In the 48th Munich Security Conference, in early February 2012, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu managed to draw some applause as well as raising some eyebrows when he welcomed Syria’s entire population — if the conditions made it necessary — to enter Turkey.
The message was clear: Turkey was so confident, strong and able that it had all the resources to embrace millions. But the very core of the message had revealed something else: Its government, having made its choices on sectarianism, was acting on impulses, rather than rational, long-term calculations.
Now, it seems, it is time to reap what one had sown then.
For days now, the violent unrest in the city of Gaziantep, which borders Syria, seems unstoppable. After reports that a Turkish landlord was stabbed to death by a group of Syrian refugees, angry locals began attacking anyone of Syrian identity out in the streets, shops and flats.
For over a month there have been outbursts of violent incidents and protest marches in Kahramanmaraş, Şanlıurfa and Kilis. People were stabbed and beaten, chased away, and cars with Syrian plates were set on fire.
Openly welcoming refugees, as Davutoğlu did, is one thing, but doing so without any contingency plans amounts to disaster. And, given the numbers in the field, it is heading that way.
According to the Disaster and Emergency Management Agency (AFAD), Turkey now has over 1.1 million refugees from Syria. Less than one-third live in the 22 government-run camps near the Syrian-Turkish border, while the rest do their best to make ends meet among communities across the country.
Some 100,000, says AFAD, live in İstanbul, where their presence on the streets is visible. And these are only the official numbers.
When the Bashar al-Assad regime proved resilient enough to withstand any opposition push, and when al-Nusra and the “Islamic State” (IS) later advanced through the Iraqi border and beyond, Ankara should have shown foresight and raised the level of preparedness.
It did not.
Perhaps, it chose not to.
Risks for the “import of terror” are much higher, as the latest turbulence within the police intelligence — due to removals with the ambiguous pretext of the “fight against parallel structures” — has turned the security apparatus into a fragile one.
Then there is this Frankenstein effect. Namely, the insurgency of the “Islamic State” gangs.
As the recent report by The Washington Post from Reyhanlı at the Syrian border noted, “[Turkey] is confronting spillover violence, a cutoff in its trade routes and a spreading wave of fear in Turkish towns as the Islamic State wins over defectors from rival opposition groups.”
According to a new analysis, written by David Phillips, behind all the discreet — and apparently unstopped — arms assistance to IS lies Turkey’s Humanitarian Aid Foundation (İHH). He connects some dots between the trucks carrying arms into Syria and the İHH.
“Members of Turkey’s parliament allege that the government still supports jihadis — facilitating their travel at border crossings between Turkey and Syria, providing truckloads of weapons, and offering health care at Turkish state hospitals to wounded warriors. Parliamentarians wrote to President-elect Erdoğan and Davutoğlu asking for an official explanation of government ties to ISIS [the former name of IS], and its knowledge about İHH activities. The letters were conveyed through Parliament Speaker Cemil Çiçek. The government did not respond,” Philips writes.
We now enter a new phase in which the acts and the status of the İHH will be put on the table, as the international pressure is on Ankara to condemn THE IS as a terrorist organization, to build a joint border monitoring mechanism, and to pay attention to the NATO charter.
“At this critical juncture, Turkey must play a helpful role stabilizing Iraq and protecting Iraqi Kurdistan. It is important that Turkey rejoin the coalition of nations in good-standing who oppose violence and extremism,” Phillips concludes.
Regardless of external opinion, the moment of truth is approaching for the Justice and Development (AKP) government: It has to make a choice between securing the region or continuing to leave things in limbo.