Why does Erdogan hate Bashar Al Assad so much?

“Assad is definitely a terrorist who has carried out state terrorism,” Erdogan told a televised news conference with his Tunisian counterpart Beji Caid Essebsi in Tunis.

“It is impossible to continue with Assad. How can we embrace the future with a Syrian president who has killed close to a million of his citizens?” he said, in some of his harshest comments for weeks.

What is Erdogan's problem with him?

We know why the West hates Assad, but, Turkey's hate is not clear to me.

  • 7
    A competitor for regional hegemony isn't a sufficient enough reason to dislike?
    – user4012
    Apr 3 '18 at 18:30
  • 5
    Re "We know why the West hates Assad", who exactly are you including in "we"? It's not at all clear to me - someone who lives in the West and pays reasonable attention to current events - that the West does hate Assad. I don't think that a distaste for entrenched, hereditary dictators can really be called hate. As for Erdogan's attitude, isn't being a state terrorist who's killed close to a million of his citizens reason enough?
    – jamesqf
    Apr 3 '18 at 19:41
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    @jamesqf State Sponsors of Terrorism (U.S. List): Syria was added to the list on December 29, 1979. Other than direct war and the "Axis of Evil", this is as close as a "I hate you" list as it can be. And in top of that, add chemical attacks on civilians, Russian support and a Russian naval base.
    – SJuan76
    Apr 3 '18 at 20:55
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    @user4012 El-Assad is clearly not a candidate for regional hegemony. He already struggles to reconquer the territory of his own country, ruined and partially depopulated, with foreign troops, and while abandoning huge parts of his sovereignty to Iran, Russia, and probably Hezbollah.
    – Evargalo
    Apr 4 '18 at 8:16
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    As far as Turkey's interests are concerned, the millions of Syrian refugees that have flown through its southern border in the last 6 years must be good enough a reason to consider that Assad is not a factor of stability in the region, and a burden for Syria's neighbours...
    – Evargalo
    Apr 4 '18 at 8:23

Erdogan does not hate Assad so much, he hates that Assad is on the side of the Kurds. It must be said that Assad has also suppressed Kurds, but his forces are ignoring the current Syrian Democratic Forces.

The Kurds are a nation which is located in several countries, they also have a very, very long ambition for being independent and having their own nation. If you take a look at the map:

Areas with Kurdish-speaking communities ArnoldPlaton, CC BY-SA 3.0, 2014-05-29

As you see, they have a part in northern Syria and a quite big part in Turkey.
Turkey, which wants to maintain its current territory, has a very long and difficult relationship with the Kurds which resulted in severe suppression. As a result, the PKK was fighting against Turkey. The PKK had initially some success to make the world responsive for the situation, but ruined that when there were violent protests of the Kurds (also in Germany). The government of other western countries were less inclined to support the PKK because it was a socialist party. Finally Turkey got Öcalan, the leader of the PKK. So a long time it looked like that Kurds won't get any progress.

Time jump forward.
The USA attacked Iraq and finally conquered it, but war is expensive and Rumsfeld believed that less troops are necessary because everything will fall in place once Iraq was liberated.
But ISIS/ISIL began to rise and insurgency was climbing, the USA had more and more problems to maintain stability. In their plight they looked if there is a possibility to get it off their shoulders. Now the Kurds were already in Northern Iraq, they had no sympathy for ISIL, so the USA supported them more and more. This culminated in the building of a quasi country, Iraqi Kurdistan.

At September 25th, 2017 the overwhelming majority of Kurds voted for independence of Iraqi Kurdistan

Since then Erdogan has nightmares about the situation because the majority of Kurds are in Turkey and they may smell independence from Turkey. Iraqi Kurdistan has also oil available, so a full Kurdish state may not be as easily squashed than a bunch of insurgents. In fact, Erdogan has many times been suspected to support ISIS/ISIL secretly.

Therefore Erdogan is livid and wants to destroy everyone who he sees as supporter of the Kurds. Assad ignores the Kurds currently because he has many fires to extinguish, so like the USA he transfers control to have more troops available in other positions.

  • 5
    I don't want to be critical of your answer because what you wrote is true, but I think it's considerably more complicated and it goes beyond the Kurds. They have different opinions on the future of the middle east. Erdogan, for example, sees Assad as blocking his long term goals or the middle east. Assad seems mostly concerned about his borders but he's a strong ally with Russia and serves as a block to Erdogan's intentions, perhaps inadvertent, but that's the effect. They also have polar differences in opinion on oil exports to Europe. There's also the Syrian refugees in Turkey.
    – userLTK
    Apr 3 '18 at 23:11
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    @userLTK The whole Syrian civil war is an undiluted mess of conflicting targets and uneasy alliances, it is also in my opinion much more complicated, but I think I pointed out the most important reason for Erdogans wrath. Apr 3 '18 at 23:18
  • 1
    Assad has also suppressed Kurds, but his forces are ignoring the current Syrian Democratic Forces That's simply because SDF is under american control. Perhaps, Assad would like having the Kurds on his side, but that's not possible. So your reasoning is totally irrelevant. But ISIS/ISIL began to rise and insurgency was climbing It's the common problem of the people who read only official propaganda bs and cannot use own head. One cannot establish a (quasi-)state just from nothing. ISIS needed generous founding and deliberate non-intervening to rise and to rise fast.
    – Matt
    May 2 '18 at 16:05
  • 1
    Assad ignores the Kurds currently He doesn't. De facto he approved the operation Euphrates Shield (which was previously agreed upon by Russia and Turkey).
    – Matt
    May 2 '18 at 16:05
  • @userLTK perhaps you should consider writing your own answer?
    – Time4Tea
    Jun 3 '19 at 16:57

We know why the West hates Assad, but, Turkey's hate is not clear to me.

