Turkish animosity toward Syrian refugees on the rise, survey warns

Civilans fleeing Afrin after Turkey said its army and allied rebels surrounded the Kurdish city in northern Syria, wait at a Syrian army check point in az-Ziyarah in the government-controlled part of the northern Aleppo province as they head to seek refuge in the town of Nubol, 26 kms northwest of Aleppo city, in this March 13, 2018 photo. (AFP)
Updated 14 March 2018

Turkish animosity toward Syrian refugees on the rise, survey warns

ANKARA: Turkish attitudes toward the growing number of Syrian refugees living in the country have hardened, with many blaming the newcomers for job losses and a rise in terror incidents, a survey has shown.
The survey by Istanbul Bilgi University, released in Ankara on Monday, showed 71 percent of respondents blame Syrians for taking their jobs, while 58 percent believe the number of terrorist incidents in Turkey has increased because of the growing presence of Syrians.
Titled “Turkish attitudes toward Syrians in Turkey,” the study was conducted in November and December last year through face-to-face interviews with 2,004 people in four focus groups. Those surveyed were mostly supporters of the main political parties.
“In our own country now, we are second-class citizens,” a pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party supporter said during the survey. “They all came and settled here, they benefit from all (our) services.”
Turkey is home to 3.7 million registered refugees, most of them from Syria. Since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011, Turkey has spent more than $30 billion on the welfare of Syrian refugees, including health, education and infrastructure. The Turkish Health Ministry also conducts vaccination campaigns and free medical checkups for those living outside the camps.
Some of these benefits given to Syrians have fueled animosity among Turkish people, with about 51 percent of those surveyed opposed to giving free medical treatment to refugees at hospitals funded by Turkish taxpayers.
The study, conducted with the support of the German Marshall Fund of the US, a think tank and grant provider, also found that 55.5 percent believe Syrians pose a health risk.
“After the Syrians arrived, the number of divorces increased,” said another respondent supporting the ruling Justice and Development Party.
However, experts say tensions will ease if more is done to integrate Syrians into Turkish society.
“We observe some increasing concerns, and distortion and displeasure among Turkish society due to the prolonged uncertainty about the stay of Syrians,” Ayselin Yildiz, UNESCO’s chair on international migration at Yasar University, told Arab News.
“But we should avoid interpreting it as rising xenophobia, which is not the case,” she said.
“I believe if the Syrians are properly integrated into the economy through a development approach, this will ease the possible tensions. Accordingly, we need a regional approach and we need local actors to be able to more actively engaged in employment strategies.”
Since 2015, the Turkish government has been working to make it easier for Syrians to obtain Turkish citizenship — a move that has sparked controversy among the Turkish public. Early last year, Syrians who were skilled white-collar professionals with a university education were given citizenship.
About 80 percent of those surveyed by the university said Syrians should not be allowed to obtain Turkish citizenship, while 86 percent said all Syrians should be sent back to their country when the war is over.
In contrast, a different survey released in November revealed that nearly 75 percent of Syrian refugees in Turkey hope to obtain citizenship, while 52 percent of Syrians want to continue living in the country.
However, according to the Bilgi University study, interactions between Turkish people and Syrian refugees have been limited. Although 69 percent meet Syrians in their neighborhoods, only 12 percent have a Syrian friend, and 5 percent visit their Syrian neighbors’ homes.
Of those surveyed, 87 percent were opposed to their daughters marrying a Syrian, while 80 percent say they cannot do business with a Syrian. Nearly three quarters, or 74 percent, refused to let their children make friends with their Syrian peers.
While some of the survey figures are worryingly high — such as negative attitudes toward giving rights to Syrians — intercommunal contact and empathy among the Turkish public are likely to overcome the apparent xenophobia, experts say.
“Living in the same neighborhood isn’t sufficient. Turks and Syrians should increase social interaction at the grassroots levels by shopping and visiting each other’s houses,” Dr. Emre Erdogan, founder and director of the Infakto Research Workshop in Istanbul, said.
For this to happen, Syrians need to obtain sufficient language skills in order to establish a dialogue with their Turkish peers, while social projects should focus on encouraging interaction, he said.

