Libmonster ID: SE-268
Author(s) of the publication: A. HARUTYUNYAN

In connection with the well-known events in Iraq, the state of Turkish-Syrian relations plays an important role in the alignment of political forces in the Middle East region. Relations between the two countries have not been stable for many decades of the twentieth century, and they have sometimes been tense. Among the reasons are the unresolved territorial dispute over the border province of Hatay*, which now belongs to Turkey; disputes over the distribution of water resources of the Euphrates River, which flows in Turkey and Syria; Syria's use of the Kurdish problem as a lever of pressure on Ankara in the hope of resolving a number of controversial issues in its favor. However, both countries have always been united in one thing-they sought to prevent the creation of an independent Kurdish state.

Certain changes in relations between the Republic of Turkey and the Syrian Arab Republic (SAR) took place in the middle of 2000. Then, after the death of the long-term and permanent President of Syria, Hafez al-Assad, the son of the "Syrian lion"** Bashar al-Assad ascended to the "throne", who made his pragmatic domestic and foreign policies. One of the indicators of rapprochement between the two countries, many experts called the presence of Turkish President Ahmed Necet Sezer at the funeral of Hafez al-Assad. They noted that " the Syrian leadership was very flattered by such a high presence of the Turkish leadership."1. This was the first official visit of A. Sezer abroad after his election as President of Turkey.


The symptoms of the Turkish-Syrian rapprochement appeared back in May of the same year, when the deputy foreign ministers of the two countries tried to come to an agreement on the main problems-water and Kurdish. In the same year 2000, Vice-President A. Halim Haddam and Syrian Interior Minister Muhammad Harbayi paid an official visit to Turkey.2 In November 2000, the Presidents of Syria and Turkey met at the Doha Summit of Muslim Leaders.3 In June 2002, the head of the Syrian Officer Corps, Hassan Turkmani, and his Turkish counterpart, Hussein Oglo, had a conversation in Ankara, during which they discussed the fight against terrorism, demining the border between the two countries, and conducting joint military exercises.4

The visit of Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa to Turkey in February 2003 was of great importance.The Syrian Minister did not mention the territorial issue, which inspired optimism about the further development of bilateral relations. Ankara was also satisfied that after the signing of the Adana agreements in 1998, which recorded the readiness of Damascus to stop encouraging the separatist struggle of Turkish Kurds, Syria strictly adheres to the agreements reached. The Turkish press called the visit of the Syrian Prime Minister N. Miro in July 2003, who arrived in Ankara with a large delegation of businessmen, a historic event. Prior to that, the Syrian Prime Minister had never visited Turkey for 17 years.

The memorandum on mutual assistance in the fight against terrorism, signed in December 2003, also indicates a rapprochement between Turkey and Syria. This was preceded by the expulsion of 22 Syrian citizens from Syria to Turkey, who were accused by the Turkish authorities of organizing a number of terrorist attacks, including the bombings in Istanbul. In a statement issued by the Turkish gendarmerie command, in particular, it was reported that the Syrian authorities handed over to Turkey Azad Akanchi, who played a major role in planning suicide attacks in Istanbul.


A new milestone in the history of relations between the two countries was the coming to power in Turkey in 2002 of the moderate pro-Islamic Justice and Development Party (AKP) led by Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose foreign policy is largely focused on establishing closer ties with the countries of the Middle East. Very symptomatic is the fact that after coming to power, the AKP is trying to distance itself from Israel.

The pragmatism of Turkey's foreign policy is evidenced by its position on the 2003 Gulf war launched by the United States and its allies against Iraq.

Ankara and Damascus strongly opposed the war in Iraq, which, according to their leaders, could create additional problems for the two countries, who were afraid of the activation of Kurds in Iraq and the possible formation of a broad autonomy of Southern (Iraqi) Kurdistan, which is fraught with strengthening the Kurdish liberation movement both in Turkey and in Syria.

In addition, the presence of US troops near the borders of their country was undesirable for Syrians. It is known that the United States, along with such states as the Council of Europe-

* Hatay Province (formerly the Alexandret Sanjak) is located in southern Turkey, bordering the northwestern part of Syria. Its administrative center is Antakya. For many years, Syria was a mandatory territory under the administration of France. In 1939, France transferred the Alexandrette Sanjak to Turkey.

