Relations between Türkiye and Syria remain uncertain

The future of relations between Türkiye and Syria remains uncertain as little progress has been made in normalization talks revolving around Turkish military presence in northern Syria, said experts.

Since the end of 2022, Turkish and Syrian officials have met several times under the watchful eye of Russia to restore ties between the two neighboring countries.

Moscow has tried to mediate talks between Damascus and Ankara, whose ties have soured since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war in 2011.

However, the talks have borne little fruit, with disputes mostly hinging on Türkiye’s military presence in northern Syria.

Serkan Demirtas, an Ankara-based foreign policy analyst, said in an interview with Xinhua that Russia may retake the initiative to unblock the current impasse.

“This process can possibly gain new momentum if Moscow starts to lead the dialogue in a way that Syria understands Ankara’s security concerns,” he said.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his ministers have clarified that ties with Türkiye could not be mended until Ankara fully withdraws its forces from large swathes of northeast Syria.

The Syrian president has also declined an offer from his Turkish counterpart for a tete-a-tete.

“There are many divergent issues in this situation, and there is no sign of quick settlement for these differences,” Demirtas said.

Türkiye has maintained a military presence along with local proxy forces in northern Syria since it first set foot on Syrian territory in 2016 in an attempt to flush out Kurdish armed groups there.

A withdrawal of its forces is out of the question for Ankara as long as “security threats” from Kurdish militias are not eliminated, according to the expert.

Demirtas added that Syria has regained its international identity following its recent reintegration into the Arab League, and the country’s president is apparently in no mood for compromise despite pressure from the Kremlin to make amends with Ankara.

The resumption of ties also means relieving the Turkish burden of hosting 3.6 million Syrian refugees. Both countries are in favor of their return to their homeland, but no modalities have been agreed upon.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has previously vowed the voluntary return of Syrian refugees despite a public appeal for repatriating the refugees as Türkiye is facing severe economic woes.

So far, some 550,000 Syrians have returned to their country, according to Turkish official data.

There is also “mutual mistrust” facing the Turkish-Syrian reconciliation, an unnamed source close to the Turkish government told Xinhua.

“The first major sticking point is the issue of trust, and we have to get rid of this obstacle to move forward,” said the source.

In Demirtas’s view, the process of restoring ties between two states, who considered each other as foes and with very divergent interests, was extremely difficult to make a start.

Murat Yesiltas, a professor of international politics at the Social Sciences University of Ankara, echoed these remarks on the complexity of achieving a breakthrough.

“Labeling the ongoing process between Türkiye and Syria as ‘normalization’ is inaccurate and overly optimistic,” he said in a recent article published in Turkey’s English newspaper Daily Sabah.

“Ankara should acknowledge that the Türkiye-Syria talks have limitations, given realities on the ground are evolving, which will eventually transform the nature of the Syrian conflict and the modality of the solution,” the scholar said.

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