Syria’s war has started to shake Turkey badly
According to the Turkish Interior Ministry, the number of Syrians that have come to Turkey since the outbreak of the civil war in 2011 has reached 1.385 million. This is a figure close to 2 percent of Turkey’s population.
When the number reached 65,000 in 2012, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said that if the number reached the 100,000-person threshold, security zones could be established on the Syrian side of the border with Turkey.
Now the figure is more than 13 times that critical threshold Davutoğlu mentioned and the government is after temporary solutions to establish special camps for Syrian beggars that have set up shop on the streets of Turkey’s urban areas. Syrian beggars are particularly a problem for touristic districts of Istanbul, but it’s not only beggars: The number of Syrians in the city of 14 million is estimated at 330,000 by the Interior Ministry.
In the southern province of Kahramanmaraş, where the first street fights between locals and Syrian refugees started three weeks ago (which were later repeated in some other cities near the Syrian border), the number of refugees is 49,000, more than 10 percent of the city’s population of 420,000.
Ercan Taştekin, a security expert, was quoted by the Turkish press as saying the government should consider employing Syrian police officers. He might have a point; there might be anyone from agents of President Bashar al-Assad’s Baath regime in Damascus to agents of the Sunni radical Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL), or simply the Islamic State (IS) as they started calling themselves recently, among the refugees.
And the IS does not just have agents in Turkey, there are now Turkish supporters of the organization in the country. Last week in the Ömerli suburb of Istanbul, hundreds of them prayed together for the success of their mujahid brothers and put their videos online for propaganda purposes. A recent propaganda video by the IS showing a reported Kosovar slitting the throat (apologies to readers) of a captive not only created an uproar in Kosovo, but reanimated the concerns in Turkey regarding the IS’ Turkish captives in Mosul. Forty-nine (according to official figures) Turkish citizens, including Öztürk Yılmaz, the Turkish consul general in Mosul, have been captives of the IS since June 13.
The presence of the IS has started to affect Turkish state beyond daily problems in other areas, as well.
One of them is Turkey’s Kurdish problem. Because of the pressure from IS, the liberated Kurdish zone in Syria by the Turkish border, called “Rojava,” and the militants of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) have openly engaged in clashes with the Turkish Armed Forces by the border since the beginning of the dialogue process two years ago. It affects the dialogue initiated by Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan with the PKK’s imprisoned leader, Abdullah Öcalan, via the Turkish National Intelligence Organization (MİT) and the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), which is focused on the Kurdish problem.
Pervin Buldan, an MP for the HDP who is deeply involved in the dialogue, has said she had no idea about the schedule of the PKK is disarming and returning home, as Deputy Minister Beşir Atalay had mentioned earlier.
Another problem is in the field of economy and trade. Before the Islamist militants’ capture of Mosul and their declaration of sovereignty in parts of Syria and Iraq, Turkish exports to Iraq were second only to that to Germany at $12 billion in 2013. It has been decreasing sharply now.
Answering a question by Mevlüt Dudu, an MP from the social democratic opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), Nihat Zeybekci, Turkey’s economy minister, has ruined the urban legend that claimed that most of the exports went to Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) of Iraq.
Zeybekci said 80 percent of exports were actually to the predominantly Shiite-populated southern parts of Iraq and that the Kurdish route was only to change (some 60-70 percent of the) trucks; that explains the kilometers- and days-long queue at the Habur gate with Iraq. Now Turkish exporters are looking for emergency routes to the south of Iraq and other Gulf markets through Iran.
That is partly because Turkey’s relations with both Israel and Egypt are not at their best and the use of the Ashdod and al-Arish ports to use the Jordanian route are not as efficient as before.
Speaking of Egypt, Turkey, together with Qatar, has welcomed both the 72-hour (and already violated) cease-fire between Israel and Hamas in Gaza (after Israel was accused by the United Nations of hitting a school with children inside it) and the start of talks in Cairo between Hamas and Fatah, two Palestinian factions. Turkey had been proud of being part of the Western system up until recently and now the two biggest expectations of the U.S. and the European Union from Turkey are its cooperation against “foreign fighters” in Syria (and now Iraq as well) and to use its assumed influence (together with Qatar) on Hamas to convince them on agreeing to peace with Fatah and Israel.
It is not a very bright for Turkey, but this is the most current picture.
From the fate of the Turkish captives at the hands of Islamist militants to Syrian refugees to the Kurdish problem, and from regression in the economy to diplomacy, all these developments are related to too much Turkish involvement in the civil war in Syria, something that has really started to affect the Turkish system.