Prior to 1998, relations between Turkey and Syria were difficult. Contentious issues included Syria’s claims over Hatay, disputes over water and Syria’s support to PKK terrorist organization.
Signing of Adana Agreement on October 20, 1998 marked a turning point in relations. The agreement established cooperation against PKK terrorist organization and relations subsequently began to develop in all areas.
After Bashar Assad came into the power both leaders in both countries expressed intet to furher develop and expand relations. Accordingly, the number of official visits increased steadfastly at various levels, including Presidents, Prime Ministers and Foreign Ministers.
The signing of Joint Political Declaration on establishing High Level Strategic Cooperation Council (HLSCC) in September 2009 was yet another milestone in Turkish-Syrian relations.
The High Level Strategic Cooperation Council convened for the first time at ministerial level on October 13, 2009 in Gaziantep and Aleppo. Over 10 ministers from the two countries participated in the meeting. This was followed by a High Level Strategic Cooperation Council meeting at prime ministerial level on December 23, 2009 in Damascus.
At the meeting in December 2009, a total of 50 agreements and MoU’s were signed in Damascus. Those agreements and MoU’s emphasized cooperation on various areas, i.e. political, security, commerce, culture, health, agriculture, environment, transportation, education and water.
HLSCC’s subsequent meetings took place at ministerial and prime ministerial levels respectively, on October 2-3, 2010 in Latakia and on December 20-21, 2010 in Ankara. The parties signed 13 additional agreements within the scope of those meetings.
These developments contributed positively to bilateral trade, investment and tourism. The entry into force of the Free Trade Agreement on January 1, 2007 led to a swift increase in trade volume between Turkey and Syria.
This positive outlook paved the way for a four-way cooperation soon after. A Quadripartite High Level Strategic Cooperation Council was established among Turkey, Syria, Jordon and Lebanon, at a meeting at Foreign Ministers level. This cooperation scheme was launched on June 10, 2010 in Istanbul. This Council aimed to create a zone of free movement of goods and persons among those four countries. The Council later did not convene due to outbreak of the uprising in Syria in 2011, and the ensuing conflict that still persists today.
Turkey’s Approach to the Syrian Conflict
Before the outbreak of popular protests in March 2011 in Syria, Turkey approached the Syrian administration first on a bilateral basis in order to convince them that Syria could not be isolated from the impact of the winds of change and transformation which had then started to engulf the region. Benefitting from the existing high level cooperation mechanisms, Turkey offered to share expertise and democratic experience in order to guide the much-needed and long overdue reforms in Syria.
Despite Turkey’s relentless efforts, the Syrian leadership chose to continue to confront its own citizens by engaging in a dead-end policy based on the brutal and violent suppression of protests and opposition. Under these circumstances, Turkey has chosen to stand by the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people.
Directly impacted by the situation in Syria, Turkey closely follows the developments in this country. In March 2016 the conflict in Syria entered its sixth year with no sign of abating. The situation in Syria is getting progressively worse. Intensive military operations by the regime and its supporters, particularly in Aleppo, Damascus, Homs, Hama, Idlib, Deyr Zor and Daraa, continue to result in heavy civilian casualties and gross human rights violations. Mass massacres against civilians continue unabated. The humanitarian suffering has reached unprecedented levels. Death toll has risen to well above 400 thousand. Over half of the population (as of June 2016 13,5 million) are deprived of basic needs. According to UNHCR at least 7.6 million people are displaced inside Syria and over 4,5 million Syrian fled their country.
Since the beginning of the conflict Turkey has maintained open doors to the people of Syria without any discrimination. As of June 2016, over 2,7 million Syrian with diverse backgrounds live in Turkey under the “temporary protection status” in relation to the “1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees”(AFAD) . The cost for Turkey has been over $ 11 billion for Syrians hosted in Turkey.
Extremist and terrorist groups take root as the ongoing conflict provides a fertile ground for foreign fighters and activities of terrorist organizations.
The threats that Syria poses towards regional and international security and stability will not be eliminated effectively unless the security and stability are reinstated in Syria. The objective of a stable and peaceful Syria can only be achieved through a process of democratic transition that will meet the legitimate demands and aspirations of all Syrians. This process should be owned and led by the Syrians with the support of the international community. The future of Syria must be determined by the Syrians themselves.
From the onset of the conflict, Turkey has supported and actively contributed to all meaningful efforts for the political solution. In coordination with regional and international actors, Turkey will continue its efforts to solve the Syrian conflict through a genuine and inclusive political transition on the basis of the Geneva Communique, June 30, 2012 and the relevant UN Security Council resolutions.