11 years have passed since the start of the Syrian Conflict, and Turkey’s approach to the conflict and its interests have evolved. With elections set for June, 2023 on the horizon, Turkey’s political leaders, both in government and opposition, have refocused their approach to Syria based on the goals of destroying the Autonomous Administration and creating a so-called safe zone to return Turkey’s more than 3.6 million Syrian refugees.
In line with these goals, the Turkish rhetoric surrounding the status of Assad and the government in Damascus has evolved as well. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu recently announced that he briefly met and spoke with Syria’s Foreign Minister and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stated that Turkey does not seek the removal of Assad. Foreign Minister Cavusoglu further called for “reconciliation” between the Turkish-backed opposition and the Assad Regime. The Turkish opposition, in particular the Republican People’s Party, has long called for even more overt relations with the Damascus government, in order to quickly and decisively address the refugee and AANES issues.
There have long been intelligence contacts between the Turkish and Syrian intelligence agencies, and the Turkish focus in Syria changed to destroying the AANES project as well. However, the rhetoric about “reconciliation” is unprecedented, and shows the Turkish State’s concerns regarding its own domestic issues and how these have refocused its priorities in Syria based on electoral concerns of Turkey’s most prominent political parties. Despite these recent statements, Turkey’s military occupation of large swathes of Syrian territory remains a source of contention and instability in relations between Turkey and the Syrian government, as well as the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria.