Analyzing Foreign Policy Crises in Turkey Conceptual, Theoretical and Practical Discussions

Border Security in Turkish Foreign Policy Crises

Cite: Laçin İdil Öztığ, “Border Security in Turkish Foreign Policy Crises”, in Analyzing Foreign Policy Crises in Turkey: Conceptual, Theoretical and Practical Discussions, Fuat Aksu and Helin Sarı Ertem (Eds.), (Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2017): 158-177.


Border Security in Turkish Foreign Policy Crises*

Laçin İdil Öztığ


Borders are not only the lines which demarcate the territories of states, but also related to national security and state coercion.[1] States’ border security priorities might differ depending on threats at borders. Borders might be threatened by the armies of neighboring states.[2] Another challenge to borders comes from non-state actors “who operate across national borders in violation of state laws and who attempt to evade law enforcement efforts.”[3] Terrorists, drug traffickers, illegal immigrants, and refugees are examples of non-state actors.[4]

There is a well-established literature which analyzes the relationship between the dynamics of border security and interstate relations. This literature finds evidence to suggest that border disputes, conflictual border practices between neighboring states, the movement of refugees and rebels along borders increase the tension between neighboring states and make militarized conflict more likely. However, scarce attention has been paid to decision-making processes in border-related foreign policy crises.

This chapter contributes to the current literature by analyzing the dynamics of border security in four Turkish border-related foreign policy crises: the Little Ararat (Küçük Ağrı) crisis, Turkey-Iraq refugee crisis, the Nakhcıvan crisis and the Syrian crisis. In each crisis, border threats encompass different features. More specifically, different challenges related to state borders increased the threat perception of Turkish decision makers and triggered foreign policy crises. This chapter also analyzes and compares crisis management techniques employed by Turkish decision makers on border security issues.

The chapter is structured in three parts. The first part reviews the academic literature on the relationship between the dynamics of border security and interstate relations and specifies the contribution of this study. The second part analyzes how Turkish decision makers responded to border-related foreign policy crises and which instruments (diplomatic/political/military) they employed. The third part compares the characteristics of these crises and the crisis management techniques used in each crisis and the resolution of crises.

Borders and Interstate Relations

The previous literature offers different perspectives on the relationship between the dynamics of border security and interstate relations. According to the traditional literature, the quality of interstate relations determines border dynamics. More specifically, if diplomatic relations are good, borders will be stable and peaceful. By contrast, if states have belligerent relations, then borders will witness instability and violence.[5] In addition, there is well-established literature which analyzes the impact of border disputes on bilateral relations. This literature finds that border disputes increase the probability of militarized conflict between states.[6]

Indeed, when states are engaged in territorial disputes, they will be inclined to militarize and close their borders. The Golan Heights and Kashmir as examples of border disputes which caused militarization, escalation and travel restrictions.[7] Interestingly, George Gavrilis subscribes to the view that border practices adopted by neighboring states determine whether borders witness cooperation or escalation. By analyzing the Greek-Ottoman border in the 19th century and current borders in Central Asia, he makes a compelling argument by suggesting that when neighboring states have compatible border practices, they become more likely to cooperate over border-related matters even when they are engaged in a territorial dispute. On the other hand, when neighboring states have conflictual border practices, then their diplomatic relations will deteriorate and their borders will be prone to conflict and escalation.[8]

Another body of literature analyzes the impact of cross-border refugee and rebel flows on interstate relations. This literature finds evidence to suggest that the movement of refugees and rebels along the borders increases the likelihood of militarized conflict between the neighboring states.[9] For instance, when Burma suppressed the Rohingyas (Burmese Muslims located in the Arakan region), Bangladesh witnessed massive refugee influx. Accusing Bangladesh of supporting rebel groups, Burma attacked Bangladeshi border posts in 1991. As a consequence, both states militarized their border.[10] Colombia organized cross-border raids against FARC militants in the territory of Venezuela. After Sudanese rebels fled to Eritrea from Sudan, military clashes took place between the two countries in 1996 and 1998.[11]

In summary, a large and growing body of literature analyzes the relationship between the dynamics of border security and interstate relations. This literature indicates that border disputes, conflictual border practices, cross-border rebel and refugee flows increase hostility between states and cause escalation along borders. This study contributes to the literature by providing a comparative analysis of crisis management techniques employed during foreign policy crises induced by border security issues.

Border Security in Turkish Foreign Policy Crises

After summarizing the general literature in order to understand the relationship between the dynamics of border security and interstate relations, this chapter identifies the dynamics of border security in four border-related Turkish foreign policy crises: the Little Ararat (Küçük Ağrı) crisis between 1926-1939, the Turkey-Iraq refugee crisis between 1988-1991, the Nakhchivan crisis between 1992-1993 and the Turkish-Syrian crisis (ongoing). It sheds light on the context in which a crisis emerges and analyzes the techniques used by Turkish decision makers during each crisis.