The same reason, in fact. Turkey was among the primary sponsors of the Syrian war from the very beginning. The USA, UK, France, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey - this is the short list of the states which started all this mess in 2011. Moreover, it was nearly impossible to do without Turkish assistance - just look at the map.

So Erdogan didn't start the war, because he hates Assad, but, vice versa, he hates Assad, because he started the war against him. Of course, now the situation has changed in political and military sense, but Erdogan has no reason to make friends with Assad anew (yes, they were on quite good terms before all that happened). The point is that Assad is under the tight control of Iran and Russia and has a little value of his own.

So when Erdogan speaks for "western" or national press, he says that Assad is "a public enemy" and such, but when he speaks with Russians, he has absolutely no problems with cooperating with Damascus. In fact, his doublethink is quite amusing.

UPD. on 04.06.19:

Time4Tea writes:

I am curious as to their motivations and why they are involved, which I don't think you have (clearly) explained

That's an interesting matter, though it's only partially related to the original question.

Let's put it like this: the so-called "Arab Spring" is the great occasion and opportunity for many countries to get some big and yummy piece of the geopolitical pie. Yet it's natural to suppose that the primary initiators of the Syrian war were the same countries as with Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, and, possibly, forthcoming Iranian war. That is the united states of "America and Gulf" (and, yes, I mean all these wars should be viewed in common as a sort of "the New Great Game" in the Middle East).

But they certainly needed some allies: France, GB, Jordan, and, of course, Turkey - a large neighbour country and the member of NATO (there's also an interesting question about the role of Israel, but it became apparent only later, so I can't claim they had much to do with this in the first period of war; of course, there are other countries involved in it, but for such as Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Croatia, Germany, etc. this is mostly arms manufacturing/sales/smuggling business).

No one knows what exactly was promised to Erdogan, but during 2011-13 the anti-Syrian alliance sailed in the same boat. However, the most interesting events took place in 2014 when the Qatar-sponsored ISIS made a spectacular rise out of nowhere. They quickly occupied large territories in Iraq and Syria, and started to push on Saudi-sponsored Al-Qaeda/An-Nusra, USA-sponsored YPG, etc.

Turkey, being closely tied with Qatar, was accused in helping to ISIS many times by different parties (including Russia and USA). It's especially obvious that Turkey was among ISIS' most valuable trade partners in this time.

Then in 2015 the USA-controlled Kurdish guerillas broke the truce with Turkish government and carried out numerous terroristic acts during 2015 and 2016 resulting in the new round of the long-standing Kurdish-Turkish conflict.

The next attempt to solve "Turkish problem" was on 15-16 July 2016. Immediately after that Erdogan finally switched sides and started closely cooperate with the Russian-Iranian-Syrian alliance.

So what's next? ISIS seriously got under fire in 2016, and especially in 2017, when Qatar was blockaded by its neighbouring countries, because of "the alleged support of terrorism". And the most loyal ally who helped to Qatar to withstand these events was, of course, Turkey.

Of course, there's much more awaiting for us: the war in Syria still continues, and also the war in Libya, where Turkey and Qatar allied with Italy to support GNA against LNA/Khaftar, who is, in turn, supported by France, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. And maybe there'll be some war in Iran, who knows?

Most certainly the politicians have many plans and ambitions. But we don't know exactly their motivations and aims. All we can do is to analyze "the visible events" and to follow them chronologically.

  • 3
    It seems you're insinuating things without saying them openly, which makes this answer very vague. Also sources would be helpful.
    – Bregalad
    May 2 '18 at 12:03
  • 1
    "So Erdogan didn't start the war, because he hates Assad, but, vice versa, he hates Assad, because he started the war against him." This is syntactically unclear. I can't be the only one wondering what it means to not start a war with someone because you hate them, but hate them because you started a war with them.
    – C. Helling
    May 2 '18 at 14:41
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    @Bregalad Unlike some others, I'm not insinuating here. Turkey participated in anti-Syrian alliance from the very beginning (until abandoned it in 2016). It's a truth which cannot be denied by any sensible person.
    – Matt
    May 2 '18 at 14:52
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    @C.Helling Well, I hoped that I formulated my thought quite clear, but you can never know it with a foreign language. I only mean that the wars are (almost) always started like a business, but in the course of time they often become a personal matter.
    – Matt
    May 2 '18 at 14:58
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    @Time4Tea Turkey has a ton of ambitions and got involved in many military and diplomatic conflicts. It is still involved in the Syrian war (now with both proxy militants and the regular army), it is involved in an ongoing blockade of Qatar (on Qatar's side), it is involved in the Lybian war (the alliance of Italy, Turkey and Qatar supporting GNA against LNA - France, KSA, Egypt) and so on. So I don't understand your scepticism.
    – Matt
    Jun 3 '19 at 18:09

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