Turkey’s next step in Syria, to get Europe on board
In the early days of the influx of Syrian refugees, some were seen sleeping in parks, as Turkey was still getting organized for an emergency response to an ever-increasing number of Syrians fleeing their country.
A European diplomat explained to me why his country had stopped taking Syrian refugees, pointing to these scenes: “We cannot tolerate such thing. Once a person enters our country, he or she needs to be provided the same conditions with our citizens.”
This is a highly problematic stance. Because the alternative to sleeping in parks becomes facing death in the war.
Turkey might not have provided the best conditions to more than 3.5 million Syrian refugees, but at least it has not sent them back to death, for the sake of not spoiling the scenery in its parks.
Had Turkey closed its doors to millions of refugees, the Western press would have been full of news critical of Turkey; as we have witnessed back in 1991 when Kurds from Iraq fled the regime’s assault.
Once the doors are wide open and the refugees start to be accommodated, then the way they are treated comes under criticism, as we again witnessed in 1991. If this time there were less criticism, while this has to do with the extraordinary effort from Turkey, it also has to do with the fact that the West feared a renewed influx and having reached a refugee deal with Turkey, they did not want to antagonize the Turks.
My point is that you can come under criticism if you close the doors to refugees, but you can also come under criticism when you open the doors and this time for not providing them the proper means. And this is being done by those who themselves close the doors to the refugees.
Now that there is a new ballgame in Syria, in which European powers have been sidelined, we can expect Turkey to come under fire for claims of forcible deportation. Although the deal with Russia emphasizes voluntary return, Turkey’s stated wish of resettlement of Syrian refugees is met with criticism.
In addition, those European countries that do everything they can to avoid taking back their nationals who have become affiliated with ISIL will be the same ones to ring alarm bells about the ISIL militants kept under detention in regions from which YPG will be retreating.
This “I will keep my hands clean yet I will go on patronizing others; I will not take in refugees, but I will tell others how refugees should be treated,” attitude will not bring the Europeans back in the game; it will further render them as inefficient players in the region.
Currently, the European countries stand as the biggest losers in Syria. Some claim it is the United States. I beg to differ. While the U.S. “establishment” is unhappy with the way things are unfolding, the current trends in Syria might not necessarily go against the Trumpian world.
Rather than being preoccupied by military warfare in the Middle East, he would like to focus on trade wars in Asia. If he was convinced to keep a small military foothold in Syria, that has less to do with the Syrian oil and gas resources, which the U.S. does not need it and more to do with China’s potential intentions in the region. It is interesting to note that when Israeli journalist Zev Chafets interviewed U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during his visit to Jerusalem last week, even he was surprised to hear him warn Israel
Israel stands as the biggest loser in Syria next to Europeans. While Trump’s decision to abandon the nuclear deal with Iran was a big gain for them, signs are increasing that they, just like the Saudis, might have to rely less on Trump to contain Iran “in the field.”
But if we are to go back to Europeans, while Turkey’s ruling elites might feel extremely resentful towards Europeans, they would still look forward to working with them especially in terms of resettling refugees and bringing a political solution to the war in Syria.
In that respect, it has been a well-thought and timely initiative to have a quadrilateral meeting between Turkey, the United Kingdom, France and Germany. While the biggest loser in the field, they stand to be the biggest winner from resettlement of refugees and the restoration of normalcy in Syria.