Bodies on the shore…

Bodies on the shore…

The images of bodies of Syrian refugees washing up on Turkey’s Aegean coast have become etched in people’s hearts and minds. Seeking refuge from war at home cannot be considered a voluntary trip that might be regulated with visa regulations of any sort. Embracing refugees must be a humanitarian obligation of not only the border countries of the conflict area, but of the entire human community, particularly for those who stirred up the problem and sowed the seeds of the war in the first place.

Young boys, girls, older men and women… Toddlers… What were their crime? Why were they compelled to sacrifice their life in the cold waters of the Aegean in these winter days in pursuit of safety, well-being and a bit of human rights and liberties? Were they Alawites? Or were they Sunnis? Were they Arab, Kurdish or Turkmen? Would it matter? They lost their lives in the cold waters of the Aegean while trying to escape war at home, as well as uncertainty in Turkey for a better life in Europe... Why did they not escape to “rich” Saudi Arabia? How many of the Syrians chose to travel to Gulf countries, particularly to Qatar, which so desires to see a transition to a Syria without Bashar al-Assad? What’s the difference between Lebanon and Jordan and the other countries of the region? Just proximity? 

Seeking a secure life outside the region and the sectarian obsessions perhaps explains why hundreds of thousands of Syrians have chosen to escape to Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, and through those three countries, to third countries in the West. There are no clear figures, but around 850,000 are said to have fled to Europe via Turkey within the last year. The number of those in Turkey exceeded 2.2 million according to Turkish statistics, but only a small section of those in Turkey are in refugee camps and on record; the rest are living throughout the country, some with no registration at all. In Lebanon and Jordan, the situation is even worse compared to the population of these countries, while the refugee burden in Lebanon has especially exceeded tolerable limits. 

As was stated perfectly well last week by German Chancellor Angela Merkel in defense of her “open-door” policy, Europe must tackle the causes of the migration crisis by working for peace in Syria rather than letting xenophobia surge with the pretext that Syrian refugees were involved in theft or rape incidents. The situation, under any scale, is a very sad one and will not become better unless there is a political resolution to the Syrian crisis. Neither the suffering of the refugees nor the host populations will end anytime soon. Even if a miraculous resolution is achieved anytime soon, let’s say under a U.N. Security Council-endorsed plan, most refugees will not return to Syria. The best estimate might be that around a third of the refugees in Turkey perhaps go back to Syria while those in Europe, at least in the next two decades or so, will not return at all. Thus, if the refugee problem has become a challenging burden on economies in addition to posing a serious security threat and potential source for social unrest, it is in the best interest of everyone to engage in concerted efforts to find a political resolution.

The Saudi-Iran standoff has added a new challenge to the already grim prospects of success for the Security Council-endorsed roadmap which would provide some sort of a resolution to the Syrian puzzle in three stages within 18 months. The first challenge will be later this month. On Jan. 18, the U.N. secretary-general is scheduled to declare how a cease-fire would be applied and how it would be monitored. That will be crucial before the Jan. 23-25 Geneva cease-fire talks between the Syrian government and the opposition groups. These talks are slated to continue for about six months and conclude with the formation of a transition government that will carry the country to elections in 18 months’ time. On the other hand, in what is now being called “the Vienna process,” some 20 countries, including Turkey and Iran and of course the five permanent members of the Security Council, will come together on Jan. 25 to discuss the fight against terrorism in Syria (and Iraq). Obviously the target of this process has been the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) gang.

Turkey, Saudis, Iran, anti-terrorism cooperation, the Riyadh-Tehran discord that has already spilled into the entire Gulf… Who is a terrorist, who is not? Who are the good guys fighting bad guys and whose good guys are bad guys of the others? The apparently widening sectarian rift between Muslim states might have a fallout impact on the Syrian process. Saudi Arabia and Qatar, as well as Turkey, have been frequently accused by the Western public of aiding and abetting Islamist terrorists out of reasons of “sectarian solidarity.” Ankara has flatly denied such accusations as baseless but the Saudi-Iran crisis might render it difficult to achieve full regional anti-ISIL cooperation which is a must in order to effectively eradicate the wildest Islamist beast of modern times.

In the meantime, the longer the problem continues, the more bodies will continue to wash up on the Turkish Aegean coast as Syrians of all ages whose safety, well-being and hopes for the future have been devastated will have to continue seeking their legitimate demand for a more secure and better life somewhere else.