While there has been a degree of strain in relations between Syria and Turkey for decades, recent events have created additional stress on an already tenuous relationship. Thanks to Turkish support of a change in the current regime leading Syria, a great deal of unrest has been added to the situation. While, at one point, there was talk of reworking some of the border restrictions between the two nations, that has fallen out of favour as some Syrians see Turkey’s move as being not just opposition to actions taken by the Syrian government over the last year, but actually the beginning of a plot to overthrow the country’s government and even the possibility of military intervention.
Syria has taken issue with Turkey’s status as a safe haven for Syrian insurgents. Those in Turkey who support the sanctions see them as necessary to send a clear message that Turkey does agree with what is happening in Syria and think changes should be made. For those in Syria who support the current regime, this is seen as interference by Turkey in the country’s internal politics.
Turkish officials have been pushing for sanctions against Syria for some time, beginning in March this year. When the United Nations balked at the idea of sanctions in early October, Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, made it quite clear that whatever the UN decided to do, Turkey would move forward. “Naturally the veto … cannot prevent sanctions,” Erdogan commented, adding, “We will of necessity implement a package of sanctions.”
While there are now indications that the intervention of the Arab League may lead to concessions by Syrian officials that will ultimately bring closure to the current crop of issues that have led to the bloodshed and the attention of Turkey and other nations on the internal affairs of the country, there is no doubt that the relationship between Syria and Turkey has been severely damaged. Differences of opinion on water rights, and other issues interchangeably described as either human rights issues or imperialist designs, are putting great strain on the countries’ relations.
Whilst in recent years the two countries had seemed to reach a position that enabled them to carve out a working relationship, the chances are that the events of the last several months will take some time to resolve. How this will affect the balance of power in the Middle East over the coming years and what the action of Turkey means in terms of the nation’s strengthening ties to the West, remains to be seen.