New Security Concerns at the Syrian-Turkey Border

Since the beginning of the Syrian civil war Turkey's status of its southern borders have gone from humanitarian help to what is now heavily militarized. This approximate 500 mile border with a wall to prevent illegal smuggling that will be completed in Spring of 2018; for the last six years has seen the chaos, volatility, violence and victims resulting from Assad's Syrian-civil war. What began as a set of crossing points of shelter and refuge to now a ticking point of fate for Ankara; pressed to decide if it sees removal of Assad a greater priority than the Kurdish YPG- the leading component of Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) that has evolved out of the support of its own ally the United States.

Eastern Quagmire

The Kurdish relationship has been a challenging one. While Ankara assisted Iraqi Kurdistan in building their infrastructure and trade in post Saddam era it had to contend with conflicts in its own southeastern Anatolia provinces of Kurdish separatism versus the PKK. To Kurds in Diyarbakir, Turkey; historically, southeastern provincial areas are one of the four parts (RojovaSyria, Irbil-Iraq, and Sanandaj-Iran) of greater Kurdistan.

How events unfolded to the present

Pre-Syrian civil war, Turkey's aim was to prevent Iran's influence to spread west to gaining access to resource rich Mediterranean. It tolerated President Assad while maintaining a trade relationship with Damascus. Yet post-Syrian civilwar, Turkey wanted Assad's removal with a set of transitions that would replace him with a democratic but moderate Sunni Syrian. With Iran, it saw a halt in their strategy to where it changed course to not access the Mediterranean to avoid US forces. Instead, Iranian militias supported by Iraqi Shia militias along with Hezbollah of Lebanon was instrumental in driving out ISIS and anti-Assad Syrian rebel forces to secure the Tehran-Tel Afar- Mayadin - Deir ez Zor- Damascus belt.


While the south remained Iran's concern, in Syria's north, a presence of Syrian Kurdish YPG forces supported by US military advisors began to unfold as they took over what initially many Turkish Generals had wanted as a buffer zone following to become an intended no-fly zone. This long stretch of an approximate 500-mile border with 10 active crossing points of which 5 now belonged to the YPG culminated into a serious cause for concern for Turkey. The fear is that for the unity of greater Kurdistan the Syrian-YPG will connect with Turkish-PKK, supported by havens in Iraqi Kurdistan and what is perceived as their offshoot organization: though denied, the Kurdish Freedom Hawks (TAK) who were responsible for the March 2016 Ankara bombing, will collaborate to reawaken the 1980s bloody war against Turkey.

Will Not be tolerated

For Turkey, a mini-Kurdish enclave outside of its south east borders with an autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan will not be tolerated as it constitutes strategic threats beyond it can permit. Since
August 2016, Turkish forces directly intervened into Azaz and Afrin, inside Syrian territory to
quash developments of ISIS and YPG units resulting in a blockade of Kurdish expansion moving
further west.

Reality now

Presently there are approximately 5.4 million Syrian refugees in Turkey and is the only country to host such a large Syrian population. Though removal of Assad maybe not be a priority, a moderate Sunni leadership is still in hopes but that can easily become a dream as reality now dictates Russian and Iranian support that has given new life to this Syrian regime. However, militarily Syria is weak to take back all it has lost to the Free Syrian Army (FSA), ISIS and its affiliated jihadist. The consistent threat for Turkey grows, as Syria can become a state that allows Kurdish fighters to fight freely in the north of its borders. The bigger challenge is to maintain European and Middle Eastern ally support and sympathy. Just as Turkey did in fighting the jihadist but now to keep that momentum in fighting the YPG.