Border Security in the Little Ararat (Küçük Ağrı) Crisis

The Turkish-Iranian border was determined in 1639 by Kasr-ı Sirin Agreement. After the agreement, the Ottoman Empire and Iran made several adjustments on the border line. The last adjustment on the border was made in 1913 with Istanbul Protocol. With this protocol, Little Ararat (Küçük Ağrı) area was given to Iran. However, since the Ottoman Assembly did not approve the protocol, the newly established Turkish Republic supported the resettlement of the border. In contrast, Iran supported the status quo concerning the border’s location.[12]

After the Kurdish Sheikh Said rebellion which took place in Turkey in 1925, border security became a major determinant of Turkish-Iranian relations. In order to protect their borders against cross-border rebel flows, Turkey and Iran signed Friendship and Security Agreement in 1926. In this agreement, both sides confirmed their friendly diplomatic relations and committed not to attack one another. In addition, both sides committed not to support anti-government activities in one another’s territories and to take necessary measures to thwart the activities of these groups.[13]

After the Sheikh Said rebellion, some rebels fled to Little Ararat (Küçük Ağrı) and were reorganized to initiate the Ararat (Ağrı) rebellion against Turkey.[14] The Ararat (Ağrı) rebellion took place along the Turkish-Iranian border between 1926-1930. Turkey organized military operations against the rebels respectively in 1926, 1927 and 1930.[15] During these operations, rebels fled to Iran and took shelter in Little Ararat (Küçük Ağrı).[16] In line with the provisions specified in the 1926 Agreement, Turkey put pressure on Iran to increase its border control against rebels. Furthermore, as Kurdish rebels were located in Küçük Ağrı, Turkey demanded the resettlement of the border.[17]

Tensions in bilateral relations increased when Kurdish rebels kidnapped Turkish soldiers to Iran in 1927. Turkey warned Iran that if the soldiers were not returned in ten days, Turkey would cut its diplomatic ties with Iran. Due to the pressure of Turkey, Iran saved the soldiers from the rebels and returned them to Turkey. However, Iran did not change its policy with regards to border control. More specifically, it did not strengthen its borders against Kurdish rebels.[18] Turkey reacted by withdrawing its Ambassador of Tehran.[19]

In response to the reaction of Turkey, Iran agreed to start negotiations to solve their border-related problems.[20] During these negotiations, Turkish representatives stated that Iran should strengthen its border controls and that 1913 Protocol should be renegotiated. They noted that the protocol was not approved by the Ottoman Assembly and that the border commission outlined by the protocol was not implemented.[21] In response, Furugi Han, an Iranian representative, defined Turkey’s proposal about the resettlement of the border as “irredentism”.[22]

Even though Turkey and Iran did not agree over issues of border security, tensions in bilateral relations decreased as the two states signed an additional protocol to the 1926 Agreement in 1928. In addition, Iran committed itself to abide by the provisions of the 1926 Agreement.[23] In 1929, Turkey and Iran established a border commission. In this commission they discussed the terms of cooperation against the Kurdish rebels. However, due to the outbreak of Kurdish rebellion on June 20, 1930, the commission was partitioned.[24] In 1930, Turkish authorities again accused Iran of not cooperating with Turkey with regards to the Kurdish rebellion.[25] In response, the Iranian government declared that Iran would not allow activities in its territory against the interests of Turkey. However, it also stressed that controlling the border was not easy.[26]

On July 27, 1930 Turkey made two proposals to Iran in order to solve their border-related problems. First, Turkey proposed that Iran should give the Little Ararat (Küçük Ağrı) area, in which the rebels took shelter, to Turkey. In exchange, Turkey proposed to give another piece of its territory to Iran. The second proposal was that Iran should allow Turkey’s right of hot pursuit in its territory.[27]

On August 10, 1930, Iran stated that a Turkish military intervention on Iranian soil would constitute a violation of international law. Moreover, it stressed that Turkey and Iran could make simultaneous counter-terrorism operations against Kurdish rebels in their territories.[28] Iran’s unwillingness to cooperate with Turkey in its fight against rebels triggered a crisis among Turkish decision makers. On August 12 1930, Turkey informed Iran that it would enter its territory and occupy Little Ararat (Küçük Ağrı) and Aybey Mountains in an operation against the Kurdish rebels.[29] On 14 August, the Turkish army entered into the Iranian territory as part of a hot pursuit.[30] Between 7-14 September, Turkey carried out an operation against the Kurdish rebels. During this operation, the Turkish army, by occupying Little Ararat (Küçük Ağrı) and Aybey Mountains, prevented the escape of Kurdish rebels into the Iranian territory and suppressed the rebellion.[31]

While Turkey escalated the crisis by entering into the Iranian territory, Iranian decision makers chose to deescalate the crisis. During the operation, Iran cooperated with the Turkish army and arrested Kurdish rebels.[32] Furthermore, Iran also cooperated with Turkey over the resettlement of the border. Negotiations over the border’s demarcation restarted in 1931. Both sides signed a border agreement in 1932. With this agreement, the Little Ararat (Küçük Ağrı) area was given to Turkey. In addition, both sides agreed not to encourage cross-border flows of people living in the border area and agreed the right of hot pursuit in order to catch rebels crossing their borders.[33] The agreement was confirmed by the Turkish Parliament on June 18, 1932.[34]

In summary, since the outbreak of the Ararat (Ağrı) rebellion, Turkey and Iran positioned themselves differently towards the issues of border control and border resettlement. Turkey used diplomatic instruments such as threatening to cut diplomatic ties, withdrawing its ambassador, and negotiations to solve its border-related problems with Iran. When the diplomatic instruments employed by Turkey failed to persuade Iran to solve their border problems, Turkey initiated a crisis by threatening to enter into Iran’s territory. Furthermore, Turkish decision makers decided that they could only suppress the rebellion by launching a military operation in the Iranian territory. In other words, Turkey escalated the crisis by employing an offensive strategy towards Iran. This strategy pushed Iran to adopt more rigorous policies against Kurdish rebels and to cooperate over the issue of border settlement.

