Two Views: Ay­man Ab­del Nour and Şe­nay Öz­den

With Ay­man Ab­del Nour and Şe­nay Öz­den

Turkish Review - - CONTENTS - YONCA POYRAZ DOĞAN Staff Writer

Over 100,000 lives have been lost in Syria since the re­volt against Pres­i­dent Bashar al- As­sad be­gan in March 2011, and the plight of sur­vivors is dire both in­side and out­side the war- torn coun­try. Ay­man Ab­del Nour, ed­i­tor- in- chief at Al­l4Syria. info ( the most widely read on­line news and opin­ion source in Syria), and Şe­nay Öz­den, in­de­pen­dent re­searcher and Syria an­a­lyst, speak to Yonca Poyraz Doğan for Turk­ish Re­view

TURK­ISH RE­VIEW: How do you view the Syr­ian peace talks that took place in Jan­uary?

AY­MAN AB­DEL NOUR: There was in­ter­na­tional sup­port to hold the con­fer­ence; Rus­sia dealt with the regime and the United States dealt with the op­po­si­tion in Syria. The regime came to the con­fer­ence just to be there, with no power in the hand of the del­e­ga­tion and with no ac­cep­tance of the Geneva I dec­la­ra­tion; the As­sad regime’s min­is­ter of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion was not even in Geneva. The op­po­si­tion wanted more, but at least they were rec­og­nized in­ter­na­tion­ally and by the regime -- and the process that started will not stop.

TR: News re­ports sug­gested the US and Rus­sia clashed at the talks over the pace of Syria’s han­dover of chem­i­cal arms for de­struc­tion. Wash­ing­ton ac­cused Da­m­as­cus of foot- drag­ging that put the plan weeks be­hind sched­ule, while the Syr­ian pres­i­dent’s ally Moscow re­jected this. What is your view on this de­vel­op­ment?

AAN: [ Syr­ian Pres­i­dent] Bashar al- As­sad’s

un­der­stand­ing is that if he de­stroys all the chem­i­cal weapons, he will be open to pres­sure -- he will be forced to ac­cept and form the rul­ing coun­cil without him­self -- so he is work­ing to de­lay the de­struc­tion of the chem­i­cals ’ til af­ter the date of the end of his term. There­fore he bar­gains with the de­struc­tion of chem­i­cals in or­der to stay in power.

TR: UN me­di­a­tor Lakhdar Brahimi listed some points that he felt the two sides agreed on in the talks and said he thought there was more com­mon ground than the sides rec­og­nized. Do you agree with his comment?

AAN: His com­ments are as diplo­matic as his mis­sion. He al­ways fo­cuses on the pos­i­tive side and makes the achieve­ments look big­ger than they re­ally are. Yes, there is ac­cep­tance from both sides to fight against ter­ror­ism, but the regime con­sid­ers the op­po­si­tion “ter­ror­ist” while the op­po­si­tion con­sid­ers the regime to be the one who cre­ates ter­ror­ism through cre­at­ing Is­lamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) in or­der to frighten Europe and the US. So agree­ing on the com­mon ground does not mean agree­ing on the def­i­ni­tions and im­ple­men­ta­tion of what is rec­og­nized.

TR: On the other hand, Syr­ian For­eign Min­is­ter Walid al-Moualem blamed the lack of tan­gi­ble re­sults on what he called the im­ma­tu­rity and nar­row com­po­si­tion of the op­po­si­tion del­e­ga­tion and their ‘threats to im­plode’ the talks, as well as bla­tant US in­ter­fer­ence. What is your comment on these views?

AAN: His points are right, and the op­po­si­tion is now try­ing to solve this is­sue. There will be many mem­bers and or­ga­ni­za­tions that will be added to the op­po­si­tion’s del­e­ga­tion next time, but for sure not the fab­ri­cated op­po­si­tion cre­ated by the Syr­ian in­tel­li­gence that al-Moualem wants. As for the US in­ter­fer­ence, this is not just in re­la­tion to the case of the Syr­ian op­po­si­tion; it is all over the world that they are a su­per­power, and they have in­ter­ests in the world at dif­fer­ent lev­els and are work­ing to pro­tect these. In the Syr­ian case there are many lay­ers for the in­ter­est -- Is­rael, ge­o­graph­i­cal im­por­tance of the Mid­dle East, close­ness to the big­gest oil reser­voirs, etc.

