Last Word: Yasin Atlıoğlu
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.turkishreview.org
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.