Border Security in Turkey-Iraq Refugee Crisis

In 1988, refugee flows took place from Iraq to Turkey when the Iraqi government suppressed the Kurdish rebellion in Halabja. As a result of the suppression, 5.000 people were killed and a million Kurds left their homes.[35] In August 1988, thousands of Iraqi Kurds attempted to cross the Turkish border. Concerning about the flow of PKK militants located in Iraq, Turkey closed its border. However, after domestic and international pressures, the border was opened and refugees were located in accommodation centers.[36]

The refugee influx created a diplomatic problem between the two countries on September 4, 1988. The Iraqi government claimed that Kurdish militants crossed the border along with refugees and demanded to implement the right of hot pursuit in Turkish territory based on the 1984 Protocol. In response, Turkey argued that the 1984 Protocol only applied to militants. Arguing that only refugees crossed the border, Turkey did not allow the implementation of the 1984 Protocol.[37]

The two states had positional differences with respect to Iraqi Kurdish refugees. However, this difference did not trigger a crisis among the two states. The Iraqi government granted a general amnesty to the Kurdish refugees on October 6, 1989. As a result, thousands of Iraqi Kurds returned their homes.[38] The then Ambassador of Iraq to Turkey Tarık Abdülcabbar Cevad stated that Iraq was no longer interested in a hot pursuit in Turkish territory.[39] This statement shows that the dispute between Turkey and Iraq ended.

In 1991, the Turkish-Iraqi border witnessed another flow of refugees. Iraqi Kurds in Northern Iraq again rebelled against the Iraqi government.[40] Due to the indiscriminate violence employed by the Iraqi military to suppress the rebellion, 200.000 Kurds fled to the Turkish border on April 2, 1991.[41] In contrast to the 1988 refugee flows, Turkey evaluated the 1991 Iraqi Kurdish refugee flows as a security threat. In a letter sent to the United Nations Security Council, the Turkish government stated that the Iraq’s suppression of civilians and refugee influx constituted a threat to regional security.[42]

Immediately after the refugee influx, Turkey used diplomatic instruments and the threat to use force to solve the refugee crisis. Turkey engaged in diplomatic talks with the Iraqi representatives. On April 3, 1991 Turkey requested Iraq to cease killing civilians. In response, the next Ambassador of Iraq to Turkey, Rafi Dahham Tikriti justified Iraq’s behavior by arguing that Iraq was trying to ensure its domestic security. In addition, he promised that Iraq would not attack Turkey.[43] Furthermore, Turkish decision makers threatened to use force against Iraq. A government official stated that “… if all our warning and suggestions do not give a result, and the Saddam government continues to compel these people to seek refuge on Turkish soil by the means of force, we will launch a military intervention.”[44] The then Turkish President Turgut Özal announced that a military intervention in Iraq was considered as an option to solve the refugee crisis.[45] As these statements show, refugee flows triggered a crisis among Turkish decision makers.

However, the crisis deescalated immediately. The involvement of international actors played a role in the de-escalation of the crisis. The Security Council passed Resolution 688 on April 5, 1991. The resolution condemned the suppression of civilians in Iraq including Kurdish-populated areas.[46] Following the resolution, an international coalition led by the US organized Operation Provide Comfort in Northern Iraq. During this operation, humanitarian aid was provided to the Kurds and the north of 36th parallel was declared a “no-fly zone.”[47]

The crisis ended when the Iraqi government signed a memorandum of understanding with the United Nations on April 18, 1991. The Iraqi government agreed for the return of refugees from Turkey. In addition, it allowed the establishment of humanitarian centers for refugees in Northern Iraq.[48] In the post crisis period, the no-fly zone was transformed into a safe haven in Northern Iraq and humanitarian aid operations were delegated to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.[49]

In summary, while Turkey did not evaluate the 1988 refugee flows as a security threat, the 1991 refugee flows immediately created a crisis among Turkish decision makers. They preferred to use the threat of use of force to solve the refugee crisis. In contrast to the Küçük Ağrı crisis, this crisis did not witness escalation. The involvement of international actors de-escalated the crisis. Since the international coalition intervened in Northern Iraq and ensured the safety of returned refugees, Turkey did not need to employ an offensive or defensive strategy as a means to solve the refugee crisis. After the operation in Northern Iraq, the crisis ended for Turkish decision makers when Iraq made an agreement with the UN for the return of refugees.

Border Security in Nakhchivan Crisis

Nakhchivan became part of Azerbaijan with the Moscow Treaty which was signed between Turkey and the Soviet Union on March 16, 1921. With this treaty, both sides agreed that the Nakhchivan district would be an autonomous territory under the protection of Azerbaijan and that Turkey and the Soviet Union would be guarantors for the protection of territorial integrity of Nakhchivan.[50] In other words, by signing these agreements both states committed themselves to protect the legal status and the borders of Nakhchivan against third party interventions.

Nakhchivan was an autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic within Azerbaijan until 1990. In January 1990, Nakhchivan declared its independence from the Soviet Union. Immediately after its declaration of independence, Armenian forces attacked Karki village in the Sadarak region of Nakhchivan.[51]After a few months, people in Nakhchivan voted to become an autonomous region of Azerbaijan.[52]

The Armenian attacks on Nakhchivan intensified between 1992 and 1993. On May 3, 1992, Armenian forces attacked Sadarak again and shelled villages near the Turkish border.[53] The then Turkish Prime Minister Süleyman Demirel evaluated the situation as a border violation. However, he stressed that Turkey was not in an alarmed state.[54] On May 7, 1992 Armenian forces captured Gunnuk and Susa towns Nakhchivan.[55] Demirel called the then US President George W. Bush and stated that if Armenian aggression continued, Turkey would not remain silent.[56] On May 18, 1992 Armenian forces attacked Sadarak village again and cut 10 km. border corridor between Turkey and Nakhchivan.[57] During the attacks, the then leader of Nakhchivan Semi-autonomous Region Haydar Aliyev stated that Sadarak might fall to Armenians anytime and asked for Turkey’s help.[58]

