Populist Turkish politicians stoke tensions over Syrian refugees as elections loom

Special Populist Turkish politicians stoke tensions over Syrian refugees as elections loom
Leader of the Zafer (Victory) Party Umit Ozdag. (AP Photo)
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Updated 29 June 2022

Populist Turkish politicians stoke tensions over Syrian refugees as elections loom

Populist Turkish politicians stoke tensions over Syrian refugees as elections loom
  • Umit Ozdag, the leader of the nationalist Zafer (Victory) Party, was stopped from entering Hatay after he pledged to place a “symbolic” mine at the border with Syria
  • Turkish police, the gendarmerie and officials from the Hatay governorate prevented Ozdag from entering the city

ANKARA: A toxic and dangerous anti-refugee discourse is gaining momentum in Turkey. Umit Ozdag, the leader of the nationalist Zafer (Victory) Party, was recently stopped from entering the southern border town of Hatay after he pledged to place a “symbolic” mine at the border with Syria to prevent crossings.

Turkish police, the gendarmerie and officials from the Hatay governorate prevented Ozdag from entering the city, as his move could provoke hatred and incitement against the refugee population in the city. Hatay is home to some 400,000 Syrians.

Experts have warned about far-right politicians using Syrian refugees as a political card ahead of general and presidential elections scheduled for next year.

Ozdag’s party is mainly based on anti-Syrian ideology, pursuing a campaign against the presence of refugees in Turkey and accusing them of causing the country’s dire economic and financial problems.

The Zafer Party, having an insignificant share of votes according to the polls, also criticizes the high birth rates among the refugees, which it terms a “silent invasion” of Turkey.

Ozdag has tweeted controversial videos, claiming he would expel all refugees from Turkey once he comes to power.

He also said that his party would quit the international treaty banning anti-personnel mines and would replant them on the borders to stop refugees.

Ozdag added that every Turkish citizen who wants the Syrian refugees to stay in Turkey is a “traitor.”

According to Friedrich Puttmann, a researcher at the Istanbul Policy Center, Ozdag’s latest statements appear to be inspired by far-right nationalists in the EU, such as the German party Alternative für Deutschland, which also suggested in the heat of Germany's refugee debate in 2016 that its borders should be defended with military means against the arrival of asylum seekers.

“Ozdag can be considered a political entrepreneur, trying to gain power by basing his party 100 percent on a single new issue in Turkish politics, and doing everything he can to make this issue as big as possible to generate votes from it,” he told Arab News.

Puttmann said that by deploying this strategy, Ozdag is seeking to exploit not only Turks’ grievances with regard to the hosting Syrian refugees but also their strong sense of nationalism.

“To counter this, his critics should therefore not fall into his trap by defending the refugees themselves but rather challenge him on the grounds of what it means to be Turkish,” he said.

Syrian refugees in Turkey have been banned from visiting their families back home during Eid Al-Adha, while new quotas have been applied to residence permits. As of July 1, Turkey will limit permits for foreigners to a ceiling of 20 percent of the population of some neighborhoods.

Puttmann noted that much of the Turkish debate on the Syrian refugees is an extension of the debate on the meaning of Turkish identity.

“If Ozdag’s critics can present a vision of Turkishness that is not divisive but speaks to values shared across different segments of Turkish society, they can also convince the public that planting mines on the Turkish-Syrian border would be the most ‘un-Turkish’ thing to do,” he said.

Turkey currently hosts about 3.7 million Syrian refugees within its borders, apart from more than 200,000 Syrians who were granted Turkish citizenship in a decade. Turkey also provides security and humanitarian assistance to over 3 million Syrians in Turkey-controlled regions in Syria.

According to the latest surveys, anti-refugee sentiment is gaining popularity in Turkey.

A recent survey by the İstanbul Ekonomi Arastirma (Istanbul Economics Research) organization revealed that 61 percent of respondents favored a harsher stance against refugees. The repatriation of Syrians is believed to be among the top topics of the impending election commitments of the opposition parties.

