Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been using the country’s some 3.6 million Syrian refugees as a pawn for reasserting his own power, said Merve Tahiroglu, the head of Turkey’s Program at the Project of Middle East Democracy(POMED).
While Turkey’s strongman maintains “highly political” motives where the refugees are concerned, the attitude of the country’s general populace towards Syrians has transformed from a welcoming one to wishing for their forced relocation back into war zones, Tahiroğlu told the Washington Kurdish Institute.
Erdoğan has said Ankara would send millions of Syrian refugees it hosts to Europe if European countries label the country’s military incursion in neighbouring Syria as an occupation. The Turkish president has also made a similar threat if the EU failed to provide financial aid to Ankara to support the refugees.
Meanwhile, Ankara has announced plans to relocate millions of Syrian refugees in northern Iraq, where it launched a military offensive targeting Kurdish forces last year.
“On the one side, he’s playing this card against Europeans and on the other hand, he’s trying to resend these refugees to parts of Syria as part of what seems to be his plan for demographic changes in Syria. That’s again forcing his own hand into the Syrian theatre,’’ Tahiroğlu said.
When asked about his religious agendas, Tahiroglu pointed out that many so-called religious icons are simply using Islam as a means to their own political or economic benefits. She said that ruling Justice and Developement Party (AKP)’s initial welcome to the refugees was “not at all transparent,” and that members of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) were not allowed to visit these campsites to ensure humanitarian standards for the refugees.
In order to make changes in Turkey, the U.S government would first have to call Erdoğan out on Turkey’s current humanitarian crisis and his dictator-like attitude. She adds that if these issues are left unaddressed, “one day we might wake up and Turkey looks entirely different. In fact, we are there.”