The Armenian attack on the border between Turkey and Nakhchivan triggered a crisis among Turkish decision makers. This attack intensified threat perception among Turkish decision makers and stirred up debate on military intervention in Nakhchivan to stop Armenian aggression. The then Turkish Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Onur Kumbaracıbaşı stated that Turkey would not allow border changes with regards to Nakhchivan.[59] The then Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Erdal İnönü, on the other hand, told that Turkey was under obligation to protect the territorial integrity of Nakhchivan and that it would not accept border changes in Nakhchivan by force[60] and the then Turkish Foreign Minister, Hikmet Çetin stated that Turkey could no longer be intact in light of continuing Armenian aggression in Nakhchivan.[61]

On May 18, 1992, İnönü called the then Armenian Foreign Minister Raffi Ovanisyan and stated that Armenia should cease military hostilities immediately and the consequences of continuing aggression would be grave.[62] On May 19, 1992 Turkey militarized its Armenian border[63] and that escalated the crisis. Furthermore, in the declaration, made by the Council of Ministers, gathered under the leadership of Demirel, it was stated that if Armenia continued attacks, Turkey would seriously consider changing its policies.[64] This statement reveals the determination of Turkey to maintain the territorial integrity of Nakhchivan.

On May 28, 1992 Demirel announced that whoever is interested in gaining territory by using force would pay the consequences.[65] Despite the commitment of Turkey to protect the territorial integrity of Nakhchivan, military hostilities in the region continued. On May 31, Armenian forces attacked Ordubad area of Nakhchivan.[66] In August, Armenian forces escalated their attacks and shelled Saşur city.[67]

On April 6, 1993 Turkey militarized its border again. The militarization of the border triggered a crisis among Armenian decision makers. The then Armenian Ambassador to Moscow Feliks Mamikonyan stated that this situation forced Armenia to retaliate and that if Armenia was attacked, they would think about receiving military aid from Russia.[68] On September 3, 1993 Turkish decision makers decided to go to parliament for the authorization to send Turkish troops abroad. In the same day, Turkish jets made a patrol flight along the Turkish-Armenian border.[69] On September 11, Turkey sent troops and military equipment to the Armenian border. In response, Armenia increased its military activities on the other side of the border.[70]

After this date, the crisis ended as the Armenian attacks on Nakhchivan halted. The Armenian attacks on Nakhchivan continued sporadically. On June 1, 1994 Armenian forces shelled Sederek.[71] In February 1996, Azeri and Armenian forces fought and many people lost their lives.[72] However, these clashes did not trigger crisis among Turkish and Armenian decision makers.

In summary, Turkish decision makers evaluated the Armenian attack on Nakhchivan as a crisis due to Turkey’s international commitment to protect the territorial integrity of Nakhchivan. In other words, the foreign policy pursued by Turkey during the Nakhchivan conflict is in line with its obligations derived from the Moscow Treaty. After declaring its decisiveness to intervene to stop military hostilities in Nakhchivan, Turkey chose to escalate the crisis by militarizing its border. The situation then evolved into a two-sided crisis as Armenia evaluated Turkey’s increased military activities at its border as a security threat. The agreement among Turkish decision makers to send Turkish soldiers abroad and the military activities on both sides of the border increased the probability of conflict between the two states. Even though the two states came on the brink of war, tensions between them ended as violence in Nakhchivan halted temporarily.

Border Security in Turkish-Syrian Crisis

The Turkish-Syrian relations ameliorated after Syria ousted the PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan from Syria in 1998. In the 2000s two countries cooperated in the areas of security, water and economy. Cooperation over security included the fight against terrorism, smuggling and illegal immigration.[73] In 2009, High-Level Strategic Cooperation Council was established and 50 agreements were signed between the two countries in the areas of politics, security, commerce, health, agriculture, environment, transportation, education and water. In line with friendly diplomatic relations, bilateral trade blossomed between Turkey and Syria. The volume of bilateral trade increased from 796 million USD in 2006 to 2.5 billion USD in 2010.[74]

However, the Turkish-Syrian relations deteriorated significantly after the Arab Spring was diffused to Syria in 2011. In August 2011, the then Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu went to Syria to meet with President Bashar al-Assad and called for reforms by presenting a road map. When President Assad did not comply with the road map, the then Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan stated that “There is nothing to talk about with Syria.” In November, Turkey cut its economic and political relations with Syria and announced that it would impose sanctions on Syria. Turkey withdrew its ambassador in 2012.[75]

As the civil war intensified, border security became a major concern for Turkish decision makers. When a Turkish military jet was shot down in the Syrian territory in June 2012, Turkish decision makers evaluated the situation as a crisis. In response, Turkey increased its military presence on the Turkish-Syrian border and Erdoğan stated that “Turkey will use force if any military unit gets closer to the Turkish-Syrian border.”[76]

As the threats posed to the Turkish-Syrian border increased, Turkey used an escalation strategy to secure its borders. In October 2012, a mortar bomb fired by the Syrian army killed 5 Turkish citizens in Akçakale located near the Turkish-Syrian border. Turkey escalated the crisis by shelling the Syrian territory. Regarding this issue, Erdoğan stated that “Our armed forces in the border region responded immediately to this abominable attack in line with their rules of engagement; targets were struck through artillery fire against places in Syria identified by radar. Turkey will never leave unanswered such kinds of provocation by the Syrian regime against our national security.”[77] Following the incident, the Turkish parliament passed the authorization to launch cross-border operations in Syria.[78] Turkish decision makers were concerned that Scud missiles and other ballistic missiles used by the Syrian army in its fight against rebels might drop within Turkish territory. In November 2012, Turkey applied to NATO for the deployment of Patriot defense missiles at its border with Syria.[79]

