Syria-Turkey Relations: A Diplomatic Turning Point?

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Jess Diez,
Director of Educational Programs and Managing Editor

January 10, 2023

On Thursday, January 5, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan expressed possible intention to meet with the Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad as both countries work to expand a peace process. This declaration, however, occurred days after Turkey hosted Syrian opposition leaders in Ankara and expressed continual support to opposition leaders. Marking the greatest degree of diplomatic engagement between Turkey and Syria since 2011, these developments are inviting many to question: What is the future of defense and diplomatic involvement among Turkey and Syria? 

Ergodan’s declaration to possibly meet with Al-Assad comes after Turkish and Syrian defense  ministers cordially met in Moscow on December 28, the highest-level talks between the two parties since 2011. According to Middle East Eye, the officials discussed “the Syrian crisis, the refugee problem and the fight against ‘all terror groups’ operating on Syrian soil. Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said he told his Syrian counterpart Ali Mahmoud Abbas and Shoigu that Turkey respects the territorial integrity of all its neighbours and only aims to fight the terror groups to protect its borders.”

On January 3, following Ergodan’s outreach to the Syrian regime, Ergodan hosted Syria’s opposition in Ankara. Highlighted in Al-Monitor, Turkey expressed enduring support for Syria’s opposition: “‘We reiterated our support to the Syrian opposition and people in accordance with UNSC Resolution 2254,’ Cavusoglu said in reference to a 2015 United Nations call for a ceasefire and political settlement in Syria.

Syrian opposition leaders, such as President of the Syrian Opposition Coalition Salem Al-Meslet, have stated their concern of increasing relations between Turkey and the Assad regime. Written in National Coalition of Syria’s website, Al-Melset indicated that “despite the passage of a decade of this commitment to the political process, the course of the political process with the regime has only reached procrastination, intransigence, and lack of seriousness, and this will be the result of the countries’ negotiations with it. Al-Meslet also stressed that the…Assad regime will not be a source of security and peace for the region, and that a regime that lacks legitimacy has nothing to offer but killing, destruction, displacement, and exporting of terrorism and drugs.”

Turkey’s recent diplomatic initiatives have, in some stances, blurred Turkey’s foreign policy stance towards Syria. While Turkey has supported the Syrian opposition for over a decade, Russia has backed Syria’s regime; accordingly, some speculate that Russian influence may be encouraging this diplomatic re-engagement between the Turkish and Syrian governments. Written in Al Jazeera, Turkish Professor Mensur Akgun relayed: “Ankara’s recent change of approach towards al-Assad stems from major shifts in dynamics in the region compared with 11 years ago when the ties between the two countries were officially cut at the height of the Arab Spring. He also believes that Russia played a key role in starting the recent dialogue between the two archrivals. ‘As a result of Turkey’s developing special relationship with Russia, Moscow has pursued Ankara’s interests more in its relations with Syria, pressuring the Assad government in this direction,’ Akgun told Al Jazeera.”

Turkish President Erdogan identified the next steps in strengthening the peace process would be a trilateral meeting with Turkish, Russian, and Syrian foreign ministers. Written in Alarabiya, Erdogan said, “‘We have launched a process as Russia-Turkey-Syria…We will bring our foreign ministers together and then, depending on developments, we will come together as leaders.’”

The timeline of a potential Ergodan-Assad meeting is still in question; however, it is largely believed that the Syrian regime would accept such invitation. Written in The Arab Weekly, some analysts believe that Assad will not agree to meet Erdogan before Turkey holds a general election—now scheduled for no later than June. Erdogan’s foreign policy adviser Ibrahim Kalin said it was ‘too early to say right now’ when the two presidents might meet. ‘How all of this unfolds depends on the regime’s attitude,’ Kalin told NTV television. “Turkey has extended its hand. We do not think that they will leave this hand hanging.’” 

The future of Syrian-Turkish relations persists in discussion and speculation. Written in Daily Sabah, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar conveyed that the country’s hope is that this process will continue in a reasonable, logical and successful manner and that the fight against terrorism will take place successfully. Another wish of ours is that our Syrian brothers and sisters we host in Türkiye return to their homes and lands voluntarily, safely and with dignity.”

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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