In a sense, the fall of Aleppo actually marked the end of the Syrian civil war.
The opposition supported by Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar was defeated by Russia, China, Iran and Bashar Assad's regime.
The paradigm of the conflict between the two blocs was established on the ground on the Shiite-Sunni axis. This conflict came to an end. Now, the Shiite-Sunni axis conflict is replaced with the risk of a conflict based on political influence and sovereignty over Syria.
The Shiite bloc has taken over Syria's most important centers, including the predominantly Sunni Aleppo. It is unknown whether this bloc will continue the advance aimed at expanding its power domain on the ground.
In the following stage, we are going to see the sect-based policies applied by Iran in Iraq. Changing the cities' demographic, political and faith structure, it is going to take the region under its own control. This is going to be a move to which Turkey and even Russia and Damascus will even react.
The decisions from the trilateral meeting of ministers in Moscow contain no article concerning the future of Syria. The desire for a cease-fire in the entire country might perhaps be the most general article. Even that is ambiguous.
Some of the points remaining unclear are as follows:
1. What kind of political administration will Syria have?
In a country where blood has been shed, nothing can go back to the way it used to be. Some 600,000 people died, more than a million have been injured, 7 million people have become refugees, with just about the same number of people displaced, homeless and jobless. It is not possible to leave all this pain aside and say, “Let Syria be ruled as it was in the past.”
A new system needs to be established allowing Shiites, Sunnis, Turkmens, Kurds and Arabs to coexist. The current rule is a military dictatorship.
There is demand for a democratic Syria, but it is unknown whether this will go into practice. A federative structure, a strengthened state system or a divided Syria… nothing is certain, they are all possibilities.
2. Will Assad remain in power?
This is the topic having the greatest focus. Assad is primarily responsible for the deaths of these 600,000. He used chemical weapons, tortured tens of thousands of people to death in prisons and committed war crimes against humanity. The international media, including Anadolu Agency, had shared part of the evidence showing his war crimes. Those evidences are now at a British law office paid by Qatar. They are going to be used at the first opportunity for Assad's trial.
Despite all this, how is Assad going to lead Syria, ruling over the fathers whose children he killed, the children whose mothers he killed? Turkey defends that this is impossible. Iran wants Assad all the way. Russia is in the middle. The U.S. is outside the game.
3. What will happen to the internally displaced Syrians within Syria?
Some 7 million of the refugees who fled Aleppo, Ghouta and other areas left the country, while some of them became internally displaced within Syria. There are an estimated 2 million refugees in the Atme, Azaz, Idlib regions on the Turkey border. These people are living in shelters made of plastic, cloth, tin, and shabby houses, continuing their lives with the aid they receive from Turkey. Among them are families of opposition fighters who joined the clashes. The state of these people is unknown.
4. Will the refugees spread out around the world return?
There are 2.7 million refugees in Turkey, 2 million in Lebanon and 1 million in Jordan. What will happen if the total 7 million refugees, including those spread out to Europe and other countries, want to return to their country?
Where and how will they live? What will be the future of the destroyed houses and extorted property? This predominantly Sunni population had a significant effect on the country's demographic and faith map. The Assad regime will not want them to return.
5. Will foreign fighters leave the country?
There are Shiite militias, who came from countries such as Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Yemen and Pakistan, to support the Syrian regime. They joined the war in the front lines.
The opposition line also had foreigners who came from Iraq, Yemen, Chechnya, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and some European countries.
Turkey is leaning toward sending the opposition fighters in both groups outside Syria. However, the army of the Assad regime, which has no military force, now consists of foreign militias. Tehran and Damascus cannot be expected to be approving of this. So, what will happen?
6. Syria's territorial integrity and PKK cantons
Russia, Iran and Turkey reached an agreement on Syria's territorial integrity. This decision brought the collapse of the “canton state” project that the U.S. had wanted the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) to exclusively found. The Jarablus operation prevented the cantons from merging; however, Kobani, Jazira, Hasakah and Manbij are currently under the PKK's armed forces.
The Arabs, Turkmens and Kurds – who do not share the PKK ideology – residing there were banished. The demographic and faith map was changed. The U.S. is working to establish a base in this region. Well, what is going to happen to these cantons and the PKK's armed forces? This is the exact point of the risk of a new conflict.
7. What will happen to Daesh?
How will the fight against Daesh, which is in control of Syrian areas such as al-Bab and Raqqa, be from now on? Daesh, which was never really in any serious clashes in Syria with the Assad regime and Iran to date, clashed mostly with the opposition forces and Turkey. Turkey was isolated by everybody in this clash.
The U.S. had supposedly come to fight Daesh, but it forgot all about this and is busy with the Rojava project. So what will happen in the next stage? Will Iran, Damascus, Russia and the U.S. be able to form an alliance in relation to taking Raqqa from Daesh?
Including Turkey, at the moment there is no opinion on how Syria's future will be. Everybody was focused on Aleppo. Nobody prepared a project on what will happen from now onward. Now, eyes will turn toward the Russia, Turkey, Iran summit that is planned to be held in Astana. The U.S. is peeved at being left out of the game. What U.S. President-elect Donald Trump will do once he takes office is uncertain.
The risk of fighting against new actors and in new fields is quite high.