Refugee unrest is the last thing that Turkey wants to see. But it happened over the weekend when Syrians, living in a camp in an area close to the Syrian border in Kilis province, staged a protest on Sunday, complaining about their living conditions, while shouting slogans that they did not want Turkmens with them. Syrian refugees also claimed that Turkey has been giving better treatment to the Turkmens, a Turkic people, who are also located in Syria, around 2,000 of whom fled to Turkey to escape the unrest in Syria.
Protests by refugees who fled Syria and whose numbers have reached around 40,000 so far, may signal a bigger headache that Turkey may face in the future as a Pakistani reader’s comments to my column published on July 16 under the heading “Turkey played all cards in Syrian conflict” indicate.
This Pakistani reader makes an important point and presents a warning that should be listened to: “Your article brought back so many memories to me and for a moment I thought I was reading a 30-year-old story when Russia had a war in Afghanistan. I believe that Turkey has been compelled to get involved in this conflict, and I don’t want to see Turkish people moaning after a few years, saying, “Was it our war? or “We were pushed into it by external forces having vested interests in Syria and the region.” … I wish that the Turkish government learned some lessons from Pakistan and stayed out of this conflict. … What if after some time these refugees start complaining (or are made to complain), blaming Turkey for their being made homeless. We saw the same in Pakistan where Gen. Zia ul-Haq welcomed millions of Afghan refugees into Pakistan, and look at us now, these people have refused to go back and instead have developed hatred against Pakistan.”
Unlike the mini unrest that took place in the refugee camp in Turkey, the world has been witnessing a possible outbreak of long-feared ethnic conflict in Syria as the Assad regime collapses, and the speed at which it is falling has increased.
As fighting raged in Syria’s capital of Damascus as well as in Aleppo, Syrian rebels were said to have taken control of three crossing points on the border with Turkey. Adding fuel to Turkish concerns are reports that Syrian Kurds have begun running several towns near the Turkish border and are fighting in the city of Qamishli against Syrian troops to gain control. According to unconfirmed reports, Syrian rebels have given an ultimatum to the Kurds to leave the cities where they are reported to have taken control.
Will the Syrian Kurds establish an autonomous region or a separate state in Syria, which carries the risk of an eventual division among Sunnis, Alawites and Kurds? And how will Turkey, which has been fighting an almost three-decade-long fight against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), seeking an autonomous Kurdish region in Turkey’s southeastern provinces, react to the changing nature of events in Syria?
As part of measures to deter the spillover of the conflict into Turkey and against Assad’s possible use of the PKK, said to be given sanctuary in the Qamishli region close to the Turkish border by the Syrian regime to provoke this terrorist organization against Turkey, the Turkish military dispatched a train convoy carrying several batteries of ground-to-air missiles to the border region over the weekend. Turkey had deployed anti-aircraft guns and other weapons along its border with Syria soon after Syria’s downing of a Turkish RF-4E jet on June 22.
Turkey is preparing for a worst-case scenario as a result of an increasingly unstable situation in Syria that may result in a division of the country despite the fact that Ankara has long been defending its territorial integrity.