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The Syrian Refugees and Idlib Housing… What is Erdogan Planning?

Turkey Erdogan settling 1 million settlers in Idlib Syria - Al Mayadeen - Husni Mahali

Turkish circles consider that the plan to resettle Syrian refugees in Idlib aims to give the “Al-Nusra Front” political legitimacy regionally and internationally. It seems clear that Erdogan wants the siege on Syria to continue until he puts the Syrians in front of two options, both of which are bitter.

The following is the English translation from Arabic of the latest article by Turkish career journalist Husni Mahali he published in the Lebanese Al-Mayadeen news site Al-Mayadeen Net:

On the occasion of the distribution of housing built by the Turkish state for the Syrians inside Syria near Idlib, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced, on Wednesday, his plan to transfer one million Syrians to the region to live there, while continuing to build housing, schools, hospitals, mosques, and industrial areas, and to secure all other service facilities, such as water, electricity, and communications.

Opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu responded quickly, he addressed Erdogan, saying, “We are tired of your lies. If you are serious about this, why not coordinate with the Syrian state? This is what we will do in turn after getting rid of you in the upcoming elections.”

The various opposition circles, along with a number of journalistic analysts, diplomats, generals, retired ministers, and university professors, pointed to the danger of Erdogan’s statements, which coincided with the fiercest political and popular campaign he is being subjected to because of the refugees, not only Syrians but also Afghans and others of various nationalities, whose number the opposition says are all together, more than 7 million refugees, including 3.7 million Syrians.

Nationalist circles see these refugees as a threat to the country’s national security, especially since all Afghan refugees are men, and their ages range between 20 and 30 years. The retired generals raise many questions around them, the most important of which are: Who brought them? How will he use them? And when? And against whom?

These generals, including Ahmet Yavuz, Khaldun Solmaz Türk, and Türkar Erturk, put forward many scenarios, and they talk about the possibility of internal and external forces benefiting from the refugees in special and dangerous missions, especially after Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu estimated the number of foreigners residing in Istanbul at 1.3 million people, Among them, 500,000 are Syrians, and the rest are of various nationalities, including those who are officially residents, such as workers in foreign companies and university students.

Returning to Erdogan’s statements, the opposition questioned their seriousness, while other circles pointed out the seriousness of the issue, not only for Syria, but also for Turkey, given that those Erdogan spoke of “voluntarily deported” to Syria will be transferred to Idlib and its vicinity, where the control of the Nusra Front (Al Qaeda Levant), or the areas controlled by the armed opposition factions affiliated with the so-called “Syrian National Army”.

This (Syrian National) army was created at the beginning of October 2019 in Ankara, days before the Turkish army’s incursion east of the Euphrates on October 9 of that year. The aforementioned circles considered that this settlement project if implemented, which is not easy, according to their words, aims to give political legitimacy regionally and internationally to the “Al-Nusra” group in Idlib, it is in full coordination and cooperation with Ankara in all matters, in all fields, and at all levels; Idlib, as is the case in other areas in which the Turkish army is positioned, Turkey covers all its needs of electricity, weapons, equipment, and services in all their forms, such as telephones, the Internet, and foodstuffs.

The Turkish lira has become its semi-official currency, as is the case with the Turkish language, which is the second language that is officially taught in schools, and under the supervision of all Turkish agencies that directly manage the affairs of these areas as if they are part of Turkey.

Building housing and returning Syrian refugees to these areas and placing them at the mercy of Jabhat al-Nusra (Nusra Front) and other factions is a scheme through which Erdogan wants to make the Syrian refugees a popular incubator for “Al-Nusra” and the “moderate” political entity that he will announce soon.

Erdogan wants such an entity to help him in his bargaining with Arab capitals, which he knows are not serious about their pressure on him on the issue of resolving the Syrian crisis and returning the Syrians. He may propose to these capitals, and Washington and its allies in Europe, to hold a referendum (the West will encourage this as a justification for another referendum east of the Euphrates), to ensure their desire to return to the Syrian state or accept the rule of the “moderate” Nusra and the like, as long as Erdogan wants them to go back, he says this, sometimes under the pressure of the opposition, and at other times to deceive the Arab capitals. Everyone knows that these capitals are not serious about reconciliation with Damascus, otherwise, they would have thought of helping the Syrian people at a minimum, who are suffering from the consequences of US, European, and even Arab sanctions and blockades.

