In a sign of detente between Turkey and Syria, defense ministers of the two countries have met for the first time in more than a decade, which, analysts say, signals their possible normalization of ties through a win-win solution.
Turkish and Syrian ministers, along with their Russian counterpart, met on Dec. 28 in Moscow, in the first ministerial contact between the two countries in 11 years after the two sides had met on an intelligence level.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said more talks are planned for later in January.
“I believe that the ongoing dialogue between Turkey and Syria has the potential to evolve into a normalization,” Tarik Oguzlu, a professor of international relations at Istanbul’s Aydin University, told Xinhua.
This is in line with a recent shift in Turkey’s foreign policy to mend ties with regional countries that has already yielded results with Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the United Arab Emirates, he said.
Turkey’s support for the armed rebels seeking to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during the civil war that began in 2011 strained relations between the two neighbors, which cut their diplomatic ties in 2012.
The meeting in Moscow followed Ankara’s threat to launch a fresh military incursion against Kurdish militants in northern Syria, an action opposed by Russia, the United States and Iran.
According to Oguzlu, Russia is the most willing country for a Turkish-Syrian reconciliation as it is squeezed in Ukraine and wants the bulk of its military presence in Syria transferred to the Ukrainian theater of conflict.
In November, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said a meeting with al-Assad was a possibility, and in mid-December, he said he could meet with him soon.
“Neither Syria nor Turkey can walk away from the process. Normalizing with Assad has significant security ramifications for Turkey,” said Batu Coskun, an Ankara-based independent political risk analyst.
A Turkish diplomatic source who wanted to remain anonymous said it is in the interest of Ankara and Damascus to find a common ground to remove Kurdish militants, whom Turkey sees as a security threat, and suppress any Kurdish bid for autonomy.
“For al-Assad, given the state of the Syrian economy, normalizing with Syria’s largest and most economically advanced neighbor will undoubtedly have benefits,” Coskun noted.
As Turkey is heading for general elections planned for June, the Turkish leader is reportedly in favor of a fresh start with Syria.
A poll conducted in December of 2022 by the Metropoll Research Center revealed that 59 percent of Turks supported the idea of a meeting of Turkish and Syrian leaders.
There is a growing anti-refugee sentiment among Turks as their country hosts some 3.5 million Syrians, according to the official data published in December.
“Erdogan believes that he can strike an accord with al-Assad that stipulates the return of Syrian migrants. This will tackle a major electoral issue and could see Erdogan’s number in polls rise,” Coskun said. ■