The Öncüpınar border gate on the Turkish side of the Turkish-Syrian border on Tuesday served as the venue for a symbolic gesture reflecting remarkable progress in bilateral relations between the two countries with the signing of a historic deal by the foreign ministers of the two countries, which came to the brink of war more than a decade ago.

Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and his Syrian counterpart, Walid al-Moallem, officially signed an agreement on Tuesday in Gaziantep to end visa requirements between the two countries, a goal announced in mid-September by the two ministers during a visit to İstanbul by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. While announcing the end to visa requirements, Davutoğlu and al-Moallem made an accord last month to end visa requirements and signed a bilateral cooperation agreement under which top ministers from the two countries will meet each year.

The accord, titled the “High-Level Strategic Cooperation Council Agreement,” is similar to a strategic mechanism recently established between Turkey and Iraq.

Yesterday, the Syrian city of Aleppo and the Turkish city of Gaziantep were venues of a ministerial level meeting of the High-Level Strategic Cooperation Council, with the first part of the meeting being held in Aleppo and the second in Gaziantep. The two ministers arrived in Gaziantep after walking across the border.

Davutoğlu was accompanied by nine other ministers while the Syrian delegation of 15 ministers, including al-Moallem, was led in the first part of the meeting in Aleppo by a Syrian deputy vice president.

Following the first part of the meeting, Davutoğlu and al-Moallem, while in no-man's land between the Öncüpınar and al-Salame border gates, together removed a symbolic barrier, marking the significance of the move by the two countries.

The lifting of visa requirements is only one aspect of a planned multidimensional bilateral relationship between Syria and Turkey, the final goal of which was dubbed at the time by Davutoğlu as “maximum integration.”

“Our slogan is a joint destiny, a joint history and a joint future,” Davutoğlu said, speaking both in Arabic and in Turkish at a joint press conference with al-Moallem following the first part of the meeting.

Both Davutoğlu and al-Moallem called yesterday “a historic day,” while the former also said the day was like a “third holiday for the peoples of Syria and Turkey,” referring to the two Muslim religious holidays in a year.

“I consider today the third holiday of the two peoples,” Davutoğlu said, noting that the Tuesday meeting would lay the ground for a prime ministerial level meeting of the High Level Strategic Cooperation Council which will probably be held in Damascus during Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's visit in December.

“Our two countries worked today like one delegation,” Davutoğlu said, voicing hope that the strategic cooperation would present a model for regional countries, with the spirit of integration being spread around.

For his part, al-Moallem said: “Today is a really historic day. We set this example for all brotherly countries. We hope other counties can also develop strategic relations and that these relations include all fields.”

In response to a question, Davutoğlu highlighted that the “Turkey-Syria relationship is not against any country and it is not an alternative to another relationship.” He then added, “However, we will build a future together as Turkey and Syria.”

Davutoğlu also said Syria will eventually become an EU neighbor, while the EU would become a neighbor to the Middle East with Turkey's accession to the EU, citing this situation as an opportunity for all parties concerned.

The course of affairs in bilateral relations between Syria and Turkey over the last decade may be considered a bold example of the implementation of Ankara's “zero-problems policy” in its neighborhood by reaching out to create an atmosphere of maximum cooperation among all its neighbors.

In the autumn of 1998, Syria and Turkey came to the brink of war over the presence of the now-jailed leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), Abdullah Öcalan, in Syria. At the time, Turkish troops were marshaled along the border with Syria, with Ankara demanding that Damascus cease its support for the PKK and hand Öcalan over. Then Syrian President Hafez al-Assad complied and eventually Öcalan was deported -- and subsequently captured by Turkish special forces in Kenya. PKK training camps in Syria and Lebanon were also closed down.

In August, while announcing Ankara's intention to establish a joint mechanism with Damascus and one that would be similar to the High-Level Strategic Cooperation Council established between Ankara and Baghdad, Davutoğlu stated that Turkey also wished to improve cooperation between Turkey and Iraq, which is supported by various mechanisms, to offer a model for other countries in the region.

The ceremonial meeting at the Öncüpınar border gate came only days ahead of a planned visit by Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan to Baghdad for the upcoming meeting of the High-Level Strategic Cooperation Council -- a joint meeting of the Iraqi and Turkish cabinets. The meeting will be presided over by Erdoğan and his Iraqi counterpart, Nouri al-Maliki. The formation of such a council was outlined during Erdoğan's July 2008 visit to Baghdad.

The fact that this visa agreement with Syria follows the signing of protocols with Armenia on Saturday for the normalization of ties and that Erdoğan's upcoming visit to Baghdad will come after Armenian President Serzh Sarksyan's visit to Bursa at the invitation of his Turkish counterpart, Abdullah Gül, to watch the 2010 World Cup qualifying second-leg match between the Turkish and Armenian national teams to be held Wednesday are not a “coincidence at all,” Turkish diplomatic sources have told.

Such a calendar is a message to both governments and peoples, the same diplomatic sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said. According to the sources, the message the Armenian side should read from the Syrian-Turkish border opening is clear: “If we are lifting visa requirement for a border which was at one time mined and used as a refuge by terrorists, then we can easily open the border with Armenia. However, to do so, Armenia, like Syria, should clearly state its intention for permanent peace with Turkey.”