It seems clear that Erdogan wants this siege to continue until he puts the Syrians in front of two options, both of which are bitter. Either they accept to return to their homes in the areas of the Syrian state, or they return to the houses that the Turkish state is building for them in Idlib and its vicinity, to form an electoral bloc that supports Erdogan’s ideas in the event of any elections or referendum, after any formula for a solution is reached in Syria, this will not be rushed by Erdogan, as long as Russia is preoccupied with the Ukrainian crisis, and the Arab regimes, in turn, continue to plot against Syria, at a time when Tel Aviv succeeded in delaying or postponing the Iranian nuclear agreement indefinitely.

Erdogan may wish for this, because in this case the Gulf regimes, and with it “Tel Aviv,” will attach to Turkey additional importance because of its potential role in confronting Iranian calculations in the region, which is what some circles are talking about that recall the campaign of nationalist circles and pro-Erdogan media against Iran during the war in Nagorno-Karabakh, as well as the talk of this media and those circles about the necessity of mobilizing the Azerbaijani street of Turkish origin in Iran, especially in the regions neighboring Turkey and Azerbaijan, with some accusing Iran of “deliberately sending Afghan refugees to Turkey.”

Tehran had previously talked about the increased activity of the Israeli Mossad in these areas, and across the border with Azerbaijan, to create security problems for Iran, including assassinations. Some expect more of these events over the next few weeks and months.

The aforementioned circles do not forget to talk about the sharp competition between Ankara and Tehran in Iraq, after Erdogan directly entered the line of this competition through intensive contacts with the enemies of Iran’s allies in Iraq, including Masoud Barzani, Muhammad al-Halbousi, Khamis al-Khanjar, and others, to block the way for the re-election of the current president. Barham Salih, affiliated with Tehran, it is said.

We do not ignore the large-scale military operations carried out by the Turkish army in northern Iraq, which now controls large areas of it, as is the case in northern Syria, and even after it finished building a separation wall along the entire border with Syria, he is about to finish a similar wall on the border with Iraq, in which there are about 2 million (some say 4, others say a million) Turkmen (half of them are Shiites, others are Sunnis), and they are also present in contradictory numbers in Syria, and Ankara has high hopes on them in its plans and projects in Syria as well.

Pending the Arab agreement on reconciliation with Damascus, President Erdogan will not move a finger on this issue, but he may take tactical positions to confront the opposition’s campaigns, and it seems that they have become effective, and these campaigns will be reflected in a way on Erdogan’s popularity with the approach of the elections on their constitutional date in June next year, or earlier.

Many doubt this, and they say that Erdogan will find any justification for postponing these elections unless he guarantees their results, as he did in the April 2017 referendum, when he amended the constitution and changed the system to be a presidential system, as the then-CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu accused him of, by falsifying the election results in agreement with the Supreme National Elections Authority, which approved two million unstamped ballot papers, which were in Erdogan’s favor.

Everyone knows that Erdogan will not hand over power easily, because he knows that his fate will not be good if that happens, because of the accusations leveled against him regarding Turkey’s involvement in dangerous issues at the internal (corruption) and foreign policies levels, foremost of which is Syria with its well-known consequences, and the refugees are nothing but a result of these policies in Syria and the region after the so-called “Arab Spring”. Some expect a similar spring to him in Turkey, if Erdogan remains in power and insists on his current policies in Syria, and on his reconciliations with the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and “Israel”, and soon with Egypt!

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  1. James Graham

    Yes! That is the whole point about all “refugees” under the prevailing conditions. How will they use them? When? And against whom? So, in light of the departure of some forces to Ukraine and who knows how long that will continue, their “replenishment” is going to come from the refugees in Turkey. They will be offered a new home/hut and terrorist/support jobs in Idlib. So, who in the world thought starting a family in a war zone occupied by the most ruthless cutthroats on the planet was a good idea and a wise move? Only sick and twisted Erdogan and his paymasters. It looks like the same kind of thinking was behind sending “refugees” to Rwanda. It’s a “Death Squad Replenishment Scheme.”

  2. Barbara McKenzie

    Good that the opposition are … opposing. When I was in Istanbul after the “failed coup” there were two factions, one that supported him and therefore his narrative absolutely, and another, slightly greater, which thought he was off his head and the coup was theatre. And when he insisted on rerunning the Istanbul mayoralty in 2019, his candidate lost even more votes. Problem is that while the more clued up are awake to him and oppose his adventurism (including turning one of the greatest churches in Christendom into a mosque), he is still supported by the ignorant..

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