** Asad means "lion"in Arabic.

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Loyal Korea, Iran, and Syria were included in the list of countries of the "axis of evil". Washington accuses Damascus of supporting terrorist organizations, developing weapons of mass destruction, and occupying neighboring Lebanon.5 For Turkey, the consequences of the war could be very sensitive in economic terms. Its economy made significant profits from cross-border trade with Iraq, as well as from the implementation of the oil-for-food program. In Turkey, there were still fresh memories of the severe financial losses caused by the 1991 Gulf War, known as "Desert Storm", launched by the United States and its allies in response to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. "In the first Gulf War (1991 - AA), two countries lost: Iraq, and then Turkey," Yassar Buyukanit, deputy head of the Turkish General Staff, said in early 2003, referring to the huge economic damage and the Kurdish guerrilla war that caused the Turkish people to suffer in the 1990s. "Our only mistake was supporting the coalition," he said. Why we are so cautious this time is because of the war. " 6

The desire to prevent war prompted Turkey to undertake active shuttle diplomacy. In late 2002 and early 2003, then-Prime Minister Abdullah Gul visited many countries in the region - Syria, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Iran. In Damascus, he met with the head of the Syrian government, M. Miro, and President Bashar al-Assad. The parties discussed the possibility of preventing war by joint efforts of the countries of the region, as Gul told the Al-Jazeera Arab TV channel. "The war in Iraq will affect all its neighbors, and we cannot sit idly by. It is our duty to prevent a military solution to the crisis and achieve a peaceful settlement, " Gul 7 said.

In January 2003, Ankara called for a summit with the participation of the leaders of Iran and influential Arab States in the region. As a result, such a meeting, however, at the level of the foreign ministers of Egypt, Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Turkey, took place in Istanbul on January 23, 2003.8 It resulted in the signing of a joint statement on the inadmissibility of the territorial division of Iraq and the need to resolve the issue peacefully.

And after the war, the countries bordering Iraq did not stop cooperating on security issues in the region in connection with the intifada that began in this Arab country. Thus, during a meeting of the foreign ministers of Iraq's neighboring countries-Jordan, Syria, Kuwait, Iran, Turkey and Egypt - in Istanbul in 2005, the parties reached an agreement with the new Government of Iraq on joint efforts to ensure border security and control in order to prevent the possibility of infiltration of insurgents through poorly guarded areas.9


Seeking to ease tensions in the Middle East region, Turkey has offered to mediate peace talks between Syria and Israel.

Israel, like its ally the United States, accused Syria of supporting terrorists, inciting discord and hatred between Palestinians and Israel, interfering in the internal affairs and occupying Lebanon. "Ankara, which maintains friendly and cooperative relations with both Damascus and Tel Aviv, is ready to act as a mediator if both sides ask for it," Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in an interview with Israeli TV 10. Local observers noted that this statement was made on the eve of the visit of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to Turkey, which began on January 6, 2004, and was regarded as a gesture of friendship and harmony between the two neighboring states. In February 2005, Damascus accepted Ankara's offer to mediate between Syria and Israel. Then Syrian Information Minister Ahmed Hassan said that Damascus welcomes "all sincere efforts aimed at activating the peace process in the region in order to establish a just and comprehensive peace here, since without it the Middle East region will continue to be an arena of tension and clashes." He stressed "that the ball is currently in the Israeli half of the pitch." 11

However, the rapprochement of the positions of Turkey and Syria took place against the background of the deterioration of relations between Turkey and Israel. During the years of the AKP's rule, Turkey has repeatedly stated that harsh actions against Palestinians by Israeli troops are unacceptable, in particular, it called the government of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon a "government of terror". In turn, the Israeli side increased its interest in the Kurds of Iraq after the failure of the American plan to "democratize Iraq" and settle relations between ethnic and religious groups in this country. The well-known American journalist Seymour Hirsch wrote in the weekly New Yorker that Israel, after the failures of the American administration, had already begun to interfere in the affairs of semi-independent Southern Kurdistan (Iraq)by the end of 200312. According to his information,

page 31

Israeli special services trained several Kurdish special forces units and used them to infiltrate the territory of Syria and Iran. According to the author, such actions of Israel caused dissatisfaction of official Ankara and were fraught with undesirable rapprochement for the United States between Turkey, Syria and Iran, which traditionally oppose the creation of a sovereign Kurdish entity on the territory of Iraq. 13 Hirsch quoted a senior Turkish leader who spoke out for the indivisibility of Iraq and the inadmissibility of Israeli support for the Kurds of Iraq, quoting this diplomat has a well-known Turkish saying: "To kill a flea, we will burn the entire blanket."


