Syrian-Turkish Relationship: Playing with Fire!


In his speech in Damascus on February 17, the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad described the Turkish President Erdogan as a «small EKhwanji» [a small member of Muslim Brotherhood] and «just a pawn in US hand».

Old Enmity

The situation of hostility between Syria and Turkey as two modern states is not entirely new; it is very old; it began with the border problems caused by Sykes-Picot Agreement (problems that were not spared by any of the countries included in this agreement, not confined only to a Syrian-Turkish enmity, but also an Iraqi-Syrian, and Iraqi-Turkish, and Jordanian-Syrian enmities…etc. so that it is clear in the historical sense that the Sykes-Picot divisions have been meticulously designed to prevent the establishment of any stable entity in the region, let alone to eliminate any opportunity for large and unified entities...

This reflects in depth the Western understanding, and perhaps especially the British understanding, of the seriousness of the Eurasian project on the West, the project which is virtually impossible to be applied without a stable and cooperative Middle East.

If the border problems were a starting point for continued hostility, things entered a more complex stage with Turkey's accession to NATO in 1952, and then entered a dangerous phase with the formation of the Baghdad Pact (alliance) in 1955, which included (Turkey - Iraq - Iran - Pakistan and the United Kingdom), with reaching the brink of direct confrontation at the time.

Adana Agreement

Throughout the Cold War, the two countries remained in a state of intense hostility. This situation persisted even after the fall of the Soviet Union and once again reached the brink of immediate confrontation between 1996 and 1998. The main headline was Syria's support of the PKK and hosting of its leader Abdullah Öcalan.

At the time, Egypt entered in the mediation path culminated in the Adana Agreement of 1998, in which Syria deported Abdullah Öcalan outside its territory. Thereafter, Turkish intelligence agency returned to arrest him in a secret operation reported by the New York Times a few days after its implementation, in February 1999, as an operation that would not have been possible without diplomatic and security pressures by Washington along four months.

The agreement also included (according to the leaked, because the original version is still confidential): that Syria stops all kinds of support for the PKK, which Turkey considers a terrorist party, and which has been engaged in armed conflict with the Turkish authorities for more than three decades; and Turk's right to direct military intervention along the common border (822 km) in depth said to be between 5 km and 32 km.

Trojan Horse

The subsequent developments in Syria and the region during the first ten years of the new millennium justify the belief that the Syrian-Turkish compromise in Adana, and despite of the direct Egyptian mediation, had only US as its chief architect... Why?
At that period, the case of «temporary understanding» was not confined to Syria and Turkey, but also included Turkey-Saudi Arabia, and Turkey-Egypt. The objective became clear with time, embodied in three main points:
The first objective is pulling Syria away from its historic anti-Western position, gradually up to a situation so that it becomes fully dependent on the West.

The second objective is to create the appropriate conditions in Syria, and within the unipolar calculations, to hold a humiliating «peace deal» with the Zionist entity so that this entity be transformed from the US policeman in the region to the US governor in it.

The third objective is the utilization of unipolarity to pass neoliberalism (the Trojan Horse) into the Syrian interior, in cooperation with Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. This is what actually happened in the following years, with Syria officially adopted what it called the «social market economy» in its tenth five-year plan (2006 – 2010), and opened its borders for Turkish goods, up to the limit of canceling entry visas between the two countries. As a result, poverty rate in Syria increased during the five years from 30% to 44%, in addition to the increasing of unemployment ratio, the decline of livestock and agricultural production, and the large destruction of a number of handicraft industries and small and medium enterprises in various parts of Syria. This destruction was a direct result of the nature of the unequal economic relationship with Turkey in particular, whose manufactured goods flowed into the Syrian market, flooded it, and led to the loss of tens of thousands of Syrian households for their basic livelihood, such as small and medium artisan workshops that were mainly concentrated in rural areas, from which came – and not accidentally at all – most of the later armed opposition, and into which most jihadist organizations stationed.

