Trump, Middle East and Turkish Foreign Policy Orientation towards Syria
OPINION: Prof. Dr. Hüsamettin İNAÇ*
Abstract: Turkish foreign policy-makers, at the initial point, established good neighborhood relations with Assad of Syria and offered him to open up the ways to democracy when the opponent people organized peaceful meetings against the existing government as a result of waving with Arab Spring. Later on, Assad persisted to preserve status quo and pointed the gun against the innocent Syrian people in order to settle the uprisings even though he promised to take the necessary precautions to transit a democratic regime. In response to this negative attitude, Turkey cut off all relations with him and organized a moderate opponent group called as Syrian National Council (SNC) for the sake of shaping the future Syria with multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, and multi-religious peculiarities. Nevertheless, unexpectedly, the USA didn’t intervene the region and followed a policy which is contrary to Turkey and constituted a gap which will be later filled by Iran and Russia. During this turmoil, Turkey offered a “security heaven” and “no-fly zone” as the shelter for the refuges and buffer zone between ISIL and PKK-supported terrorist organization called as YPG and Arabic and Kurdish local inhabitants in line with her frontiers. Turkey didn’t have confidence in insincere struggle of international community over ISIL and developed an individual policy and attitude over the region. This policy orientation led to the confrontation with USA and other leading figures in implementation process by establishing a new coalition with Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Moreover, Turkey permitted more than three million Syrian refuges to cross the border and arranged them accommodation and subsistence for years. In this context, Turkey’s position against the Syrian crisis and the policies that will probably implemented in futuristic perspectives with its socio-economic and cultural perspectives are analyzed in this paper.
As to respect the long relationship with Syria, Turkish leaders did their best to convince Assad to transits power and to establish democracy. Prime Minister Erdogan send his special envoy minister of foreign affairs to Damascus and he took a stern message from the prime minister in order to put an end to the oppression on the civilians. The message from the Damascus was negative and PM Erdogan has decided to cut off all the relationships with the Syrian government. The embassy was closed in March, 26 2012 and recalled the counsel general who was in Aleppo on July 23. The PM has started his announcement to Assad to step down and the tone of the messages was harsh and forceful. The Turkish government has cut down all the relationships between its former friends.
With Binali Yıldırım’s Prime Minister Age, Turkey’s policy on Middle East has changed perceptibly when compared to former prime minister’s and president’s foreign policies. Especially after coup attempt that happened on 15th of July, Turkey headed to decrease the number of problems with her neighbours, which is supported by the statement of Yıldırım; “It is our greatest and irrevocable goal, developing good relations with Syria and Iraq, and all our neighbours that surround the Mediterranean and the Black Sea”.
Turkey and SyrIa shares a common border; varIous hIstorIcal and geographIcal lInks also tIe the two countrIes together. Before the Arab UprIsIng, Turkey had good relatIons wIth SyrIa. Ankara even assIsted the Assad government escape InternatIonal IsolatIon (SyrIa and Turkey – A HIstory of a Complex RelatIonshIp, 2015). In addItIon, Turkey paved the way for Assad to vIsIt France In 2005 and brokered peace talks between Israel and SyrIa In 2008 (Manfreda).
Turkey and Syria held joint military maneuvers in 2009. In the same year, both countries announced they will make steps toward cooperation in defense sector (Manfreda). Also, in September 2009, Syrian foreign minister Walid al-Mouallim and his Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutoglu signed an agreement that abolished visa requirements between the two countries. This, along with other agreements to allow free trade, enabled goods and people to pass freely over the borders that had been peppered with landmines and barbed wire about a decade earlier.
Turkey and Syria enjoyed good relations until the crisis broke out on March 15, 2011. Basically, Turkish foreign policy makers were good with Assad regime. However, when Syria started to have forces on Syrian people, their relations turned sour. According to Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, the process of political change was irreversible and inevitable. He claimed that: “in this process, the place of Turkey is with the peoples of the region. Turkey will stand side by side with the peoples, their legitimate aspirations and work tirelessly for the realization of these aspirations in a stable and peaceful fashion”. This article will look at the Turkey & Syria relations after Arab Uprising and the election of Trump as the USA president. It will also discuss the role of USA and Russia in Turkey & Syria relations.
