Relations between Turkey–Syria

Turkey’s Approach to the Syrian Conflict

The events erupted in Syria in March 2011 have transformed into a major conflict, redefining Turkey’s bilateral relations with this country and the situation of the region.

Sharing a border of 911 km, Turkey is facing a variety of political, security and humanitarian challenges caused by the Syrian conflict which took the lives of countless innocent civilians and forced many to flee inside Syria or to other countries, including Turkey.

Since day one, Turkey has pursued a policy aimed at preserving Syria’s territorial integrity and unity, ending the bloodshed and resolving the conflict through peaceful conclusion of the political transition that would satisfy the legitimate demands of the Syrian people.

Even long before the outbreak of the conflict, Turkey has approached the Syrian administration many times in order to convince it to carry out the necessary reforms and meet the legitimate demands of its people. Despite Turkey’s relentless efforts, the Syrian regime has chosen to confront its own citizens by engaging in a dead-end policy based on the brutal and violent suppression of protests and the opposition.

The regime’s policies, based on sectarian and ethnic discrimination, triggered regional instability, adding a new dimension to regional threats. As a result of such policies, DEASH and other radical organizations found a fertile ground in the region. The menace posed by DEASH to the regional and international peace required effective global counter measures, leading to the creation of the Global Coalition Against DEASH under the leadership of the USA.

DEASH poses a direct threat to the Turkish national security. Turkey, as an active member of the Global Coalition Against DEASH since its inception, is contributing to this campaign by its national means. Since July 24, 2015, the Turkish military, in line with Article 51 of the UN Charter on self-defense and the relevant UN Security Council resolutions, has targeted DEASH positions and responded to terrorist attacks originating from Syria in accordance with the rules of engagement.

It is against this backdrop that Turkey initiated the Operation Euphrates Shield on August 24, 2016 with the air support provided by the Global Coalition. Throughout the operation, the Free Syrian Army succeeded in clearing an area of 2,015 km2 from DEASH and in eliminating 2,647 DEASH members with the support of the Turkish military.

Successfully concluded on March 29, 2017, the Operation Euphrates Shield was based on the right to self-defense as outlined in Article 51 of the UN Charter. The relevant UN Security Council resolutions (no.1373, 2170 and 2178) also attribute responsibility to countries in the fight against terrorism, specifically in countering DEASH.

Turkey, on the one hand, provides assistance to Syrians fleeing from the atrocities perpetrated by the Syrian regime, DEASH and other terrorist organizations, and on the other hand, continues its efforts in coordination and cooperation with the international community to end the Syrian conflict as soon as possible through peaceful means and to prevent the expansion of terrorist and radical organizations in the region.

From the outset of the conflict, Turkey has supported and actively contributed to all international endeavors aiming for a peaceful solution in Syria and made every effort in accelerating the political process in order to de-escalate violence and to prevent the spillover effects of the conflict in the region. Guided by this vision, Turkey helped pave the ground for the Vienna meetings and delivered the necessary messages at the meetings held both by the group of Like-minded Countries and International Syria Support Group. On 18 December 2015, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution stipulating for the first time a roadmap for a political solution in Syria. The Geneva Communiqué and the UN Security Council Resolution 2254 established the parameters for the political transition process in Syria through talks in Geneva between the opposition and the regime under the auspices of the UN.

Established in Riyadh in December 2015, the High Negotiation Committee began participating in the negotiations held under UN mediation in Geneva in January 2016 as the representative of the Syrian opposition, thanks to Turkey’s intense diplomatic efforts.

Although the political process was revitalized in early 2016, the regime’s objection to negotiate a political transition and its violations of the ceasefire resulted in the suspension of the talks after the third round (April 13-27, 2016).

As a US-Russian joint initiative, a ceasefire regime came into force in February 2016 thanks to the efforts of the International Syria Support Group, only to collapse in May 2016 as a result of the regime’s systematic ceasefire violations and brutal attacks on civilians.

