Turkey’s zero-point operation
Turkey’s aid to Syria has been the hottest topic in Turkey since a Syria-bound truck was stopped in the border province of Hatay on Jan. 1 on charges that it was carrying weapons to Syrian rebels. It has become an enigma as to how and to whom Turkey is delivering aid, as well as what the aid includes. Here we go.
Turkey is lending help to war victims in Syria in two ways. It accepts refugees from Syria and also sends aid to the country. Regarding refugees, Turkey has been pursuing an “open-border policy” since the very beginning of the war, which means that it accepts all refugees from Syria except those engaged in terrorism. The numbers are terrifying. There are currently 22 camps within Turkey. The cost of building a camp is $10 million, whereas the monthly operational costs of a camp are $3 million. At the moment, there are 214,000 refugees in the camps and about 600,000 outside the camps.
Ankara has so far spent $2.5 billion on Syrian refugees. It has received only $180 million in financial assistance from abroad, which is less than 10 percent of the amount it has spent. Half of this came from the United Nations in the form of humanitarian assistance, with only $50 million coming from Saudi Arabia and $10 million from other countries. The U.S. has yet to grant any financial support.
The second way Turkey delivers aid is in trucks, as in the Hatay incident. Turkey has invented the term “zero-point operation” for this form of aid delivery, which is being applied for the first time in history.
According to international law, there needs to be either the receiving government’s approval or a U.N. Security Council resolution to be able to deliver aid to a country. Since both of these requirements are unachievable in Syria, Ankara has created its own way: Trucks carry aid just to the border, from which Syrian people in need take it over the frontier with trucks. In this way, there is no border violation at all. The amount of aid Turkey has delivered in this way is already $200 million.
Right after the “Hatay incident” mentioned above, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said aid trucks were carrying humanitarian aid for Turkmens in Syria. A top official at the Foreign Ministry whom I spoke with stated that Turkey was sending aid to the Syrian National Council and its military wing, the Free Syrian Army, which Turkey considers to be the sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people.
However, he said, Turkey shares aid with all groups in need in Syria, including Turkmens. He added that Ankara was turning a blind eye to the transportation of aid by Turkish and foreign NGOs passing through Turkey.
The official, however, didn’t comment at all when I asked him about the alleged supply of weapons.
There is also a high possibility that the delivered aid was falling into the hands of radical groups in Syria, but this is an unavoidable condition of the war.
When listening to the facts the officials provided, one truly understands why Turkey has been shouting itself hoarse that Syria is its domestic problem. These facts also reveal that the United States and Russia should help Turkey with refugees as much as they struggle to make President Bashar al-Assad destroy his chemical weapons. On the other hand, the fact that this topic has not come up at the Geneva talks at all is really inconceivable.
And Ankara’s biggest failure is that it has not been able to make its voice heard across the world.