2. Response of Turkey to Syria Crisis and Syria Reaction
Turkey’s relationship with Syria has always been unstable throughout the recent past. First of all there had always been a conflict between Syria and Turkey because of Hatay. After Second World War Syria claimed that Hatay is the land of Syria in spite of the National Pact in 1920. Another conflict between two countries was the case of dams that built in Turkey. Syria was in the idea that these dams were limiting the flow. Moreover Bashar Assad’s father was supporting PKK against Turkey. With Adana agreement on October 20, 1998 both countries agreed that Hatay is within the borders of Turkey and Turkey and Syria relations had a turning point with this agreement. After Bashar Assad came into power, both countries increased mutual agreements and visits to each other. Many agreements, including Free Trade Agreement in 2007, had been signed between two countries till March 2011 when protests against government arouse in Syria.
The Turkish government has moved into the problem gradually. At first, Turkish policy was to attempt to persuade Assad regime to initiate the needed reforms. Syria did not heed the Turkey call to have necessarily reforms. Instead, the regime continued to cruelly suppress the revolt. Consequently, Turkey’s policy slowly shifted to the backing of the opposition. The Turkish government has started the thing with innocent or humanitarian and political support to the activities against the Syrian government. The first move was an extended protection for the members of the opposition members, then the Turkish government has moved forward by offering the members a venue for a meeting in Antalya and several opposition parties took part in the meeting which took place during June 1-2 ,2011. It was called as “Transition in Syria Conference”.
The relationships were broken and the Turkish government has become an arch enemy of the Syrian regime. The Arab Spring has become the reason for the breach and the Turkey has decided to intensify the involvement in the Syrian crisis. The Free Syrian Army was established in 2011 and according to one of the Israeli insider’s newsletter.
Prime Minister Erdogan became the first foreign leader to publicly denounce Assad’s leadership. Erdogan said that he was becoming impatient with Bashar al-Assad’s “savagery”. In 2011, Ahmet Davutoğlu, Turkey foreign minister announced that his country had completely suspended all agreements and trade relations between Turkey and Syria, In March 2012, Turkey closed its embassy in Damascus.
In October 2012, Turkish soldiers attacked Syrian forces, after a Syrian shell killed at least five people. Turkish national assembly agreed to send troops to Syria. Turkish government said it was not trying to seek confrontation but trying to protect its citizens from any further strikes. Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan said that Turkey was capable of protecting its borders and citizens and nobody should test that. He described Syrian attack as a provocation. He also added that his country was not interested in war, but it was not far from it.
In October 2012, Syrian Air Airbus A320 was intercepted from Moscow to Damascus was intercepted by Turkish Air Force F-16s after it was suspected of carrying Russian-made arms, in Turkish airspace (Barnard, 2016). The Syrian passenger plane was forced to make an emergency landing at Esenboğa International Airport. Inspectors seized what was described as missile parts and allowed the pane to continue with its journey after several hours. The authorities in Turkey declined to specify the type’s weapons that had been found.
In February 2015, almost 600 Turkish troops in 57 armored vehicles and 39 tanks entered Syria to vacate the 38-man Turkish military defense force safeguarding the Suleyman Shah tomb (Agence France-Presse, 2015). They moved the Suleyman Shah’s remains to a different place because of a supposed attack threat of ISIL. Ankara did not seek permission from Damascus to carry out the operation. The Syrian Foreign Ministry criticized the action, saying that Turkey had committed an act of blatant aggression on Syrian territory. In May of last year, Turkish government said that it had shot down a Syrian plane that had infringed Turkish airspace rules (Reuters, 2015). However, Syria said it was it was a remotely controlled surveillance drone. An eye witnessed in Hatay province, an areas the border Syria, reported seeing an airplane fired upon by jets.
Turkey and the USA have decided to offer 20 T-62 tanks to fight against the government forces in Syria. It was funded by Qatar and sent to Syria through a Turkish harbor of Iskenderun. In one of its news release BBC announced that in August 2014, the military training for the individuals who wanted to join Free Syrian Army was given by Turkish instructors in one of the camp that was restricted to media. In case of such incident, Turkish government denied its allegation and mentioned that its borders are not used by militants. But the Turkish government moved deeper into the crisis by giving an opportunity for the opposition to have an establishment in Istanbul city in 2011. It is an umbrella organization and named as Syrian National Council. It is a coalition of anti-government parties who were trying to get into one group in order to represent the opposition of Syria. It is the Syrian National Coalition, which is considered as the authentic and legal representatives of the Syrian nation. According to these facts, it is clearly understood that Turkey has changed its former policies with Syrian government.
*Head of Political Science and International Relations; Dean of Faculty of Economics and Administrative Sciences, Dumlupinar University / email@example.com