Relations between Turkey–Syria

TURKEY’S APPROACH TO THE CONFLICT IN SYRIA

The events that erupted in Syria in March 2011 have transformed into a major conflict, closely affecting regional security and stability, particularly in Syria.

The conflict in Syria has claimed the lives of a great number of innocent people, caused millions of Syrians to be displaced to various regions within their country or to other countries including Turkey. Turkey has been facing serious political, security and humanitarian challenges and responsibilities caused by the conflict.

Since the outset, the basic parameters of Turkey’s policy with regard to the developments in Syria have been the preservation of the territorial integrity and unity of Syria, ending the bloodshed and the peaceful conclusion of the political transition process that would address the legitimate demands of the Syrian people.

FIGHTING AGAINST TERRORISM EMANATING FROM SYRIA

The regime’s policies that led Syria to an ever-deepening crisis have triggered regional instability and have added a new dimension to regional threats. As a result, DEASH and other extremist groups found fertile ground in the region. The menace posed by DEASH to regional and international peace and security required effective global counter measures, leading to the creation of the Global Coalition Against DEASH.

Fighting against DEASH is a national security priority for Turkey. As an active member of the Global Coalition since its inception, Turkey has contributed to its Operation “Inherent Resolve”.

Turkey also carried out three important counter terrorism operations on the Syrian territories neighboring its border on the basis of international law, in accordance with its right to self-defense as outlined in Article 51 of the UN Charter and the relevant Security Council resolutions on counter terrorism.

Operation Euphrates Shield

In order to eradicate DEASH presence from the Syrian territories it borders, Turkey launched "Operation Euphrates Shield" (OES) on 24 August 2016.

The Free Syrian Army, supported by the Turkish Armed Forces (TAF), have established control over an area of 2,015 km2 and neutralized 2,647 DEASH fighters.

As a result of the success of the OES, DEASH started to lose ground and lost its territorial control in Syria by the end of March 2019 due to subsequent operations conducted by the Global Coalition.

Operation Olive Branch

The threat posed by the PKK/YPG terrorist elements located in Afrin in the northwest of Syria to the lives and properties of the local population as well as to our citizens living in the bordering Turkish provinces escalated due to harassment fires and attacks.

The presence of DEASH elements in Afrin and the risk of their possible attacks to Turkey as well as their infiltration into Europe constituted another reason for Turkey to take action.

Against this backdrop, the TAF and the Free Syrian Army supported by the TAF launched Operation Olive Branch (OOB) on 20 January 2018.

The objectives of the OOB were to ensure our border security, to neutralize terrorists in Afrin and to liberate the local population from the oppression and tyranny of terrorists.

Control was established in Afrin as of 18 March 2018. In less than two months, an area of approximately 2,000 km² was cleared from PKK/YPG and DEASH elements. Approximately 4,600 terrorists have been neutralized since the start of the operation.

As in the OES area, Turkey focused on ensuring security and stability with the participation of the local population in areas freed from terror with the OOB. More than 371,000 Syrians have been able to return to the said operation areas thanks to stabilization efforts in areas such as de-mining, public order, local governance and return of IDPs.

Operation Peace Spring

In order to eliminate the PKK/YPG threat to its national security, Turkey held talks with the U.S. on the establishment of a safe zone in the Syrian territories neighboring Turkish border between February and September 2019.

During the talks, Turkey has conveyed its fundamental expectations regarding the safe zone for effectively addressing its national security concerns. We have emphasized our right to self-defense in the face of terror threat emanating from Syria and our determination to combat PKK/YPG terrorist elements. Turkey repeatedly stressed the fallacy of combating DEASH and undertaking stabilization efforts by engaging with another terrorist organization, PKK/YPG.

A preliminary understanding on the safe zone was reached during the talks between the military authorities of the two countries on 5-7 August 2019. Subsequently, a Turkish-U.S. Joint Operations Center commenced its activities on 12 August 2019, followed by joint air reconnaissance missions and ground patrols. However, the commitments undertaken by the U.S. have not been fulfilled.

