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.


Turkish earthquake triggers many unanswered questions

Search and rescue personnel work at the site of a collapsed building, after an earthquake with a magnitude of 6.8 in Elazig, Turkey, on Monday. (Reuters)
Updated 54 min 46 sec ago

Turkish earthquake triggers many unanswered questions

  • Special taxes following the 1999 earthquake became a permanent tax in 2004

JEDDAH: Rescue operations continue amidst mountains of debris in eastern Turkey, following the deadly earthquake that hit the region on Friday with a magnitude of 6.8.

The quake, which followed two others in the western city of Manisa and the capital Ankara, has killed 33 people so far in Elazig province, and four in the neighboring Malatya province, with over 1,600 injured.
The country remains poised for further trouble, with a large quake in or around Istanbul feared possible in the coming days. “We’re expecting a 7.5-magnitude earthquake in Istanbul,” Turkey’s Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu warned in a live broadcast.
Turkey, which has a history of powerful earthquakes, faced a 7.6 magnitude quake in August 1999 in the western city of Izmit, which killed over 17,000 people, while another in 2011 in eastern city of Van killed more than 500.
However, not all lessons have been learned. Now, as then, authorities have been quick to criticize people who have questioned spending of funds raised by special earthquake taxes, meant to make vulnerable areas more resistant.
Turkish prosecutors were quick to launch an investigation against Turkish actress Berna Lacin, after she shared her views on earthquake taxes on social media platform Twitter, asking: “Where are they spending all the quake taxes that have been collected so far?”
About 63 billion lira ($10.598 billion) was collected in special taxes following the 1999 earthquake, which became a permanent tax in 2004.
Turkish politician Mahmut Tanal criticized the lack of transparency over the collection and allocation of funds, saying: “The taxes are not used as promised, but they are still being collected although humanitarian assistance … is not conducted anymore.”
He suggested that funds meant for earthquake relief and damage mitigation were being channeled toward other government budgets.
Burak Bilgehan Ozpek, a political scientist at TOBB University in Ankara, was also critical of the use of earthquake funds.

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33 - people killed so far by the earthquake that rocked Elazig province and four in the neighboring Malatya province, with over 1,600 injured.

“Elazig’s reconstruction … has not been planned well by the municipality, and the result has been a disorganized city. That is the real danger. The fight against earthquakes should start first by the construction policies of municipalities,” he said.
Award-winning scientist Naci Gorur criticized Turkey’s lack of policies concerning preparation for potential earthquakes.
Gorur, who has conducted extensive research on fault lines in the country, had alerted authorities of the possibility of an earthquake in Elazig, where he is from, three months before the Jan. 24 quake struck.
Meanwhile, the natural disaster has served as a point of contention in ongoing political hostilities between the Turkish government and separatist Kurdish factions.
The pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party, claiming it had attempted to send aid to the region to assist beleaguered residents, released an official statement on Sunday, saying: “Delivery of two aid trucks … for Elazig earthquake victims has been obstructed by the Interior Ministry.
“There can be no explanation for blocking humanitarian aid to people in need. We call on the government to stop such practices at once.”
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, meanwhile, visited Malatya in the aftermath of the earthquake on Saturday.