Ever since Syria and Turkey lifted their visa restrictions in September, Turkish visitors have poured into this picturesque northern city. Hawkers in Aleppo’s ancient souk now call out to shoppers in Turkish, and cross-border commerce has soared. The two countries have embarked on a very public honeymoon, with their leaders talking about each other like long-lost friends.
But this reconciliation is about far more than trade, or the collapse of old Turkish-Arab enmities. At a time of economic and political uncertainty here, the new warmth with Turkey has stirred hopes about Syria’s future direction, in areas that include religion, oil and gas, and peace with Israel.
For some here, the new closeness with secular, moderate Turkey represents a move away from Syria’s controversial alliance with Iran. For others, it suggests an embrace of Turkey’s more open, cosmopolitan society. And for many — including Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad — it conjures different dreams of a revitalized regional economy, less vulnerable to Western sanctions or pressure.
“It’s much more than an economic relationship,” said Samir al-Taqi, director of the Orient Center for International Studies in Damascus. “It’s about regathering the region, and a feeling that the West is much weaker, less liable to do anything here. I think Syria has lots of ambitions to redefine its geopolitical position.” [continued…]