Islam, No 3, Issue 2

(2015), No 3, Issue 2


Turkey’s Foreign Policy of the AKP Government to Syria and the Reasons behind its Shifting Policy during the Arab Spring


Md. Th€owhidul ISLAM

Pages: 5-30


Abstract  ǀ  full text


Being located at the crossroads of Asia, Europe and Africa, connecting Middle East, the Balkans and the Caucasus along with its historical legacy of the Ottoman Empire, Turkey plays an important role in the regional and global politics, and determines its foreign policy accordingly. The Justice and Development Party (AKP) led by Erdogan with Islamic ideological background entered in Turkish politics in 2001, got victory in the elections of 2002, and since then hitherto ruled the country. The AKP government’s foreign policy followed ‘zero problems’ and ‘strategic depth’ principles with Turkish vicinity. Turkish-Syrian interactions had begun in the 8th century under Umayyad caliphate. The Turks gradually occupied higher ranks in Umayyad state and settled down on the territories today called-Syria. During Seljuk time, Turks captured Syria which it replaced with Mamluks. The Ottomans regained sovereignty in Syria in the 16th century, which continued till the end of the First World War. Then, Turkish-Syrian relations developed as mandate shaped by France. Since then, there have been some con€icting issues affecting Turkish-Syrian relations such as the Hatay (Sanjak) issue, water sharing issue. During Syria’s independence in 1936, Turkey demanded Hatay’s independence too, which was denied by France. On the eve of Second World War in 1939, Hatay was ceded to Turkey. Since then, it became an issue of con€flict. The water-sharing has also been another issue of debate. Concerning security issues, both countries are situated on opposite sides. Syria supported the PKK, which Ankara regarded as a terrorist group operating against Turkey. This hostile attitude gradually changed under AKP’s so‚ foreign policy towards Syria. Potential Kurdish state risk after the Iraq war and common security perceptions after 9/11 compelled both countries to adopt collective security measures. Assad’s visit to Turkey and Erdogan’s visit to Damascus in 2004 was a milestone for the prospect of Turkish-Syrian relations. Syria cancelled support to the PKK and recognized Hatay as an integral part of Turkey. The economic relations also bloomed as the trade volume reached $1.844 billion in 2010. Regional and military cooperation agreements were signed. Bilateral relations entered into a new phase with the removal of visa requirements between the countries in 2009. All these positive developments were challenged with the mass protest against Assad regime with the emergence of the Arab Spring. Turkey, from the beginning, warned Assad to stop violence and undertake democratic reforms and tried to negotiate between the Assad regime and the opposition. But Syria responded negatively rather blaming Turkey for interfering with Syria’s internal aairs. Consequently, Turkey criticized Syria publicly and finally gave its support to the opposition and thus the AKP government’s foreign policy towards Syria got a shift. Indeed, several geo-political-strategic-economic and regional-international perspectives and perceptions have driven Turkey to shift its policy towards Syria. This article is exclusively aimed at discovering the factors which prompted Turkey to shift its policy towards Syria during the crises caused by the Arab Spring. It will also include the nature and historical developments of Turkish-Syrian relations with a view to understanding the driving factors behind this shifting policy.


Turkish-Syrian relations, foreign policy, AKP, Arab Spring.

Citing Literature

Th€owhidul Islam, Turkey’s Foreign Policy of the AKP Government to Syria and the Reasons behind its Shifting Policy during the Arab Spring, Journal of Global Politics and Current Diplomacy, (2015), No 3, Issue 2: 5-30.




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