Mr. Bakir Atajan is a Turkish political analyst, writer, and president of the Istanbul Institute of Thought and Studies. Mr. Atajan is also an outspoken advocate for Syrians and a member of the ruling Justice and Development Party.
SYRIAWISE recently spoke to Mr. Atajan from his home in Istanbul.
Is there a change in Turkish policy regarding Syrian presence in Turkey? Is it a tactic or a new strategic approach?
There is no reverse in policy towards Syrians in Turkey but there is a political tactic that Turkey had to adopt recently, especially in light of international, regional, and local changes and developments. For political reasons, the Justice and Development Party was forced to change the tactics it had been using so far. Therefore, what Turkey says and demands for the sake of the Syrians is a tactic par excellence, not a strategy. It will change immediately after the elections, and the strategy that was, and still is, will not change for Syrians regarding their shelter in Turkey, especially if the government continues to be led by the Justice and Development Party.
Does preparing for the Turkish elections require the AKP to give up sheltering Syrian refugees in order to satisfy the Turkish opposition?
It is only a political tactic as I indicated. Most of the Turkish opposition parties were using the refugee card to turn Turkish voters against the current government and the Justice and Development Party by spreading fabricated news and lies about the Syrian people and the life they live in Turkey. The Turkish government had to look again at this situation which gives an unreal and very bad picture of Syrians and their presence in Turkey to the Turkish interior and to the world. Consequently, the decision-makers in the Turkish government changed their approach in order to remove the refugee card from the hands of these people. But the strength of a state is determined by its people and to their credit, the majority of Turkish citizens are on the side of the oppressed. It is not possible to abandon morals and humanity at the expense of displacing the Syrian people or offending them. Historically, ideologically, culturally, and morally, we have a common destiny, and our relationship has always been one of brotherhood, neighborliness, and kinship for hundreds of years. Ultimately, I believe Turkey’s strategy will not change in its policy toward Syrians.
Recently the Turkish Foreign Minister recommended reconciliation between the Syrian opposition and Assad. What is your vision, in light of this turning point, regarding the fate of northern Syria in the case of reconciliation with Assad?
I think reconciliation with Assad is not even a possibility. Reconciliation may be saying “good morning” or “good evening”, but this does not mean that things will return to the way they were. There are interests that unite Turkey, and there are things that force Turkey to this rapprochement, but this rapprochement will only be superficial, and not from heart to heart as it was. Regarding the Assad regime, it has determined to stay in its course so we cannot expect it to make radical changes, neither now, nor in the future. But external and internal pressures forced Turkey to change tactics, which is still trying as much as possible to send messages to the regime and to the world in light of international changes and developments. This does not mean at all that Turkey has abandoned the Syrian people or that it will also abandon northern Syria, especially the fate of the Syrian people in the north. This matter is very important for Turkey. There are four million Syrians inside Turkey and four million more on the border in Idlib and some areas that were liberated by the National Army in the north of Syria. This means that Turkey is responsible for eight million Syrians and this is not an easy thing to do to these courageous people who called for freedom and dignity, sacrificed so much for it, and are still struggling to achieve their goals. Turkey should be on the side of the oppressed and not on the side of the oppressors.
Turkey will remain on the side of the oppressed Syrians who were crushed by the Assad regimeBakir Atajan
Will Turkey force the Syrians in it to return to Syria? If so, when and under what conditions?
As for the conditions for return, Turkey was clear from the beginning that according to Geneva Resolution 2254, regarding the voluntary return of Syrians, that their safety and security inside Syria is a priority. In the event that these decisions are not in the interest of the Syrian people, especially as I mentioned, the safe return, stability, the constitution, the transitional period, and most importantly that this unjust fascist rule against Syrians that is negatively affecting all the peoples of the world should be removed because this would be a source of hope for others who are also struggling for dignity and freedom. Therefore, Turkey will remain on the side of the oppressed Syrians who were crushed by the Assad regime and who sacrificed thousands of martyrs for their freedom and dignity.
Turkey will stipulate with the Assad regime, in accordance with Resolution 2254, the voluntary return of Syrians and also the protection of refugees with international guarantees, whether with the United Nations, Russia, Turkey, the European Union, NATO and the United States of America, and to be the guarantor of the rights of the Syrian people to live freely in their land.
What will be the fate of the 4 million Syrians who are on Turkish soil?
I hope that luck will favor the Justice and Development Party in the upcoming elections, which will be next June. If they succeed in the elections, the naturalization of Syrians will continue, and also the conditions for staying in Turkey will change for the better. Syrians are not refugees, as President Erdogan has repeatedly stated. They are our brothers. We are responsible before God and the people of the world. We must be on the side of the oppressed. There is a moral and human responsibility to struggle with them shoulder to shoulder against the tyranny and injustice from which they fled. Therefore, Turkey should know well that the fate of the Syrian people residing in Turkey is the same as the fate of the Turkish people. Syrians are our brothers on this land, and they are our brothers in soil and blood. We have to live up to their expectations and fulfill our moral and humanitarian duty toward them. I believe that Turkey will fulfill this moral humanitarian duty and will not be on the side of the oppressors, but on the side of the oppressed with all of its strength and will.
If the Syrian file were to be taken out of the hands of Turkey due to international and regional circumstances, do you think this would be reflected positively in Turkish domestic and foreign policy?
The Syrian file has not come out of Turkey’s hands for the reason that Turkey was convinced that this file should not be used as a pressure card either inside or outside of Turkey to achieve its interests only. We must not forget the common destiny, kinship, and neighborliness of the Syrian people, and the Turkish people are the ones who control these difficult conditions in our world. The government in Turkey and the decision-makers in Turkey are obliged to stand by the Syrian people and their rights. In addition, the issue of the Syrian people should not be a blackmail card to be used by others to achieve their goals. These people who have lived together for more than a thousand years will continue to live in need of each other and Turkey will never abandon the oppressed.