlib province. Groups linked to Fatah Jabhat al-Sham, the former al-Nusra Front, stormed the convoy to Fua and Kefraya to evacuate wounded civilians. One of the drivers was killed, 20 buses destroyed by fire while armed militiamen shouted obscenities against the Shiite community, accusing them of blasphemy.
Only on Monday the situation was resolved (Russian sources say following a new intervention of Turkey, whose influence on the Islamists is the result of sustained and structured support) and the first 500 civilians have moved in the direction of Aleppo, malnourished and sick. The two villages suffered a tough siege imposed by the network of Islamist groups led by al-Nusra Front. There remain other 2,000 people awaiting evacuation, along with 1,500 civilians in the cities of Madaya and Zabadani, on the border with Lebanon, controlled by anti-Assad armed groups and outside besieged by the government and Hezbollah.
The U.N. Security Council voted in favor of a draft resolution to monitor the evacuations, which Moscow had given the approval after a veto threat. One hundred officials will be immediately sent to Syria to check transfers and the delivery of aid to prevent atrocities, safeguard the medical teams and ensure that households move to safety in their preferred destination.