Tension at the border ran high when Cilvegözü border gate on the Turkish-Syrian border witnessed a bomb attack which led to the death of 14 people in February 2013.[80] With regard to this attack, Turkish authorities accused the Assad government. In response, six NATO Patriot missile batteries were stationed in the South-eastern region of Turkey in order to prevent future attacks from the Syrian territory. Furthermore, the detection of short-range ballistic missiles stationed close to the Turkish-Syrian border in the Syrian territory increased the concern of Turkish decision makers. [81]

In May 2013, Reyhanlı, located near the Turkish-Syrian border, witnessed bomb attacks which killed 52 Turkish people. Although, the Turkish government accused the Assad regime, subsequently, it accepted that the Al-Qaeda was responsible for the attacks. At the 92nd meeting of the Permanent Council of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Turkey’s the then ambassador Tacan Ildem stated that al-Qaeda elements operating out of Syria caused Reyhanlı attacks.[82] Reyhanlı attacks showed that border security at the Turkish-Syrian border transcended bilateral relations. In response to the attacks, Turkey sent air and military reinforcements to the Turkish-Syrian border.[83]

The dynamics of border security along the Turkish-Syrian were further complicated with the advance of ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) in Syria. ISIS gained its first military victory in the Syrian city of Rakka in March 2013.[84] Since then it took control of Aleppo, Palmira and Jarabulus. In order to prevent the advance of ISIS, Turkey and the US made an agreement over the deployment of armed drones at the Incirlik airbase in March 2015.[85] Furthermore, for the first time, US F-16 jets launched airstrikes from İncirlik base against ISIS-controlled areas in Syria.[86]

In July 2015, ISIS organized an attack against 32 young activists in Suruç, who were preparing to go to Kobani, near the Turkish border. After the attacks, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu stated that “Turkey has taken and will continue to take, all necessary measures against ISIS.”[87] He further stated “measures on our border with Syria will continue, and will be increased.”[88] Turkey started to build a wall, which is 150 km long along its border with Syria. It reinforced wire fencing and installed 118 km flood lightening. The armed forces dug ditches along the border and deployed drones and reconnaissance aircraft across the Syrian border. In addition, 40,000 military personnel responsible for patrolling Turkey’s borders with Iraq, Iran, Armenia, Georgia, Greece and Bulgaria were deployed on the Syrian frontier.[89]

In the same week, five ISIS militants from the Syrian border opened fire on a Turkish border unit and killed one soldier.[90] Turkey first responded to ISIS border attacks by firing artillery into Syria; then joined the US-led international coalition against ISIS and started to launch airstrikes against ISIS-controlled areas in Syria. [91]

The growing influence of ISIS in Syria has led Turkey to strengthen its border security. Turkey deployed 24-hour field surveillance radar systems in Gaziantep and Şanlurfa in order prevent future ISIS attacks.[92] In March 2015 it closed two border crossings at its Syrian border due to concern about terrorist attacks.[93] And by August 2016, Turkey has started a military operation against ISIS and the PYD [pro-Kurdish Democratic Union Party] forces in Syria.

In summary, before the border crisis which started in 2012, Turkish-Syrian relations witnessed deterioration due to the different positions adopted by Turkey and Syria with respect to the political situation in Syria. During the crisis period, Turkey militarized its border. Due to continuing border tensions, Turkey escalated the crisis by shelling the Syrian territory and passing the authorization to launch cross-border operations. The dynamics of border security became more complicated with the growing influence of ISIS in Syria. Turkey has relied on military instruments both at its border and in the Syrian territory to deter border threats.

Conclusion and a General Analysis

This study analyzed the dynamics of border security in four Turkish foreign policy crises: the Little Ararat (Küçük Ağrı) crisis between 1930-1932, the Turkey-Iraq refugee crisis in 1988 and 1991, the Nakhchivan crisis between 1992-1993 and the Turkish-Syrian crisis (ongoing). This section sheds light on the general and specific characteristics of these crises, compares crisis management techniques of Turkish decision makers in each crisis and specifies the way the crisis ended.

Each of these four crises occurred due to increased threat perception among Turkish decision makers about different dynamics of border security. In Küçük Ağrı crisis, Turkish decision makers were concerned about protecting the Turkish-Iranian border against Kurdish rebels. In addition, even though the border’s location was disputed previously, with the Ararat (Ağrı) rebellion, the border’s location became a security issue for Turkey since the Kurdish rebels took shelter on the other side of the border.

In the Turkey-Iraq refugee crisis, Turkish decision makers were interested in halting refugee flows along the Turkish-Iraqi border. Differing from other crises, Nakhchivan crisis emerged after the violation of Nakhchivan’s borders by Armenian forces. Turkey’s threat perception in this crisis was related to its role as a guarantor to restore the territorial integrity of Nakhchivan. Similar to Turkey-Iraq refugee crisis, after the Syrian conflict, the Turkish-Syrian border witnessed a massive influx of refugees. However, refugee flows from Syria did not create a crisis among Turkish decision makers. Turkey has been mainly concerned with protecting the Turkish-Syrian border against the attacks of the Syrian army and rebels. Table 7.1 summarizes the characteristics of each crisis.

Table 7.1. The Dynamics of Border-Related Turkish Foreign Policy Crises

The Küçük Ağrı Crisis The Turkey-Iraq Refugee Crisis The Nakhchivan Crisis The Syrian Crisis

Cross-border attacks by rebels

Border location

Refugee flows

The violation of

territorial integrity of


Cross-border attacks by the Syrian army and rebels

With regard to crisis management, Turkish decision makers employed different strategies in each crisis. In the Küçük Ağrı crisis, Turkey declared its decision to intervene militarily, after it implemented diplomatic instruments and engaged in negotiations with Iran. After threatening to use force, Turkey escalated the crisis by entering into the Iranian territory. The military instruments employed by Turkey were successful. Turkey achieved its demands as Iran cooperated with Turkey in its fight against Kurdish rebels and over the resettlement of the border.