Prof. Murat Erdogan, director at Ankara University’s Migration Research Center and a CATS-SWP Fellow in Berlin, told Arab News that the anti-refugee discourse cannot be resolved by stopping someone from entering a city where the refugee population has reached more than 20 percent of the local population.

“Ozdag and his party are bringing up the existing concerns and anger that are deeply rooted in Turkish society following a large influx of refugees in a short period of time,” he said.

According to the academic, who predicts the development of new political formations, the high levels of attention directed to anti-refugee perspectives has caused the Syrian issue to become associated with discussion surrounding Turkey’s national security.

“The indefinite nature of the immigration process creates a sense of insecurity and fuels concerns in Turkish society that the domestic borders cannot be protected and the immigration wave cannot be managed,” he said.

“While the government frames the refugees as the elements of religious or cultural solidarity as part of its humanitarian foreign policy, the opposition criticizes this policy by securitizing this issue. This is a reality and has been used by populist politicians in recent years,” Prof. Erdogan added. 

“It is very important to boost the resilience of Turkish society in the coming period and to implement cohesion policies for Syrians at the local level to prevent further conflicts,” he said.

Two young Syrians — Sultan Abdul Baset Jabneh and Sharif Khaled Al-Ahmad — were killed in Istanbul in June, while a 70-year-old Syrian woman was hit in the face in the southeastern province of Gaziantep last month, triggering an outcry on social media.

On May 31, an immigrant sexually harassed a 10-year-old Turkish boy in Istanbul’s Esenyurt district hosting a large population of refugees. The immigrant was arrested, but local anger swiftly poured into the streets.

As part of a new project, the Turkish government recently committed to voluntarily relocating 1 million Syrians to northern Syria by establishing necessary infrastructure.


Israeli forces kill several armed militants in raid — army statement

Israeli forces kill several armed militants in raid — army statement
Updated 10 sec ago

Israeli forces kill several armed militants in raid — army statement

Israeli forces kill several armed militants in raid — army statement
JERUSALEM: Israeli forces killed a number of armed fighters during a raid on a refugee camp near the city of Jericho on Monday aimed at capturing suspected Hamas militants, according to a statement from the Israeli military.
It said the targets of the raid were suspected of an attempted attack on a restaurant in the Israeli settlement of Vered Yeriho on Jan. 28.
There was no immediate comment from Palestinian authorities.

Powerful quake topples homes in Turkiye, Syria; death toll rises

Powerful quake topples homes in Turkiye, Syria; death toll rises
Updated 14 min 55 sec ago

Powerful quake topples homes in Turkiye, Syria; death toll rises

Powerful quake topples homes in Turkiye, Syria; death toll rises
  • At least 76 people in seven Turkish provinces died while 440 people were injured
  • In Syria the death toll climbed to 99 and 334 injured

RIYADH/ANKARA: Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management agency says the 7.8 magnitude earthquake killed at least 76 people in seven Turkish provinces. The agency said 440 people were injured.
Meanwhile, the death toll in government-held areas of Syria from Monday's quake climbed to 99, according to Syrian state media citing the Health Ministry. In addition, at least 334 people were injured in Syria. Earlier, 20 people were reported killed in rebel-held areas of Syria.
This raises the overall death toll to 195 in Turkey and Syria.
Rescue workers and residents frantically searched for survivors under the rubble of crushed buildings in multiple cities on both sides of the border. In one quake-struck Turkish city, dozens pulled away chunks of concrete and twisted metal. People on the street shouted up to others inside a partially toppled apartment building, leaning dangerously.
The quake, felt as far away as Cairo, was centered north of the city of Gaziantep in an area about 90 kilometers from the Syrian border.
On the Syrian side of the border, the quake smashed opposition-held regions that are packed with some 4 million Syrians displaced from other parts of the country by the long civil war. Many of them live in decrepit conditions with little health care. At least 11 were killed in one town, Atmeh, and many more were buried in the rubble, a doctor in the town, Muheeb Qaddour, said.

