Turkey, Syria’s non-Arab neighbor to the north, has seen its regional influence increase significantly in recent months. Once a staunch ally of President Bashar al-Assad, Turkey has come out strongly against the Syrian regime’s crackdown. It hosts the Syrian National Council and has deployed additional troops along its border with Syria.
Earlier this month, the Turkish army held military exercises in the southern Hatay Province, a symbolic prod at Syria which once possessed the coastal territory before it was ceded to Turkey by the French mandatory authorities in 1938. Turkey worries that the violence could trigger a civil war and turn the Kurdish-populated northeast Syria into a base of support for the PKK, a Kurdish separatist movement seeking a homeland in parts of southeast Turkey.
Syria has used the Kurdish card in the past against Turkey, almost triggering a war between the two countries in 1997. However, Syria yielded to Turkish threats and dropped its support for the PKK, ushering in a period of increasingly cordial relations which only ended with the outbreak of anti-regime unrest in March.