TR: What were your ex­pec­ta­tions for a breakthrough on po­lit­i­cal is­sues at the talks?

AAN: There will be no breakthrough without in­ter­na­tional pres­sure on the As­sad regime to

ac­cept res­o­lu­tions from Geneva I and II to form the rul­ing coun­cil without As­sad. There will al­ways be ma­nip­u­la­tion by the regime to de­lay any breakthrough on po­lit­i­cal is­sues, and bluff­ing of the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity ’til the end.

TR: The Syr­ian Ob­ser­va­tory for Hu­man Rights said 1,870 peo­ple had been killed dur­ing the week of talks in Jan­uary, in­clud­ing 450 civil­ians and 40 who died from in­ad­e­quate ac­cess to food and medicine in ar­eas be­sieged by govern­ment troops. What is this de­vel­op­ment telling us, the world?

AAN: It tells us that the regime does not care, and As­sad knows that he will not be pun­ished so why not con­tinue busi­ness as usual? And it tells us also that the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity still has not de­cided to pun­ish As­sad, and they just watch Syr­i­ans get­ting killed ev­ery day and do noth­ing.

TR: Could it be dif­fer­ent if the Western na­tions were ready to in­ter­vene?

AAN: Yes, for sure, that would have fin­ished the killing at an early stage and we would not have this ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion -- ISIS -- and all this traf­fic, ji­hadists, from all over the world that came to help the peo­ple against the op­pres­sion of the


As­sad regime.

TR: Do you think As­sad’s regime is win­ning the war? AAN: No, for sure, but there is also a big lobby -- a big in­ter­na­tional lobby, not in­di­vid­ual coun­tries -which is keen to make the war bal­anced so when one side pro­gresses, this side will be stopped so the war can con­tinue ’til that lobby de­cides to fin­ish it ac­cord­ing to its vi­sion and in­ter­ests.

TR: Are the Western al­lies of the Syr­ian op­po­si­tion clear about what they ul­ti­mately want? Do they want As­sad out or are they only in­ter­ested in halt­ing the war?

AAN: No they are not united about the end. There are two groups; the first wants the war to con­tinue for 10 years, which will help to de­stroy Syria, kill more fight­ers from Hizbul­lah, and get rid of ji­hadists in Europe and the US. The se­cond group of coun­tries un­der­stands that a long war will make ter­ror­ism in Syria a lo­cal mat­ter and make or­di­nary Syr­i­ans more in­volved in ter­ror­ism -- which ’til now has not hap­pened -- and if that hap­pens it will put Europe and the world in new dan­ger.

TR: US Sec­re­tary of State John Kerry has made it clear

that the US is res­o­lute on even­tu­ally see­ing a Syria without As­sad. Do you be­lieve that’s what the US wants?

AAN: Yes, this re­flects the vi­sion of one lobby in the US, but there is an­other lobby which pushes to do noth­ing, un­der the banner of not in­ter­fer­ing, and of let­ting the Syr­i­ans solve their own prob­lems and not re­peat­ing the mis­takes of Iraq .

TR: The As­sad regime is work­ing to le­git­imize its sta­tus by pub­li­ciz­ing the ac­tions of Salafist fight­ers. It is spread­ing the fear that Syria will fall into the hands of these groups and that the top­pling of the regime will af­fect the West neg­a­tively. How true is this?

AAN: It is not true. Syr­i­ans prac­tice the most mod­ern ver­sion of Is­lam. And never in his­tory have we had rad­i­cal Is­lam in Syria. ISIS was cre­ated by the regime, Iran and Iraq. In each coun­try, it serves the ob­jec­tives it was cre­ated for. Syr­i­ans with the co­op­er­a­tion of the Free Syr­ian Army ( FSA) suc­ceeded in kick­ing ISIS out within three days from most of their places ’ til the FSA ran out of am­mu­ni­tion, so ISIS gained back part of what it lost. I am not afraid that Syria will fall into the hands of the rad­i­cals un­less the war con­tin­ues for years.

