September 14, 2022 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1650

Pro-Regime Syrian Journalist Supports Renewing Relations With Turkey: It Won't Be Easy, But It Will Benefit Both Countries, And The Region

September 14, 2022 | By O. Peri*
Syria, Turkey | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1650

Turkey severed its official ties with Syria in 2012, following the outbreak of the Syria war, and currently the relations between them are hostile and tense. This is especially because Turkey is considered one of the main supporters of the Syrian opposition and of its armed factions that are fighting the Syrian regime, which regards them as terror organizations. Moreover, Turkey has carried out several military operations in northern Syria against Kurdish forces which it regards as terror organizations and as a threat to its national security. In fact, Turkey now controls parts of northern Syria, a situation which the Syrian regime sees as Turkish occupation of Syrian territory.

However, Turkey has lately been signaling a willingness to renew the relations with the Assad regime, as evident from statements by Syrian officials hinting at a possible rapprochement.  For example, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on August 19, 2022, after returning from a visit to Ukraine: "We have no ambition [to remain on] Syrian soil. The Syrian people are our brothers. We ascribe importance to the integrity of Syrian territory, and the [Syrian] regime should understand this… We must launch advanced measures vis-à-vis Syria so as to implement many plans in this part of the Muslim world… We do not aim to defeat [Syrian President Bashar] Al-Assad."[1] Several days later, on August 22, Erdogan made further statements hinting at a warming of the relations with the Assad regime. He said that Turkey seeks to "establish a zone of peace and cooperation around it, starting with its closest neighbors," and added, "We do not harbor hostility towards any country, and want to establish excellent relations with all countries."[2]

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu also made surprising statements regarding the relations with Syria. In an August 11 press conference, for example, he revealed that in October 2021 he had met briefly with his Syrian counterpart Faisal Al-Miqdad on the periphery of the conference of non-aligned countries in Belgrade, and added: "We must bring about an agreement between the Syrian opposition and the regime, in some way or other, otherwise there will not be lasting peace." Like Erdogan, he stressed that Turkey has no interest in seizing Syrian territory, and added that Russia seeks to mediate between Turkey and Syria and that the two countries have recently renewed their intelligence cooperation.[3] On August 23 Cavusoglu said that Turkey has no preconditions for dialogue with the Syrian regime.[4]

Foreign Minister Cavusoglu's statement about the need for an "agreement" between the Syrian regime and opposition – which was translated in some Arabic media as asserting a need for "reconciliation" between them – sparked intense criticism against Turkey from the Syrian opposition,  as well as a wave of protests against Turkey in opposition-held areas in northern Syria. At one of these demonstrations protesters even burned the Turkish flag.  In response, Cavusoglu said that his statement had been misreported, clarifying that he had spoken of an "understanding" between the regime and the opposition, not about "reconciliation."[5]

The pressure on Turkey to renew its relations with the Syrian regime comes, to a large extent, from Russia and Iran, Assad's main allies and Turkey's partners in the Astana-track talks for negotiating ceasefires in Syria. Their objective is apparently to prevent Turkey from launching another campaign in northern Syria against the Kurdish forces backed by the U.S. in order to prevent it from expanding its influence zone there.[6] Some also assess that Turkey's bid to warm its relations with Syria is motivated by domestic interests as well, such as the desire to resolve the problem of the Syrian refugees in Turkey, which troubles the Turkish public. Another factor is the approaching presidential election in Turkey, and Erdogan's desire to resolve tensions in Turkey's foreign relations, as part of which he has also taken steps in the last few months to improve relations with Egypt, the UAE and Israel.[7]

As for the Syrian regime, it initially refrained from responding officially to Turkey's recent overtures, but on August 23 Foreign Minister Al-Miqdad addressed the issue during a visit to Moscow. He confirmed that Russia and Iran were working to resolve the tensions between Syria and Turkey, but added that it was impossible "to trust those who have sponsored and support terrorism," hinting at Turkey. He clarified that Syria has several demands, including that Turkey "end its occupation" of areas in northern Syria, and "stop supporting terror and  interfering in internal [Syrian] affairs." He added that resolving these issues would be a "prelude" to renewing the relations.[8]

Several days later it was revealed that, in July, there had been meetings in Moscow between 'Ali Mamlouk, head of Syria's National Security Bureau, and Turkish intelligence chief Hakan Fidan, and that a Russian mediator was now drafting an agreement that would meet the demands of both sides. The main Syrian demands are that Turkey respect Syria's sovereignty, submit a timetable for its withdrawal from Syria and cease supporting Syrian opposition factions. Turkey's main demands are that the Syrian regime take serious action against the Kurdish Workers Party (the PKK) and its Syrian branch, the People's Defense Units, maintain intelligence cooperation with Turkey, hold pollical negotiations with the opposition  factions that enjoy Turkey's support, and promote the return of Syrian refugees from Turkey. [9] 

On September 7 it was reported that another meeting between Mamlouk and Fidan had taken place in Moscow but had yielded no significant results.[10]

The issue of the relations with Turkey was extensively addressed in the pro-regime Syrian media. While many press articles questioned the sincerity of the Turkish moves, Bassam Abu 'Abdallah, a researcher of Turkish affairs and a columnist for the pro-regime daily Al-Watan,  assessed that the relations between the two countries were indeed about to improve. In two columns he devoted to this topic, he reviewed the points of contention between the sides, and stated that the only way to resolve them is through direct dialogue. Stressing that rapprochement is in the interest of both countries and of the region at large, he urged Turkey to shift from words to actions so as to allay the justified concerns of the Syrian regime. He noted that his position on this matter had evoked skeptical responses, but reiterated that, although Syrian-Turkish rapprochement would be fraught with difficulty, and although some elements would surely try to sabotage it, there was no choice but to take this path.  

