Refugee crisis and its wider geopolitical repercussions
SYLVIA TIRYAKI & DIMITRIS RAPIDISThe refugee crisis sparked by the war in Syria cannot be handled by the EU and Turkey themselves nor by any other state unilaterally. Especially for the later, the result of the upcoming elections is vital for the creation of a common policy on the matter, after the participation of other political forces towards a more coherent domestic dialogue that goes beyond the mandate of a transitional cabinet. Broadly speaking, it takes coordinated actions from the international community and the U.N.’s Security Council to enforce ceasefire and build on a postwar stability in Syria. Alongside, the war against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) cannot be a field for both the U.S. and Russia to demonstrate their military capacity or influence in the region, but has to be seen as the point of rapprochement for both states towards cutting off the expansive and interconnected networks of ISIL and bring back the long-forgotten peace.
The situation gets even more complicated and affects regional balances. Sporadic upheavals in Israel between Israelis and Palestinians are taking place, the implications in the southern borders of Turkey with regards to the insurgent movement are intensified, the Arab states remain unwilling to step in and receive refugees, waiting for a new status quo in the region. France and the U.K. are intended to get militarily involved in Syria should Russia agree for Assad to resign.
At the same time, the new involvement of Russia in the region does not seem to be a temporary endeavor.
After seizing the opportunity and filling the void in the region, Moscow is likely to stay, at least for the foreseeable future. At the same time, Iran aims to play a definite role in postwar developments, Lebanon is affected by the spillover of sectarian surge and Jordan is suffocated by the massive numbers of refugees that Israel’s government is determined to keep outside the country. Especially for Israel, the worst possible scenario is to have a “new Syria,” or what is left of Syria as we used to know it, controlled by Iran, either through Hezbollah or other proxies.
The overall picture is far from rosy and the prospects do not look better either. Further spillover of war seems inevitable with millions of more refugees expected in the coming months or years. Unless the conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa are solved or at least frozen as soon as possible, the death toll will increase immensely.
No doubt, this is a nightmare scenario for the EU countries, though there is room for fruitful cooperation. The EU and Turkey can build on that, should stalemate on Turkey’s EU accession process be addressed. Major chapters, such as those dealing, for instance, with judiciary or fundamental rights, have been blocked by the European Commission due to the unresolved Cyprus issue, while some member-states want to impede accession and block bilateral talks for their own domestic reasons. In this respect, Chancellor Merkel’s visit to Turkey is a turning point in the rapprochement effort.
Merkel is faced with a backlash on the handling of the refugee crisis domestically while Erdoğan and Davutoğlu foresee the gains of such a visit over a better performance of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in elections. Nonetheless, the fact remains that whatever the domestic balances and incentives are, Turkey’s Western orientation is reinvigorated and Ankara has become again an equal interlocutor in intra-European summits. This is the right momentum for Brussels to re-launch talks on the human rights and other imminent chapters as the overlapping refugee crisis gives space for mutual understanding, pressure and concessions.
Similarly, in the eastern corner of the Mediterranean, positive developments have been taking place in the talks between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots. Many analysts who have closely observed the Cyprus conundrum for years are prone to believe the momentum is now. Leaders of the two communities are not playing the blame game this time and preparations for day-after solutions are also taken more seriously than ever since the inter-communal negotiations started back in 1968.
If the opportunity to solve the Cyprus problem doesn’t become a missed one again, plenty of opportunities for peaceful cooperation would emerge in the region. Especially Greece and Turkey can benefit from extending support, entailing fully-fledged cooperation to bring stability and security in the eastern Mediterranean. In fact, in a highly interconnected environment with many issues at stake, not only Greece, Turkey or entire the EU, but all should try to see the bright side of cooperation that might start with humanitarian aid.
Although humanitarian aid does not suffice, it might certainly be the first step towards prosperity and peace in the wider region.