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.

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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.


Lebanese donor hands Nazi artifacts to Israel, warns of anti-Semitism

Updated 08 December 2019

Lebanese donor hands Nazi artifacts to Israel, warns of anti-Semitism

  • Abdallah Chatila spent about 600,000 euros ($660,000) for eight objects connected to Hitler
  • He said he had felt compelled to take the objects off the market

JERUSALEM: wealthy Lebanese-Swiss businessman said Sunday he had bought Adolf Hitler’s top hat and other Nazi artifacts to give them to Jewish groups and prevent them falling into the hands of a resurgent far-right.
Abdallah Chatila said he had felt compelled to take the objects off the market because of the rising anti-Semitism, populism and racism he was witnessing in Europe.
He spent about 600,000 euros ($660,000) for eight objects connected to Hitler, including the collapsible top hat, in a November 20 sale at a Munich auction house, originally planning to burn them all.
But he then decided to give them to the Keren Hayesod association, an Israeli fundraising group, which has resolved to hand them to Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial center.
Chatila told a Jerusalem press conference it had been a “very easy” decision to purchase the items when he saw the “potentially lethal injustice that those artifacts would go to the wrong hands.”
“I felt I had no choice but to actually try to help the cause,” he added.
“What happened in the last five years in Europe showed us that anti-Semitism, that populism, that racism is going stronger and stronger, and we are here to fight it and show people we’re not scared.
“Today — with the fake news, with the media, with the power that people could have with the Internet, with social media — somebody else could use that small window” of time to manipulate the public, he said.
He said he had worried the Nazi-era artifacts could be used by neo-Nazi groups or those seeking to stoke anti-Semitism and racism in Europe.
“That’s why I felt I had to do it,” he said of his purchase.
The items, still in Munich, are to be eventually delivered to Yad Vashem, where they will be part of a collection of Nazi artifacts crucial to countering Holocaust denial, but not be put on regular display, said Avner Shalev, the institute’s director.
Chatila also met with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and visited Yad Vashem.
Chatila was born in Beirut into a family of Christian jewellers and moved to Switzerland at the age of two.
Now among Switzerland’s richest 300 people, he supports charities and causes, including many relating to Lebanon and Syrian refugees.
The auction was brought to Chatila’s attention by the European Jewish Association, which has sought to sway public opinion against the trade in Nazi memorabilia.
Rabbi Mehachem Margolin, head of the association, said Chatila’s surprise act had raised attention to such auctions.
He said it was a powerful statement against racism and xenophobia, especially coming from a non-Jew of Lebanese origin.
Lebanon and Israel remain technically at war and Lebanese people are banned from communication with Israelis.
“There is no question that a message that comes from you is 10 times, or 100 times stronger than a message that comes from us,” Margolin told Chatila.
The message was not only about solidarity among people, but also “how one person can make such a huge change,” Margolin said.
“There’s a place for optimism.”