Uncertainty for Syrians in Turkey as opposition warms to Assad

Istanbul, Turkey – Taha Elgazi says he’s on a mission to satisfy anybody who hates refugees.

The 37-year-old fled the struggle in Syria in 2013 for Turkey, abandoning his home in Deir Az Zor and a dream of acquiring a doctorate in cosmology. He has made essential strides through the years in Istanbul, educating physics for a time in colleges for Syrian kids, and being chosen as a talented sufficient skilled to acquire Turkish nationality, one thing fewer than 200,000 of three.7 million Syrians like him within the nation have been in a position to acquire.

In the previous couple of months, although, Elgazi has taken on a brand new problem: to extricate Syrians and different refugees from a political discourse the place their continued presence is more and more on the forefront of electoral campaigning.

“In any society, not just Turkey, the street responds to what is said by politicians,” Elgazi instructed Al Jazeera. “Unfortunately, in recent times we have seen politicians in Turkey using hate speech and racist rhetoric towards Syrian refugees, and these statements have real-world results.”

From trending hashtags on social media calling for Syrians to be expelled en masse, to violent mob riots focusing on Syrian neighbourhoods, each week in Turkey appears to deliver new indicators of pressure between the refugees and the locals.

In an effort to vary that dynamic, Elgazi and greater than a dozen others – a grassroots group of Syrian and Turkish refugee rights activists – have been holding closed-door conferences with representatives from events throughout the nation’s polarised political panorama. “We Syrians today do not want to favour any party or anyone, we hope to have them see refugees from a humane perspective, and not from a political perspective,” he mentioned.

Elgazi mentioned the objective of the conferences is easy: to have every occasion decide to a constitution that claims they won’t make the refugee concern part of their electoral campaigns. “We are looking for an agreement between parties that holds them accountable, that they will not use refugees, whether Syrian or Afghan or others, for domestic politics in Turkey.”

The effort has yielded some success: representatives, not solely from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) but in addition the opposition, from centre-left Republican People’s Party (CHP) to the centre-right IYI Party, have met with Elgazi and the opposite activists over the previous few months, providing, not less than behind closed doorways, pledges that they won’t marketing campaign on guarantees of forcibly returning Syrians to Syria.

Last month Elgazi even met with CHP head Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the top of the most important opposition occasion, who has usually mentioned at stump speeches he plans to ship Syrians again inside two years of coming to energy.

Turkey’s largest opposition events have lengthy known as for a break with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s coverage of internet hosting refugees and backing rebels in Syria. As indicators of a doable change in authorities emerge within the nation, opposition leaders at the moment are significantly considering of methods to re-establish ties with Damascus and pave the way in which for sending the Syrian refugees home.

Polls present Erdogan’s job approval ranking has fallen – from a excessive of 68 % in 2016 to 39 % in October – as has the prospect of the AKP successful the subsequent election in June 2023. The AKP and its coalition associate, the right-wing Nationalist Movement Party, are polling at slightly below 40 %, with the CHP, pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), IYI Party, and the allied opposition, garnering simply above the bulk they would want to regulate parliament.

Anti-refugee sentiment, in the meantime, polls present, is one thing that cuts throughout occasion strains, prompting opposition events to invoke the Syrian presence in hopes of drawing extra votes away from Erdogan.

Opposition leaders in Turkey have marketing campaign on slogans vowing to not “surrender” neighbourhoods to Syrians, and stump speeches have usually included guarantees to ship the refugees again home inside just a few years.

Reaching out to Assad

Ugur Poyraz, basic secretary of the IYI Party, says his occasion doesn’t search to inflame anti-Syrian sentiments, however many Turks are rightly frightened Erdogan lacks a long-term plan for refugees. Poyraz says if elected right into a authorities, his occasion would supply a drastic break from the AKP’s coverage of looking for to topple al-Assad.

While Turkey went on to face a risk from ISIL (ISIS) and Kurdish forces in Syria that did deserve a response, Poyraz says Erdogan’s preliminary resolution to contain the nation within the Syrian struggle, alongside along with his assist for different Arab Spring revolutions reminiscent of in Egypt, was pushed by “emotional reflex”.

“This was a fundamental mistake Erdogan made,” he mentioned. “They [the AKP] have now become captive, beholden, to their emotional, personal reflexes and turned them into government policy.”

With an eye fixed in direction of the potential for a brand new post-Erdogan relationship with Syria, Poyraz says the occasion fashioned a working group nearly two years in the past to check not solely the results of Syrian refugees living in Turkey, but in addition methods to create a pathway for his or her return to Syria. If elected to energy, the IYI Party plans to reach out to the al-Assad authorities.

“We do believe it is in Turkey’s interests to have high level contacts [with the al-Assad government], to ensure peace and stability is maintained, in a mutually beneficial manner,” he mentioned.

While the centre-right IYI Party has continued to assist Turkish army engagement in Syria towards Kurdish forces and ISIL, the nation’s two largest opposition events are each now calling for an finish to such actions in Syria altogether.

The HDP, which enjoys giant assist within the majority Kurdish southeast alongside the Iraq-Syria border, has lengthy known as for Ankara to not ship troops throughout the border, as an alternative insisting autonomous Kurdish-dominated areas in northern Syria may present a mannequin for a steady future.