TR: The Turk­ish govern­ment is un­der do­mes­tic pres­sure to re­cast its Syria pol­icy. Do you think it needs to re­shape its Syria pol­icy -- and if so, how?

AAN: The pol­icy adapted by the Turk­ish govern­ment re­flects the good re­la­tions be­tween the two coun­tries and the ethics of a good neigh­bor. There is al­ways space to re-eval­u­ate the strate­gies and poli­cies adapted, maybe through se­cond track di­plo­macy. In ad­di­tion, Turkey can use its power to help the demo­cratic move­ments, and not only the Is­lamist part of the rev­o­lu­tion.

TR: Why are the Syr­i­ans in Turkey not rec­og­nized as refugees but as ‘guests’?

ŞE­NAY ÖZ­DEN: Even though Turkey is a sig­na­tory of the 1951 Con­ven­tion re­lat­ing to the Sta­tus of Refugees, Turkey’s asy­lum pol­icy is char­ac­ter­ized by the “ge­o­graph­i­cal lim­i­ta­tion” with which it im­ple­ments the con­ven­tion. Turkey orig­i­nally ac­cepted the con­ven­tion with both the “time” and the “ge­o­graph­i­cal” lim­i­ta­tion. With the

adop­tion of the 1967 Pro­to­col re­lat­ing to the Sta­tus of Refugees Turkey lifted the “time” but kept the “ge­o­graph­i­cal” lim­i­ta­tion, im­ply­ing that the Turk­ish state grants refugee sta­tus and the right to asy­lum only to “per­sons who have be­come refugees as a re­sult of events oc­cur­ring in Europe.” Asy­lum seek­ers from out­side of Europe are as­sessed in co­op­er­a­tion with the United Na­tions High Com­mis­sioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Such asy­lum seek­ers are granted tem­po­rary asy­lum sta­tus un­til a de­ci­sion is reached. Those asy­lum seek­ers who are ac­cepted as refugees are then re­set­tled in a third coun­try with the sup­port of the UNHCR.

In line with the “ge­o­graph­i­cal lim­i­ta­tion,” Syr­i­ans who have fled to Turkey are rec­og­nized as “guests un­der tem­po­rary pro­tec­tion” and not as “refugees;” and the camps where Syr­i­ans re­side are of­fi­cially “guest camps,” not “refugee camps.” How­ever, Syr­i­ans in Turkey are not treated like asy­lum seek­ers com­ing from other non-Euro­pean coun­tries, ei­ther. They can­not reg­is­ter with the UNHCR in or­der to ap­ply for asy­lum in a third coun­try.

TR: How does not be­ing granted refugee sta­tus in­crease the vul­ner­a­bil­ity of Syr­i­ans?

ŞÖ: Many Syr­i­ans have stated that their ma­jor com­plaint about the Turk­ish govern­ment is that they are not be­ing granted refugee sta­tus. The Turk­ish state has not car­ried out a pol­icy to­ward Syr­i­ans based on a dis­course of rights, but rather one based on “gen­eros­ity” that im­plies un­pre­dictabil­ity about their pres­ence, their rights and obli­ga­tions in Turkey. Many Syr­i­ans have ex­pressed that each time they con­tacted the po­lice due to prob­lems with land­lords or em­ploy­ers they were told to “go back home and be quiet” and “be thank­ful to Turkey” for open­ing its bor­der to Syr­i­ans. Not hav­ing refugee sta­tus ba­si­cally leaves Syr­i­ans at the mercy of cur­rent lo­cal and cen­tral au­thor­i­ties in Turkey rather than pro­vid­ing them pro­tec­tion and rights based on na­tional and in­ter­na­tional law that tran­scends party pol­i­tics.