Besieged in July 2016, eastern Aleppo eventually fell in December 2016 as a result of incessant violent attacks.

In line with the directives of both President Erdoğan and President Putin of the Russian Federation, Turkey and Russia’s intense efforts helped establish a ceasefire in Aleppo, allowing the safe evacuation of 45.000 civilians in December 2016.

During the evacuation process, Turkey also kept a close coordination with Iran. Minister Çavuşoğlu gathered with his Russian and Iranian counterparts in Moscow on 20 December 2016. This trilateral mechanism soon created the basis for the Astana meetings.

Furthermore, with a view to expanding the scope of the ceasefire declared in eastern Aleppo, a country-wide ceasefire was established on 29 December 2016. Turkey and the Russian Federation signed this ceasefire agreement as guarantor states.

Having started on January 23-24 2017, high-level Astana meetings have been gathering around the same table the parties to the conflict, guarantors of the ceasefire (Turkey, Russia and subsequently -as of March 2017- Iran) and observers, namely the UN, US and Jordan. The aim of the Astana meetings is to consolidate and strengthen the ceasefire and to adopt confidence-building measures between the regime and the opposition.

The positive momentum achieved in the Syrian theater, thanks to the Astana meetings, paved the way for the resumption of the political process in Geneva, making it possible to hold new rounds from February 2017 onwards.

Turkey is also actively contributing to efforts aimed at creating an inclusive and effective opposition that will assume responsibility during the political transition period in line with the legitimate demands of the Syrian people. With this understanding, Turkey supported the Riyadh Meeting held on December 8-10, 2015 which set a milestone with respect to the representation of the Syrian opposition. Recognized by 114 countries and 13 international organizations as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people and setting the center and backbone of the Syrian opposition, the National Coalition of Syria continues to operate in Istanbul. Believing that pluralism as well as an inclusive and effective opposition constitute the foundation of democracy, Turkey pursues a strictly unbiased approach towards the Syrian opposition with respect to political, ethnic, religious or sectarian differences. Turkey believes that the Syrian conflict can be ended only by the Syrians and that it will be only the Syrians who will determine the future of Syria. Turkey will continue to support the people of Syria in their endeavors for a democratic, prosperous and stable Syria.

Taking into consideration the risks and threats arising from the Syrian theatre, Turkey is also taking measures to defend its national security. If deemed necessary, Turkey stands ready to exercise its right to self-defense arising from the international law and will take every action accordingly for protecting the rights of its citizens and its border security.

Another crucial aspect of the Syrian conflict is the chemical weapon stockpiles of the Syrian regime that it uses against its own people. These horrendous acts by the Syrian regime threaten both the people of Syria and the region. There are strong indications that the regime is not giving accurate information regarding its chemical weaponry. There are still discrepancies and unresolved issues with regard to the scope and content of regime’s chemical weapons program. The Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) engaged with the regime for full disclosure of its chemical weapons program and for the prevention of future incidents. On the other hand, in line with the UN Security Council Resolution 2235, dated 7 August 2015, on the establishment of a mechanism to investigate the parties which use chemical weapons in Syria, an OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) was established. JIM started its investigations in November 2015 and consequently determined in 2016 that the regime is directly responsible for at least three of the chemical attacks in Syria. Closely monitoring the use of chemical weapons in Syria, Turkey contributes to the work of the international inspection mechanisms.

As a result of the improvement of the conditions on the ground, thanks to the established ceasefire regime and the Astana meetings, a new momentum has been achieved in the political process aiming for the resolution of the Syrian conflict. We sincerely hope that this new momentum paves the way for the commencement of a genuine political transition process, fulfilling the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people, and that it results in the establishment of a free and democratic system, which constitutionally safeguards the fundamental rights and freedoms of all Syrian people on the basis of equality, regardless of their ethnic, religious or sectarian backgrounds. Turkey, as it has done since the beginning of the conflict, will continue to resolutely support the Syrian people and maintain the preservation of the national unity and territorial integrity of Syria as one of the essential goals of its Syria policy.