“We fear that the deaths are in the hundreds,” Qaddour said, referring to the rebel-held northwest. “We are under extreme pressure.”
On the Turkish side, the area has several large cities and is home to millions of Syrian refugees.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Twitter that “search and rescue teams were immediately dispatched” to the areas hit by the quake.
“We hope that we will get through this disaster together as soon as possible and with the least damage,” he wrote.


There were at least 6 aftershocks, and Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu urged people not to enter damaged buildings due to the risks. “Our priority is to bring out people trapped under ruined buildings and to transfer them to hospitals,” he said.
Tallies from various officials put the toll at at least 38 dead in Turkiye and 62 in Syria.
At least 130 buildings tumbled down in Turkiye’s Malatya province, neighboring the epicenter, Gov. Hulusi Sahin said. In the Turkish city of Diyarbakir, at least 15 buildings collapsed. Rescue teams called for silence as they listed for survivors in a toppled 11-story building.
In northwest Syria, the opposition’s Syrian Civil Defense described the situation in the rebel-held region as “disastrous” adding that entire buildings have collapsed and people are trapped under the rubble. The civil defense urged people to evacuate buildings to gather in open areas. Emergency rooms were full of injured, said Amjad Rass, president of the Syrian American Medical Society.

U.S. President Biden directed USAID and other federal government partners to assess response options to the most affected areas in the Turkiye and Syria earthquake, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said in a statement on Sunday.
The United States is profoundly concerned by the reports of the destructive earthquake, he said.
The US Geological Survey said the quake was centered about 33 kilometers from Gaziantep, a major city and provincial capital. It was centered 18 kilometers deep, and a strong 6.7 aftershock rumbled about 10 minutes later.
Syria’s state media reported that some buildings collapsed in the northern city of Aleppo and the central city of Hama.
In Damascus, buildings shook and many people went down to the streets in fear.

The quake jolted residents in Lebanon from beds, shaking buildings for about 40 seconds. Many residents of Beirut left their homes and took to the streets or drove in their cars away from buildings.
The earthquake came as the Middle East is experiencing a snowstorm that is expected to continue until Thursday.
Turkiye sits on top of major fault lines and is frequently shaken by earthquakes.
Some 18,000 were killed in powerful earthquakes that hit northwest Turkiye in 1999.

The earthquake came as the Middle East is experiencing a snowstorm that is expected to continue until Thursday.

Cetizens from as far as Jerusalem and Beirut talked of being awakened by the strong shaking. "I live in Gaziantep, Türkiye.  Was sleeping when it started. Absolutely terrifying," Nasip (@iam_nasib) commented on a video posted on Twitter.

"Felt it in Jerusalem," said Amy di Nardò (@amybellabella).

Sagittarius (@JRsagittarius) said he was in Beirut and the experienced "was terrifying."

Karolingston (@karolingston) of Cyprus said he was awakened because "My bed was shaking."

"Felt it in Lebanon. It was a hell of a feeling!" chimed in CharbelRahmé (@charbelrahm_e)

Turkiye is in one of the world’s most active earthquake zones.

Duzce was one of the regions hit by a 7.4-magnitude earthquake in 1999 — the worst to hit Turkiye in decades.

That quake killed more than 17,000 people, including about 1,000 in Istanbul.

Experts have long warned a large quake could devastate Istanbul, which has allowed widespread building without safety precautions.

A magnitude-6.8 quake hit Elazig in January 2020, killing more than 40 people.

And in October that year, a magnitude-7.0 quake hit the Aegean Sea, killing 114 people and wounding more than 1,000.