TR: Would you pro­vide an over­view of Syr­ian mi­gra­tion to Turkey since the start of un­rest in March 2011? What is the num­ber of dis­placed Syr­i­ans cross­ing the bor­der into Turkey since 2011 -reg­is­tered and un­reg­is­tered?

ŞÖ: The first ma­jor in­flux of Syr­ian refugees into Turkey be­gan to­ward the end of April in 2011. By early Septem­ber 2011 Turkey had set up six refugee camps that were host­ing ap­prox­i­mately 7,000 refugees. Al­most a year later in Au­gust of 2012, around 80,000 Syr­i­ans had reg­is­tered, and then by the end of 2012 the num­ber had rock­eted to an over­whelm­ing 120,000. Ac­cord­ing to the most re­cent fig­ures an­nounced by Turkey’s Dis­as­ter and Emer­gency Man­age­ment Direc­torate (AFAD), the to­tal num­ber of Syr­i­ans reg­is­tered and as­sisted in 21 camps in 10 prov­inces is over 210,000 (67,000 in Urfa, 37,000 in Kilis, 34,000 in Gaziantep, 15,000 in Maraş and Hatay). The largest pro­por­tion of Syr­ian refugees (65 per­cent), how­ever, are those liv­ing out­side of refugee camps. There are around 90,000 Syr­i­ans in Gaziantep and 60,000 in Hatay. Ac­cord­ing to


UNHCR sources, there are cur­rently 370,000 Syr­i­ans reg­is­tered out­side the camps, and one­fifth of these have res­i­dence per­mits. The govern­ment es­ti­mates that there are a to­tal of 700,000 Syr­i­ans liv­ing in Turkey.

TR: Are there re­li­able fig­ures as to how many Syr­i­ans are now in Turkey’s cities?

ŞÖ: Regis­tra­tion and or­ga­nized set­tle­ment of dis­placed peo­ple by lo­cal and cen­tral au­thor­i­ties is vi­tal in or­der to se­cure the rights and obli­ga­tions of refugee com­mu­ni­ties Fur­ther­more, regis­tra­tion is an im­por­tant process of trans­parency in re­gard to the au­thor­i­ties’ refugee pol­icy and is vi­tal for a just dis­tri­bu­tion of aid. How­ever, there is no strict mech­a­nism of regis­ter­ing Syr­i­ans liv­ing out­side of camps. Syr­i­ans who have en­tered the coun­try with a pass­port are granted a one-year res­i­dency. In some cities, such as Gaziantep, Syr­i­ans who do not have a pass­port can reg­is­ter with AFAD and re­ceive a card that pro­vides them with ac­cess to health care at pub­lic hos­pi­tals. How­ever, such a regis­tra­tion mech­a­nism is vol­un­tary and not ap­pli­ca­ble in all cities, such as Hatay and İs­tan­bul.

There­fore, there are no re­li­able fig­ures as to how many Syr­i­ans are re­sid­ing in cities.

TR: Are there any Syr­i­ans who fled to Turkey from Da­m­as­cus?

ŞÖ: The ma­jor­ity of the Syr­i­ans who fled to Turkey came from north­ern prov­inces that were lib­er­ated from regime con­trol rel­a­tively early on. There are some Syr­i­ans who came to Turkey from Da­m­as­cus, but not in big num­bers since check­points and bomb­ings mean it is a very dan­ger­ous “trip” to make from Da­m­as­cus all the way to the Turk­ish bor­der.

TR: Your re­search shows that ini­tially it was mostly po­lit­i­cal ac­tivist youth who fled to Turkey. What has hap­pened as the vi­o­lence of the regime in­creased?

ŞÖ: As the vi­o­lence of the As­sad regime in­creased, more and more Syr­i­ans fled their coun­try for hu­man­i­tar­ian rea­sons. We be­gan to see more Syr­i­ans en­ter­ing Turkey due to shelling and bomb­ing of their vil­lages and homes, and due to lack of ac­cess to health care and ba­sic sup­plies such as food.

TR: Have Syr­i­ans re­turned to Syria from Turkey? Why?

