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Turkiye’s high-stakes balancing act on Syrian refugees and national security

By : Nedal Zubeidi

Jordan Daily – As Turkiye navigates a complex political landscape, the government finds itself balancing the needs of over 3 million Syrian refugees with the imperative of national security. Recent unrest in Kayseri, where violence targeted Syrian businesses and homes, underscores the delicate nature of this equilibrium. Turkish authorities assert that external forces are leveraging these tensions to destabilize the country, yet they remain resolute in maintaining order.

Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya’s recent announcement- detailing the arrests of hundreds involved in provocations against Syrians- illustrates the government’s hardline stance against hate-fueled violence. Critics, however, argue that much of the animosity towards Syrians stems from misinformation and political manipulation. The Turkish government, in an effort to dispel myths, recently clarified that just over 3 million Syrian refugees reside in Turkiye under temporary protection, far fewer than the 10 million often cited by opposition politicians.

Exacerbating the situation, personal data of Syrian refugees was leaked on social media, stoking fears within the refugee community. Many have not updated their residential addresses since September 2022, meaning the leaked information could be accurate and potentially used for nefarious purposes. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan condemned the violence and cautioned against exploiting hate speech for political gains, stressing that such actions are unacceptable regardless of the victims’ identities.

In a significant geopolitical shift, Erdoğan has signaled a readiness to normalize relations with the Syrian regime, even expressing willingness to meet President Bashar al-Assad. This move, while controversial, is seen as part of Turkiye’s broader strategy to ensure the safe, dignified, and voluntary return of Syrian refugees. Political analysts suggest that securing an agreement with Assad is essential to achieving this goal.

Turkiye’s policy towards Syria centers on pursuing a political solution to the conflict, combating terrorism , and managing migration. Turkiye advocates for a political resolution, seeing it as the only sustainable path forward. At the same time, it is determined to prevent the establishment of a Kurdish statelet in Syria, viewing the current autonomous administration in North and East Syria as a threat to both Syrian territorial integrity and Turkish national security. Moreover, Turkiye aims to forestall new waves of migration while facilitating the voluntary return of Syrian refugees to their homeland. This multifaceted approach reflects Turkiye’s broader strategy to balance national security concerns with humanitarian obligations.

President Erdoğan’s recent comments about Syria fit neatly into Turkiye’s overarching foreign policy framework, which includes close coordination with Russia. Indeed, Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan recently met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, underscoring the geopolitical nuance required to navigate this multifaceted issue.

In a recent meeting with Russia’s special envoy to the Middle East, Alexander Lavrentiev, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad expressed openness to initiatives that might mend Syrian-Turkish relations. Assad emphasized that negotiations must respect Syrian sovereignty and focus on combating terrorism. Notably, Assad refrained from demanding the withdrawal of Turkish troops, instead stressing the importance of respecting sovereignty.

As Turkiye continues to walk this tightrope, the stakes remain high. The government should deftly maneuver through a complex web of regional politics, ensuring that its actions foster stability and security. Ultimately, achieving these intertwined objectives requires a strategic approach, clear communication, and unwavering resolve.

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