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Turkey has been adamant about preventing the Kurds controlling a contiguous area immediately South of its border with Syria. To that end, it entered Syria and has recently expanded the zone it controls directly (turquoise, labeled Afrin) and perhaps also indirectly (light green, labeled Idlib) in Syria’s North West:
Click to Syria Live Map for more details — including the deployment of what they call Turkish Watch Towers along Idlib’s Eastern and (makes sense if you think about it) Northern borders. Idlib is spiraling, I think, but in the North, according to Wikipedia:
Since the establishment of the occupation zone, the Turkish authorities have striven to restore civil society in the areas under their control and to also bind the region more closely to Turkey. As part of these efforts, towns and villages have been demilitarized by dismantling military checkpoints and moving the local militias to barracks and camps outside areas populated by civilians. Several schools were (re-)opened, with their curricula partially adjusted to education in Turkey: Turkish is taught as foreign language since first class and those who attend schools in the occupation zones can subsequently attend universities in Turkey. The Turkish post and telegraph directorate PTT has also opened a branch in Jarabulus in late 2017.
Turkey has also organized a new law enforcement authority in the occupation zone in early 2017, the “Free Police”, which is divided into the National Police and Public Security Forces. The Free Police includes both male as well as female officers. It is trained, equipped, and paid by Turkish authorities, and consequently loyal to the Turkish state.
Which seems a bit breathless. How long has Turkey controlled that zone anyway? One year? This sounds more aspirational than achieved. (And of course: there are problems.) But it fits intriguingly into what’s happening North of the border, in Turkey itself.
Turkey hosts about 3 million Syrian refugees with most of them in the country on temporary protection visas. They make up almost 4 percent of Turkey’s population (refugees altogether make up about 5 percent). In 2016, Erdogan floated the idea of granting some of them Turkish citizenship:
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on July 2 that Syrian refugees in the country would be offered nationality “if they want it,” … In total, Turkey is targeting giving Turkish citizenship to up to up to 300,000 Syrians, it added…. Family members of those chosen to become Turkish citizens could also get the right to become nationals…. The usual obligation of living in Turkey for at least five years before gaining citizenship could be waived for Syrians…. Syrian refugees who become Turkish nationals would then be able to vote in elections one year after being awarded nationality.
Presumably, overcome by gratitude, they would vote for Erdogan. So really there may be some self-interest at play here. From the same article:
The report appeared to generate anger among many social media users, with #suriyelilerehayir (“No to Syrians”) the top trending topic in Turkey on Twitter on Saturday.
Of course it’s worded ambiguously — 300,000 is only 10 percent of 3 million, but is that 300,000 only heads of households? What’s with this “family members of those chosen to become Turkish citizens could also become Turkish nationals” thing? (Is that the same as citizens?) Is that in addition to the 300,000 or as part of? When?
However it’s worded, most of the refugees think it’s a great idea:
The “Refugee Livelihood Monitor” survey aims to periodically track the living conditions of Syrian refugees living outside refugee camps, their general sentiments and their future plans in regards to living in Turkey, as well as their consumption and shopping behavior.
According to the poll, 74 percent of the respondents said they wanted to acquire Turkish citizenship, while the figure for respondents aged between 15 and 17 wanting to become Turkish passport holders was 80 percent.
Some 70 percent of the respondents did not know Turkish, according to the poll.
…nine out of 10 respondents said they did not receive any [I’m presuming on a regular basis] social aid.
Some 13 percent of Syrian refugees receive social aid at least once during their time in Turkey, while 6 percent of them are receiving regular social aid from the government, according to the poll.
Anyway — this citizenship thing seems to actually be happening:
Speaking in Turkey’s southern province of Şanlıurfa, one of the cities hosting Syrian refugee camps, Interior Ministry General Directorate of Population and Citizenship Affairs Manager Sinan Güner told Anadolu Agency (AA) the process of granting citizenship had already begun.
“The citizenship process of a total of 35,000 Syrians has finished now,” Güner said. He said a further 15,000 applications were being reviewed, mostly children.
According to Interior Ministry figures, over 12,000 other Syrians have been given Turkish citizenship so far…Güner said the Syrians who would be granted citizenship had been selected according to certain criteria, particularly those with skills that would contribute to Turkey.
I don’t know many of these 50,000 are Syrian Turkmen, but I’m going to guess that most of them are not Syrian Kurds.
And Turkey seems to be serious about not pushing the rest back into North Syria, even into the Turkish zone. From a somewhat disapproving article on Syria Deeply:
Turkey plans to transfer all Syrian students [in Turkey] (currently estimated at 612,000) to Turkish schools by 2019. It also plans to close all Syrian interim schools and construct more public schools in cooperation with UNICEF to absorb the additional students in areas with a large number of refugees.
Which looks like a move towards permanence. (And integration.)
For context, an ethnolinguistic map of Turkey:
And the location of Syrian refugees in Turkey:
If they all stay, Urfa looks like it’ll get at least a bit less Kurdish. It’ll also, sotto voce, get a little more Sunni. (This kind of fits in with Erdogan’s vision of national identity?)
For its own reasons, Assad’s Government is helping the process along by (1) brutally besieging rebel-held enclaves until (2) they agree to be evacuated to be kettled in Idlib (it’s done this in Zabadani, in Aleppo, and in Ghouta) and (3) then [now] passing laws that make it increasingly unlikely that they will return to their homes:
Law Number 10, introduced earlier this week, calls on Syrians to register their private properties with the Ministry of Local Administration within 30 days….
Titleholders must either provide proof of ownership documents themselves, or ensure a relative does so on their behalf. Otherwise, they face having to relinquish their properties to the state.
…with about 13 million Syrians, internally or externally displaced…many families face the potential of losing their homes forever….
“It is impossible for me to go back home to prove my right to my lands and properties,” [a] 27-year-old, who owns two homes and an electronics shop in Hammouria, told Al Jazeera.
“If I attempt to do so, I’ll either be killed or arrested by pro-government forces,” added Abu Jawad who fled to the northwestern province of Idlib [from Eastern Ghouta] earlier this month.
If the Syrian refugees in Turkey have even less to go back to in a month, they’re less likely to go back at all. It’s starting to look like this will be permanent. My broad takes are:
Turkey has turned its attention firmly eastward. This is what Europe’s been hoping it will do, but I wonder if they’re prepared for the consequences. Turkey has its own agenda and measures of success and failure.
Turkey has learned from Pakistan’s experience — hosting millions of Afghanistani refugees for years without politically integrating them turned out to be deeply destabilizing for Islamabad. So was serving as a launch pad into Afghanistan — perhaps Turkey will be less enthused about filling this role with respect to Syria?
This Northern Safe Zone thing has the potential to be a security barrier for Turkey, but it could also end up a massive and ongoing drain. If it all works out, do you think the population will be interested in integrating with Turkey (economically and politically) or not? Basically, is this going to be Kashmir or Northern Cyprus?
I suspect that the US may be okay with a Turkish Zone that lies west of the Euphrates.