In light of the ongoing PKK/YPG threat and the inability of the U.S. to effectively address our legitimate security concerns, the TAF and the Syrian National Army supported by the TAF launched "Operation Peace Spring" (OPS) on 9 October 2019.

The objectives of the OPS were to eliminate the terror threat to our national security, contribute to the preservation of Syria's territorial integrity and unity, liberate the local population from the oppression and tyranny of the terrorists and lay the ground for the dignified, safe and voluntary returns of displaced Syrians.

The legitimate representatives of the Syrian people, the National Coalition and the Interim Government, along with tribal leaders as well as representatives of minorities including the Christian communities expressed support to the operation.

With the commencement of the OPS, baseless allegations were directed against Turkey. These include that the OPS would lead to a humanitarian crisis, weaken the fight against DEASH, disrupt the political process and change the demographic structure on the east of Euphrates. Contrary to those allegations forged to discredit Turkey’s efforts to combat terrorism, the OPS paved the way for the return of Syrians displaced by PKK/YPG, disrupted the separatist agenda of PKK/YPG and thus contributed to the advancement of the political process.

The U.S. accepted the legitimacy of the OPS and the new status-quo on the ground with the Joint Statement made on 17 October 2019 during the visit of Vice President Mike Pence to Ankara. A Memorandum of Understanding was concluded with the Russian Federation on the removal of terrorist elements from the Syrian territories neighboring the Turkish border and from Manbij and Tal Rifat, as a result of the meeting between President Erdoğan President Vladimir Putin in Sochi on 22 October 2019. The Russian Federation has also acknowledged our legitimate security concerns, the legitimacy of the OPS conducted to address them and the established status-quo on the ground.

Turkey has been conveying to the U.S. and the Russian Federation that it reserves the right to self-defense against threats and attacks conducted contrary to those agreements by terrorist elements.

EFFORTS TO FIND A SOLUTION TO THE CONFLICT

Actively involved in all international initiatives to find a peaceful solution to the conflict, Turkey is exerting efforts to accelerate the political process in order to prevent further escalation and the spread of violence to neighboring countries. Turkey has prepared the ground for the Vienna talks and participated in the meetings organized with the participation of the International Syria Support Group member states and like-minded countries.

Geneva Process

On 18 December 2015, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution that for the first time envisaged a timetable for the political process. Based on the Geneva Communiqué of 2012 that defines the framework of political transition in Syria, the UN Security Council Resolution No. 2254 envisions the gathering of opposition and regime representatives in Geneva under the auspices of the UN. The agenda of this "Geneva Process" was determined in accordance with the roadmap set out in the UN Security Council Resolution No. 2254: (i) Transitional governing body, (ii) Constitution, (iii) Elections and (iv) Counter Terrorism (subsequently added by the regime’s demand).

As a result of the intense diplomacy by Turkey, delegations composed of the representatives of the Syrian opposition, Syrian Negotiation Commission (the then called High Negotiations Committee established in Riyadh in December 2015) began to participate in indirect negotiations conducted under UN mediation in Geneva in January 2016.

However, as the regime continued its intense attacks and refused to discuss political transition, the Geneva talks ceased after the ninth round on 25-26 January 2018.

Astana Platform

Eastern Aleppo, which was besieged by the regime in July 2016, was completely subjugated in December 2016 as a result of continuous attacks. Ceasefire was established in Aleppo as a result of intense talks between Turkey and the RF, which allowed the safe evacuation of 45,000 civilians in December 2016. As a result of the agreement signed by Turkey and the RF on 30 December 2016, the ceasefire in Aleppo was extended to the whole country.

In order to preserve the ceasefire regime and to ensure the adoption of confidence building measures between the conflicting parties, High Level Meetings are regularly being organized at capital of Kazakhstan, Nur-Sultan (previously called Astana) since January 2017 with the participation of Turkey, the RF as well as Iran.

