Why is the government changing its approach towards Syrians?

Broadcast date: 24 July 2019
Click CC in the bottom right corner for English subtitles

Translation: Melissa Clissold / Subtitles: Egemen Gök

Hello, good day. The Syrian issue, the Syrian migration crisis in Turkey, is a very ominous issue. It is a very sensitive topic and it is growing even more sensitive by the day. I have received a lot of reactions regarding the different broadcasts I have streamed about this issue. Certain fractions within Turkey, whatever political views they hold, whether they are from different “neighbourhoods” or not, are somehow coming together under very harsh views regarding the Syrian issue. This is an interesting situation. 

In fact, the joint harsh perspective that is being held against these refugees shows us in some respect that the concept of polarisation in Turkey, the concept of conflict, is actually not that relevant or genuine. I am not going to say critical, let’s say that this is “an reluctant approach.” This, of course did not happen overnight; it was formed with time and those believing in this increased. It continues to increase. And Turkey has truly become somewhat of a heaven for refugees and immigrants. At first, this heaven status did not create many problems.

But from the moment that the economy in the country started getting worse, instead of struggling against real problems, instead of searching for the true reasons for their problems, instead of questioning them and trying to solve them, people have started to see “the other” as the reason for most of their problems. This idea has been present several times throughout history all around the world. And they wrongly assume that by distancing the “other”, they will be able to solve their problems. As a matter of fact, we can see that this has started to show itself in a very serious manner in Turkey in the last few years.

And other than this being a criticism, it has taken the form of discrimination, in fact of racism. There isa saying in Turkey that goes: “We don’t have racism.” Racism exists in Turkey. Discrimination exists, and racism exists all the more. But when we take racism as it is usually discussed in the United States or in South Africa, when you take it as an attitude of white people towards black people, of course this doesn’t exist in Turkey. But we can see that in differing periods within Turkey, discrimination and racism do exist. In certain circumstances, especially when conflicts increase, we know that there is discrimination against Kurds. And some of this discrimination against Kurds can reach the level of racism, as we have seen in the past and today as well.

And the Syrian issue is actually quite a complicated aspect. First of all, not all immigrants in Turkey are Syrian. Of course, there are mostly Syrians, but there are some from the east, especially from Afghanistan and Iraq as well. Some of them pass through Turkey, some of them continue to stay on in Turkey. But generally, everyone looks at the immigrant issue as Syrian. This is due to the fact that statistically there are many Syrians and after the Syrian civil war, the government took in a lot of civilian migrants. This was seriously encouraged, doors were opened, people were invited. And during one period, especially the first years of the civil war, the entry-exits to and from Turkey were very dense. As civilians came, a lot of fighters left from Turkey too. We know that a lot of these fighters were not just Syrian. A lot of people came to voluntarily fight alongside jihadi groups from several different countries. And this was a government policy. But when we look at the Syrian issue in Turkey, when we look at those complaining about the Syrians, the complaints aren’t aimed at the government but the Syrians themselves.

The absurd side of all of this is that, instead of blaming the Turkish government’s policies, the incorrect Syrian policies that encouraged migration to Turkey, instead of seeing and discussing these policies, people are blaming the people instead, and this is a huge contradiction. Of course, I say contradiction, but the actual aspect is this: there is an authoritarian government in Turkey. It is not that easy for people to criticise the government and President Erdoğan. But on the other hand, it is easy to criticise Syrians that are unobtrusive and who have come here one way or another. People are cutting corners; the essence of the issue is being left out. It is being left out today, was being left out yesterday and will continue to be left out. It’s as if Syrians came to Turkey secretly, it’s as if they came here as fugitives. Yet, especially the seriously incorrect Syria policies that the Justice and Development Party (AKP) put forward need to be questioned in a very serious manner.

