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Turkey Table of Contents



Several disputes make relations between Syria and Turkey uneasy. However, Syria's limited military potential and the alignment of Syrian forces on the Israeli front preclude any immediate threat along the 900-kilometer border between Turkey and Syria.

Syria has never abandoned its claim to the Turkish province of Hatay, which includes the city of Iskenderun. France, the mandatory power over Syria from 1920 to 1941, ceded the area to Turkey in 1939 after a disputed plebiscite, in violation of its League of Nations mandate.

Tensions with Syria are compounded by Turkey's control over distribution of the waters of the Euphrates River. Turkey's huge Southeast Anatolian Project, with its dams and hydroelectric plants, threatens to deplete Syria's water resources. In addition, Syria has a history of permitting hostile political movements--Armenian, Marxist, and Kurdish--to conduct anti-Turkish operations from Syrian-controlled territory in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. To a considerable degree, the issues of access to water and Syria's support for the Kurdish insurgency are linked. To the extent that Turkey attempts to accommodate Syria on water sharing, Syria limits its backing of the Kurds. In December 1993, the Syrian government took into custody the Kurdish rebel leader, Abdullah Ícalan, in what was seen as an attempt to strengthen Syria's hand in water negotiations.


Frictions with the Tehran government stem largely from competing philosophies--the secularism at the root of the Turkish system and the Shia (see Glossary) orientation of Iran. The Turkish government has refrained from accusing Iran of direct responsibility for incidents of Islamist terrorism. However, the Turkish minister of interior declared in 1993 that the perpetrators of a series of murders of well-known secularist figures had been trained in Iran and helped by the staff of the Iranian Cultural Center in Ankara. Turkey considers such attacks a threat to national security because the government and laws of the modern Turkish state are so closely identified with its secular tradition.

Another source of potential tension is Turkey's support of Azerbaijan in its conflict with Armenia. Tehran fears that a nationalistic Azerbaijan friendly to Turkey could encourage unrest in northern Iran, which has a considerable Azerbaijani population. Turkey estimates that about 800 Kurdish guerrillas are based in Iranian territory. Tehran has denied supporting them, and in December 1993 the two countries announced that an agreement had been reached to prevent the guerrillas from using Iran as a sanctuary.

Data as of January 1995