In 2004, for the first time since Syria's independence in 1946, its President paid an official visit to Ankara. Analysts assessed the visit of Bashar al-Assad as an attempt to finally resolve the main problems between Syria and Turkey. "This visit is very important, as it is the first time that the Syrian president is coming to Turkey. I am confident that it will open a new page in Turkish-Syrian relations, " Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Gulen said. According to Russian Arab historian V. Akhmedov, this visit was extremely important for the Syrian side. Assad arrived in Ankara with his entire family - his wife, Asma,and their two children, Zeina and Hafez. 15 Such a step in the East has a special significance and is a sign of great friendship and respect.

The parties managed to reach mutual understanding on the Kurdish issue, which has been a stumbling block in relations between Ankara and Damascus over the past decades. So, on the eve of his visit to Turkey, the Syrian president in an interview with CNN-Turk said that the creation of a Kurdish or any other entity in Iraq based on an ethnic trait is unacceptable, calling it overstepping the "red line". "The division of Iraq will have an impact on neighboring states and will lead to destabilization of the situation in the region," he said. The Turkish Prime Minister expressed himself in the same spirit.

The visit of the Syrian head of state showed that Syria renounces its former support for the separatist movement of Turkish Kurds and their armed methods of struggle, and stands for a peaceful solution to the Kurdish problem.

During his visit to Ankara, President Assad met with his Turkish counterpart Sezer and Prime Minister Erdogan. The long-standing "cold war" has seriously affected the economies of the two countries, and the signing by Assad and Erdogan of a bilateral agreement on the prevention of double taxation and promotion of investment in the two countries ' economies has become a kind of solid portion of oxygen for the growing trade turnover between Syria and Turkey in recent years, and the agreement on the opening of a trade representative office in Hataya has become de facto recognition existing borders 16. According to the Turkish Statistical Institute, the trade turnover between the two countries reached $ 750 million by the beginning of 2005. 17

During Assad's visit to Ankara, the two sides also agreed to open four border crossings and create a free trade zone. However, all these agreements were somewhat overshadowed by the statement of the Turkish Ministry of National Defense that the command of the country's ground forces lost maps of the minefields of the Turkish-Syrian border. This circumstance, the Turkish TV channel NTV reported, came to light after the two countries ' leaders decided to clear the border areas as Turkish-Syrian relations improved, in order to put the fertile land back into agricultural circulation.18

High-level official visits continued in July 2004, when Syrian Prime Minister Naji Autry visited Ankara. The main topic of discussion between the two heads of Government was the settlement of the situation in Iraq. "Syria and Turkey are concerned about the worsening situation in the region, especially the events in Iraq and Palestine, the consequences of which may pose a threat to the security of all countries in the Middle East," the Syrian Prime Minister said on 19.

According to experts, the most successful year in bilateral relations ended with the return visit of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to Damascus in December 2004, which ended with the signing of the free trade agreement between the two countries and the agreement on the distribution of water resources.20 In particular, Erdogan noted that it is expected to increase Turkish investments in Syria, which at that time amounted to $ 150 million. An agreement was also reached on the development of agriculture in the border areas and on plans to build irrigation facilities there.21


A short time after the visit of Bashar al-Assad in March 2004, events took place in Syria that, according to many ANAS, are considered to be the most important events in the world.-

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They are a direct consequence of the "new" policy of Damascus towards its northern neighbor.

In early March 2004, according to the official version of the Syrian authorities, in the town of Qamishli in northern Syria, during a football match between Arab and Kurdish fans, a fight broke out, and the police had to intervene. One person was killed and 17 were injured. According to an unofficial version, the fight was the result of a well-planned provocation, when Arab fans in the stadium began to shout: "Long live Saddam Hussein!", which, no doubt, caused some dissatisfaction among the Kurdish part of the fans. According to other information, during the fight, inflammatory slogans were heard directed against the ruling regime in Syria. In Damascus, the reason for the aggravation of the situation is considered "the intervention of external forces." According to Hamad al-Asaad, a member of the political bureau of the Kurdish National Democratic Revival Party, demonstrators raised American flags in a number of places.22 According to him, "there have never been any disagreements between Kurds and Arabs in Qamishli." Al-Asaad called the incident "a plot to shake the internal stability of the country."

However, a few days later, protesting against the actions of the Syrian authorities, a real riot was raised in Qamishli, inhabited mainly by Kurds. The seriousness of the situation was indicated by the fact that the Syrian Interior Minister urgently left for the north-east of the country. He held talks with leaders of the Kurdish community. According to the Al-Nahar newspaper, cases of riots were also reported in other northern regions of the country23.

