Aswat Asharq Al-Awsat :

Aswat Asharq Al-Awsat : Türkiye Host Communities on a Collision Course with Refugees

People walk past closed shops in Hocahasan district, mostly populated by Syrians, in Bursa, western Türkiye, Tuesday, July 2, 2024. (Ugur Yildirim/Dia Photo via AP)
People walk past closed shops in Hocahasan district, mostly populated by Syrians, in Bursa, western Türkiye, Tuesday, July 2, 2024. (Ugur Yildirim/Dia Photo via AP)

Türkiye Host Communities on a Collision Course with Refugees

People walk past closed shops in Hocahasan district, mostly populated by Syrians, in Bursa, western Türkiye, Tuesday, July 2, 2024. (Ugur Yildirim/Dia Photo via AP)
People walk past closed shops in Hocahasan district, mostly populated by Syrians, in Bursa, western Türkiye, Tuesday, July 2, 2024. (Ugur Yildirim/Dia Photo via AP)

It is difficult to establish a clear timeline for the successive developments that led to the recent incidents of violence against Syrian refugees in Türkiye, and the resulting demonstrations against the Turkish presence within areas controlled by the Syrian opposition in northern Syria.

In these incidents, the position of Syrians changes between being targets of racism in Türkiye, and victims of marginalization in opposition-controlled areas.

In the past few days, the intensity of direct clashes has decreased against the backdrop of the Kayseri events, but some disturbing indicators continue to emerge from time to time, whether in the form of more “individual incidents,” such as an attack in a restaurant here or a public park there.

However, information spread about more than 3 million Syrians residing in Türkiye through an account on the Telegram platform called “Türkiye Uprising,” sounding a new kind of alarm.

The data included sensitive information, such as the national numbers of Syrian residents, the names of the father and mother, place and date of birth, residential address and telephone number. These are personal databases that are supposed to be kept primarily by immigration departments, in addition to other competent authorities, and their leakage puts the safety of Syrians at risk.

Attacks in Kayseri, just three days before this leak, went hand in hand with the aggressors circulating specific information about the whereabouts of Syrians and their livelihoods. This constitutes a serious warning of what may happen with the exposure of this data and the possibility of it being used for intimidation.

The Turkish authorities considered the leak a technical error, and the Ministry of Interior announced that the person responsible for the leak was a 14-year-old. It said in a statement: “All those who try to create chaos and use children in their provocations will be arrested.”

Horror night in Kayseri

Before the data leaking incident, the strongest wave of violence against Syrian refugees in Türkiye, and the subsequent Syrian reaction to Turkish symbols and institutions in northern Syria, led to direct clashes that claimed the lives of 11 Syrians at the hands of Turkish forces in northern Syria.

A videoclip spread on social media of a young man harassing a girl in the Turkish city of Kayseri, with false news spreading that the man is Syrian and the girl is Turkish. Within hours, semi-organized Turkish groups began burning and smashing cars, shops, and residences of Syrians in the city.

Despite the Kayseri state’s confirmation that the man was Syrian and that he was arrested, and that the child was also Syrian and was transferred to one of the protection centers affiliated with the Ministry of Family, the attacks against Syrians did not stop, but rather expanded to other cities and continued for a few days during which even tourists in a city like Istanbul were subjected to harassment.

This situation has forced hundreds of thousands of refugees to stay in their homes, rely on delivery services, speak Turkish on public transportation when necessary, or refrain from speaking at all in the streets or public places.

Spontaneous - organized incitement

Turkish newspaper Yeni Safak indicated that those participating in the violence against Syrians were communicating through four WhatsApp groups that were previously used to evade routine police operations, and each of them included about 500 people.

The official Turkish Anadolu Agency - the day after the events in Kayseri - quoted Turkish Minister of Interior Ali Yerlikaya as announcing the arrest of 1,065 people. The minister explained that Turkish security forces arrested 855 people in Kayseri province alone, 468 of whom were found to have criminal records.

Syrian lawyer and civil activist Mohammad Al-Sattouf says that the backgrounds of the detainees give a picture of the networks responsible for the organized attacks and the way they operate, but do not explain the spontaneous participation of hundreds of ordinary Turks in attacks on homes and people.

The events in Kayseri reveal the degree of tension against foreigners, and the possibility of it exploding at any moment and in any place, for goals that third parties seek to exploit.

Claiming that the protests are an attack on “the brotherly ties that link the Turkish and Syrian peoples,” as the Turkish Humanitarian Relief, Human Rights and Freedoms Organization (İHH) said in a statement, seems closer to turning a blind eye to the facts.

Moreover, the daily political bickering between decision-makers and the opposition in Türkiye, and the recent announcement of a rapprochement between Ankara and Damascus and then of an upcoming meeting between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, with the aim of returning the Syrians to their country, puts the refugees in a weak position with no sense of stability and security.

Who pays the costs of asylum?

