Turkey facilitates Syrians’ Hajj pilgrimage

A Syrian opposition flag is seen as Muslim pilgrims climb Mount Mercy on the plains of Arafat, during the peak of the annual hajj pilgrimage near the holy city of Makkah, in this file photo. (REUTERS)
Updated 15 August 2017

Turkey facilitates Syrians’ Hajj pilgrimage

ANKARA: Syrians’ Hajj pilgrimage to the sacred Islamic cities of Madinah and Makkah in Saudi Arabia has begun via Turkey.
In the first batch, a group of 180 pilgrims, mostly from Aleppo and its surroundings, entered from Syria’s Bab Al-Salama crossing in northern Aleppo to Turkey’s Oncupinar crossing in the south-eastern town of Kilis.
The group will be followed by another 1,058 pilgrims. It is estimated that 7,000 Syrian pilgrims will pass through Turkey.
Permission is granted by Turkey’s Foreign Ministry, and the pilgrimage is organized by the Syrian Higher Committee of Pilgrimage, under the auspices of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces (NCROS).
Hajj, which is obligatory for every Muslim who can afford it, gathers Muslims from around the world each year in Saudi Arabia as of early September.
“Many of the pilgrims reached Turkey at the end of a two-day trip,” Syrian pilgrim Abdurrahman Nehlevi told the Anadolu news agency.
“It isn’t easy to go to the pilgrimage from Syria. We were very tired when we got here, but Turkey offered us a facility at the border and took care of us very well.”
Omar Kadkoy, a research associate at the Ankara-based think-tank TEPAV who works on the socioeconomic integration of Syrian refugees, said Turkey’s opening of the border for Hajj is very much appreciated by Syrian pilgrims.
Had it not been for the safety achieved by Turkey’s Operation Euphrates Shield in northern Syria, “it could’ve been more difficult for Syrians to perform their (Hajj) duty,” he added.
Selma Bardakci, a fellow at international exchange organization Atlas Corps, said facilitating Syrians’ pilgrimage highlights Turkey’s humanitarian approach.
“By providing permission for refugees to cross for religious purposes, Turkey shows it’s unwilling to further politicize what it sees as a human rights issue,” she told Arab News.
“The stance sends a positive message to the Muslim world, and speaks to Turkey’s overall strategy to gain credibility and popularity on the Arab street.”
Bardakci said exercising such soft power is a long-term investment toward becoming a regional power.
“Winning hearts and minds in the region can increase Turkey’s influence. When the crisis ends, Syrians will remember Turkey’s humanitarian foreign policy approach and efforts to help,” she added.
“Seemingly small, people-centric policies will create big impacts for Turkey’s long-term engagement in the region.”

What next after Turkey’s former PM launches new party?

Updated 11 sec ago

What next after Turkey’s former PM launches new party?

  • Ahmet Davutoglu has previously attached high importance to ties between Turkey and the Arab world

ANKARA: Turkey’s former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu held the long-awaited publicity meeting for his new political party, the Future Party (Gelecek Partisi) on Dec. 13 in Ankara, a day after he registered it with the Turkish Interior Ministry.

The press conference was broadcast with English and Arabic simultaneous translations.

Davutoglu has previously attached high importance to ties between Turkey and the Arab world, and has repeatedly called for a reengagement with major Arab countries.

The party is expected to erode support for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, diminishing his grip on the Turkish Parliament.

Gelecek Partisi is the first breakaway party from the AKP, which will be followed by a second, formed by Erdogan’s ex-economy tsar, Ali Babacan, with his technocrat and liberal team expected to launch in the first week of January.

Disgruntled voters

Paul T. Levin, director of the Stockholm University Institute for Turkish Studies, said Davutoglu may well have some success in siphoning disgruntled AKP voters away from Erdogan with Babacan.

Davutoglu, once a close ally of Erdogan, gave many references in his address to the bad political management of Turkey. He underlined his support for freedom of religion and belief, liberty, equality, the fight against nepotism and corruption, transparency in party financing, the rule of law, and the return to the parliamentary system.

“Today we establish the party by saying: The future belongs to our people, the future belongs to Turkey,” he said.

According to Levin, unlike the clique that now rules the AKP, Davutoglu does not have the reputation of being mired in corruption and nepotism.

“He has strong Islamist credentials and his outspoken criticisms of the AKP’s authoritarian turn may entice some religious conservatives dissatisfied by the AKP to switch in protest,” he told Arab News.

The council of the party’s founders, which has 155 members, symbolizes different segments of Turkish society, with hijab-wearing women, Christians, Kurds, Alevites and others all represented.


• The new party is expected to erode support for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

• Davutoglu, 60, resigned from the AKP in September, saying Erdogan’s party was unable to solve Turkey’s immediate problems.

It is the first time in Turkish history that Turkish citizens with Greek, Armenian and Assyrian roots have taken part in a founders’ council. Several associations of Roma, Caucasus and Arab-origin communities were also present.

Ayhan Sefer Ustun, former head of the parliamentary Human Rights Commission, is one of the 18 former deputies from Erdogan’s AKP who initiated the party.

Future Party

He said they launched Future Party because the AKP drifted from its core principles like liberty, pluralism, and participative democracy.

“Our party is a new breath into Turkish politics. The participation of so many members to the council shows that there is a need for such a political move. It is an alternative for the voters,” he told Arab News.

The Future Party has the support of wealthy businesspeople and civil society representatives as well as academics.

Davutoglu, 60, resigned from the AKP in September, saying Erdogan’s party was unable to solve Turkey’s immediate problems because each intra-party criticism was labeled as “treason.”

His rebellion within the AKP was mainly triggered by the party’s critical losses in nationwide local elections in March, especially in Istanbul and Ankara, as well as other normally safe areas.

Levin said Davutoglu lacked the broad popularity of his rival, though, which could hinder him.

The next elections in Turkey are set for 2023, but there is a growing expectation for a snap election next year.

According to Turkish law, a political party is eligible to stand if it completes the establishment of local branches in at least half of the cities throughout the country, and holds its general congress six months before elections.

“Would Davutoglu be able to climb above the single digits in the polls? It would greatly surprise me and most other observers. Granted, the next election is scheduled for 2023, and that is exactly three lifetimes in Turkish politics, so never say never,” Levin said.

On the day of the party’s launch, the newly established nationalist Good Party’s leader, Meral Aksener, announced that it would support the Future Party with deputies to help make it into Parliament at the next election.

It is almost certain that the new breakaway parties will enter an alliance with relatively established political parties to overcome the 10 percent electoral threshold.