Upsetting the Colonialist is Easier than Satisfying him!

At the same time, it appeared that the official policy of Syria during the first decade of the millennium began to give serious indications of its readiness for understanding with the West. This was reflected in the meeting of the Syrian President with the French President Jacques Chirac in June 2001, which was a rare occasion in the historical Syrian political relations. It is also reflected in the formal attempt to enter into partnership with the European Union, and to undertake serious economic measures to achieve the requirements of accession, through the consolidation of liberalism and starting to lift the social subsides provided by the state for a number of the most basic goods of consumption and production, especially the diesel fuel.

In other words, during the first decade of the 21st century, the Syrian authorities offered much in the way of rapprochement with the West, oblivious or ignoring the fact that a complex war had begun against Syria, and its first entrance was to destroy the economy to prepare the ground for the explosion, so that matters not stop at the level of economic destruction, and this is what happened since 2011.

Class-Intellectual Structure of Power

It should be noted here that the signs of the Syrian authorities' diversion to the west were present even during the Soviet period. The most important example of this is the number of foreign trade exchanges of Syria which reached 70% with Western countries at the time, and have remained the same since that time.
In other words, the logic of keeping up with international balances and following them has existed for decades in Syria. Syria's participation in the Gulf War against Iraq, alongside the US, may be an important indicator in this direction, along with many other indicators.
The deep reason for this double policy lies, we belief, in the class nature of power in Syria, the class nature of peasant-military origin, which evolved over time to alliance with the comprador up to form a new financial class... This power, because of its intellectual and class structure, has for decades followed a logic of balancing the East and West, without a deep strategic attitude toward the nature of the historical positioning required of Syria.


Returning to the Syrian-Turkish enmity, the years of the Syrian crisis have erased the temporary amity period, and Turkey begun to support the passage of terrorists inside Syria across its borders. It has also taken an aggressive and violent political stance towards the Syrian authorities, and things remained so until the Turkish turn began to appear after the failed attempted coup d'état in July 2016.

The Turkish turn was consolidated through the Russians invention of the Astana path (Russia - Turkey - Iran), which became with time the biggest influence in the Syrian arena in light of the continued decline of the US role and the West role in general.

Astana vs. The Small Group

With the formation of the Astana Group, and the West's attempt to respond to them by forming the Small Group, things have become increasingly clearer... The international conflict in Syria became concentrated in two clear poles: Astana Group against the Small Group (United States, United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, France, Germany, and Egypt), the former group is seeking to end the crisis and pushing for an independent and stable Syria, while the latter group is pushing for the continuation and deepening of the war.
After the destruction of most of the Western project in 2018, and the decline of Western-backed military control to the minimum, the West is forced to enter again «from the window», i.e. through Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and the Europeans. In this context, the UAE Embassy was opened in Damascus, and behind-the-scenes negotiations began on Syria's return to the Arab League.
The goal is once again lobbying the Syrian authorities in a way that blocks the path of Astana. Even Westerners are declaring that they no longer have a problem with Bashar Al-Assad remaining in power (in the short term and beyond) as expressed by the British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt in a recent interview with The Middle East Journal, and as James Jeffrey, the US special envoy to Syria, also expressed the same position at the Munich Security Conference a few days ago: «We are not [calling for president Assad to go], we are calling for a major change in the behavior of the [Syrian] regime».

How do we understand Assad's words?

The general context described above leads to the possibility that the harsh descriptions of President Assad towards Erdogan come in the context of an attempt by the Syrian authorities to give a new signal that they are not entirely satisfied with the Astana process and that they are ready to play with the other side to avoid the pressures of Astana committed to the full implementation of UNSCR 2254, which guarantees a radical and deep change in the structure of the Syrian regime.
Perhaps this explanation represents the truth, and perhaps the issue is simply a continuation of the level of rhetorical language exchanged between the two parties... But what is certain is that the truth can not be simple!