The complicated relationship between Turkey and Syria has alternated between confrontation and collaboration over time. Since Turkey has conducted many military operations in Syria, their relationship has grown more antagonistic, prompting concerns over whether or not the two nations are at war.
Early in the 20th century, when both nations were still a part of the Ottoman Empire, a conflict erupted between Turkey and Syria. The two nations’ relationship has been tense in the years since the fall of the empire, defined by boundary disputes and ethnic tensions.
When the Syrian Civil War started in 2011, tensions between Turkey and Syria considerably grew. One of the first nations to back rebel factions opposing the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was Turkey. The Turkish government opened its borders to refugees escaping the fighting as well as supported the rebels by giving them weapons, money, and training.
With the codename “Euphrates Shield,” Turkey began its first military action in Syria in 2016. This operation’s objective was to drive the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a group of rebels commanded by Kurds, away from the Turkish border. Being associated with the PKK, a terrorist organisation that has already carried out multiple assaults in Turkey, the SDF was viewed as a threat to Turkish national security.
Under the codename “Olive Branch,” Turkey began a second military operation in Syria in 2018. The objective of this operation was to rid the Syrian Kurdistan region of Afrin of Kurdish forces, which were viewed as a danger to Turkish national security. Widespread international condemnation of the operation followed, with numerous nations charging Turkey with transgressing human rights and international law.
When Turkey began its third military operation in Syria in 2019, known as “Peace Spring,” the confrontation between Turkey and Syria heated up once more. The goal of this operation was to establish a “safe zone” in northern Syria where rebels supported by Turkey could be stationed to guard Turkey’s southern border against the SDF. Resettling Syrian refugees in the region was another goal of the operation.
Both Turkey and Syria accuse the other of breaking agreements and ceasefires, and the situation between them is still tight. There have been reports of recent fighting between Turkish-backed rebels and Syrian government forces in the province of Idlib, the last significant rebel bastion in Syria.
Turkey and Syria have held diplomatic discussions in an effort to address their disagreements despite the continued violence. The two nations met in January 2021 in Moscow, Russia, to talk about the situation in Idlib and other relationship-related matters. Russia mediated the negotiations that led to the cease-fire deal, but the situation is still precarious and there have been reports of intermittent fighting in the area.
Despite the fact that Turkey and Syria are not formally at war, tension and antagonism exist between the two nations. Tensions between the two nations have risen as a result of the Syrian Civil War, and Turkey has conducted a number of military operations in Syria to defend its national security and allay its fears regarding the SDF. The situation is still tense, and there is still a strong likelihood of future conflict despite diplomatic efforts to settle their disputes.