Steven Sahiounie, Middle East observer
Syrian refugees in Turkey are facing an uncertain future. Turkey did not grant them citizenship, or permanent residency; but, instead a ‘temporary guest’ status, which can be revoked at any time. For many, that time has come, and hundreds have been forcibly deported without warning.
Like the house guest who as worn out his welcome, they are facing a free bus ride to Idlib. In 2011 they were the face of the Syrian chapter of the Arab Spring. Turkey had the tents set up on the border to house the refugees from the outset, sparking accusations of a conspiracy with the U.S., their close ally under Pres. Obama. The western media hovered at the refugee camps on the Syrian-Turkish border, highlighting the numbers of people fleeing, and using those desperate faces to demonize the Syrian government. Angelina Jolie and the UN played their role, making a bad situation look even worse.
Turkey had been secular for decades, dating back to the founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. He urged his countrymen to look West, abandon the old Arabic script, adopt the English alphabet and to look forward to modern society: more like Europe than the Middle East. He saw Islam as a personal religion, and not a political ideology, and urged women to shake off the veil and take their place in society, further distancing Turkey from the backward Arab social order.
Turkey was becoming a modern nation, with tourism and a growing economy. The only females wearing headscarves were the elderly living in remote villages. Turkey even had a female Prime Minister; however, that all came to a screeching halt when an ultra-religious fanatic happened to be elected, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Over 20 years, he caused the social fabric of Turkey to be interwoven with Radical Islam, in the form of the Muslim Brotherhood, who he embraced and highlighted.
Secular Turkey was transformed into a sea of military-style, floor-length trench coats worn by women, with elaborately wrapped silk turbans imported from Italy. Erdogan had Turkey marching backward. His AKP party played to that religious fervor, which fed off the Arab Gulf’s exporting of Radical Islam, which is neither a religion, nor a sect, but a political ideology.
Erdogan played his role as U.S. ally in the destruction of Syria. Accepting the Syrian refugees was part of the package. After 8 years, the project failed. The Turkish people are in deep economic distress, and blame everything on Erdogan and his foreign policy failure in Syria. The Turkish voters dealt Erdogan a blow by electing the opposition party, CHP, to important offices across Turkey, and most notably to the office of Mayor of Istanbul, which was Erdogan’s stepping stone to power.
Ekrem Imamoglu, the new Mayor of Istanbul, of the secular Republican People’s Party, was blaming Erdogan’s failed foreign policy in Syria, and the resulting Syrian refugee influx as the biggest problem in Turkey today. He called the poor economic situation a by-product of Erdogan’s participation in the failed war in Syria, which has caused the Turkish population to suffer from the Syrian refugees and their drain on resources, and the strain on the social fabric of secular Turkey, with more than 3.6 million Syrian refugees.
Some analysts see this chapter in Turkey as a natural correction to the regressive Erdogan era. Many feel that Turkey will return to their secular values, and can become a modern Turkey once again.
Not all Syrian refugees are Muslim Brotherhood supporters or opposition. Syria has a 40-year history as the only secular nation in the Middle East. The Syrians who left Syria, and were educated, and not following Radical Islam, are in Canada, Germany, and Sweden. The Syrians in Turkey were mainly under-educated, and many were easily swayed by the Muslim Brotherhood, who brainwashed them into blaming the Syrian government for all their problems while holding up Pres. Erdogan as their savior and defender. Initially, they were offered many perks for living in Turkey, which over the years has dwindled into broken promises.
Syrian refugees in Turkey now face a dilemma: where can they go? They may not choose to go home knowing Syria is not in a position to rebuild and recover, while under U.S and EU sanctions which prevent building supplies, and even basic needs from being imported. They might head the boats toward Greece route while the summer weather is in their favor. German Chancellor Angela Merkel might have to make room for more refugees soon.