Two Turkeys in the Syria crisis

Two Turkeys in the Syria crisis

As Russia and the United States work on formulas as inclusive as possible to find a solution to the Syrian crisis, without letting the Islamist factions take over the entire country, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged the European Union on Sept. 28 to do more to confront the migration crisis stemming from the four-year-old Syrian civil war.

In the beginning of his address to the U.N. General Assembly, Ban particularly mentioned Turkey and Jordan as the countries suffering most because of the “overcrowded” flow of refugees.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu is expected to make the opening speech of a conference on the Syrian refugee crisis to be hosted by Ban on Sept. 30. 

Turkey’s role in handling the refugee crisis “sets a best practice” according to Helen Clark, the head of the UN Development Programme, who recently paid a visit to refugee camps in Turkey. They are run by government agencies, with very little support from the international community. From its limited resources, with respect to more well-off European and North American countries, Ankara has spent some $7.6 billion in the last four years for Syrian refugees. Some 350,000 Syrian students began their education year together with Turkish students on Sept. 28, according to a special curriculum prepared for them; there are an estimated total of 2 million Syrian refugees in Turkey.

Even Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, who has slammed the Davutoğlu’s Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) government’s policy on Syria, separates its refugee policy; he has been promoting that part in his recent tour in European countries, urging them to contribute more, just like U.N. secretary-general did yesterday.

Turkey’s exemplary humanitarian image in handling the refugees is unfortunately turned upside-down when it comes to its involvement in the political side of the Syrian story.

Ankara is now the only government in the world which suggests that the toppling of the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria would be the panacea to all the problems there, despite warnings by major “outside” actors that the possibility of the overthrow of al-Assad by the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) could have worse consequences. And Syria is a neighbor of Turkey; so far no Turkish government has made an attempt to contribute to changing the regime and the government of a neighboring country; that has been something shaking the basis of Turkish foreign policy, whose motto is “Peace at home, peace in the world.” It is true that Turkey is a part of the U.S.-led international coalition to fight ISIL. It is also true that Davutoğlu said only a few days ago that his government despises the idea of the al-Assad regime on Turkey’s border as much as it despises ISIL.

Davutoğlu is so strong in this stance that, despite President Tayyip Erdoğan’s acknowledgement of the possibility of al-Assad having a place in a transition government (albeit definitely not after that) after having a meeting with President Vladimir Putin of Russia last week, Davutoğlu said such a thing could serve to make al-Assad permanent.

Now Russia suggested that a group of outsiders, namely itself, the U.S., Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Egypt could work on a formula for the future of Syria. It is a compromise for Russia, too, since Moscow said earlier that it would not discuss the future of Syria with anyone. Perhaps this group should involve the EU as well, after the U.N. call, since they are now the target of the migration flow.

But this is also a chance for the Turkish government to revise its hardline Syria policy. Its good record on the refugee situation could help Ankara if Davutoğlu decides to act with the international community in search of peace in Syria, instead of keeping the same attitude alone.