Turkish decision makers responded differently to refugee flows from Iraq to Turkey in 1988 and 1991. In the 1988 refugee flows, Turkey and Iraq had only positional differences. In other words, even though the two states had different claims on the implementation of the 1984 Protocol. However, neither side relied on the threat to use force as a means of achieving its own position. On the other hand, in the 1991 refugee flows a different strategy was preferred. Immediately after the refugee flows, Turkish decision makers threatened to use force to stop the refugee crisis. Differing from other crises, the involvement of international actors played a role in the de-escalation of the crisis. The Operation Provide Comfort, led by the US, provided security in Northern Iraq so that Kurdish refugees could return.

In Nakhchivan crisis, Turkish decision makers first evaluated the attack on Sadarak, located near the border of Turkey as a border violation. Turkish decision makers perceived the attack on Sadarak as a crisis when Armenian forces cut 10 km border corridor between Turkey and Nakhchivan. Turkey approached the issue within the framework of territorial integrity due to its legal responsibility to protect the borders of Nakhchivan. Due to continuing Armenian attacks, Turkey chose to escalate the crisis by militarizing its border. This strategy of Turkey triggered a crisis among Armenian decision makers and did not lead to the political or legal solution of the Nakhchivan conflict. The crisis for both Turkish and Armenian decision makers ended due to the temporary cessation of the hostilities in Nakhchivan.

Turkish decision makers evaluated the situation in Syria as a crisis after the Turkish-Syrian border was attacked by the Syrian army. After militarizing its border, Turkey opted for the escalation strategy by shelling the Syrian territory. With the changing dynamics of the civil war, border threats changed accordingly. From 2013 onwards, jihadist groups have posed a challenge for the Turkish-Syrian border. In order to cope with these challenges, Turkey has changed its strategy. It has used a series of military measures at and beyond its border to ensure its border security.

Table 7.2. The Outcome of Border-Related Turkish Foreign Policy Crises

The Küçük Ağrı Crisis The Turkey-Iraq Refugee Crisis The Nakhchivan Crisis The Syrian Crisis
Crisis ended with the 1932 border agreement The crisis ended with with the Iraq’s agreement with the UN in 1991 The crisis ended with the temporary cessassion of hostilities in 1993 The crisis is ongoing

As Table 2 shows, the outcome of each border-related Turkish foreign policy crises is different. The Küçük Ağrı crisis ended with an agreement reached between Turkey and Iran in 1932. The Turkish-Iraq refugee crisis ended with an agreement reached between Iraq and the UN in 1991. Differing from the previous crises, Nakhchivan crisis did not end with an agreement. The crisis between Turkey and Armenia ended as Armenian aggression was temporarily halted in Nakhchivan. As the Syrian conflict is ongoing, border security continues to be a major concern for Turkish decision makers and caused a military intervention of Turkey in Syria. The more fragmented Syria becomes, the more the increasing risk will push Turkey to take the necessary measures to secure its border.


* This chapter is supported by the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey – TÜBİTAK 1001 Project (Project No: 112K172).

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[5] Jacques Ancel, Géographie Des Frontières, (Paris: Gallimard, 1938); Nicholas J. Spykman, “Frontiers, Security and International Organization”, Geographic Review, 32(1942): 436-447; Gerard Blake, “Borderlands Under Stress: Some Global Perspectives,” in Borderlands Under Stress, (Eds.) Martin Pratt, Janet Allison Brown (The Hague: Kluwer, 2000); Oscar Martinez, “The Dynamics of Border Interaction: New Approaches to Border Analysis,” in World Boundaries –Volume I Global Boundaries, (Ed.) Clieve H. Shofield, (London: Routledge: 1994).

[6] Paul F. Diehl and Gary Goertz “Territorial Changes and Militarized Conflict,” The Journal of Conflict Resolution, 32:1 (1988): 103-122; Robert Mandel, “Roots of the Modern Interstate Border Dispute”, The Journal of Conflict Resolution, 27: 3 (1980): 427-454; Paul F. Diehl (Ed.) A Road Map to War: Territorial Dimensions of International Conflict, (Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 1999); Paul K. Huth, “Territorial Disputes and International Conflict: Empirical Findings and Theoretical Explanations,” in Borderlands Under Stress, (Eds.) Martin Pratt, Janet Allison Brown, (The Hague: Kluwer, 2000); Stephen A. Kocs, “Territorial Disputes and Interstate War 1945–1987”, The Journal of Politics, 57:1 (1995): 159-175.

[7] George Gavrilis, The Dynamics of Interstate Boundaries, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008):25-26.

[8] Gavrilis, The Dynamics of Interstate Boundaries, 25-26

[9] Alan Dowty and Gil Loescher, “Refugee Flows as Grounds for International Action,” International Security 21:1 (1996): 43-71; Barry Posen, “Military Responses to Refugee Disasters”, International Security 21:1 (1996); Idean Salehyan, “The Externalities of Civil Strife: Refugees as a Source of International Conflict”, American Journal of Political Science 52:4 (2008): 72-111; Ariel Merari, “Terrorism as a Strategy of Insurgency”, Terrorism and Political Violence, 5:4 (1993): 213-251; Idean Salehyan, “No Shelter Here: Rebel Sanctuaries and International Conflict”, The Journal of Politics, 70:1 (2008): 54-66; Ursula E. Daxecker, “Rivalry, Instability, and the Probability of International Conflict”, Conflict Management and Peace Science, 28:5 (2011): 543–565.

[10] Carl Grundy‐Warr, Ananda Rajah, Wong Siew Yin Elaine and Zulkifli Ali, “Power, Territoriality and Cross‐border Insecurity: Regime Security as an Aspect of Burma’s Refugee Crisis,” Geopolitics and International Boundaries, 2:2 (1997): 101-105.