Nationalist sentiment in Turkey has made the HDP’s marketing campaign unpopular, although. Ankara insists Kurdish teams throughout the border are allied with the Kurdistan Worker’s Party, or PKK, which Turkey and its allies take into account a terror group, and two of the three cross-border operations Turkey has launched have been aimed toward dismantling these autonomous Kurdish-led zones of energy.

Nearly all the HDP’s regionally elected officers within the southeast have been eliminated over allegations of ties to the PKK, its occasion management jailed, and it faces a blanket ban from prosecutors over alleged terror ties.

But final month CHP lawmakers joined the HDP in parliament, refusing to vote in favour of a two-year extension for authorising cross-border army operations in Syria.

“We voted against this motion this time because we simply think it is not possible to find a military solution to the Syrian quagmire anymore,” Unal Cevikoz, a former ambassador and profession diplomat who now serves because the CHP’s chief overseas relations adviser, instructed Al Jazeera.

“And this is the tendency all over the world today. We have observed a similar situation in Afghanistan, with the US being in contact with the Taliban with the understanding they would withdraw their armed forces from Afghanistan, so I think today’s times oblige us to look for peaceful resolution to conflicts, and that is what we are also advocating [in Syria].”

While the CHP shouldn’t be advocating forcing refugees again to Syria, Cevikoz says the occasion would take steps to encourage them to return on their very own. “First of all, we would have a policy that would certainly start a kind of dialogue and communication with the existing Syrian authorities, with a view to preparing the necessary and sufficient conditions for them to return, certainly by their own choice.”

In a course of the CHP hopes would take about two years, Cevikoz says Turkish buyers could be inspired to spend money on Syria, and the UN and EU could be requested to assist safe funding for reconstruction and rehabilitation of the war-torn nation.

“And we would like to get some kind assurance from the Syrian government that those Syrians who return by their own choice will not be persecuted … alongside ensuring the economic conditions meet their needs for subsistence, their security is also very important, and that’s why we plan to talk and get that assurance that they will not be persecuted.”

The CHP has already tried to reach out to the al-Assad authorities, with restricted success. In 2019, the occasion organised a convention to deliver collectively stakeholders on Syria in Istanbul, however the Turkish overseas ministry didn’t grant visas for 2 folks to signify al-Assad, together with one Baath Party member, who had been invited to affix.

“We have top-level contacts and we exchange messages,” Cevikoz unhappy, “but there is no direct channel of communication, no functioning, existing channel for dialogue at the moment.”

In September, CHP management, together with Cevikoz, visited the Kurdistan Regional Government in Erbil, and met with its president, Nechirvan Barzani, to put the groundwork for what the occasion hopes is a brand new monitor for regional diplomacy. The occasion would additionally prefer to organise visits to Damascus and Tehran, however Cevikoz says diplomatic relations must enhance earlier than that may occur.

‘Don’t make guarantees you can’t hold’

The Turkish opposition’s hopes of normalising relations with Damascus, and discovering a technique to reconstruct the nation so refugees can return although, shouldn’t be a simple activity.

The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia has estimated not less than $117bn in infrastructure harm and $324bn in losses in gross home product (GDP) due to the struggle.

Simply rebuilding infrastructure would require a much more complicated effort than what the CHP has in thoughts, says Samir Hafez, a member of the AKP who advises Turkish officers on Syria. “Who is going to find this huge amount of money to rebuild Syria?” he instructed Al Jazeera.

Aside from the human toll within the struggle, there’s a actuality that living in Syria proper now could be near unimaginable, even for somebody who doesn’t fear reprisal from the al-Assad authorities, Hafez says. Hundreds of hospitals and colleges have been destroyed, militias have put up their very own checkpoints, there may be rampant inflation, and the general public is grappling with widespread meals and gas shortages.

“Suppose you find the money to rebuild, even then we need 20 years to rebuild things, not two years,” he mentioned. “Someone ought to tell Kilicdaroglu, don’t make promises you cannot keep. What you are doing is really just moving the public view in Turkey against Syrians, and if this is for a coming election, it’s going to look bad when you cannot deliver, for you and for Turkey.”

The CHP’s hope to acquire funding from Western nations too is unlikely to materialise, says Omar Kadkoy, a coverage analyst on the Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkey.

“The EU, its member states, the UK, US, and Canada, they are all linking reconstruction funds to a concrete plan on political transition in Syria. This shows once again how the discourse forwarded by the CHP so far has lots of soft points, and cannot materialise in the way it is being sold to its audience for the upcoming elections.”

Kadkoy says the most important impediment to normalising ties with Damascus, although, is the Turkish army presence inside Syria and its backing of insurgent forces. “That is Damascus’s main request from Turkey, before they do anything, that Turkey withdraw its army, and stop supporting what are, according to Damascus, terror organisations in Idlib and other areas.”

Cevikoz, of the CHP, says with the struggle winding down in Syria, it’s time as an alternative for Ankara to work alongside Damascus in taking cost of cross-border safety threats. “If we want to conduct our fight against international terrorism, be it ISIS or the PKK, or PYD, we need to be in dialogue with the Syrian authorities and we should conduct this fight together.”

That sort of overture to al-Assad’s authorities is what worries many Syrians in Turkey, although, together with Elgazi. “If we have a guarantee of safety inside Syria, of the basic needs to make a living, personally, me and my family, of course we would return to Syria,” Elgazi mentioned. “But the problem keeping Syrian refugees today from returning is not just economic, it’s the Assad regime, and this problem is still there.”

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