Turkey may launch new offensive against US-backed Kurdish militia in Syria

Updated 22 September 2018

Turkey may launch new offensive against US-backed Kurdish militia in Syria

  • The operation is expected to begin from Turkey’s southeastern border town of Suruc
  • Turkey maintains its regional alliance with Russia as leverage against US support for the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia

ANKARA: Turkey is gearing up for a military offensive on Tal Abyad in Syria, according to some news reports, with video footage showing the Turkish military deploying troops near its border town Akcakale. 

Experts interviewed by Arab News noted that the military deployment to the Syrian border with many tanks and howitzers was aimed at putting additional pressure on the US to accelerate the implementation of a roadmap endorsed by Turkey and the US in June for the northern Syrian city of Manbij.

A recent agreement between Ankara and Moscow that forestalled a full-scale Syrian regime offensive against the Syrian province of Idlib also triggered Turkey’s ambitious military activities along the border. 

Turkey maintains its regional alliance with Russia as leverage against US support for the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, seen as a domestic security threat to Turkey due to their links with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged a bloody insurgency against the Turkish state for more than three decades. 

And the Manbij roadmap between Turkey and the US consists of the withdrawal of the YPG from the city to stabilize the region.

Tal Abyad, an Arab-majority town located to the north of Raqqa city and near the Turkish border, was captured from Daesh in 2015 by the YPG in an offensive supported by US-led airstrikes. The YPG remains a reliable American partner in Syria. 

A potential operation in Tal Abyad, if it happens, would likely mark a new phase in Turkey’s military intervention in Syria by directly clashing with the YPG on the ground. 

Mete Sohtaoglu, an analyst on Syrian politics, expects Turkey’s operation in Tal Abyad to start by March 2019. 

“Turkey’s main objective is to wipe out all YPG presence in the east of the Euphrates. The details of the operation, if it occurs, will become clear following an upcoming meeting between Turkish and American presidents,” he told Arab News. 

“The operation is expected to begin from Turkey’s southeastern border town of Suruc, then will specifically include the zone between Tal Abyad and Kobani cantons,” he said. 

Although not officially confirmed, Trump and Erdogan are likely to meet on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly’s 73rd session, which will begin on Sept. 25. 

According to Sohtaoglu, the prime condition for the US to address Ankara’s concerns and withdraw its support for the YPG would be a change of policy by Turkey about Iran. 

Ankara recently gave the green light for military cooperation with Washington in Syria. Since June 18, US and Turkish troops have been conducting “coordinated independent patrols” to the north of Manbij as part of the roadmap. 

In a press conference on Friday, Turkish presidential spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin announced that Turkey would soon start joint training and patrols with the US in the Syrian Kurdish-held town of Manbij, but said Washington’s continuous arms support of the YPG was unacceptable.

The US State Department omitted the YPG and its political wing the Democratic Union Party (PYD) from its 2017 Country Reports on Terrorism, which was released on Wednesday.

However, some experts do not expect any decrease of US support to its local partner YPG, while mobilizing the forces alongside the border is a tactical move. 

“I don’t expect an imminent and direct military operation to Tal Abyad. I think the recent military reinforcement intends to put pressure on the US to quickly operationalize the joint roadmap on Manbij, another Kurdish-held province,” Oytun Orhan, a Syria expert at the Ankara-based think-tank ORSAM, told Arab News. 

Orhan thinks that Turkey’s tactical move would change the local balance in Tal Abyad. 

“It would create a sense that the Turkish army wants to enter the area and would incite some rebels. The removal of YPG from this province would undermine the terror group’s aim to create an integrated zone in this region because it will break the geographical continuity between the cantons,” he said. 

Further increasing its geographical importance, Tal Abyad is located on an intermediate point between the major cantons of Kobani and Qamishli. 

Orhan said that Turkey already had the support of Arab tribes that took refuge in Turkey from Tal Abyad, and Ankara’s ability to rally this support in an Arab-majority town would force the US to reconsider its alliance with the YPG. 

“In the past, the Arab tribes that took shelter in Turkey often expressed their willingness to take part in an Turkish operation to Tal Abyad if Ankara supports them,” he said. 

Last year in March, Turkey convened a meeting of about 50 Sunni Arab tribal leaders in the Turkish southeastern province of Sanliurfa that lies to the north of Tal Abyad, and their position against the YPG was put on the table.