Ankara's ties with Damascus: From overthrow to interaction

January 11, 2023 - 22:35

TEHRAN- The Arab Spring movement, which started in Tunisia, quickly affected all the Arab countries of North Africa and some in West Asia.

Immediately after the beginning of the unrest, the president of Tunisia handed over the power, and then, Mubarak in Egypt and Gaddafi in Libya. Mubarak gave up power so that the so-called democracy could develop in the Middle East.

After the developments in North Africa caused fundamental changes, some countries in West Asia and beyond concluded that they are able to manage similar scenarios for some countries in the region. 

West Asia, where any changes and developments in it are followed with high sensitivity by regional and global powers, got caught in an unwanted violence.

The Zionist regime, the United States, and some Western countries on one hand, and Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, and several other countries on the other started to implement the model that started in North Africa.

In order to implement the above-mentioned model, they needed a land where the implementation of this model could be tested. They selected Syria, because it was at the forefront of the resistance front, was agreed upon by all parties in the region and outside the region. And on March 15, 2011, the civil war in Syria started with the aim of eliminating the popular government.

The war first started by infiltrating the Syrian army and a group called the Free Syrian Army (FSA) was formed, but when FSA was severely defeated by the Syrian army and its allies, the hostile countries took the strategy of mercenary fighters, or in other words, hired terrorists, to destroy Syria.

The Syrian conflict is one of the worst wars the region has experienced in the last century. By March 2022, it is said that 499,657 to 610,000 people were killed int this long war.

Turkey was one of the main supporters of the war in Syria, but the war did not lead to a result, and Bashar al-Assad remained in power with the support of his allies. Assad's resistance caused the Arab countries to correct their position towards Syria and some of them re-opened their embassies.

But Turkey was in a different situation due to common borders and the concerns that it had in the post-war Syria.

The country continued its hostile actions for a time, but Ankara seems to have reached the same conclusion as its Arab allies.

Accordingly, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announces the "possibility" of his meeting with his Syrian counterpart Bashar al-Assad in the near future.

A week after a meeting between the defense ministers of Turkey and Syria, Erdogan said on Jan. 5, that he "may" sit down with Assad to foster peace and stability in Syria.

Erdogan's use of the word "may" to meet Assad is because the Syrian president had previously rejected Erdogan's request to meet.

Why Erdogan changes strategy

Now the question is that why the Turkish leader changed his strategy.

“Turkey and Syria have mutual interests in the current situation, and Ankara will demand strong guarantees from Syria for the return of refugees to their country,” a former Turkish diplomat says. 

During the war, many Syrian refugees entered Turkey and this became a challenge for Ankara.

On December 31, 2022, Al Jazeera reported: “After Turkey and Syria cut ties for about 11 years, the defense ministers of the two countries met in Moscow on Wednesday (Dec. 28) in the presence of their Russian counterparts. These ministers agreed to form joint committees of defense and intelligence officials. These committees will begin their meetings at the end of January in Moscow. After that, meetings will be held in Ankara and Damascus.”

In this regard, Fikret Ozir, a former Turkish diplomat, said: “Turkey tried to solve the Syrian crisis through the Astana and Geneva processes, and now it is trying to activate the processes that have reached a dead end. Turkey is trying to realize its internal security and its borders with Syria and the return of Syrian refugees to their country. This issue depends on the current negotiations between Syria and Turkey.”

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar had previously announced: “The return of Syrian refugees should be voluntary and safe. Turkey has declared its readiness to cooperate on that.”

Now Erdogan has decided to change his country's hostile relations with Syria. It wants to return to the pre-war condition, but there are some considerations in this way.

Cementing ties is a tool to advance internal goals

Salahuddin Hawa, in an article on Washington Institute writes, talks about the possibility of contact between the Turkish and Syrian sides—including the possibility of a call between the two presidents—will absolutely benefit Ankara.

"The AKP government is working to strip the internal Turkish opposition of the cards it relies on its electoral propaganda in the months leading up to Turkey's June 2023 elections," Hawa stated.

In the past, Turkish opposition has latched onto the problem of Syrian refugees as its explanation for Turkish internal and external crises, and opposition figures have proposed that the normalization of relations with the Syrian regime is the best way to solve it, as the Modon electronic newspaper reported from the Turkish Deutsche Welle website on August 4.

Hence, many observers interpret Erdogan and Cavusoglu's recent statements as an attempt to prevent the Turkish opposition from benefiting from this card. The statements of Turkish officials about developing a plan to "voluntarily" return one million Syrian refugees to northern Syria can be placed in the same context as extracting the papers of the Turkish opposition with which it will contest the 2023 elections.

Cementing ties, a tool to advance regional and global goals

It seems that Turkey is also looking at softening its relations with Syria as a tool to advance its regional and global goals.

Turkey aims to solve the Kurdish issue in the border area by improving relations with Syria.

Turkey does not have the support of the United States in dealing with the Kurds, and Erdogan wants to end the case with the support of President Assad so that he can use it as a bargaining chip in the upcoming elections.

Erdogan is also trying to finalize the talks with Damascus through the mediation of Moscow, first, to have the upper hand in its military cooperation with Russia, including in future purchases of missile shields, and second play a role in Russia's strategy in the region and the world after the Ukraine war.

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