Syrian President Assad and Turkish President Erdogan (Source:

The following are translated excerpts from Abu 'Abdallah columns:

Turkish-Syrian Dialogue Is An Interest Of Both Countries

In his August 11, 2022 column, Abu 'Abdallah presented the many points of contention between the Syrian regime and Turkey, stressing that the only way to resolve them is through dialogue. He wrote:

"Following the last summit in Sochi,[11] there were many rumors in Turkey regarding [planned] phone calls between Assad and Erdogan. Syrian sources denied these rumors. Clearly, there are elements in Turkey who periodically try to circulate exaggerated reports about this issue, in an attempt to sabotage [the relations between Syria and Turkey] or to taint them for nefarious reasons… especially since these relations are complicated and there are many points of contention. The near future is likely to see many ups and downs in this context. Here are some of the disputed issues:

"1. Damascus has stated on multiple occasions that the Turkish occupation army must withdraw from Syria and that [Turkey] must stop supporting terror and interfering in Syria's internal affairs. [Only] after this happens will it be possible to renew the ties between Damascus and Ankara and restore their neighborly relations.

"2. Damascus believes that the final phase of the Sochi and Astana understandings[12] must lead to the restoration of Syria's state institutions, to the deployment of the Syrian army [throughout the country, including in the northern areas currently controlled by Turkey], and to the holding of a national reconciliation [process].  But Turkey is trying to attain political gains in Syria, for instance [by insisting] that the so-called political solution set out in [UN Security Council] Resolution 2254 is essential,[13] and that it will submit a timetable [for its withdrawal from Syria] only after clear results are achieved in the Geneva track and the  Syrian Constitutional Committee.[14] In other words, Turkey is trying to draw a link between [ending] its occupation and attaining achievements for its servants [i.e., the Turkey-backed Syrian opposition forces]. Damascus opposes this, and believes that the issue of the constitution is an internal Syrian affair which requires agreement among the Syrians, not Turkish consent, based on the principle of national sovereignty.

"3. The issue of combatting terror remains in dispute, since Ankara believes that the Syrian Democratic Forces [SDF] militias are a spearhead of the Kurdish Workers Party [the PKK], which is a terror organization that must be fought and eliminated just like ISIS and Al-Qaeda. That is, [as far as Turkey is concerned, these militias] are international terror organizations, whereas other terror organizations [Syrian ones] are local in character and must be integrated in the ongoing political process and treated as moderate opposition [forces], since they are part of the Astana process. Conversely, as far as Damascus is concerned, the terror organizations in Idlib, such as Jabhat Al-Nusra, are offshoots of Al-Qaeda and cannot be marketed as moderate opposition [forces], even if [Jabhat Al-Nusra leader Abu Muhammad] Al-Joulani wears jeans and [other] modern clothes. Therefore, [according to Syria,] any Syrian-Turkish cooperation must include action against all the terror organizations, without exception, and there is no room for trying clever tricks in this context.

"4. Ankara believes that leaving its occupying army [in Syria] is essential for maintaining stability in the areas it controls, and that establishing what it calls a safe zone [in northern Syria] until an agreed-upon political solution is attained in the country  is essential for Turkey's national security. Damascus rejects this out of hand, since leaving the occupation forces [in Syria] is an infringement of its national sovereignty, and because the political solution is an internal Syrian affair that cannot be entrusted to any other party. Damascus fears that Ankara may delay [its withdrawal] in order to establish facts on the ground and create demographic changes [in northern Syria], which are already becoming apparent on the ground…

"5. The issue of the Syrian refugees [in Turkey] has become a burden for Erdogan's government. It has transformed from a political trump card in Ankara's hands into a liability for the Turkish government and an issue of political contention between [Turkey's] ruling party and the opposition, rather than a humanitarian issue. Any handling of this issue clearly requires dialogue with Damascus…. because it is a sensitive issue for the Turkish public, which wants to see the [refugee] problem rapidly resolved in order to be free of this burden.   

"The issues presented above reflect the magnitude of the gaps between Damascus and Ankara… These controversies and disagreements cannot be resolved by [issuing] occasional statements. Rather, there is an urgent need to launch negotiations and dialogue. This is what Russian [President Vladimir] Putin and [our] Iranian allies are pushing for – since it is a shared interest of all the parties, in light of the changes and developments in the world, and especially since elements hostile [to Syria]… will try to create a crisis by every means and in every place, and to torpedo any attempt at reconciliation between neighbors or among the countries and the peoples in the region.

