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.


Will Turkey abide by provisions of Berlin Summit?

Updated 21 January 2020

Will Turkey abide by provisions of Berlin Summit?

  • Expert says sudden end to Ankara’s intervention in Libyan conflict unlikely

JEDDAH: With the conclusion of the Libya peace summit in Berlin on Sunday, it remains to be seen whether Turkey is willing to implement the provisions of the final communique and stay out of the conflict.

Ankara is accused of sending Syrian fighters to the Libyan battlefront in support of Fayez Al-Sarraj’s Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) against military commander Khalifa Haftar’s forces.

During the summit, French President Emmanuel Macron voiced concerns over the arrival of Syrian and other foreign fighters in Tripoli, saying: “That must end.” 

Samuel Ramani, a geopolitical analyst at Oxford University, speculates that Turkey will not deploy more troops.  

But he told Arab News that a sudden end to Ankara’s intervention in the Libyan conflict is unlikely for the moment as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country will remain present “until the GNA’s future is secured.”

Noting the difficulty of enforcing the Berlin agreement, Ramani said Turkey might not be the first mover in breaching a cease-fire in Libya.

But he added that Turkey will not hesitate to deploy forces and upend the agreement if Haftar makes any moves that it considers “provocative.”

The summit called for sanctions on those who violate the UN Security Council arms embargo on Libya.

Turkish opposition MPs recently criticized the expanded security pact between Ankara and the GNA, saying the dispatch of materials and equipment to Libya breaches the UN arms embargo.

Until we see what specific cease-fire monitoring and enforcement mechanisms will be implemented and by which foreign powers, we don’t know what arrangements, if any, have been agreed upon.

Micha’el Tanchum, Analyst

The summit does not seem to have resolved ongoing disputes regarding the Eastern Mediterranean pipeline, a planned natural gas pipeline connecting eastern Mediterranean energy resources to mainland Greece via Cyprus and Crete.

The Cypriot presidency accused Turkey of being a “pirate state,” citing Ankara’s recent drilling off its coasts just a day after Brussels warned Turkey that its plans were illegal.

Erdogan dismissed the warning and threatened to send to the EU some 4 million refugees that Turkey is hosting.

Turkey dispatched its Yavuz drillship to the south of Cyprus on Sunday, based on claims deriving from the maritime delimitation agreement with the GNA.

Turkey’s insistence on gas exploration in the region may be subject to sanctions as early as this week, when EU foreign ministers meet in Brussels on Monday.

Aydin Sezer, an Ankara-based political analyst, drew attention to Article 25 of the Berlin final communique, which underlined the “Libyan Political Agreement as a viable framework for the political solution in Libya,” and called for the “establishment of a functioning presidency council and the formation of a single, unified, inclusive and effective Libyan government approved by the House of Representatives.”

Sezer told Arab News: “Getting approval from Libya’s Haftar-allied House of Representatives would be a serious challenge for Ankara because Haftar recently considered all agreements with Turkey as a betrayal. This peace conference once more showed that Turkey should keep away from Libya.”

Many experts remain skeptical about the possible outcome of the summit. 

Micha’el Tanchum, a senior fellow at the Austrian Institute for European and Security Policy, said: “Until we see what specific cease-fire monitoring and enforcement mechanisms will be implemented and by which foreign powers, we don’t know what arrangements, if any, have been agreed upon.”