Ok, let’s say this has been left in the past. Let’s look at today. What are we experiencing today? We can see that there is a serious change in the policies of the ruling powers. There is a new implementation in Istanbul. It is being asked of those who are registered to other cities to abandon Istanbul. And for those who are here illegally, they are even being asked to be sent back to their country. And the government is toughening their attitude towards Syrians too. Why is it doing this? Of course, there is no self-criticism being carried out whilst they do this. There is the economic dimension of all of this.  There is of course the international relations dimension to all of this too.

But I think that the actual dimension of this issue is with regards to domestic policy. One of the reasons for the AKP’s defeat on March 31 and later June 23 is due to the disturbance that voters feel towards Syrians. We know this, because the surveys show us that this is the case. Here, during a special broadcast that Prof. Ersin Kalaycıoğlu had with Sedat Pişirici, he said “I think that if an anti-immigrant party was formed in Turkey, it would be quite successful.” This is an unfortunate reality. Just as it is in the West, the United States, England, and different regions across Europe, “anti-foreigner” thoughts and behaviours are gaining favour.

It was already rightist, but its right-wing views are gaining serious strength. Its Islamic side is taking a backseat, and its nationalistic side is coming to the forefront. And it is finding nationalistic expressions for those who are coming against it. And it has come to a point where the AKP is not able to show any resistance against certain people especially within the Good Party (İyi parti) or the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) who are expressing anti-Syrian statements. It is in denial. For a long time, there was a government who was resisting criticisms or resisting separatist policies against Syrians. How successful was it? It wasn’t. And now we can see that this resistance is not ongoing. And it looks like this incident will grow into an even more serious situation.

This actually comes across as a new dimension of reality showing us that Turkey can no longer manage the country. There is no longer an Erdoğan who is determining his own policies. There is a ruling Erdoğan who is trying to renew himself among new policies, trying to adopt to these policies whilst also submitting to populist demands. And as far as I understand, the ones who will lose first, will be immigrants, notably Syrians. But at the same time, we are heading towards a period in which those who look at incidents not only from an economic or political view, but also from a humanistic point of view, those who have continued their existence but are also in a minority will start to lose. This looks like it will develop slowly but surely. It may also develop rapidly. Especially if there was an election coming up – there isn’t currently -, it looks like that probably the ruling powers, the Erdoğan administration will embrace anti-immigration policies more.

The explanation that the Istanbul Governorship made, still does not show a disengagement from old policies. But, from what I understand, from what I see, it is the first step towards breaking away from the past. And I don’t think that the AKP can continue to be insistent on old policies regarding Syria. It looks like the bad will win once again. Of course, I can foresee the reactions I will receive for saying all of this. I am holding the same position that I always have with regards to these issues. This is not an issue of naivety.

There is a classical saying that people express when it comes to people like us who keep a positive attitude towards Syrians: “If you like them so much, why don’t you look after and feed them in your house.” It is clear how racist this approach is, how these answers are so incredibly racist. The issue is that if people are becoming poorer in Turkey, if their purchasing power is decreasing, if they are becoming unemployed, the number one reason for this is not because of immigrants. It’s not the second or the third reason either. Just as how in the West, for example how Turks weren’t the number one reason for the economic problems experienced in Germany during certain periods.

But just how the racists there, how the Neo-Nazis showed Turks or other foreigners as the source of all problems, there is unfortunately certain people who are labelling migrants in similar ways today in Turkey. And of course, another classical reply towards this is “The migrant workers in Europe, cannot be compared to the Syrian migrants in Turkey.” Of course, it is not the same. But what’s important here is the human aspect. Especially if discrimination and racism stemming from discrimination becomes mainstream, this issue becomes a humanitarian problem.

If approaches such as “Syrians should leave” are becoming more and more dominant, the position that should be taken here is a humanistic position. It should be “They shouldn’t leave”, “Those who want to leave should, and those who don’t want to, shouldn’t.” Because those ruling this country invited and embraced these people. They made certain promises. Now they may be changing their policies, they may want to change their policies. But I believe that a humanistic stance should be retained in this situation. Yes, that’s all I have to say. Good day.

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