Column: War, Migration and Poverty

 By: Zekeriya Kurşun

War is not something normal. In history, neither a soldier nor a victorious commander has found war to be normal. Whatever the reason, war is, after all, playing with fire. Whether it be held directly or with tongs, it will certainly splatter around and cause new fires. But, most of the time it is inevitable to establish what is normal, namely peace.

War in Syria

No need to go far back; let’s look at our recent history. We have had to face many disasters because of the wars around the world, in our country and region. I don’t intend to philosophize war here. As much as I oppose the war, I also believe that when necessary, it is equally required. But not what is happening here today. I am going to talk about the consequences that emerged from the Syrian war which was started by the country’s own regime against innocent crowds that took action for more freedom, more welfare and more space to breathe, and a conference that will be held on this topic.

Allow me to first remind that before the Arab Spring started, I saw with my own observations and believe that the oppression and tyranny in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Yemen and Syria could not possibly continue forever. In addition to pointing out in my articles and speeches that major changes would take place in the region, to be honest, neither the timing nor the great disasters that are happening today came to my mind.

Anything could happen in social actions: unexpected developments, injuries and even deaths. But, who could have thought that in our day and age, such great disasters would happen for the sake of such blind ambition for power, that the whole world would be focused on a tiny geography and turn the problem into a ball of chaos? When the Arab Spring started with the death of an innocent man who was tired of his life, it wasn’t difficult to guess that it would continue with similar low profile results. But who would have thought that it would lead to so many disasters in Libya and Syria? Of course, the developments in Egypt and Yemen, which are in a different category, were similarly not predicted.

Balance sheet of war

Pre-war Syria, which is a remainder of the Ottoman Empire and, essentially, a small example of the traditional structure of the Middle East, was home to Muslims, Christians and the Alawite, Durzi, Nudayri, Assyrians, Armenians, Catholics, Protestants and even Jews. A total of 23 million people, composed of ethnic groups such as Arab, Turkmen, Kurd, Circassian, were able to continue their lives in Syria.

According to U.N. data, 5.3 million of this population is currently living under refugee status, and just as many have been subjected to internal displacement. Based on this calculation, almost half of the Syrian population has been directly affected, while the other half was indirectly affected by the war.

Neither the displacement within the country nor the fleeing abroad is the results of the war alone. On the contrary, they appear as the intentional tactic of the warring sides. Regime forces and allies use the demographic change they achieved through random bombings and massacres as a tactic to eliminate their opposition and rivals and their civilian support. Armed terrorist organizations such as the outlawed Daesh and the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its armed People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia also apply similar tactics.

Turkey has been the country most affected by this abnormal activity ever since the start of the civil war. Despite carrying great risks, it has opened its doors to people from all religious, sectarian and ethnic backgrounds, who were affected by this human tragedy and the harsh war conditions. The camps established aside, many Syria-origin people settled in almost all corners of Turkey.

Additionally, Turkey found itself in the middle of a war in which it feels obliged to defend itself against terrorist organizations that feed on the vacuum born from war and which creates a security threat at its border. Regardless of the reasons, today, there is a civil war right beside us and our country is experiencing problems resulting from this.

Turkey, not only provided temporary shelter to those fleeing the tragedy since the start of the crisis, on the contrary, it even made a series of regulations including citizenship and work permits. Military operations like Euphrates Shield and Olive Branch have been conducted to prevent greater waves of migration and to enable those who came to Turkey to return to the established safe zones.

But as you know, spilt milk cannot be put back in the cup. In other words, whatever change or development takes place in Syria, the problems resulting from war and migration – that is the outcome related to it – will continue to live with us for many more years.

Fatih Sultan Mehmet University and the Deniz Feneri Foundation are organizing a symposium on Feb. 24-25 to discuss the problems of war, migration and poverty. The symposium, which is going to take place at the university’s Haliç campus, will cover significant subjects.

The academic scale of the problem along with its capacity to deal with the problem will be debated, while institutions such as the Turkish Red Crescent, which has a presence on the field, Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Authority, certain departments of the ministry and Turkey’s immigration authority will convey their experiences regarding the matter.

In this meeting, we will find out how much significance the subject of Syrians living in Turkey holds.At this meeting, where war, migration and one of its results—poverty, will be discussed, worthy results will be obtained. For instance, to what extent have we been able to create solutions for education problems of the Syrians (they are now of Turkey) who have had the opportunity to find shelter in Turkey? What have we done for the integration of these people who will spend most of their lives in Turkey? Does the education ministry or the institution of higher education know of their self-established unofficial schools?

We are going to discuss all these matters then. We are going to be there; you are welcome to come too.

Zekeriya Kurşun *: is a Turkish columnist who writes for Yeni Şafak  Turkish newspaper. (Published in Yeni Şafak Turkish newspaper on February 22,  2018)