In addition to the regular meetings, the three Astana guarantor states held five Summits (Sochi, 22 November 2017; Ankara, 4 April 2018; Tehran, 7 September 2018; Sochi, 14 February 2019; Ankara, 16 September 2019), and six Foreign Ministers’ meetings (Astana, 16 March 2018; Moscow, 28 April 2018; New York, 26 September 2018; Geneva, 18 December 2018; New York, 25 September 2019; Geneva, 29 September 2019).

The Astana platform, which plays a significant role in the establishment of de-escalation areas, the launch of the Constitutional Committee and the adoption of confidence building measures between the Syrian parties, remains the only international initiative that made a concrete contribution to end the conflict in Syria.

IDLIB DE-ESCALATION AREA

Idlib, one of the four de-escalation areas designated at the 4th Astana Meeting held on 4-5 May 2017, remains as the last one after the regime took control of Eastern Ghouta, Northern Homs and Daraa-Qunaitra in 2018.

President Erdoğan and the President of the RF met in Sochi on 17 September 2018 to discuss the situation in the Idlib De-Escalation Area. As a result, the "Memorandum on Stabilization of the Situation in the Idlib De-escalation Area" was signed between two countries. Iran, the third Astana guarantor, later announced its support to the Memorandum. Maintaining compliance with the Memorandum is critical to prevent escalation on the ground, a wave of irregular migration and humanitarian crisis as well as for the sustainability of the political process.

Regime elements have increased their attacks on Idlib since May 2019 under the pretext of combating terrorism. Turkey emphasizes to the regime’s guarantors its deep concern regarding the regime's targeting of civilians and civilian infrastructure, as well as the risks those pose to Turkey. Turkey’s expectation is the establishment of calm on the ground by fully implementing all agreements on Idlib, first and foremost the Memorandum of 17 September 2018.

CONSTITUTIONAL COMMITTEE

At the Syrian National Dialogue Congress held on 30 January 2018 in Sochi/RF with the joint efforts of the Astana guarantors, a call was made to establish a “Constitutional Committee" consisting of 150 members.

The Secretary-General of the UN announced the establishment of the Committee on 23 September 2019, after agreement was reached on its members and rules of procedure. The inaugural session of the Committee was held on 30 October 2019 in Geneva.

Turkey continues to support the work of Constitutional Committee, a milestone in accelerating the political process, in order to pave the way for a genuine and comprehensive political change that will address the root causes of the conflict in Syria.

Turkey wants to see that this process would result in the peaceful establishment of a free and democratic system in line with the legitimate aspirations and expectations of the Syrian people, where all Syrians', without any ethnic, religious and sectarian discrimination, fundamental rights and freedoms are under constitutional guarantee on the basis of equality.

SYRIAN OPPOSITION

Turkey also supported the efforts for the emergence of an effective and inclusive Syrian opposition, which will take responsibility on the transition process in line with the legitimate demands of the people.

Within this framework, the National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces was designated as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people at the meeting of the Friends of the Syria Group held in Marrakech in December 2012. The National Coalition is based in Istanbul. Turkey also lent support to The Riyadh Meeting of 8-10 December 2015, in which the Syrian Negotiation Commission (the then called High Negotiations Committee) was established.

In line with the understanding that the main element of democracy is pluralism and that pluralism requires the existence of effective opposition, Turkey’s engagement with the Syrian opposition groups are carried out without any political, ethnic, religious or sectarian interests and without any discrimination. The Syrian people will determine the solution to the conflict and the future of Syria. Turkey continues to support the Syrian people in this process.

Syrian Turkmens have a special position within the context of Turkey's support to the Syrian people. Being one of the principal founders of Syria and at the forefront of resistance against oppression, Turkmens will continue to enjoy Turkey’s support in order to have their rightful place in the future of Syria.