Russia and Turkey say the deal between Turkey and Syria is still relevant and its implementation could address Ankara’s security concerns stemming from the outlawed PKK terror organisation.
The Adana agreement between Turkey’s then-president Suleyman Demirel and Syria’s late president Hafez al Assad was discussed in foreign policy circles again last week, 21 years after it was signed.
The deal, which ensured the PKK wouldn’t be supported by the Syrian state, was once again been put on the table by Damascus’s regional ally Russia. A Reuters report has also suggested that the YPG expects talks with Damascus soon.
The YPG is the Syrian branch of the PKK which is recognized as a terror organisation by Turkey, the US and the EU.
Both Turkey and the Syrian regime’s regional ally Russia acknowledge that the agreement is still relevant and should be implemented.
Accusing the Syrian regime of not complying with the agreement, Ankara says it has to enter Syria to protect its borders from the PKK affiliateYPG.
"This agreement opens the way for Turkey to enter those territories if any adverse events were to take place," President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told a rally in eastern Erzurum province two days after his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, reiterating his willingness for the agreement to be fully implemented.
Russia suggests that, if implemented fully, the agreement could solve one of the most difficult disagreements of the Syrian conflict — the status of the YPG.
What does the agreement say?
The agreement is based upon Damascus recognising the PKK as a terror organisation and prohibiting all the group’s activities and its affiliated organisations in its territory.
“Syria, on the basis of the principle of reciprocity, will not permit any activity which emanates from its territory aimed at jeopardising the security and stability of Turkey. Syria will not allow the supply of weapons, logistic material, financial support to and propaganda activities of the PKK on its territory,” one of the articles of the agreement said.
As a result of the deal, Damascus shut down PKK bases in Syria and expelled its leader Abdullah Ocalan, which paved the way for his capture by Turkey in 1999.
One of the articles of the deal also touches upon close security coordination between the two countries regarding the PKK.
Why is it not being implemented at the moment?
The collaboration between the Syrian state and Turkey only lasted until 2011, when Damascus launched a violent crackdown on its opponents, which triggered a full-blown war. Since then, Damascus has not only allowed the PKK’s Syrian affiliate to operate in the country's northern region but has also collaborated with the armed group on some occasions.
Erdogan said Ankara wouldn’t carry out any high-level contact with the Syrian regime leader Bashar al Assad “who forced the migration of millions and carried out the killing of nearly one million."
But he stressed that the deal should still be complied with and its implementation means either the Assad regime must stop allowing YPG to operate in Syria, or Ankara will clean its borders in the neighbouring country from the terror organisation citing national security threat.
Ankara has conducted two military operations in Syria, first one to help Syrian rebel forces, the Free Syrian Army (FSA) to recapture territories from Daesh and PKK/YPG in northern Syria, and another against the PKK/YPG in liberating Afrin. The Turkish military still operates in the recaptured areas.
Syrian state media SANA said Damascus is currently refusing to comply with the agreement.
A report by SANA last week claimed that the regime could reactivate the deal if Turkey stops supporting the opposition FSA forces.
What are the controversies surrounding the deal?
On the same page as Turkey about the relevancy of the Adana agreement, Russia says the deal is meant to guarantee Turkey’s border security. However, Moscow says it supports a dialogue between the Assad regime and the YPG.
Turkey announced on January 15 that it would set up a 32km (20 miles) safe zone in northern Syria, following a suggestion from the US President Donald Trump, who revealed plans of pulling American military from the country last month.
During a joint press conference with Putin in Moscow, Erdogan said Turkey and Russia have no problems on the planned safe zone. Ankara sees Russia, Iran and the US as key in the implementation of the safe zone deal.
But Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Friday that the Syrian regime should be involved in the talks on Idlib — an offer that Turkey has so far rejected.
The 2017 Russia, Iran and Turkey-backed ceasefire talks in Astana were meant to complement the UN-backed peace and political transition talks in Geneva. The Astana trio agreed on de-escalation zones in a bid to stop violence. Securing Idlib, which borders the YPG-controlled area in the north is important to Turkey, which wants to limit any enlargement of the group’s territories.
Instead of holding talks with the regime, Turkey will focus on the political transition process, which Erdogan said will be discussed during the next summit with Russia and Iran.