Political geography of Turkey’s intervention in Syria: underlying causes and consequences (2011-2016)

Published date11 February 2019
Date11 February 2019
AuthorEfe Can Gürcan
Subject MatterHealth & social care,Criminology & forensic psychology,Aggression, conflict & peace,Sociology,Gender studies,Gender violence,Political sociology, policy & social change,Social conflicts,War/peace
Political geography of Turkeys
intervention in Syria: underlying causes
and consequences (2011-2016)
Efe Can Gürcan
Purpose What are the causes and consequences of Turkeys intervention in Syria? The purpose of this
paper is to explore this question by focusing on the time frame from 2011 to 2016, i.e. prior to Turkeys
strategic U-turn from uncompromising enmity toward Russia and Iran.
Design/methodology/approach Process tracing is used as the main methodological guideline.
Findings Turkeys intervention in Syria has been driven by a mutually reinforcing interaction of geopolitical,
geo-economic and geo-cultural factors. Turkeys neo-Ottomanist geo-strategy has been militarized in the
context of the Arab Spring, perceived decline of US hegemony, increasing Kurdish autonomy and Adalet ve
Kalkınma Partisis (AKP) electoral setbacks. Second, Turkeys intervention has been triggered by the
converging motivations for energy security, easily gained profits from the black energy market and economic
integration with Arab-Gulf countries in the face of a stagnating Western capitalism. A third set of factors
speaks to the AKPs instrumental use of Sunni sectarianism and Kurdish ethnopolitics.
Originality/value The research aim is to provide a systematic and multi-causal explanation of Turkeys
involvement in Syria.
Keywords Energy security, Geo-culture, Geo-economy, Geopolitics, Neo-Ottomanism, Sectarianism
Paper type Research paper
The ongoing civil conflict in Syria has triggered one of the worst humanitarian crises and the
largest refugee crisis in the post-Second World War era (Otero and Gürcan, 2016). Certainly,
Turkey has been a key actor in this conflict by resorting to diplomatic and economic sanctions,
encouraging military intervention and fueling the proxy warfare (Phillips, 2017; Okyay, 2017;
Daoudy, 2016). Turkeys active role in the Syrian conflict, thus, arouses widespread curiosity
about the political-geographical causes of Turkeys intervention in Syria. In exploring these
causes, the present paper aims to provide a systematic and multi-causal explanation of Turkeys
involvement in Syria.
In this paper, foreig n intervention refers to the threat or use of force across state borders by a
state (or group of states) [] without the permission of the state within whose territory force is
applied(as adapted from Holzgrefe, 2003, p. 18). In Turkeyscase,itsSyrianintervention
entails a mix of direc t and indirect metho ds, that is, cross-b order military and i ntelligence
operations as well a s cooperation with T urkey-aligned op position groups in S yria. Given the
centrality of territorial rivalries in the Syrian conflict, my analysis of Turkeysintervention
employs a politic al geography appr oach, understood a s an approach that is invested in
investigating t he interaction of t erritories and borders with political power and resistance
(Agnew et al., 2003). Within this fra mework, I identify three sets of mutua lly reinforcing factors
that may have encouraged Turkeys intervention in the Syrian conflict: geopolitical,
geo-economic and g eo-cultural facto rs. Accordingly , this paper is divide d into three
sections that address each of the mediating factors in their order. In these sections, I focus on
the time frame from 201 1 up to 2016, i.e. prior t o Turkeys strategic U-turn from
uncompromising enmity toward Russia and Iran (Phillips, 2017, pp. 44-5).
Received 2 October 2017
Revised 14 October 2017
27 October 2017
Accepted 29 October 2017
Efe Can Gürcan is a PhD
Candidate in Sociology at the
Department of Sociology and
Anthropology, Simon Fraser
University, Vancouver, Canada.
DOI 10.1108/JACPR-10-2017-0329 VOL. 11 NO. 1 2019, pp.1-10, © Emerald Publishing Limited, ISSN 1759-6599

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