The geopolitics of the Syrian conflict

Getting Erdogan on board

Recently, while considering the future of war-torn Syria, Russian President Vladimir Putin invoked the Adana agreement signed over two decades ago between Turkey and Syria. How this should be interpreted depends on which side you are on, as Ayse Karabat explains

When Russian President Vladimir Putin was asked about the U.S.' suggestion of a safe zone east of the Euphrates River, in response to which Turkey has repeatedly vowed to launch a large-scale military operation, he said such a move would not be legitimate. Instead, he rolled out an agreement signed in 1998 between Damascus and Ankara to reassure Turkey that Russia had understood its security concerns, while protecting the latter’s interests in blocking the U.S. from creating a permanent presence there.

In a meeting on 23 January with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Moscow, Putin produced the Adana accord, named after the southern Turkish city where the pact was sealed. The aim at the end of the nineties was to avert the threat of Turkey waging war on Syria for its hosting of Abdullah Ocalan, the now jailed leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), designated as a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the EU and the United States.

The deal forced Ocalan to leave Syria, only to be subsequently captured in Kenya. He is now serving an aggravated life sentence in a high-security prison on the remote Imrali Island in the Marmara Sea for leading a massive insurgency against the Turkish state.

Members of the Kurdish internal security forces checking the identity papers of Syrian civilians in Manbij, north Syria, March 2018 (photo: picture-alliance/AP Photo/H. Malla)
The Kurds had better hope their allies donʹt leave them in the lurch: the YPG controls almost one-third of Syria in the form of an autonomous administration along the Turkish border, yet remains at the mercy of a belligerent, anti-Kurdish neighbour, an autocrat desperate to regain control over his state and global players Russia and the United States, both with their own agendas

The Adana agreement envisaged close and strong co-operation, the appointment of special representatives and high-level contact between the respective militaries in the fight against terrorism. It also, importantly, stressed that the common enemy would not only be the PKK, but any name it might take in the future or any affiliate.

The description included in the agreement explains how Turkey is now able to view the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which the U.S. has long been supporting in the fight against IS, as the PKK’s Syrian offshoot. The YPG controls almost one-third of Syria in the form of an autonomous administration along the Turkish border, which Turkey calls the "corridor of terror".

Restoring ties with Damascus?

Since his meeting with Putin, Erdogan has said the agreement provides the answer to those asking what Turkey is doing in Syria. But he has strictly rejected opposition claims that Putin revived the deal in a bid to restore broken ties between Turkey and Syria, the latter being the only means of quelling Ankara’s security concerns.

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