Syrians in Turkey: An important question
A very wise friend asked, “How is Turkey to resolve the Syrian refugee problem if you say the three billion euros or so Europe will provide is not going to be a sufficient resource?” He was referring to an article I penned during my recent trip to southeastern Gaziantep.
The Syria problem, or any problem of such huge dimensions, cannot be resolved from night to day, or as if someone is turning on a light. Turkey is lucky that it has a foreign policy guru as its prime minister and a very experienced president who has an impressive record of persistence, as in these difficult times administering a country of Turkey’s size with such proximity not only to the Syria quagmire but an Iraq where instability, chaos and violence has become routine must be a very challenging task.
Don’t raise eyebrows… Of course everyone knows who contributed how much to spreading the fire across this geography, but not everything can be said or written all the time. After all, in democracies there is freedom of expression and people chose with their own free will what to say and at what cost. It is like going to a green grocer and picking - with your own free will and within the limits of your physical or electronic wallet - what to buy. Thus, in this green grocer of Turkey, everyone has the endless liberty of praising the government and its almighty rulers but criticism is unwelcome, to say the least, as is evident with 32 journalists enjoying all-inclusive state hospitality at various cross-bar hotels.
What is the exact number of Syrian “guests” in Turkey? Probably the government has no idea either. On the one hand, for many weeks the Syrian border is said to be sealed - allegedly excluding the not-so-mild and not-so-hospitable, often bearded and mostly machete-wielding not-so-bright Islamists often referred to as Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) gangsters. There are as well reports of border security people gathering around 750 to 1000 “unwanted guests” trying to make illegal entry into the country every week.
On the other hand, some 750,000-800,000 Syrian guests the country has been hosting have preferred over the past months to become refugees of the political West in hopes of a decent and secure life with rights and liberties. If there were 2.2 million Syrian guests in this country and if at least one-third of them have fled to Europe since then and if the border is sealed, how do Turkish authorities still use the 2.2 million figure when referring to the Syrians in Turkey?
It might be a habitual and behavioral disorder since Turks are honest people and don’t fool themselves, though they might be willing to fool those they consider less friendly. Anyhow, how many Syrian guests does this country have? Does anybody have a figure?
Last week’s Security Council resolution on Syria was of course a welcome development, as for the first time recently the world, and Syrians, saw the emergence of a global will for a compromise and phased resolution in our neighboring country.
Shocking, yes, but for a long time Turks have been talking about Syria as “another country,” but indeed it is Turkey’s neighbor today, and was an integrated part of Turkey about a century ago. How can this country and this people alienate themselves from what’s going on next door that it shares deep cultural, historical and indeed kinship relations?
Assessing why Turks did not take to the streets and protest en masse the flooding of their country by “Syrian aliens” has been indeed understood as the very fact they did not ever consider Syrians “aliens” or anything different than their own troubled family members. Yet, the problem is immense and sooner or later troubles might emerge if the status of the “forced visitors” is not clarified and a process of integration is not put in place.
The Security Council resolution - from which Russia distanced itself after it was adopted - was a landmark development but provided a phased resolution of the political problem of Syria. In two years’ time, God willing, there might be some real progress on the ground for a real transition towards a new and peaceful Syria. Yet, regarding the humanitarian aspect of the problem, a far longer period will be needed and even if Turks and other societies hosting Syrian refugees might not wish to hear about it when that day comes, it will be seen that less than one-third of Syrians will be willing to make a return journey and rebuild their life back in their “former” homeland, as by that day they will have converted the countries they took refuge in to their “new homeland.”
The conditions of such a bitter but unavoidable situation must be created. In Turkey, for example, Syrians must be assisted in learning Turkish, coping with Turkish traditions and integrating into Turkish society. This country is a nation composed of the residues of a huge empire spanning three continents. From Albanians to Serbians, Arabs, Greeks, Armenians and of course Turks and Kurds, a new country and nation was born out of the ashes of the Ottoman Empire. Through some awful mistakes some precious elements of this new nation were lost; some unwanted developments added new elements. Now there is a new challenge: The Syrian people of various colors. This nation must embrace them and the wise rulers rather than bragging around must undertake the legal reforms to help their integration. The problem at hand is not one that can be cured with palliative measures…