[11] Salehyan, “No Shelter Here:”…, 56-57; 62.

[12] Nihat Erim, “Türkiye Cumhuriyeti’nin Kuzeydoğu ve Doğu Sınırları,”AÜ Hukuk Fakültesi Dergisi, 9 (1952): 21; Bülent Şener, “Ağrı İsyanı (1926-1930) ve Türkiye-İran Krizi (1930): Türk Dış Politikası Tarihinde Bir Zorlayıcı Diplomasi Uygulaması,” History Studies 4:4 (2012): 386-7; 406.

[13] İsmail Soysal, Türkiye’nin Siyasal Andlaşmaları (1920-1945), (Ankara: Türk Tarih Kurumu Yay., 1983): 276-277.

[14] Genelkurmay Belgelerinde Kürt İsyanları, Vol I, (Istanbul: Kaynak Yayınlar, 1992), 313.

[15] Şener, “Ağrı İsyanı”…, 385-413.

[16] Genelkurmay Belgelerinde Kürt İsyanları, Vol II, (Istanbul: Kaynak Yayınlar, 1992): 91.

[17] Şener, “Ağrı İsyanı”…, 383.

[18] Gökhan Çetinsaya, “Atatürk Dönemi Türkiye-İran İlişkileri (1926-1938)”, Avrasya Dosyası, 5:3 (1999): 154.

[19] Ahmet Özgiray, “İngiliz Belgeleri Işığında Türk-İran Siyasi İlişkileri (1920-1938),” in Atatürk Dönemi Türk Dış Politikası, (Ed.) Berna Türkdoğan, (Ankara: Atatürk Araştırma Merkezi, 2000): 298-299.

[20] Şener, Ağrı İsyanı”…, 393.

[21] Efdal As, “XVI. YY. dan Cumhuriyetin İlk Yıllarına Kadar Türk-İran Sınır Sorunları ve Çözümü,” Ankara Üniversitesi Türk İnkılâp Tarihi Enstitüsü Atatürk Yolu Dergisi, 46 (2010): 250; Atay Akdevelioğlu and Ömer Kürçüoğlu “Ortadoğu’yla İlişkiler (1923-1939)”, in Türk Dış Politikası: Kurtuluş Savaşından Bugüne Olgular, Belgeler, Yorumlar (1919-1980), Cilt I, (Ed.) Baskın Oran, (İstanbul: İletişim Yayınları, 2006): 360.

[22] As, “XVI. YY. dan Cumhuriyetin”…, 239-240.

[23] Aptülahat Akşin, Atatürk’ün Dış Politika İlkeleri ve Diplomasi, (Ankara: Türk Tarih Kurumu, 1991): 192-193

[24] Çetinsaya, “Atatürk Dönemi Türkiye-İran İlişkileri”…, 162; Şener, “Ağrı İsyanı”…, 395.

[25] Şener, “Ağrı İsyanı”…, 398.

[26] Şener, “Ağrı İsyanı”…, 398.

[27] Şener, “Ağrı İsyanı”…, 398.

[28] Şener, “Ağrı İsyanı”…, 401.

[29] Bilal Şimşir, İngiliz Belgeleriyle Türkiye’de Kürt Sorunu (19241938), (Ankara:Türk Tarih Kurumu Basımevi, 1991): 220.

[30] Şimşir, İngiliz Belgeleriyle Türkiye’de Kürt Sorunu…, 211 – 212.

[31] Genelkurmay Belgelerinde Kürt İsyanları Vol II, 121-128.

[32] Hüsrev Gerede, Siyasi Hatıratım İran (1930-1934), (İstanbul: Vakit Basımevi, 1952): 69; Kemal Süphandağ, Ağrı Direnişi ve Haydaranlılar, (İstanbul: Fırat Yayınları, 2001): 191.

[33] Erim,“Türkiye Cumhuriyeti’nin Kuzeydoğu ve Doğu Sınırları”…, 21.

[34] “TBMM Zabıt Ceridesi, 9:1 (1932)”,

[35] “Genocide in Iraq,” Human Rights Watch,

[36] Suna Gülfer Ihlamur-Öner, “Turkey’s Refugee Regime Stretched to the Limit? The Case of Iraqi and Syrian Refugee Flows”, Perceptions 18:3 (2013): 195.

[37] “Sığınanlar arasında PKK’lılar Var,”Milliyet, September 5, 1988, 9; Melek Fırat and Ömer Kürkçüoğlu, “Orta Doğu’yla İlişkiler,” in Türk Dış Politikası: Kurtuluş Savaşından Bugüne Olgular, Belgeler, Yorumlar, Cilt II. (Ed.) Baskın Oran, (İstanbul: İletişim Yayınları, 2001): 133-4; “Peşmergeleri İade Yok,” Milliyet, September 6, 1988,11.

[38] “Irak’ta Kürtler için Genel Af,” Milliyet, October 7, 1988,12.

[39] “Türkiye-Irak İlişkileri Gergin Değil,” Milliyet, October 7, 1988,12.

[40] Peter Malanczuk, “The Kurdish Crisis and Allied Intervention in the Aftermath of the Second Gulf War,” European Journal of International Law, 2:2 (1991):114-32; Sarah Graham Brown, Sanctioning Saddam: The Politics of Intervention in Iraq, (I.B. Tauris, 1999).

[41] “MGK BM’yi Acil Yardıma Çağırdı,” Milliyet, April 3, 1991, 12

[42] Brown, Sanctioning Saddam…, 25.

[43] Ayın Tarihi, April 3, 1991, Ayın Tarihi, April 4, 1991,

[44] “Müdahale İhtimali,” Milliyet, April 4, 1991, 1.