(With agencies)


Turkiye’s President Erdogan says Western missions will ‘pay’ for closures

A view of the German consulate in Istanbul, on June 2, 2016. (AP)
A view of the German consulate in Istanbul, on June 2, 2016. (AP)
Updated 06 February 2023

Turkiye’s President Erdogan says Western missions will ‘pay’ for closures

A view of the German consulate in Istanbul, on June 2, 2016. (AP)
  • Turkiye suspended negotiations for Sweden and Finland’s NATO accession last month following a protest in Stockholm during which a copy of the Qur'an was burned

ISTANBUL: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said Western missions would “pay” for issuing security warnings and temporarily closing consulates in Turkiye last week, while police said there was no serious threat to foreigners after detaining 15 Daesh suspects on Sunday.
Ankara summoned the ambassadors of nine countries on Thursday to criticize their decisions to temporarily shut diplomatic missions and issue security alerts. Turkish officials said the following day that Western nations, including the United States and Germany, had not shared information to back up their claims of a security threat.
“The other day our foreign ministry summoned all of them and gave the necessary ultimatum, told them ‘You will pay for this heavily if you keep this up,’” Erdogan said during a meeting with youth that was pre-recorded and broadcast on Sunday.
Alongside the closures, several Western states warned citizens of a heightened risk of attacks to diplomatic missions and non-Muslim places of worship in Turkiye, following a series of far-right protests in Europe in recent weeks that included several incidents of burning copies of the Muslim holy book, the Qur'an.
Turkiye suspended negotiations for Sweden and Finland’s NATO accession last month following a protest in Stockholm during which a copy of the Qur'an was burned.
Erdogan said that the Western states were “playing for (more) time” and that the “necessary decisions” would be taken during Monday’s cabinet meeting, without elaborating.
’NO CONCRETE THREATS’
Earlier on Sunday, police said they had not found evidence of any concrete threat to foreigners in the detentions of 15 Daesh suspects accused of targeting consulates and non-Muslim houses of worship, state media reported.
Anadolu Agency cited an Istanbul police statement saying the suspects had “received instructions for acts targeting consulates of Sweden and the Netherlands, as well as Christian and Jewish places of worship.”
While the suspects’ ties to the jihadist group were confirmed, no concrete threats toward foreigners were found, the statement said.
Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu repeated on Saturday Turkiye’s frustration with what it says is Sweden’s inaction toward entities that Ankara accuses of terrorist activity. All 30 NATO members must ratify newcomers.
Turkiye, Sweden and Finland signed an agreement in June aimed at overcoming Ankara’s objections to their NATO bids, with the Nordic states pledging to take a harder line primarily against local members of the banned Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which took up arms against the Turkish state in 1984.
 

 


Yemen’s Taiz mourns 2 children who committed suicide

Yemen’s Taiz mourns 2 children who committed suicide
Updated 05 February 2023

Yemen’s Taiz mourns 2 children who committed suicide

Yemen’s Taiz mourns 2 children who committed suicide
  • Calls grow for deeper investigation into motivations and protection of youngsters amid shock and despair

AL-MUKALLA, Yemen: Security services of the southern Yemeni city of Taiz said that two children committed suicide in two separate events on Saturday, leaving the beleaguered population in shock and despair.

Police in Taiz said in a statement that they were notified of two suicide victims in the city on Saturday evening, citing the deaths as “dangerous precedents.”

Police named the first child as 12-year-old Kareem Abdul Kareem from the Al-Jamhuria neighborhood, who hanged himself inside his room on Saturday afternoon by tying a scarf around his neck.

Ammar Khaled, a 16-year-old who committed suicide on Saturday evening by wrapping a rope around his neck and tying it to a door outside his family’s home, is the second victim. 

After forensic investigators gathered photographs and evidence, his family requested his burial on the same day. 

Police in Taiz pledged to investigate the circumstances surrounding the deaths of the victims and have asked the community and professionals for assistance in determining the reasons behind the suicides.

In a statement, police urged both authorities and members of the public “to collaborate…in order to provide the appropriate answers.”

Mohammed Alawi, an investigator with police in Taiz, told Arab News that a team, including social and psychiatric professionals, was looking into the cases and would release their findings this week.

Initially, Alawi ruled out the possibility of cyberbullying or even sexual harassment and attributed the deaths of the two children to the mobile game PUBG. 

“These are risky games, and we advise parents to monitor their children’s mobile devices to see what they are seeing or playing,” Alawi said.

He also touched on other instances of suicide, which he blamed on psychological suffering caused by the war.

