Turkish President Recep Tayyip ErdoganErdogan
late Friday said there were ongoing meetings between Turkey and Syria on security issues, including the fight against terror groups.
Erdogan’s remarks followed his meeting with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Sochi on Friday where the latter is said to have told Erdogan to cooperate with Syria.
‘‘We agreed on the decision to give the necessary response to our fight against these herds of murderers who attacked our soldiers, police, security forces, and civilian citizens,'' Erdogan said.
This, however, comes short of Erdogan's intentions which seem to have been put down again until further notice.
In a joint statement, the Kremlin revealed that both sides agreed to ''act jointly and cooperate closely to fight against all terrorist organizations.''
With no details given about the essence of such cooperation or the mechanism by which it would be carried out, Russian officials have time and again urged Syria and Turkey to activate the Adana 1998 agreement.
Following the outbreak of the Syrian civil war in which both countries were on opposing sides, Turkey severed diplomatic relations with Syria in March 2012. Despite this, Turkish officials have always maintained that when it comes to security issues and the fight against terrorism, there were always meetings between the two neighboring countries. However, Damascus, categorically rejects such claims.
In January 2020, Russia facilitated a meeting, the first of its kind in nearly a decade, between heads of the Turkish and Syrian intelligence services, Hakan Fidan and Ali Mamlouk, in Moscow.
Among others, the discussions included ''the possibility of working together against the Kurdish forces.''
Turkish media claimed another meeting also took place in 2021.
The Kurdish cause: a dominant issue in talks between the two sides
Turkish-Syrian relations have always been swayed by issues relating to the Kurdish cause which has been either a diverging or converging point.
The 1921 Treaty of Ankara, also known as the Franklin Bouillon Agreement, set the foundation for delimiting Turkey's southern borders with Syria which remained a shaky issue until finally, though not permanently, settled in 1939.
In the 1980s and 1990s, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and access to water brought the two countries almost to the brink of war.
As Turkish politicians failed to find a diplomatic solution to resolve the issue of Syrian support to the PKK, it was the military, however, that took action.
The turning point, however, came in October 1998, when, following an ultimatum, Damascus acquiesced. Both sides signed the security-focused Adana Agreement which ushered in rapid cooperation between the two neighboring countries not only politically but economically too.
The agreement was signed on October 20, 1998, eleven days after Abdullah Ocalan, leader of the PKK was forced to leave Syria. However, that did not alleviate Turkey's concerns.
Recognizing the armed group as a terrorist one, Syria pledged not to permit any PKK activities against Turkey, or to allow using its soil as a transit site by its members.
By the Adana Agreement, all PKK offices on Syrian soil were closed down, its activities were prohibited and its members were chased.
Last month, Erdogan failed to convince his Russian and Iranian counterparts to support his planned military operation against the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in northern Syria.
Erdogan wants to push 30 kilometers deep into Syrian territories to complete his “safe zone'' which he started long years ago, and push out Kurdish fighters.
On Monday, Rojava's Foreign Relations Department, in a statement, expressed concerns over alleged reports of reviving the Adana Agreement.
Russia does not explicitly oppose the idea of Erdogan's “safe zone'' in northern Syria, not to the point that damages Russian interests by further Turkish occupation of Syrian lands. Russia, and Iran, want areas held by the Kurds to be wholly returned to the control of the Syrian regime forces.
Offering mediation, Russia encourages Turkey and Syria to resolve the issues along their borders by reviving the agreement. The Turks maintain, however, that Syria has no capacity to implement the agreement in question.
Article Four of the Russian–Turkish Sochi understanding of October 2019, stipulates that ''both parties reaffirm the importance of the Adana Agreement. The Russian Federation, for its part, will facilitate the implementation of this agreement under the current circumstances.''
Though the Syrian crisis brought it to a halt, the agreement, from the Russian viewpoint, is still technically in force.
According to the Russian point of view, the Adana Agreement is the legal ground for any Turkish cross-border operations into Syria in coordination with Damascus, based on this, Moscow says there is no need for a new ground, that is Erdogan's “safe zone.'' However, it promotes a new version of the agreement to meet the new realities created in northern Syria.
Strikingly, last month, Turkey's Foreign Affairs Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said his country was willing to cooperate with the Syrian regime against the Kurdish-led SDF.
Russia has two fundamental goals to attain. First, it seeks the normalization of ties between Turkey and the Syrian regime. The second aim is to reduce Turkish aspirations in northern Syria to a security concern rather than a zone.
While by Annex No. 3 Syria relinquished its claim to the Hatay Province (formerly Alexandretta), Annex No. 4 of the Adana Agreement granted Turkey the right to take all necessary security measures inside Syrian territory to a depth of five kilometers to chase members of the PKK.
Turkey cites this provision to justify its interference in Syrian affairs. Erdogan claims the Adana agreement gives Turkey the right to enter Syria in case of adverse development.
As Turkey's two separately signed agreements with the US and Russia in October 2019 in theory remain, the Adana Agreement may seem an appealing alternative for Erdogan, at least for the time being, that could mark a change of heart for Turkey's policy towards Syria in a decade.
Lazghine Ya'qoube is a translator and researcher focusing on the modern history of Mesopotamia, with a special focus on Yazidi and Assyrian affairs in Turkey, Syria and Iraq.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Rudaw.