Middle EastAnalysis

Gulf opens between Turkey and Syria’s Turkish-backed opposition

Turkish foreign minister says Turkey, the Syrian government and the opposition have to reconcile if there is to be peace in the war-ravaged country

A wide gulf opened up last week between Ankara and Syria’s Turkish-backed opposition after Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoluglu declared Turkey, the opposition and the Syrian government have to reconcile if there is to be peace in that war-ravaged country. He said there must be a strong central administration in Syria to prevent the division of the country and pointed out there cannot be meaningful reconstruction until there is a ceasefire and peace.

Cavusoglu also revealed that he met his Syrian counterpart Faisal Mekdat on the sidelines of last October’s non-aligned ministerial conference in Belgrade and told him Ankara had to come to terms with both the opposition and the government. Since then there have reportedly been contacts between the countries’ intelligence services.

Discussions on Syria’s fate have been held in recent summits involving Turkey, Iran and Russia. Cavusoglu’s remarks elicited prompt mass protests from Syrians residing in northwestern Idlib province and enclaves of Syrian territory occupied by Turkey along the border. Two Syrians were arrested for burning the Turkish flag in the Azaz enclave.

In response Turkish interior minister Suleyman Soylu said Ankara would not desert “the people who are [reeling] from the oppression of the Syrian regime and Kurdish units,” but he did not contradict Cavusoglu.


These developments appear to signal that Ankara is in the process of changing its 11-year policy toward Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, who now controls 70 per cent of the country. If Turkey’s president Tayyip Erdogan follows through this would not only be an admission of failure on Turkey’s part but could totally change the situation in Syria.

In July 2011, four months after Assad cracked down on anti-government protests, Turkey recruited dissident Syrian officers and soldiers into the Syrian Free Army to overthrow the government. The following month Turkey formed the Muslim Brotherhood-dominated Syrian National Council, with a view to having it replace the government. This two-pronged campaign failed.

Instead of experiencing regime change Syria has fallen victim to the Islamic State terror group, also known as Isis, and multiple militias. Al-Qaeda affiliate Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham rule Idlib province, Turkey’s Syrian proxies hold enclaves on the border, and US-supported Kurds control 25 per cent in the northeast.

Although Turkey, Russia and Iran have attempted to manage and curb the uprising and proxy war that killed more than 350,000 and drove 12 out of 23 million Syrians from their homes, these three powers have not agreed on how to end the conflict and division.

Initially lauded domestically for his Syria policy, Erdogan has come under increasing pressure to halt Turkey’s involvement in Syria, reconcile with Assad and send home the 3.5 million Syrians living in Turkey. Many Turks blame their presence for the economic crisis in the country where currency has lost a quarter of its value this year and inflation is nearly 80 per cent.

Having dominated the Turkish political scene since 2002, Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party are campaigning hard to win the presidency and retain a plurality of parliamentary seats in next year’s historic election. This takes place during the 100th anniversary year of the founding of the modern Turkish state by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.