Davutoğlu is gone while al-Assad goes on

Davutoğlu is gone while al-Assad goes on

Ahmet Davutoğlu’s biggest legacy will be the Syrian disaster he left behind.

In the early days of the civil war, he had predicted that Bashar al-Assad would be gone in a matter of months. But he himself is the one who is now gone.

Davutoğlu is indeed the ideological father of Turkey’s Syrian policy. While he as foreign minister and prime minister was also involved in implementation, this policy could not have taken shape or be implemented without the consent of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Erdoğan may try to recalibrate Turkey’s Syrian policy by putting all the blame on Davutoğlu, but I am pretty sure the Europeans are blaming both of them for the refugee crisis they have found on their doorsteps.

Otherwise, they might end up giving both of them credit for making a deal work - Davutoğlu for formulating it and Erdoğan for implementing it - which might provide them with the necessary time to get their act together to handle the issue over the medium to long- term. 

People come and people go, governments come and governments go, but the refugee issue is here to stay with us for some time to come. 

So the outcome of the Turkish-EU deal will be critical in terms of the EU’s future policies on refugees.

Unfortunately, there do not seem to be many advocates of the deal in European capitals. Many think it is just not their problem, forgetting that the EU does not just mean sharing welfare in times of prosperity but also sharing the burden in times of distress.

Some are talking about a Plan B. But I am not sure Plan B will offer a better alternative. According to Gerald Knaus, the founder of the European Stability Initiative, with many European countries now tightly controlling their borders the collapse of the deal will only lead to thousands more refugees being trapped in Greece. 

Knaus is a fervent advocate of the deal. And he believes it is working. As the author of the report “Why People Don’t Need to Drown in the Aegean” back in September, he says the deal has been saving lives because no drowning has taken place in the Aegean recently.

While Turkey has been more or less successful in implementing its side of the deal, Knaus is urging Europeans to deliver on their side of the deal by speeding up the resettlement of Syrian refugees and unblocking the money that has been promised for Turkey.

Indeed, the EU needs to work faster on these two issues. Unfortunately, both require meticulous work that slows down the process. In particular, civil society organizations in Turkey are worried about how the pledged money will be made available.

Turkish NGOs also believe the situation in Turkey has long passed the humanitarian relief stage. Now, financial assistance should concentrate on other issues like education, which is a priority. 

But education falls outside the humanitarian assistance scheme of European Union mechanisms. Resorting to other mechanisms may further delay the delivery of financial assistance. Turkish NGOs are therefore worried that if the EU directly writes a check in order to be fast, most of the money will end up only in the hands of ideologically and religiously motivated NGOs that currently provide education to some of the Syrian refugees.

Meanwhile, with or without the EU deal Turkey needs to endorse its own strategy for the Syrian refugees. 

Work in that direction had started during the Davutoğlu administration, but the change in government means that everything will now have to start again from scratch. Time is working against Turkey, which does not have the luxury of time to waste.

Let me tell you an anecdote.

A year after Syrian refugees started to come to Turkey, a foreign NGO helping academics in distress contacted a Turkish expert. It wanted to provide support and cover the costs of finding academics among the Syrian refugees and placing them in Turkish universities. Turkish officials, however, abstained from entering into such a collaboration, arguing that the Syrians will soon go back to their country.

According to a recently conducted survey, there are up to 700 Syrian academics who have crossed into Turkey, but 85 percent of them are Islamic theologians. All the others have already left Turkey. 

If the Turkish government does not opt to provide proper working conditions to well-educated Syrians, then it should not accuse the Europeans of trying to cherry pick the most qualified refugees.