"This is the only solution and the lesson we have learned after a decade and a half of destruction and tragedy. Syria, which harnessed its people, its army and its capabilities to combating all the attempts to undermine its unity and divide its society, has the ability, the justification and the right to hold negotiations and dialogue [with Turkey] in order to attain its legitimate rights.

"The question remains: Will the gate of Syrian-Turkish [dialogue] be opened? My answer is yes, because opening it and holding direct dialogue between the two countries is in the interest of both, and also in the interest of the region and of the [Syrian and Turkish] peoples. The objective, of course, is that Syria attain its legitimate and just rights. How can this be achieved? That is up to the Syrian leadership, whose professionalism and patience we trust. After all, the accumulated tragedies in Syria cannot be resolved in a phone call [between Assad and Erdogan], as some people delude themselves. But a journey of 1,000 miles begins with one step, and I believe that this step is not far off."[15]

In his second column, from August 18, Abu 'Abdallah wrote that, although some elements want to torpedo the rapprochement between Syria and Turkey, and despite the difficulties this rapprochement entails, there is no choice but to take this path. He urged Turkey to shift from statements to action in order to reassure the Syrian regime. He wrote: "The elements that previously wanted to nip the Russian-Turkish rapprochement in the bud are the same ones that are now trying to prevent any rapprochement between Turkey and Syria. One of them is  the chairman of Turkey's [oppositionist] Future Party and former foreign minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, who [complained], after the summit between Putin and Erdogan in Sochi on August 5, [2022], that Russia was trying to legitimize the [Syrian] regime and force Turkey to normalize its relations with it. He added that 'this regime is criminal and used chemical weapons against its own people,' as though he was still living in the atmosphere of 2011-2014…

"We must understand that significant changes do not happen easily or quietly, but require determination and level-headedness, for many are harmed by them [and therefore oppose them], and the problems are complicated and difficult. But I believe that there is no choice but to take this path…

"What Ankara must do, after the consecutive statements made by its officials, is to shift from words to action, in a prudent manner that will reassure Damascus, which still has justified doubts regarding the Turkish policy. [It must do this] before the elements that are harmed [by the rapprochement] increase [their efforts] to poke sticks in its wheels, which will not serve the new direction [we are taking], especially given that Syria's position is strong, and is anchored in enormous sacrifices and in just demands that shall never be relinquished."[16]


*O. Peri is a research fellow at MEMRI.


[1], August 19, 2022.

[2], August 22, 2022.

[3], August 11, 2022;, August 11, 2022.

[4], August 23, 2022. Reports in the Turkish media likewise indicated a softening of the tone towards the Syrian regime. For instance, the Türkiye daily reported on August 9 that a phone conversation between Assad and Erdogan could take place in the near future (, August 9, 2022). On August 16 the daily reported that Turkey was considering a plan for returning Syrian refugees to the cities of Homs, Damascus and Aleppo, which are under the control of the Syrian regime (, August 16, 2022). 

[5], August 12, 2022; Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), August 17, 2022.

[6]  Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), July 4, 2022; Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), August 7, 2022.

[7] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), August 13, 2022; Al-Watan (Syria), August 17, 2022.

[8], August 23, 2022.

[9] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), August 27, 2022.

[10], September 7, 2022. Another move that was perceived as part of the rapprochement between the two countries the was Syrian regime's opening on September 5 of a center for settling the status of Syrian refugees and displaced persons wishing to return to the regime-controlled areas from Turkey and from Idlib, where Turkey has a military presence. The center is located in the town of Khan Shaykhoun, south of Idlib, an area controlled by the Syrian regime. 'Omar Rahmoun, a member of the regime's Syrian Reconciliation Committee, noted that this move requires Turkey to cooperate with the Syrian regime by allowing safe passage to Syrians wishing to reach these centers. "Turkey's failure to do so will significantly delay the return of the Syrian refugees that Turkish president Erdogan wants to quickly get rid of," he said (Al-Akhbar, Lebanon, September 6, 2022).

[11] This refers to the August 5, 2022 meeting in Sochi between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Erdogan. Syria was one of the main topics discussed, amid Turkish threats to launch another military operation against the Kurdish forces in the north of the country.

[12]  This refers to talks sponsored by Russia, Turkey and Iran towards resolving the Syria crisis.

[13] This resolution, from 2015, sets out a roadmap for ending the Syria  crisis and calls for the establishment of  an inclusive transitional governing body with full executive power that will draft a new constitution and prepare the country for elections. See MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1214 - UN Security Council Resolution 2254 On Syria: International Community Softens Its Position On Assad Regime – December 28, 2015.

[14]  The Geneva track is the UN-facilitated political process for resolving the Syria crisis. Since 2019 the Geneva talks between the Syrian regime and the opposition have been held in the framework of the Syrian Constitutional Committee, charged with amending the existing Syrian constitution or drafting a new one.

[15]  Al-Watan (Syria), August 11, 2022.

[16] Al-Watan (Syria), August 18, 2022.

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