“Women and children in Yemen, particularly in besieged Taiz, have suffered emotionally because of the war. We had never seen such crimes before the war,” he said.  

On social media, the police statement and photographs of the two deceased children have elicited condolences for the families and calls for an investigation into the motivations behind the suicides and for the protection of children.

“You should investigate with the family about the electronic games they played, such as PUBG, and whether they have Facebook or WhatsApp accounts,” said Adnan Taha on Facebook.

“All communications should be reviewed, since (the children) may be vulnerable to harassment and extortion,” Taha said.

Another social media user, Muneir Al-Qaisi, urged local security agencies not to bury the victims before autopsies are conducted to determine whether they consumed anything poisonous.

“We hope you will not hurry to bury them and (will) examine their bodies,” Al-Qaisi said. 

“It is conceivable that the parents are unaware of beverages or meals being shared among the children,” said Al-Qaisi.

Investigator Alawi responded to accusations of a hasty burial by stating that one of the boys was buried at the request of his family and only after investigators examined both the corpse and the scene.

“He was buried after forensic teams examined the scene, photographed it, and performed investigations. Additionally, his relatives requested burial from the prosecution,” Alawi said.


Lebanon hopes UNESCO danger listing could save crumbling modernist fairground

Lebanon hopes UNESCO danger listing could save crumbling modernist fairground
Updated 05 February 2023

Lebanon hopes UNESCO danger listing could save crumbling modernist fairground

Lebanon hopes UNESCO danger listing could save crumbling modernist fairground
  • Rachid Karami International Fair has decayed due to conflict, poor maintenance and country’s financial crisis

TRIPOLI: Its arch is cracking and its vast pavilions lie empty, but the crumbling Rachid Karami International Fair in Lebanon’s port city Tripoli now has hope of revival, having been added to the United Nations’ list of world heritage sites in danger.
Designed by Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer in 1962, the collection of structures on the 70-hectare plot is considered one of the key works of 20th century modernism in the Middle East.
But the fair park has slowly decayed due to repeated rounds of fighting over the last 60 years, poor maintenance and most recently Lebanon’s crippling, three-year-old financial crisis.
“It was placed on the World Heritage List exceptionally, quickly and urgently – and on the list of heritage in danger because it’s in a critical situation,” said Joseph Kreidi, UNESCO’s national program officer for culture in Beirut.
Its elegant arch is missing concrete in some parts, exposing the rebar underneath. Rainwater has pooled at the locked entrances. One section is sealed off by a sign that reads, “Unsafe building entry.”
“Placing it on the World Heritage Danger List is an appeal to all countries of the world, as if to say: this site needs some care,” said Kreidi.
He said it was up to the Lebanese authorities to draw together a plan for the site’s protection and rehabilitation but that UNESCO, the United Nations’ cultural agency, could help search for funding and provide technical expertise.
Lebanon has five other sites on UNESCO’s World Heritage list, most of them citadels and ancient temples.
Niemeyer is recognized as one of the fathers of modern architecture and the site in Tripoli was an early foray into the Middle East.
Construction of the fairground began in the 1960s but was delayed when civil war erupted in Lebanon in 1975. Fighters used the site to stage operations and stored weapons underneath its concrete dome.
Mira Minkara, a freelance tour guide from Tripoli and a member of the Oscar Niemeyer Foundation’s Tripoli chapter, has fond – but rare – memories of the fairground as a child.
For the most part, it was off-limits to Tripoli’s residents given safety concerns. But Minkara remembered her first visit during a festival of pan-African culture and crafts.
She hopes that UNESCO’s recognition could bring new festivals, exhibitions and economic benefits to Tripoli – already one of the poorest cities on the Mediterranean before Lebanon’s financial meltdown began.
Lebanon’s cultural heritage has been hit hard in recent years. The 2020 Beirut port blast tore through 19th-century homes in historic neighborhoods and power outages caused by the financial crisis have cut supplies to the national museum.
“We hope things change a little,” Minkara said. “It’s high time for this fairground to emerge from this long sleep, this almost-death.”