Country Listing

Syria Table of Contents


Syrian-Turkish Tensions

Relations between Syria and Turkey, which share a long border, have ranged from normal diplomatic ties to political and military tension. Conflicts have arisen over border problems, the apportionment of river water flow, smuggling, and charges of internal subversion. Some of these conflicts have historical roots, particularly in Syrian resentment at the arbitrary transfer in 1938 of the province of Alexandretta (or Hatay, as it was named by the Turks) to Turkey by the French Mandate authorities (see Concepts of Nationalism, Unity, and the Arab Nation , ch. 4).

Turkey has charged Syria with supporting Armenian, Kurdish, and Arab terrorist groups operating against Turkey. Turkey believes Syria offers training facilities and arms to Armenian terrorists belonging to the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia (ASALA) and assists them in infiltrating across their common border and into Western Europe for attacks against Turkey and Turkish targets, particularly diplomats. Turkey has also charged that Syria was behind the activities of anti-Turkish Kurdish separatist groups. Syria, in turn, has asserted that Turkey gave refuge to members of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood and other opposition elements at the height of agitation in Syria in the early 1980s.

Delineating the 1,347-kilometer-long border between the two countries has been another sensitive issue. Border problems have included smuggling illegal narcotics and arms by individuals and militant groups on both sides and (because of the arbitrary border demarcation) illegal crossings by related peoples, leading to clashes between border guards and at times, military maneuvers. Border crossing has remained a problem in the absence of a Turkish-Syrian agreement on border security and the "right of hot pursuit," which in Turkey's view would prevent acts against it by separatist groups tied to the Syrian government. In the mid-1980s, Syria was implicated in two terrorist attacks in Turkey. In the July 1985 murder of Jordanian diplomat Ziad Sati in Ankara, an arrest warrant was issued for a Syrian diplomat. However, the Syrian was allowed to leave Turkey shortly before the trial because Turkey did not want the incident to affect its relations with Syria. The chief defendant in the trial, who was employed as a translator in the Jordanian embassy, carried a Syrian passport. During the trial, he confessed to having worked for Syrian intelligence, stating that his control officer was a Syrian diplomat in Turkey who had given the order to assassinate Sati. The same Syrian diplomat was also suspected of complicity in the terrorist attack on the Neve Shalom Synagogue in Istanbul in September 1986, in which twenty-two people were killed.

Data as of April 1987