Turkey expands its footprint in Syria with new university faculties

A Syrian girl poses in a school run by UNICEF in a refugee camp in Sanliurfa, Turkey.
Updated 06 October 2019

Turkey expands its footprint in Syria with new university faculties

  • This new engagement is seen as a move to deepen Turkey’s footprint in the region as well as to assist the war-torn country in the capacity building efforts

ANKARA: As a new sign of cultural engagement and expansion of soft power into northern Syria, Ankara announced that it will establish three new faculties in colleges in Al-Bab, Azaz and Afrin. Turkey has conducted cross-border military operations in all of these towns to drive out the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia and Daesh. The decision is backed by a presidential decree. which was published on the Official Gazette on Oct 4.
A faculty of economics and administrative sciences, a faculty of Islamic studies and a faculty of education will be set up in Al-Bab, Azaz and Afrin respectively.
The faculties will be affiliated to Gaziantep University in southeastern Anatolia. The courses will be given in Arabic. Graduates from these universities will have accredited diplomas from Turkey.
This is not the first time Turkey has opened a school in Syria. Last year, Gaziantep University launched a vocational training school in Aleppo’s Jarablus district. In the same year, the Turkish University of Harran opened a branch in Al-Bab, with no university fees and giving faculty options on various areas such as electrical and mechanical engineering, civil engineering, physics, mathematics, chemistry and biology.
This new engagement is seen as a move to deepen Turkey’s footprint in the region as well as to assist the war-torn country in the capacity building efforts.
The emphasis on economics and administrative sciences in Al-Bab is related to the ongoing project of setting up an industrial city at the northern entrance of the town and the need for training.
Mohamad Najjouma, deputy head of the Stabilization Committee and director of research, studies and projects in the north of Syria, said that after the collapse of educational facilities and schools in the region by Daesh, there was a need bWoth to fight against illiteracy and to recover from the radical nationalistic ideology of the past.
“I believe that the establishment of branches of Turkish universities inside Syria, in the Euphrates Shield and Afrin areas, is a necessary humanitarian issue. It guarantees the local population access to a university education with an official status,” he told Arab News.

SPEEDREAD

A faculty of economics and administrative sciences, a faculty of Islamic studies and a faculty of education will be set up in Al-Bab, Azaz and Afrin respectively.

However, for some experts, the move is a waste of time and a waste of taxpayers’ money. Some experts also criticize Turkey of trying to increase its cultural and educational presence in the country, and see it as a sign that Ankara’s presence will last for a long time.
Michael Tanchum, senior fellow at AIES, an Austrian private nonpartisan research institute, is skeptical about the underlying reasons of this new initiative
“Turkey is adept at combining hard power with soft power projects to deepen its influence in the societies of other countries, we see this for example in Somalia. The fact that this is occurring in a country that borders Turkey and without the permission of that country’s government raises questions about what kind of sphere of influence is expected to develop,” he told Arab News.
But Mohamad Najjouma, deputy head of the Stabilization Committee and director of research, studies and projects in the north of Syria, said the development of human capital in these areas has been necessary for the development of the country and tackling extremism.
“Education is a human right guaranteed by international laws and obtaining internationally recognized university education certificates is also a human right,” he added.
Najjouma also believes that the establishment of these faculties will be an incentive for Syrian refugees residing in Turkey to return to their homeland as they will have an opportunity to get a recognized university education with accredited certificates in the same way as Turkish students.
In the meantime, Ankara has warned of an imminent military operation in northeastern Syria, currently under the control of the YPG, if Washington fails to support it in the planned safe zone initiative. On Saturday, Turkey’ President Recep Tayyip Erdogan hinted at a possible military operation into the region, where American troops are deployed, to drive out the YPG.


Will European arms ban impact Turkey’s Syria operation?

Updated 14 October 2019

Will European arms ban impact Turkey’s Syria operation?

  • Several European countries imposing weapons embargoes on Turkey

ANKARA: With an increasing number of European countries imposing weapons embargoes on Turkey over its ongoing operation in northeastern Syria, Ankara’s existing inventory of weapons and military capabilities are under the spotlight.

More punitive measures on a wider scale are expected during a summit of EU leaders in Brussels on Oct. 17.

It could further strain already deteriorating relations between Ankara and the bloc.

However, a EU-wide arms embargo would require an unanimous decision by all the leaders.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned last week of a possible refugee flow if Turkey “opened the doors” for 3.6 million Syrian refugees to go to Europe — putting into question the clauses of the 2016 migration deal between Ankara and Brussels.

“The impact of EU member states’ arms sanctions on Turkey depends on the level of Turkey’s stockpiles,” Caglar Kurc, a researcher on defense and armed forces, told Arab News.

Kurc thinks Turkey has foreseen the possible arms sanctions and stockpiled enough spare parts to maintain the military during the operation.

“As long as Turkey can maintain its military, sanctions would not have any effect on the operation. Therefore, Turkey will not change its decisions,” he said.

So far, Germany, France, Finland, the Netherlands and Norway have announced they have stopped weapons shipments to fellow NATO member Turkey, condemning the offensive.

“Against the backdrop of the Turkish military offensive in northeastern Syria, the federal government will not issue new permits for all armaments that could be used by Turkey in Syria,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told German newspaper Bild am Sonntag.

Following Germany’s move, the French government announced: “France has decided to suspend all export projects of armaments to Turkey that could be deployed as part of the offensive in Syria. This decision takes effect immediately.”

While not referring to any arms embargo, the UK urged Turkey to end the operation and enter into dialogue.

Turkey received one-third of Germany’s arms exports of €771 million ($850.8 million) in 2018. 

According to Kurc, if sanctions extend beyond weapons that could be used in Syria, there could be a negative impact on the overall defense industry.

“However, in such a case, Turkey would shift to alternative suppliers: Russia and China would be more likely candidates,” he said.

According to Sinan Ulgen, the chairman of the Istanbul-based EDAM think tank and a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe, the arms embargo would not have a long-term impact essentially because most of the sanctions are caveated and limited to materials that can be used by Turkey in its cross-border operation.

“So the arms embargo does not cover all aspects of the arms trade between Turkey and the EU. These measures look essentially like they are intended to demonstrate to their own critical publics that their governments are doing something about what they see as a negative aspect of Turkey’s behavior,” he told Arab News.

Turkey, however, insists that the Syria operation, dubbed “Operation Peace Spring,” is undeterred by any bans or embargoes.

“No matter what anyone does, no matter if it’s an arms embargo or anything else, it just strengthens us,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told German radio station Deutsche Welle.