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Turkey and Syria: A Humanitarian Crisis or Conflict?

Turkey and Syria: A Humanitarian Crisis or Conflict?

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By James Hess, Ph.D.
Professor, School of Security and Global Studies, American Military University

As regime forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad continue to advance on Idlib province, a humanitarian crisis continues to unfold. In this humanitarian crisis, a potential conflict between Turkey and Syria is also brewing.

Turkey Has Closed Its Borders, Leaving Idlib Refugees with Nowhere to Escape

Currently, there are more than 800,000 refugees in Idlib. These refugees have been escaping the ongoing Syrian offensive to regain lands lost over the past nine-year civil war.

But Turkey currently has over 3.5 million refugees from Syria and resorted to closing its borders. As the Syrian offensive continues, there is nowhere for the refugees to get away from the conflict.

Turkey Threatens Military Action Against Syria

Russia has been working to broker a cease-fire with Syria and rebels supported by Turkey. To date, these talks have failed to reach any agreement. Turkey continues to threaten military action against Syria if Assad does not stop the offensive in Idlib.

Now, the seeds are being planted for this humanitarian crisis to break out into conflict. If Turkey invades Syria under the guise of protecting the refugees, then a war between these two countries would certainly erupt. To date, NATO has declared that they will not provide military support to Turkey in the event of a Turkish invasion of Idlib.

Turkey-Syria Situation Could Evolve into Regional Conflict

Idlib is an area around the size of Delaware. Currently, Turkey has control of some parts of the province.

This situation, however, has potential to evolve into a regional conflict. Assad’s Syria enjoys considerable support from Iran and Russia. If a conflict between Syria and Turkey erupts, it is likely that both Iran and Russia will provide support to Syria.

But this type of support could have implications on other regional powers supporting one side or another during the conflict. Existing Islamist groups that have been fighting in Syria would renew their own efforts. If this humanitarian crisis escalates to active conflict, it is likely that the refugee crisis of 2015 will start anew.

About the Author

Dr. James Hess is a professor at American Military University. Dr. Hess received his Ph.D. from Louisiana State University, where he studied improving analytical methodologies in counterinsurgency and counter-terrorism environments. He is also a fellow and affiliated faculty with the University of Arizona’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies.

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