Foreign Relations

Syrian–Turkish dispute over İskenderun (Hatay)

There is a deep rooted disagreement between Turkey and Syria over Hatay Province.

At present Syrians hold the view that this land is historically Syrian and was illegally ceded in the late 1930s to Turkey by France – the mandatory occupying power of Syria (between 1920 and 1946). The Turks remember Syria as a former Ottoman vilayet with embitterment. In 1938, the Turkish Army went into the former Syrian Mediterranean province with French approval and expelled most of its Alawite Arab and Armenian inhabitants. Before this, Alawi Arabs and Armenians were the majority of the provinces population. For the referendum, Turkey crossed tens of thousands of Turks into Alexandretta to vote.

In 1938, the province declared its independence from France and the following 29 June, the parliament of the newly declared Hatay Republic voted to join Turkey. This referendum has been labeled both "phoney" and "rigged", and that it was a way for the French to let Turks take over the area, hoping that they would turn on Hitler. The Syrian government recognized this decision in 2004 and gave up on territorial claims. Syrians still consider this land as integral Syrian territory. Syrians call this land Liwaaa aliskenderuna rather than the Turkish name of Hatay.

Israeli occupation of the Golan

The Golan Heights is a strategic plateau and mountainous region in southwestern Syria. Two-thirds of the area is currently occupied by Israel. It comprises 1,850 square kilometres (714 sq mi) and includes mountains reaching an altitude of 2,880 metres (9,449 ft) above sea level.

The heights dominate the plains below. The Jordan River, Lake Tiberias and the Hula Valley border the region on the west. To the east is the Raqqad Valley and the south is Yarmok River and valley. The northern boundary of the region is the mountain Jabal al-Sheikh (Mount Hermon), one of the highest in Southwest Asia.

An agreement to establish a demilitarized zone between Israel and Syria was signed on 20 July 1949, but border clashes continued. Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War. Between 80,000 and 109,000 of the inhabitants fled, mostly Druze and Circassians.

In 1973, Syria tried to regain control of the Golan Heights in a surprise attack on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year. Despite initial Syrian advances and heavy Israeli losses, the Golan Heights remained in Israeli hands after a successful Israeli counter attack.

Syria and Israel signed an armistice agreement in 1974, and a United Nations observer force was stationed there. Israel unilaterally annexed the Golan Heights in 1981, although the Syrian government continues to demand the return of this territory, possibly in the context of a peace treaty. In 1982, Druze in the Golan Heights started a strike against the annexation of the territory. The strike lasted for six months and as a result the Israeli army sealed off Druze villages, allowing only those who wished to work in Israel to leave. Israel has given the Druze citizens in the Golan Heights an Israeli citizenship after the annexation of the Golan Heights.

After the Six-Day War, a population of 20,000 Syrians remained in the Golan Heights, most of them Druze. Since 2005, Israel has allowed Druze apple farmers in the Golan to sell their produce to Syria. In 2006, the export total reached 8,000 tons of apples. Syrian residents of the Golan are also permitted to study at universities in Syria, where they are entitled to free tuition, books and lodging.

 

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