Syrians in Turkey fear the worst when Erdogan changes his tune on Assad

Syrian refugees have become central to the political debate in Turkey ahead of next year’s elections. Calls to repatriate them to war-torn Syria were once the cause of right-wing fringe parties, but have now become mainstream as the country reels from an economic crisis.

“There is no prerequisite for dialogue [with Syria]”Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said in an interview last week.” What matters most is the goal and goal of that dialogue, “he told Turkish broadcaster Haber Global.

His comments marked a dramatic shift from Ankara’s stance over the past decade. Turkey has been a major supporter of the Syrian opposition and armed factions that fought to dominate the Assad regime, and intervened militarily in the conflict. The Turkish army maintains a presence across the border with Syria and in areas within Syria that it controls alongside Syrian opposition forces.

Cavusoglu made his comments a few days after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told reporters that “diplomacy can never be stopped” with Damascus and that Ankara needs to “secure further steps with Syria”. Ankara’s goal, he added, was not to defeat Syrian President Bashar Al Assad.

Just a decade ago, Erdogan described the Assad regime as a “terrorist” regime that would “pay the price” for Syrian lives lost in the war. He also promised to pray in Damascus’ famous Umayyad Mosque, suggesting that the regime would be overthrown.
Turkey has recalibrated its foreign policy over the past year to mend ties and reconcile with its neighbors, including the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Israel. Turkish officials also appear to be working to re-establish ties with Egypt, whose ruling regime has overthrown a democratically elected and Turkish-backed Islamist government.

This softening of Ankara’s position also comes as several Arab states turn the page on the war in Syria and welcome Assad back into the regional fold.

The conciliatory statements by Turkish officials are, however, a calculated move aimed at the domestic audience ahead of next year’s elections, Asli Aydintasbas, senior member of the European Council for Foreign Relations, told CNN.

“We are going to the elections, [Erdogan’s] the numbers seem very uncertain and the refugee issue appears to be a major concern for Turkish voters across the political spectrum, including its own base, “he said.

Anti-refugee sentiment has grown in Turkey in recent months. The country is home to the world’s largest refugee population and is facing a deepening economic crisis with inflation close to 80%, the highest in nearly three decades. According to the United Nations, the nation of 86 million is home to an estimated 4 million registered refugees, the vast majority of whom are Syrians.
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“Refugees are the scapegoat,” Aydintasbas said. “There is no economic or even real reason for this, but people, when [they’re] unemployed, when [they see] their purchasing power decreases, they find refugees a comfortable scapegoat “.

Observers and human rights groups say Turkey is unlikely to send Syrians back to their country if it is not safe for them, due to international treaties protecting refugee rights. But they expect this to continue to be used as a tool to garner support from all parties ahead of next year’s vote.

“The whole idea of ​​engaging in political dialogue is meant to reassure voters that the government is doing something, [and] it has plans for the repatriation of Syrians, although this is unlikely to happen, “Aydintasbas said.

Despite assurances from the Turkish government that there will be no forced returns, many Syrians in Turkey fear they will be forced to turn back. Those in the opposition-controlled regions of Syria fear their areas will be returned to Syrian government forces.

“We will be executed one by one without any hesitation because we started this revolution,” Ammar Abu Hamzeh, 38, a father of four, in the northern Syrian city of Al-Bab, told CNN. “If the regime arrives in the liberated areas, we will either die or we will have to flee with our families to Europe via Turkey.”

Both the ruling party and the opposition in Ankara have suggested that normalization with the Assad regime is necessary to address the refugee issue in Turkey.

When the Turkish foreign minister first hinted at reconciliation earlier this month and revealed he had a brief meeting with his Syrian counterpart on the sidelines of a conference last year, he sparked outrage in the latter part. remained of rebel-controlled Syria.

A Syrian in Istanbul described the fear in his community amidst uncertainty. He spoke to CNN on condition of anonymity due to his own precarious status in both countries.

“[Erdogan] he wants to win the election and we will pay the price, “he said.” If Erdogan wins, he probably won’t send us back without guarantees, but if the opposition wins, he’ll probably open the gates and send us all back. We will have to try to go to other countries “.

Gestures toward the Syrian regime would likely be part of Erdogan’s election promise, Aydintasbas said. “This is highly unlikely to go ahead, apart from the pleasantries between Turkey and Damascus.”

CNN’s Isil Sariyuce and Celine Al-Khaldi contributed to this article.

The digested

The powerful Iraqi cleric Sadr says he will leave politics

Powerful Iraqi Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada al-Sadr said Monday he would quit politics and close his institutions in response to a political stalemate. “I hereby announce my final retirement,” hey tweeted. Hundreds of protesters inside Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone attempted to storm the Republican Palace, security officials told CNN on Monday.
  • BackgroundConsidered the king of Iraqi politics, Sadr withdrew his lawmakers from parliament in June after failing to form a government of his choice. A political impasse between him and Iranian-backed Shia rivals has given Iraq its longest run without a government.
  • Because matter: Sadr’s supporters have occupied parliament since late July and protested near government buildings, holding the process of choosing a new president and prime minister. The announcement raised fears that they could escalate their protests, fueling a new phase of instability.

Iran reiterates the closure of the UN investigation as a request to relaunch the nuclear deal

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi said that “a nuclear deal makes no sense” unless an investigation by the International Atomic Energy Agency into unexplained traces of uranium at Iranian sites is resolved.

  • Background: Iran called for the closure of an investigation by the UN nuclear control body into traces of uranium found in undeclared research sites before agreeing to fully implement a proposal to revive the 2015 nuclear pact that it was abandoned by the Trump administration.
  • Because matter: The investigation is the only major sticking point in the talks and risks prolonging an already long effort to reach an agreement. Iran has withdrawn some requests, including the cancellation of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a foreign terrorist organization, a senior US official told CNN earlier this month.

The Turkish pop star will be placed under house arrest after the detention sparked outrage

A Turkish court ruled that pop star Gulsen should now be placed under house arrest, state news agency Anadolu reported Monday, after the singer’s formal arrest four days ago for a joke about religious schools sparked outrage.

  • Background: Gulsen was jailed on Thursday pending trial on hate speech after a video of her comments four months ago surfaced on a website for a pro-government newspaper, Sabah, the day before. Several ministers condemned her comments on Twitter. She denied the allegation and apologized to those who were offended by her remarks.
  • Because matter: Thousands of people took to social media in support of Gulsen, saying she was targeted for her support for LGBT + rights and liberal views that run counter to those held by Erdogan’s Islamist-born AK Party.

Tweet of the day

A video showing a Turkish sports commentator being slapped by a cat on live TV went viral in the country.

Huseyin Ozkok was discussing football live on channel A Spor on Saturday when a cat appeared behind him and slapped him in the face.

“Do you have a little guest apparently? Did you bring your cat?” the anchor laughed.

Ozkok replied that he was a guest at the cat’s home.

He later shared a photo of the cat. “Here’s Oli, our hot-headed little friend who hit me with a right hook on the air,” she tweeted. “When he was little and about to die, he was found in a dumpster and brought back to life. Let’s take care of the animals. We don’t call people bad animals.”

By Isil Sariyuce

Photo of the day

The models showcase the latest collection during the Jimmy Fashion Show, where local and international designers launched their collections in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on Friday.  Saudi designers have faced difficulties in the past before easing restrictions in the kingdom, having to travel abroad to showcase their work.