The Turkish authorities immediately responded to the events in the neighboring country, and on March 13, security at the Nasibein checkpoint near Qamishli was strengthened. The Chairman of the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iraq (KDP), Masoud Barzani, called on the parties to reach a peaceful resolution to the conflict.24 He stressed "the need to strengthen brotherhood, coexistence and mutual respect between Kurds and the peoples of neighboring states." In the days that followed, the tone of the Kurdish leaders ' statements became harsher. Thus, a few days later, the KDP leader called on Syrian Kurds who are being harassed by the authorities to "seek refuge in the territory of the Kurdish autonomy in Northern Iraq," 25 guaranteeing them protection and a warm welcome from the leadership of Iraqi Kurdistan. On March 16, a statement issued by the" Committee for the Liberation of Western Kurdistan " condemned the colonial actions of the Syrian leadership.26 In the same spirit, the leadership of the Kurdish Workers ' Party (PKK, Turkey) spoke out, threatening Syria that it "will not remain indifferent" to its policy towards its tribesmen. From now on, the Kurdish problem is also on the agenda inside Syria, where previously there were no such serious clashes on national grounds.

A riot that broke out in the north of the country, the Syrian authorities suppressed, as a result of which, according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, many people were killed, although Syrian Prime Minister Naji Autry said only five people were killed in Qamishli 27. Later, Syrian Interior Minister Hammoud gave a different figure-25 dead 28. KDP representatives said 70 killed and more than 400 wounded. Several hundred Kurds were arrested, most of whom (about 300) were released only a year later.29

The Syrian authorities ' harsh suppression of the "Kurdish uprising" had several goals in mind. They wanted to show the inadmissibility of any national Kurdish movements on their territory in connection with the events in Iraq, where the Kurdish factor began to play a serious role in the future development of the country, especially after the adoption of the new constitution of Iraq. In addition, by its actions, Damascus warned the Syrian Kurds against any participation in the national liberation movement in other countries. Syria also wanted to show Turkey that from now on it is impossible to return to playing the "Kurdish card" in bilateral relations.

In late March, Syria handed over 70 members of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers ' Party to Turkey.30 This step was a kind of response of official Damascus to the threats of Kurdish leaders, especially representatives of the PKK.


In the context of strengthening bilateral relations, we should also highlight the visit of Turkish President Ahmed Sezer to Syria on April 13-14, 2005. The visit came at a difficult time for Syria, when Western powers blamed Syria for the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005 and demanded the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon.

From a geopolitical point of view, Lebanon represented the last hope for Damascus (after the transfer of the Alexandrette Sanjak by France to Turkey in 1939 and the occupation of the Golan Heights by Israel in 1967) to implement plans for regional influence. This goal has been the main project of several generations of Syrian leaders, including Hafez al-Assad. The withdrawal from Lebanon meant that Syria was saying goodbye to this dream.31 In March 2005, the Ambassador

page 33

Edelman called on Ankara to "join the calls of the international community" for the immediate withdrawal of Syrian troops from neighboring Lebanon.32 In Turkey, this was seen as a veiled warning ahead of President Sezer's visit to Damascus.33 However, the visit took place, which once again testified to the seriousness of Turkey's policy of cooperation with Middle Eastern countries, and especially with Syria.

At the meeting, Assad and Sezer discussed regional issues. The parties once again expressed their support for preventing the division of Iraq and for full membership of Iraq in the world community. Sezer expressed full approval of Damascus ' actions to withdraw its forces from Lebanon.34 Sezer also discussed economic problems in bilateral relations with the Syrian Prime Minister. Autry said that the parties intend to increase the trade turnover between the two countries to $ 1 billion in 2005-2006. 35

The US obstacles to the development of Turkish-Syrian relations caused a negative reaction from the Syrian authorities. "During the Cold War, the United States tried to "strangle Turkey within Anatolia", preventing it from establishing friendly relations with all neighboring countries. This policy is still being implemented by Washington today, " said Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa.

According to al-Sharaa, the essence of the issue is that Turkey is pursuing its own policy in relations with Syria, which is very worrying for the Americans. "The United States wants to limit Turkey's regional role and influence," he said, adding that Washington hinders Turkey's rapprochement not only with Syria, but also with Egypt, Iran and Iraq.36

But US efforts are not yielding the results Washington wants. In this regard, I would like to note the fact that in 2005 the Foreign Ministries of Syria and Turkey began to resolve the problem of disputed border territories in the area of the Turkish province of Ha-Tai 37. A special bilateral commission began work to determine the territories that should be exchanged in the near future.

