Hazem Saghiyeh

Syria and Turkey

Ever since the Battle of Marj Dabiq in 1516, the area that came to be known as Turkey has been exerting its influence on what came to be known as Syria. The sole exception was with the Hashemite Revolt of 1916, which brought Bilad Ash-Sham (Greater Syria) out of the realms of the crumbling Ottoman Empire and sped up its fall. However, the rule was soon applied again as Turkey annexed Alexandretta in 1938, mobilized its troops along the border with Syria in the late 1950s and threatened late President Hafez Al-Assad in the late 1990s, forcing him to hand over Abdullah Öcalan.
Rebellious Syria is now exerting its influence once again, as it refuted Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoglu’s theories about regional relations and the “zero problems” policy and turned the tables on Turkey’s leaders.

Syria said that “zero problems” in this region is all but a bunch of dreams and that growing trade ties are all but passing. Yet it also said that the cordial relations between Ankara and Tehran are against the natural course of things, as the history of relations between Turley and Iran has rather been defined by the conflict over Iraq.

It would not be an exaggeration to assert that the Syrian lessons Turkey is learning will bolster its relation with its “mother” NATO and change the shape of the political struggle with Israel. Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s populist rhetoric would thus be toned down and the masquerade of maritime fleets would be replaced by reasonable and organized pressure, which will hopefully act in the interest of the Palestinian people within the framework of a broad alliance sponsored by Washington.

Moreover, we might be able to say that Erdogan’s Turkey, which is terrified of the Syrian fault line to its south, may search its political Islam heritage for former decisive stages. These include, for instance, former Turkish PM Adnan Menderes who was in the 1950s one of the pillars of the Baghdad Pact in the confrontation with the Soviets and Nasserism, not to mention Turgut Özal, Turkey’s premier in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Menderes, who was sentenced to death by the military in 1960, was regarded as the symbol of reconciliation between political Islam and Western strategies in the region, whereas Özal was epitomized the reconciliation between political Islam and economic liberalism, and the rise of the globalization age in the media.

This, of course, is not an endorsement of the policies initiated by Menderes and Özal and does not mean that they do not have the same populism by which Erdogan is known. This is merely to say that this heritage contains elements that are closer to the current situation than to Erdogan’s Turkey over the past few years. Needless to say the Syrian revolt has been most influential in drawing the outline of the current situation.

This article is a translation of the original, which appeared on the NOW Arabic site on Monday July 4