Last Word: Yasin Atlıoğlu

Turkish Review - - CONTENTS -

What do you think of per­sis­tent ac­counts of co­or­di­na­tion be­tween state agen­cies and rad­i­cal Is­lamist fight­ers, first in the Kur­dish-con­trolled re­gions of north­ern Syria and more re­cently near Kassab?

Al­though Jab­hat Al-Nusra has been des­ig­nated a ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion by the US and the UK, the Turk­ish govern­ment has not yet made a sim­i­lar move. Turk­ish pol­icy mak­ers did not con­demn any of the Jab­hat al-Nusra’s sui­cide at­tacks in city cen­ters in Syria, which have been tak­ing place since 2011. In Septem­ber 2013, when Jab­hat Al-Nusra fight­ers were at­tack­ing Maloula, an his­tor­i­cally Chris­tian vil­lage, Ankara chose to keep silent.

What has hap­pened in Kassab re­cently is a good ex­am­ple of Turkey’s at­ti­tude. The Syr­ian regime di­rectly ac­cused Turkey of pro­vid­ing lo­gis­ti­cal and mil­i­tary sup­port for armed groups in the at­tack on Kassab. It is not easy to ex­plain why rad­i­cal Is­lamists would at­tack an Ar­me­nian town from the Turk­ish bor­der. Maybe it was just a tac­ti­cal at­tack against the Syr­ian Army. How­ever, if Turkey did in­deed help rad­i­cal Is­lamists at­tack Kassab, this would re­sult in sig­nif­i­cant dam­age to Turkey’s pres­tige in the in­ter­na­tional arena. What are the reper­cus­sions of at­tempt­ing, and fail­ing, to over­throw the regime in Syria by force?

In my opin­ion there can be no mil­i­tary so­lu­tion to the Syr­ian cri­sis. The only way out of the cri­sis is a cease-fire im­posed on both sides, fol­lowed by ne­go­ti­a­tions and for­ma­tion of a tran­si­tional govern­ment un­der pa­tron­age of US and Rus­sia. If the US and Rus­sia reach a com­pro­mise on the Syria cri­sis, other ac­tors will ac­cept the so­lu­tion. For this rea­son, Turkey should sup­port and play a pos­i­tive role in in­ter­na­tional peace ini­tia­tives for Syria. What will the ef­fects of the refugee in­flux on Turkey be in five years?

The first is­sue about Syr­i­ans in Turkey is their le­gal sta­tus. Syr­i­ans in Turkey do not have refugee sta­tus and rights. Turk­ish au­thor­i­ties pre­fer to de­scribe Syr­i­ans as “guests,” but this is not a le­gal sta­tus un­der in­ter­na­tional law. The se­cond is­sue is the refugees’ liv­ing con­di­tions. Turk­ish peo­ple ini­tially wel­comed Syr­i­ans as vic­tims of a civil war. The Turk­ish govern­ment also tried to pro­vide aid -in­clud­ing ed­u­ca­tion, health­care, hous­ing and fi­nan­cial sup­port -- to Syr­i­ans, es­pe­cially in camps. But the con­di­tions of Syr­i­ans out­side camps are grow­ing worse, and they face two ma­jor prob­lems in the form of scarce hous­ing and un­em­ploy­ment. Many Syr­i­ans are forced to work without any le­gal guar­an­tee of their rights, even be­com­ing in­volved in crim­i­nal ac­ti­vates. This in turn leads to ex­treme prej­u­dice from Turk­ish peo­ple. Thus far this has not yet turned into xeno­pho­bia and dis­crim­i­na­tion tar­get­ing Syr­i­ans. How­ever if the Turk­ish govern­ment does not take more mea­sures to im­prove the con­di­tions of Syr­i­ans, xeno­pho­bia and dis­crim­i­na­tion in Turkey may rise. Given the above, what should Turkey’s next step be in its Syria pol­icy?

First of all, the Turk­ish govern­ment needs ur­gently to re­think its re­la­tions with Syria. Turk­ish pol­icy mak­ers must know that as long as the Syr­ian cri­sis con­tin­ues, Turkey will face greater po­lit­i­cal and se­cu­rity threats on its south­ern bor­der. As a first step, they should fo­cus on tac­ti­cal is­sues such as con­trol of the Turkey-Syria bor­der and the re­turn of Syr­ian refugees. If the Turk­ish govern­ment in­sists on con­tin­u­ing in its ir­ra­tional, threat­en­ing and self­ori­ented for­eign pol­icy, Turkey will face more threats from rad­i­cal­ized Is­lamist armed groups, and the black hole in Syria will grad­u­ally ab­sorb Turkey.

A longer ver­sion of this in­ter­view ap­pears on­line: www.turk­ishre­

Asst. Prof. Yasin Atlıoğlu is as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor of in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions at Niğde Univer­sity, Turkey. His first book, ‘Beşşar Esad Suriyesi’nde Re­form’ (Re­form in Syria un­der Bashar

Al-As­sad) was pub­lished in 2007.

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