Turkey and War in Syria

Hatay is a region in the south of Turkey. Today it is the main point for Syrian refugees. For a long time it caused disputes between Ankara and Damascus. In fact, after WWI the region became part of Syria, and 20 years later it was brought back to the Turkish Republic. Turkey and Syria had not only territorial disputes. There were some water resources issues. Turkey planned to build a power plant on the Euphrates that could leave Syrian soil without irrigation. By the end of the 90s Turkey and Syria have very tense relations. In addition, President Hafez al-Assad supported the Kurdistan Workers' Party that claimed to the independence of Kurds. However, in1998 Assad stopped financial assistance. After the event the bilateral relations became calmer, and even looked like a strategic alliance over further years. Damascus was looking for a powerful geopolitical ally to stand against the Saudis, on the one hand, and to defend its interests on the disputed territory of the Golan Heights with Israel, on the other. Both countries have a common interest on the Israel issues.

Important background:
- 1998: Hafez Assad stopped financing PKK (the Kurdistan Workers' Party).
- 2004: An agreement between Syria and Turkey on the general market was signed.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan said: “We must work together to support the peace process in the Middle East. Turkey and Syria can play together a big role in the peace process”.

Such a distinction continued in the term of Bashar al-Assad who’s Prime Minister, RecepTayyip, called Erdogan his "brother." Turkish press still remembers how Assad and Erdogan families used to spend their holidays in the south of Turkey, having long friendly conversation and even creating their common political agenda.

Quote: Emine Erdogan, the Turkey's first lady: "Our relations were not official. Just imagine that before these events, Asma, her mother, father, children, brother and sister-in-law stayed with us. We received them during vacations, and the press did not even know about it."

In 2014, at an official meeting, a treaty on the general market was signed. Syria became a transit corridor for Turkish goods supplying to the Middle East. In 2005, Damascus finally recognized the disputed Hatay as Turkish territory. At the same time, the controversy onriver-heads of the Tigris and the Euphrates was settled too. But after the Arab Spring, the Turkish-Syrian relations began to worsenvery quickly. When the political crisis in Syria took place, Erdogan supported the opposition.

1. Ethnic groups

Turks make up 70% of the population, Kurds who mainly live in the southeast – 18%, all other nationalities – 12%. The major ethnic minorities are Arabs, living along the Syrian border, Albanians, Bosnians, Azeris, Greeks, Armenians and Jews.

2. Religious groups

Today the country consists of 98% of Muslims, and about 20% of them are Shiite. At the same time, Turkey has 160 thousand Christians, about 0.6 % of total population. One third of all Christians are Orthodox, living mostly in Istanbul. The Greeks recognize the spiritual authority of the Patriarch of Constantinople and the Orthodox Arabs united in the Patriarchate of Antioch. By the way, Turkey is the first country in the world where Islam was separated from the state, in 1928 after the reforms of Kemal Ataturk.

3. Geopolitics

The Erdogan and Assad close relations and their breaking-off are primarily caused by Ankara's will to build connections with the Arabs. With the help of Damascus Turkish Prime Minister hoped to settle the Palestinian issue. At that time the headquarters of Hamas was in Damascus. In their turn, the Syrians tried to weaken the role of Saudi Arabia with help of Turks and put a pressure on Israel to obtain the Golan and to receive some benefits, solving the Palestinian problem. But, Assad was Alawite, so the Arab world disapproved him.

Ankara decided not to spoil relations with the Arab countries. Its will to become a leading geopolitical power in the region was stronger than temporary friendship with the Syrian president. Besides, the Western allied put pressure upon Erdogan. Turkish president accepted Washington ideas. As Barack Obama, he accused Assad of lack of democracy.

RecepTayyip Erdogan: “What is happening now in Syria hurts the heart of humanity and the whole Islamic world. About 30,000 people have died since the conflict began. As you know, the father of Bashar al-Assad, Hafez, killed about 30 thousand people in Homs and Hama. His son said that he needed to break his father record”.

4. Geo-economics

Before the conflict, Turkey received from Syria light industry products in exchange of electricity supply. Now the facilities which previously functioned in Syria, were transferred to the Turkish towns, and are working at full capacity to develop Turkish economy. At the same time, the Turks are one of the main suspects who reap huge profits from oil trade in world markets, buying cheap fuel from the ISIL. At the same time, Ankara "fighting" against the terrorist organization.

Quote: David Cohen, the Deputy Director US Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence: "The ISIL was selling oil at substantially discounted prices to a variety of middlemen, including some from Turkey."

5. Military force and position

After the Arab Spring, Ankara counted on Sunni Islamists. The Turks failed to urge Assad to provide seats for its protégés in the Syrian government, so Ankara began an undeclared war against the Syrian regime.

Turkey offered its territory for training fighters of the Free Syrian Army, transporting armies and mercenaries from Libya. It is the main source of weapons supply that is financed and supervised by the Saudis and the Qataris. Turkey supports the jihadist terrorist groups. One of them is Ahrar al-Sham, consisting mainly of people from the northern Caucasus, the Muslim Brotherhood that is based in Turkey. At the same time, Damascus acts against the Turks in the same general way. It is money and weapons support of the PKK, situating in Turkey, and of Shiite militant groups.