ŞÖ: Ac­cord­ing to many tes­ti­monies by Syr­i­ans them­selves, Syr­i­ans in Turkey cross back and forth be­tween Syria and Turkey on a fre­quent ba­sis -- of course if this is per­mit­ted by the se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tion on the other side of the bor­der. Cross­ing back and forth be­tween Turkey and Syria is a means of sur­vival for many Syr­ian fam­i­lies. Many cross the bor­der bring­ing items such as cig­a­rettes, cof­fee and tea to sell in Turkey just to make a small liv­ing. Ar­eas in close prox­im­ity to the bor­der, such as in and around Kilis and Kırıkhan, are fre­quented by Syr­ian women and chil­dren sell­ing such com­modi­ties on the streets. Some in­ter­vie­wees stated that be­cause bor­der con­trol by Turk­ish au­thor­i­ties has be­come stricter, many Syr­ian fam­i­lies in Turkey have lost a ma­jor source of in­come. Ac­cord­ing to the ac­counts of my in­ter­vie­wees, there are also many who cross into Syria now and then to go and check on rel­a­tives left be­hind. Some who man­age to make earn­ings be­yond meet­ing their ba­sic needs bring money and goods back to fam­i­lies who have re­mained in­side.

TR: Would you say that Turkey has been han­dling the Syr­ian mi­gra­tion sit­u­a­tion well or not?

ŞÖ: Many Syr­i­ans I have spo­ken to state that the con­di­tions for Syr­i­ans in Turkey are bet­ter than the con­di­tions in the other sur­round­ing coun­tries such as Jordan and Lebanon. How­ever, this does not im­ply that Turkey should not change its pol­icy to pro­vide more durable pro­tec­tion to Syr­i­ans, such as pro­vid­ing them with refugee sta­tus.

TR: What pol­icy rec­om­men­da­tions would you make to the Turk­ish govern­ment in this re­gard?

ŞÖ: There is no sys­tem­atized mech­a­nism to in­form Syr­i­ans of the lo­cal and na­tional ser­vices (health, ed­u­ca­tion, res­i­dency, hu­man­i­tar­ian aid) avail­able to them as well as the rights and obli­ga­tions they are en­ti­tled to through their sta­tus in Turkey. Syr­i­ans would highly ben­e­fit from a rights and du­ties guide pre­pared at the lo­cal level and up­dated reg­u­larly. Many of the Syr­ian refugees have com­plained that they are ei­ther vic­tim­ized or treated as crim­i­nals by the lo­cals. They have also stated that they have no agency and no plat­form through which they can voice their com­plaints in Turkey. Civil so­ci­ety or­ga­ni­za­tions and lo­cal au­thor­i­ties could co­op­er­ate with Syr­i­ans in es­tab­lish­ing com­mit­tees/plat­forms that rep­re­sent Syr­i­ans. Such com­mit­tees would en­able a more par­tic­i­pa­tory ap­proach to in­te­grat­ing Syr­i­ans into their host com­mu­ni­ties.

The hu­man­i­tar­ian aid mech­a­nism ap­pears to be one of the fac­tors caus­ing ten­sions among the lo­cal and Syr­ian pop­u­la­tions. Many Syr­i­ans stated that they pre­fer in­come-gen­er­at­ing projects rather than more hu­man­i­tar­ian aid projects. In­come gen­er­a­tion projects, how­ever, should also be de­signed so as not to up­set the lo­cal eco­nomic bal­ance or cause more un­em­ploy­ment for the lo­cal pop­u­la­tion. In line with such a pol­icy, in­come gen­er­a­tion projects should not be limited solely to train­ing or ed­u­ca­tional pro­grams, but rather should have longterm tar­gets and should be car­ried out in co­op­er­a­tion with lo­cal and re­gional stake­hold­ers. TR



Dis­cus­sions be­tween

rebels and the regime, me­di­ated by Lakhdar Brahimi, failed to pro­duce con­crete re­sults.



Syr­ian refugees in Turkey’s Rey­hanlı refugee camp, Hatay prov­ince.

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