[45] “Müdahale Edebiliriz,” Milliyet, April 6, 1991, 16.

[46] “Resolution 688,”

[47] “Iraq: No Fly Zones,”

[48] Peter Malanczuk,“The Kurdish Crisis and Allied Intervention in the Aftermath of the Second Gulf War,” European Journal of International Law, 2: 2 (1991): 114-32.

[49] Malanczuk, “The Kurdish Crisis”…,121.

[50] John Ashley and Soames Grenville, The Major International Treaties of the Twentieth Century, (Taylor &Francis, 2012): 115.

[51] Salih Sılay Koçer, “The Impact of Mountainous Karabagh Conflict on Nakhchevan Autonomous Republic of Azerbaijan,” Review of Armenian Studies, 9: 3 (2005)

[52] David C. King, Azerbaijan, (New York: Marchall Cavendish Benchmark, 2006):14.

[53] “Nahçıvan Ermeni Ateşi Altında,” Milliyet, May 4, 1992, 11.

[54] “Anormal Bir Durum Yok,” Milliyet, May 5, 1992, 17.

[55] “Nahçıvan’a Ermeni Saldırısı,” Milliyet, May 8, 1992, 7.

[56] “Demirel: Nahçıvan’a Seyirci Kalamayız,” Milliyet, May 8, 1992, 7.

[57] “Sederek Kasabası Düşüyor,” Milliyet, May 19, 1992, 7.

[58] “Askeri Müdahale Tartışması,” Milliyet, May 19, 1992, 7.

[59] Derya Sazak, “Nahçıvan’a Müdahale,” Milliyet, May 19, 1992.

[60] “Ankara’da Müdahale Havası,” Milliyet, May 19, 1992, 12.

[61] “Çetin: Seyirci Kalamayız,” Milliyet, May 19, 1992, 7.

[62] “Sınırlar Değişmez,” Milliyet, May 19, 1992, 7.

[63] “Eller Tetikte,” Milliyet, May 20, 1992, 1.

[64] “Askeri Müdahaleden Önce BM,” Milliyet, May 20, 1992, 7.

[65] “Ermeni’ye Gözdağı,” Milliyet, May 29, 1992, 1.

[66] “Nahçıvan Karanlıkta,” Milliyet, June 1, 1992, 7.

[67] “Nahçıvan Ateş Altında,” Milliyet, August 7, 1992, 6.

[68] “Erivan’dan MISISleme,” Milliyet, April 6, 1993, 14

[69] “Çiller’e Asker Gönderme Yetkisi,” Milliyet, September 04, 1993, 19.

[70] “Namlular Hedefte,” Milliyet, September 13, 1993, 1.

[71] “Ermeniler Nahçıvan’da İlerledi,” Milliyet, June 01, 1994, 17.

[72] “Kafkasya’da Karmaşa,” Milliyet, February 26, 1996, 16.

[73] Nuri Yeşilyurt, “Ortadoğuyla İlişkiler”, in Türk Dış Politikası: Kurtuluş Savaşından Bugüne Olgular, Belgeler, Yorumlar (2002-2012), Cilt III (Ed.) Baskın Oran, (İstanbul: İletişim, 2013): 401-402.

[74] “Relations Between Turkey and Syria” Ministry of Foreign Affairs,”

[75] “Türkiye-Suriye İlişkileri: İnişler ve Çıkışlar,”AlJazeera Turk, January 6, 2014

[76] “Angajman Kuralları Değişti Askeri Hareketlilik Arttı,” Habertürk, June 28, 2012,

[77] “Turkey Strikes Syrian Targets After Cross-Border Mortar Bomb Kills Five,” The Guardian, October 3, 2015 oct/03/turkey-syrian-mortar-bomb

[78] Turkey Responds to Syrian Mortar Fire in Akcakale, BBC, October 7, 2012

[79] “Türkiye’den Resmi Patriot Talebi,” Aljazeera Turk, November 21, 2012 ; “NATO’dan Patriot Füzelerine Onay,” Aljazeera Turk, December 5, 2012

[80] “Sınır Kapısında Patlama: 13 Ölü,” NTV, February 11, 2013,URkElAAxeUaa-5WtvKBPMQ

[81] “Turkey Blames Syria for Border Gate Attack,” Hurriyet Daily News, March 11, 2013

[82] Tülin Daloğlu “Turkey admits Reyhanli was attacked by al-Qaeda,” Al Monitor, April 4, 2014,

[83] “Turkey Sends Military Reinforcements To Syrian Border After Blast,” Cihan, May 11, 2013,

[84] “Syria Iraq: The Islamic State Militant Group”, BBC, August 2, 2014,

[85] “Turkey Offers Airbase to US for Drone Strikes in Syria: Report”, Press TV, July 10, 2015,

[86] “Turkey Joins U.S.-Led Coalition Airstrikes Against ISIS In Syria”, Huffington Post, August 29, 2015 ,

[87] “Suruc massacre: At Least 30 Killed in Turkey Border Blast”, BBC, July 20, 2014,

[88] “Turkey to Boost Border Security After ‘ISIS’ Attack”, AlJazeera, July 25, 2015

[89] “Turkey Reinforces Border With Syria in Wake of Suspected Suicide Attack,” The Guardian, July 23, 2013,

[90] “Turkish Warplanes Bomb ISIS Positions in Syria for the First Time,” CNN, July 25, 2015,

[91] “Turkish Warplanes Bomb ISIS Positions”…,

[92] Oytun Orhan, “Struggle Against ISIS, Border Crossings and Turkey”, ORSAM Review of Regional Affairs, 11 (2014): 3; 9.

[93] “Turkey Closes Two Border Crossings With Syria Amid Fears of Terrorist Attack”, Telegraph, March 30, 2015