These are border lands that were privately owned by Syrian and Turkish citizens before 1939. Landowners on both sides lost their property after Hatay Province became Turkish and the borders between the two states changed. Syria claims to return 219 square kilometers of land to the province of Hatay. Turkish landowners want to return more than 3 thousand square kilometers of land that ended up in the current territory of Syria. Damascus has so far recognized legitimate claims for only 1 thousand square kilometers.

The parties intend to sign an agreement on solving the problem of disputed territories. Thus, another painful problem in the relations between the two countries can be resolved in the near future.

Turkey and Syria have also begun to cooperate on some regional projects. Thus, in February 2005, the Prime Ministers of Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon signed an agreement in Amman on the construction of the second stage of the pan-Arab gas pipeline. As reported by the Jordanian newspaper Ar-Rai, the agreement provides for the construction of a 380-kilometer branch of the gas pipeline worth $ 300 million from the Jordanian city of Aqaba to the Syrian border city of Rahab and further to Lebanon.38 The two countries also discussed the possibility of building a branch of the gas pipeline to Turkey, which was discussed at a meeting between Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and his Turkish counterpart in February of the same year.

* * *

Contacts between the leaders of Turkey and Syria are systematic, which indicates that they recognize the need for mutually beneficial cooperation between the two countries.

The history of Turkish-Syrian relations over the past years of the twenty-first century shows that both countries, despite the fact that some controversial issues have not yet received contractual legal formalization, have found common approaches to solving acute urgent problems of our time: they have recognized as the most important tasks the settlement of contradictions and conflicts in the Middle East by peaceful, diplomatic means; strengthening the fight against terrorism, developing mutually beneficial economic cooperation at the bilateral and regional levels. Both countries reaffirmed their commitment to the principle of respect for the national independence and integrity of the States of the region.

1 Az-Zaman, 08.09.2000. Jerusalem Post, 29.10.2000.

Ruben Karapetyan. 2 New trends in the development of Turkish-Syrian relations// Turkological and Ottoman Studies, Yerevan, 2003.

3 Hurriet, 13.11.2000.

4 Al-Hayat, 10.06.2002.

5 In the spring of 2005, Syria withdrew all its troops from Lebanon.

6 The Wall Street Journal, 13.01.2003.

7 Planet Pulse, 05.01.2003, 06.01.2003.

Arutyunyan A. E. 8 Otnoshenie Turkii k poslednoi voyni v Zalive [Turkey's attitude to the Last Gulf War].

9 RBC News Agency, 02.05.2005 -

10 Hurriet, 02.01.2004.

11 RIA Novosti, 06.02.2004.

Seymour M. Hersh. - 12 Plan В // The New-Yorker, 28.06.2004.

13 Ibid.

14 RIA Novosti, 06.01.2004.

Akhmedov V. M. 15 Syria under Bashar al-Assad. Regional experience of modernization in the conditions of external instability, Moscow, 2005, p. 24.

16 The Middle East, 2004, February, N 342.

17 Website of the Turkish Statistical Institute under the Government of the Republic of Turkey

18 Planet Pulse, 24.03.2004.

19 RIA Novosti, 13.07.2004.

20 REGNUM NEWS AGENCY, 23.12.2004.

21 RIA Novosti, 22.12.2004.

22 Planet Pulse, 15.03.2004.

23 An-Nahar, 14.03.2004.

24 Planet Pulse, 15.03.2004.

25 Ibid. 17.02.2004.

26 Ash-Sharq al-Awsat, 17.03.2004.

27 Planet Pulse, 17.03.2005.

28 Al-Hayat, 19.03.2004.

29 RIA Novosti, 31.03.2004.

30 Al-Hayat, 28.03.2004.

Satanovsky E. 31 The Middle East on the threshold of a big war. RIA Novosti, 15.03.2005.

32 Turkish Daily News, 15.03.2005.

33 RIA Novosti, 13.04.2005.

34 Al-Thawra, 14.04.2005.

35 Al-Furat, 14.04.2005.

36 Yeni shafag-quoted from REGNUM News Agency, 19.07.2005.

37 RIA Novosti, 13.04.2005.

38 RIA Novosti, 11.02.2004.


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