Turkish occupation of northern Syria

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Northern Syrian Security Belt
Flag of Turkish-occupied Northern Syria
Flag of Turkey.svg
Flags of the Syrian opposition and Turkey
Turkish occupation in December 2017
Turkish occupation in December 2017
Capital Jarabulus
Largest city al-Bab
Official languages
Government Provisional Government
• Commander
İsmail Metin Temel
• President
Abdurrahman Mustafa[2]
• Prime Minister
Jawad Abu Hatab
Occupied territory
24 August 2016
• Formation of TFSA
30 May 2017
Currency Syrian pound, Turkish lira, United States dollar

The Turkish occupation of northern Syria[3][4] refers to areas of Syria captured and occupied since August 2016 by the Turkish Armed Forces and Turkish-backed Turkmen and Arab (Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army) forces during the Syrian Civil War. Turkish-occupied Syria consists of a 1,620 square kilometre area which encompasses around 217 settlements, including: al-Bab, Azaz, Dabiq and Jarabulus. This territory had previously been controlled by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, the Syrian opposition, the North Syrian Federation and the Syrian Ba'athist government. Since May 2017, the Turkish-occupied territory is considered one of the Syrian Safe Zones.


2013–14 proposals for Safe Zone[edit]

Situation in 2014. Turkey proposed to establish a safe zone in Syria between Kobane (pink) and Afrin (light blue) for several years.

Turkey and Syrian opposition proposed a safe zone that includes some regions of northern Syria in 2013, however United States and the other Western states were not willing to accept these plans.[5][6] After the advancements of ISIL in Iraq, Turkey and United States negotiated 'safe zone', while USA accepted 'ISIL-free zone', US officials were reluctant to accept a no fly zone.[7][8]

European support[edit]

After the attacks of ISIL in Syria, tens of thousands non-Sunnis, Christians and Yazidis fled to Turkey. In the beginning of 2015, refugees began to cross Turkish-Greek border, escaping to European countries in massive numbers. The huge refugee flow resulted in reconsidering the creation of a safe zone for civilians in Syria.[9] In February 2016, Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel said, "In the current situation it would be helpful if there could be such an area where none of the parties are allowed to launch aerial attacks – that is to say, a kind of no-fly zone".[10]

U.S.-Turkish negotiations[edit]

The safe zone in Syria failed to have been created in early 2016 due to disagreements between the US and Turkish governments, primarily on which actor is to be eliminated first. While Turkey wanted the Syrian government to be overthrown as soon as possible, the US prioritised the war against ISIL as the main objective. The US also feared that the Syrian Air Force will bomb the area, which would make the idea of a safe zone impracticable. The government rejected the safe zone for being a safe haven for both civilians and rebels.[citation needed]

The outline of the safe zone was another reason for the disagreement. According to Turkey, the safe zone must have included a no fly zone, whereas the US rejected any possibility in establishing a no-fly zone, which would bring a conflict with the Syrian government.[11]

As well, Turkey considers the YPG to be a threat, due to its strong ties with the PKK. On the other hand, the US asserted that although they deem the PKK as a terrorist organisation, the YPG is a distinct actor, constituting one of the main allies of the US in its war against ISIL.[12]

Another debate was about the name of the safe zone. While Turkey called the zone a 'safe zone from ISIS, the Syrian regime and YPG,' the US, however, declared that they will only accept an 'ISIS-free zone'.[13]

Turkish safe zone geography[edit]

Areas between Azaz and al-Rai, like Kafr Kalbin; Kafrah; Sawran; Ihtaimlat; Dabiq; Turkman Bareh; Kafr Elward; Ghoz; Ghaytun; Akhtarin; Baruza; Tall Tanah; Kaljibrin; Qebbet al-Turkmen; Ghandoura; Arab Hassan Sabghir; Mahsenli; and Halwanji have been included to the safe zone. In addition, Erdogan said, the SDF "will leave Manbij. They will to go east of the Euphrates River. If not, we will do what is needed".[14]


Since the start of its intervention in Syria, Turkey has striven to rebuild destroyed areas under its control (pictured: devastated neighborhood of al-Bab) and restore civil society.

Since the establishment of the occupation zone, the Turkish authorities have striven to restore civil society in the areas under their control[15] and to also bind the region more closely to Turkey.[1] As part of these efforts, towns and villages have been demilitarized by dismantling military checkpoints and moving the local militias to barracks and camps outside areas populated by civilians.[15] Several schools were (re-)opened, with their curricula partially adjusted to education in Turkey: Turkish is taught as foreign language since first class and those who attend schools in the occupation zones can subsequently attend universities in Turkey.[1] The Turkish post and telegraph directorate PTT has also opened a branch in Jarabulus in late 2017.[1]

Turkey has also organized a new law enforcement authority in the occupation zone in early 2017, the "Free Police", which is divided into the National Police and Public Security Forces. The Free Police includes both male as well as female officers. It is trained, equipped, and paid by Turkish authorities,[16] and consequently loyal to the Turkish state.[17][18]


Fighters of the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army in 2016

On 30 May 2017,[19] the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army (or National Syrian Army) composed of Syrian Arab and Syrian Turkmen rebels operating in northern Syria was formed, mostly being a part of Operation Euphrates Shield or groups active in the area that are allied to the groups participating in the operation.[20][21] The general aim of the group is to assist Turkey in creating a "safe zone" in Syria and to establish a National Army, which will operate in the land gained as a result of Turkish military intervention[22] and answer to the Syrian Interim Government.[15] The FSA units in the occupation zone have accepted the Istanbul-based "Syrian Islamic Council" as religious authority.[15]

The Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army's opponents are the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), ISIL and the Ba'athist Syria's Syrian Army, though as of, they have had few engagements against the Syrian Army.[21]

International reaction[edit]

UN member states[edit]

  •  Azerbaijan – Qənirə Paşayeva, member of parliament, said on 3 September that Turkey would have an obligation to protect the civilians in northern Syria from terror groups and would have the right to protect itself from the attacks originating from Syria with the intervention.[23]
  •  Cyprus – The Cyprus House of Representatives on 9 September unanimously adopted a resolution condemning "the unacceptable invasion of Turkey into Syria, under the pretext of war against terrorism." It also called on the international community to demand Turkey's withdrawal from Syria.[24]
  •  IranIranian foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi on 31 August urged Ankara to quickly wrap up its military intervention in Syria, saying it was an "unacceptable" violation of Syrian sovereignty.[25]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Christoph Sydow (14 October 2017). "Syrien: Willkommen in der türkischen Besatzungszone" [Syria: Welcome to the Turkish occupation zone]. Spiegel Online. Retrieved 2 January 2018. 
  2. ^ [1] SMDK Başkanı Seyf istifa etti
  3. ^ Sirwan Kajjo (2 March 2017). "Skirmishes Mar Fight Against IS in Northern Syria". Voice of America. Turkish occupation “is an existential threat to the Assad government's ability to reclaim the entirety of its territory, which is a key argument that regime loyalists make in their support of Bashar al-Assad's government,” Heras said. 
  4. ^ Robert Fisk (29 March 2017). "In northern Syria, defeated Isis fighters leave behind only scorched earth, trenches – and a crucifixion stand". The Independent. You can’t mistake the front line between the Syrian army and Turkey’s occupation force east of Aleppo. 
  5. ^ "Turkey PM 'will support' Syria no-fly zone". Retrieved 31 May 2016. 
  6. ^ "Syrian opposition calls for no-fly zone". Retrieved 31 May 2016. 
  7. ^ Tisdall, Simon (27 July 2015). "Syrian safe zone: US relents to Turkish demands after border crisis grows". Retrieved 31 May 2016. 
  8. ^ "DIPLOMACY - US and Turkey agree to forge 'ISIL-free zone' in Syria, official confirms". Retrieved 31 May 2016. 
  9. ^ "Solution to refugee crisis is to end Syria's civil war, UN official says". Retrieved 31 May 2016. 
  10. ^ Wintour, Patrick (16 February 2016). "Turkey revives plan for safe zone in Syria to stem flow of refugees". Retrieved 31 May 2016. 
  11. ^ "National Security Zone". Retrieved 31 May 2016. 
  12. ^ "Fight against IS helps PKK gain global legitimacy - Al-Monitor: the Pulse of the Middle East". 16 September 2014. Retrieved 31 May 2016. 
  13. ^ "U.S. denies reaching agreement with Turkey on Syria 'safe zone'". 11 August 2015. Retrieved 31 May 2016 – via Reuters. 
  14. ^ Suzan Fraser: Turkish leader threatens more involvement on Syrian border, The Washington Post, October 26 at 3:01 PM
  15. ^ a b c d Khaled al-Khateb (12 September 2017). "FSA relocating to outside Syria's liberated areas". al-Monitor. Retrieved 2 January 2018. 
  16. ^ Khaled al-Khateb (1 December 2017). "Women join opposition police forces in Aleppo's liberated areas". al-Monitor. Retrieved 2 January 2018. 
  17. ^ Stein, Aaron; Abouzahr, Hossam; Komar, Rao (20 July 2017). "How Turkey Is Governing in Northern Aleppo". Syria Deeply. Retrieved 14 September 2017. 
  18. ^ Amberin Zaman (25 January 2017). "Syria's new national security force pledges loyalty to Turkey". al-Monitor. Retrieved 2 January 2018. 
  19. ^ "Turkey-backed opposition to form new army in northern Syria". 
  20. ^ "Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army eliminates 'terrorist microbes' along Syrian border". RT. 5 September 2016. 
  21. ^ a b Kajjo, Sirwan (25 August 2016). "Who are the Turkey backed Syrian Rebels?". Voice of America. 
  22. ^ Coskun, Orhan; Sezer, Seda (19 September 2016). "Turkey-backed rebels could push further south in Syria, Erdogan says". Reuters. 
  23. ^ sitesi, milliyet.com.tr Türkiye'nin lider haber. "AZERBAYCAN MİLLETVEKİLİ PAŞAYEVA:". MİLLİYET HABER – TÜRKİYE'NİN HABER SİTESİ. Retrieved 2016-09-20. 
  24. ^ "Cyprus House condemns Turkey's invasion of Syria". Famagusta Gazette. 9 September 2016. Retrieved 10 September 2016. 
  25. ^ "Iran urges Turkey to quickly end Syria intervention". France24. 31 August 2016. Retrieved 31 August 2016. 
  26. ^ "Kurdish-backed council says Turkey's intervention to make Syrian town "grave for Erdoğan troops"". ARA News. 26 August 2016. 
  27. ^ Ahmad Zakaryya (10 February 2017). "Ahmad Al-Abdo Forces: "We Refuse Having Safe Zones If The Intent Is To Divide Syria"". RFS Media Office.