Anti-terror agreements between Turkey and Syria are a headache for Erdoğan

 

The 1998 Adana Agreement and the updated 2011 Ankara Agreement on cooperation against terrorism between Turkey and Syria spell more trouble for the regime of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan than the Bashar al-Assad government.

Given the fact that the Erdoğan government has been arming and providing logistical support to various jihadist groups in Syria such as al-Qaeda and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) as well as the Free Syrian Army, which was branded a terror organization by Damascus, Ankara has more violations under the existing agreements than the Syrian government.

In recent days Erdoğan has been trying to justify the presence of Turkish troops in Syria under the provisions of the Adana Agreement, signed between Turkey and Syria on Oct. 20, 1998, after Russian President Vladimir Putin suggested the articles of the agreement would relieve many Turkish concerns over the southern border.

 

Erdoğan and Putin met in Moscow, where the Russian president raised the issue of the Adana Agreement to address Turkish concerns.

 

That may be partially true. However, the reciprocity clause in the agreements require Turkey to stop arming and sponsoring anti-Assad groups as well. Erdoğan may be in more more hot water according to both the Adana and Ankara agreements than the Assad government given how terrorism has taken a toll on the territory of Syria in recent years.

Article 1 of the Adana Agreement states that “Syria, on the basis of the principle of reciprocity, not permit any activity that emanates from its territory aimed at jeopardizing the security and stability of Turkey.” Turkey is certainly not fulfilling its part, and this article gives rise to serious claims against Turkey.

What is more, the Syrian government has no real control over areas where Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK)-affiliated groups enjoy autonomy with the help of the United States and other allies of the Turkish government. In fact, some of the supplies to Syrian Kurdish fighters are going through Turkey’s airspace under the agreement Turkey signed with the US and other NATO allies as part of the anti-ISIL offensive.

The Adana Agreement specifically singles out the threat posed by the PKK and its affiliates to Turkey from Syrian soil, with Article 1 stating that “Syria will not allow the supply of weapons, logistical material and financial support to and the propaganda activities of the PKK on its territory.”

According to the second article of the agreement, “Syria has recognized the PKK as a terrorist organization and banned all activities of the PKK and its affiliated organizations in its territories.” Therefore, one can reasonably argue that the agreement also covers the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which is affiliated with the PKK, and other offshoots.

The third article states that Syria will not allow the PKK to establish camps and other facilities for training and shelter, or undertake commercial activities in its territories. The fourth article says, “Syria will not allow PKK members to use Syria for transit to third countries.” The last article of the agreement states, “Syria will take all necessary measures to prevent Abdullah Öcalan, the head of the PKK terrorist organization, from entering Syrian territory and will instruct its authorities at border points to that effect.” Öcalan was arrested in 1999, tried and convicted on terrorism charges and has been in a Turkish jail since then.

The text of the 1998 Adana Agreement is as follows:

 

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Nordic Monitor has also obtained the transcript of the meeting during which the agreement was signed, which includes a series of pledges made by the Syrian government of the time. A number of entities were established to monitor the progress and coordinate the battle against terrorism. Turkey and Syria have established several mechanisms and working groups to coordinate security cooperation such as the Commission on Security Cooperation, High-level Military Dialogue Meetings and coordination between border commanders

The two countries set up a hotline and direct channel of communication between two senior security officials on either side to address ongoing concerns. Both sides agreed to appoint two special envoys attached to the embassies in Ankara and Damascus to monitor the implementation of the agreement and sort out problems should they arise.

It was also agreed that Lebanon must be included in the battle against terrorism provided that Beirut agrees to it. The Turkish side also suggested building a system to ensure the effective implementation of the agreement and a package of security-building measures that the Syrian side said it would take up with the Syrian authorities. Damascus also pledged to take the necessary measures to deliver concrete results that would reflect the commitments in the agreement.

The agreement came against the backdrop of tense relations between Turkey and Syria in 1998, when the two countries were on the brink of war. Turkey threatened military action if Syria continued to shelter Öcalan in Damascus, his longtime safe haven. Speaking on the Turkish-Syrian border on Sept. 17, 1998, Gen. Atilla Ateş, the then-commander of the Turkish Land Forces, said: “They have spread terrorism to Turkey by supporting the bandit named Apo [Öcalan]. PKK-supporting Syria has been trying our patience. Turkey will have the right to take all necessary measures if it does not receive what it expects [from Syria].”

When the political leaders backed the general’s statements and situation showed signs of rapid escalation, Egypt intervened to mediate between Turkey and Syria. On Oct. 17, PKK leader Öcalan had to leave Syria, followed by a meeting on Oct. 19-20 between Turkish and Syrian authorities in the southern province of Adana. The Adana Agreement was concluded after Iranian Foreign Minister Kemal Kharrazi and Egyptian Foreign Minister Amr Moussa intervened on behalf of their presidents. Then-Deputy Undersecretary of the Foreign Ministry Uğur Ziyal, on behalf of the Turkish delegation, and Chief of Political Security Maj. Gen. Adnan Badr Al Hassan, on behalf of the Syrian delegation, had signed the Adana Agreement.

Turkish President Süleyman Demirel (2nd from right) and visiting Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak (2nd from left) in Ankara in 1998, together with Egyptian and Turkish officials, negotiating the terms of an agreement to avoid a military confrontation between Syria and Turkey.

The agreement established cooperation against the PKK terrorist organization, and relations subsequently flourished in all areas, including politics, economy, security and culture, until 2011, when Turkey decided to side with the opposition against the Assad government.

The Adana Agreement was upgraded and expanded on Dec. 21, 2010, when Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid al-Mouallem and Turkish then-Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu signed a new cooperation agreement against terrorists and terrorist groups. The agreement makes specific reference to the 1998 Adana deal and says it was intended to expand the old agreement with a view to better coordinate actions to fight against terrorism. It confirmed the preservation of existing mechanisms that were established by the Adana protocol. The agreement was approved by the Foreign Affairs Commission in the Turkish Parliament on March 17,  2011. Erdoğan submitted the agreement to Parliament for approval on Feb. 9, 2011 after the Cabinet approved it on Jan. 31, 2011.

 

Erdoğan’s signature on a document submitted to Parliament for the approval of a 2011 cooperation agreement with Syria on terrorism.

 

The agreement mentions the PKK but covers all terrorist groups that pose a threat to both countries, requires both Turkey and Syria to prevent the recruitment, training, financing, arming and propaganda of terrorist groups. It covers the exchange of information, documents and intelligence to crack down on terrorist groups, the prevention of their illegal border crossings and even envisages joint security operations against terrorist groups. Both countries also agreed to extradite terrorists to their country of nationality.

The 23-article agreement has a term of three years with automatic renewal for another three years unless a written notification of withdrawal is made 90 days in advance by one of the parties. Neither Turkey nor Syria has made any notification of cancellation of this agreement although its implementation has effectively been suspended since 2011.

 

The Turkish government’s Cabinet decision approving the agreement with Syria on Jan. 31, 2011.

 

The full implementation of both the 2011 and 1998 agreements requires Turkey to cease all its support for jihadist groups that are fighting against the Assad regime, and joint intelligence and security operations between Turkish and Syrian government forces. It seems less likely, though not impossible, to see any of this happening any time soon given the entrenched positions of all the stakeholders in the Syrian conflict. Complicating matter further is US support for the YPG, which remains uncertain in view of the recent announcement of US troop withdrawal from Syria.

 

The full text of 2011 Ankara Agreement on cooperation against terrorism between Turkey and Syria:

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