On Nov. 28, the Turkish government reluctantly imposed comprehensive sanctions against the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Meanwhile, Turkish leaders are now calling for Assad to step down, with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan comparing him to Hitler. Thus far, the Turkish government has relied on diplomatic, political and economic instruments to achieve its goals of regime change in Syria. But the possibility of active military intervention, though previously excluded and still unlikely, is becoming more plausible.
Historically, relations between Turkey and Syria have been troubled, but they experienced a noticeable improvement since Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in 2002. Bilateral trade between the two countries reached $2.5 billion in 2010, making Turkey Syria’s largest trading partner. In 2010, the two governments confirmed their heightened cooperation against Kurdish terrorism through a bilateral agreement. In addition, Turkey’s relations with Iran, which strongly backs the current Syrian government, have also improved over the same period.
As a result of these combined factors, it took months for the Turkish government to harden its stance against Damascus’ increasingly bloody crackdown on a domestic protest movement by calling for Assad’s resignation and imposing sanctions to help achieve it.