- Turkey-Syria Relations: Between Enmity and Amity ed. by Raymond Hinnebusch, Özlem Tür
Over the past decade, the redefinition and reactivation of Turkish foreign policy has drawn the increasing attention of scholars. Within the literature on Turkey’s foreign policy, the changing nature of the relationship between Ankara and Damascus has emerged as one of the most popular topics. The main argument of Turkey-Syria Relations under review can be summarized as the following: In order to give meaning to the cyclical transformations in Turkish-Syrian relationship, we need to focus on the interaction of identity and interests, external and internal dynamics, regional and global factors.
Consisting of 14 chapters written by Turkish, Syrian, and international scholars, the book looks at the impact of systemic factors, changing regional alliances, and the two actors’ domestic circumstances upon Turkey-Syria relations. Although some of the authors take an historical perspective, most of them focus on the contemporary period. The chapters cover a broad range of topics, including the issue of water, the Hatay dispute, the Kurdish problem, and the instrumentalization of soccer.
Contributing authors Marwan Kabalan, Samir al-Taqi and Raymond Hinnebusch, and Zeynep Özden Oktav emphasize that systemic factors help explain the changing state of relations between and among Middle Eastern countries. The fact that the US occupied Iraq in 2003 without any legal authorization from the United Nations Security Council led to a fundamental realignment in the Middle East region, since this situation was considered as a security threat. In relation to that there was also the fear that if Iraq were divided and a Kurdish state were to have been established in the northern part of the country, it would directly threaten the interests of the regional countries in general, but mainly Turkey, Iran and Syria. Hence, a common threat perception [End Page 331] led to a reformulation of foreign policy toward the neighboring countries.
The contributors also discuss regional factors. Zeynep Özden Oktav, for example, examines the nature of the quasi-alliance that developed among Iran, Turkey, and Syria, describing this relationship as an informal security partnership based on a tacit common understanding and analysis of the impact of the new global order upon them. In contrast, Meliha Benli Altunışık argues that the relationship among these three regional countries can be seen as “resisting, changing and countering” the global order (p. 178). According to Altunışık, the combination of history, political relations, and material dynamics at the regional level determines the nature of the relationships. In that framework, the regionalization of the Kurdish issue and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) problem are important dynamics affecting the relationship.
Based on the constructivist literature, some of the articles emphasize the importance of identity of the agency in the reconstruction of bilateral ties. According to this approach, the Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) reconstruction of Turkish identity against the Kemalist establishment led to a redefinition of the Middle East in Turkish foreign policy. In addition to that, As Reem Abou-El-Fadl emphasizes in the chapter on Turkey’s policies toward the 1957 crisis, Turkey is a good example to study the impact of foreign policy on nation-building. At the time, the government in Ankara used its approach toward Syria to make Turkey part of the Western security community.
Similarly, the AKP used foreign policy to gain legitimacy in internal politics and weaken domestic opponents, such as the Kemalist establishment. As Ahmet K. Han shows in his study — a neoclassical realist analysis of Turkey’s Syria policy — the AKP instrumentalizes foreign policy in order to make changes in Turkish political culture in harmony with its ideology (p. 57).
Many of the book’s contributors also stress that the political dimension of the bilateral relationship has had a tremendous impact on other issues. For example, the Hatay (Alexendretta) issue comes to the surface only when there is tension between the two countries. Hence, during the period of rapprochement (1998–2011), Turkey and Syria agreed to disagree over the status of...