According to data from the Turkish Immigration Service, there are 3,114,099 Syrians who hold temporary protection cards, compared to 1,125,623 people who have residence permits ranging from “tourist” residencies to work permits. This is undoubtedly a very large number in any host society.

“But the long-term Syrian asylum in Türkiye is neither a reason for the Turkish economy to falter in many sectors, such as real estate, industry, and stock market trading, nor does it bear responsibility for financial inflation,” economic researcher and professor at the University of Lausanne, Joseph Daher, tells Aswat Asharq Al-Awsatt.

Daher said: “On the contrary, Syrian asylum has contributed to supplying the Turkish labor market with cheap labor, in the agricultural, industrial, and service sectors, which in turn led to more capital accumulation and profits for Turkish businessmen.”

Therefore, “asylum did not cause an increase in overall unemployment rates or starvation of Turks, as many Turkish political actors with nationalist and racist tendencies claim,” he remarked.

In 2014, international donor money to support Syrian refugees and their host communities began to flow into Türkiye. Perhaps the actual reason was stopping illegal migration convoys by land and sea to Europe in what was known at the time as “the largest refugee crisis” in modern history.

But Ankara spared no effort in “using the Syrian refugee crisis to put pressure on the European Union, to make political concessions, and also to obtain more funding,” according to Daher.

“Türkiye had a significant share in international aid as one of the major countries hosting Syrians,” he said.

According to figures available on the European Commission for Refugees website, the total European Union aid allocated to Ankara since 2011 has reached approximately 10 billion euros, including 6 billion euros between 2016 and 2019, 535 million euros in funding for the humanitarian bridge in 2020, and 3 billion euros in additional funding for the period between 2021 and 2023.

But the Russian war in Ukraine, according to Daher, “changed the priorities of the European donors, and led to what became known as the donor fatigue; this caused a significant decline in the number of civil organizations working with Syrians in Türkiye and relying on European aid for their funding.”

However, the decline in Western interest in supporting Syrian refugees in neighboring countries “does not actually explain racism against them in Turkish society. Indeed, many Syrians in Türkiye do not reside in camps, and do not receive direct financial support, but rather depend on themselves to work, and thus to generate income that is pumped into the Turkish economy,” Daher said.

Voluntary return and systematic deportation

In the past few years, Turkish opposition parties and even the Turkish government, with its various populist movements, have adopted a more stringent discourse, language, and policy against Syrian refugees.

During the last year alone, about half a million refugees were returned to areas controlled by the Syrian opposition in northwestern Syria, as part of a systematic deportation policy called “voluntary return,” but it combines persuasion and coercion, persecution and harassment, and sudden campaigns to arrest and detain those who violate the rules of temporary protection.

Although all of this is understandable in the context of political bickering, it fails to explain a statement issued by 41 Turkish non-governmental organizations in the city of Gaziantep, on June 17, warning of “demographic, social and economic transformations that threaten the city’s identity and future, amid a life that is no longer bearable under the weight of the influx of Syrian refugees.”

Northern protests and the crossing points

Discussions of a new rapprochement attempt between Ankara and Damascus, with an Iraqi initiative and Russian sponsorship, have fueled more speculation, especially in northern Syria, which is under Turkish control.

Massive demonstrations broke out in the northern countryside of Aleppo denouncing the Turkish presence, as a result of its failure to adhere to its role as guarantor of the opposition in the Astana Agreement, and accusing it of abandoning opposition areas in the northwest in favor of the regime.

The Turkish side responded by closing the border crossings and cutting off the Internet and communications in opposition areas. The angry demonstrations quickly turned into attempts to storm some of the crossings with Türkiye. The escalation did not stop until after an attack on a Turkish military base in the city of Afrin, northwest of Aleppo. Its soldiers responded with direct fire, killing four of the attackers and wounding dozens.

Opposition circles in northwestern Syria fear that any rapprochement will be at the expense of these areas, where about six million Syrians live, more than half of whom are displaced and forcibly displaced from regime areas. For them, the current situation, with its disadvantages and weaknesses, remains better than returning to the regime’s military and security control.

There is another factor related to a Russian desire to restore movement on the Aleppo-Latakia M4 international road, as a first step for any possible normalization. According to the semi-official Syrian newspaper Al-Watan, this will lead to economic recovery in regime areas, and the reopening of a transit route between Gaziantep in Türkiye, passing through Azaz in the Aleppo countryside, to the Nassib crossing at the Jordanian border. This allows Turkish goods to flow to the Arabian Gulf by land via Syria, after a 13-year interruption.

In remarks to Aswat Asharq Al-Awsatt, Jihad Yazji, a researcher specializing in the Syrian economy, downplayed the optimistic economic expectations for opening the crossing to commercial traffic.

He said: “The transfer of goods did not stop between the two parties, even with the closure of the official crossings,” noting that trade exchange continued through the illegal crossings.”

“The importance of opening the crossing is not economic at this stage, but rather political, because the actual victims are the smuggling networks that are active in the region,” he underlined.

A fast track to a locked door

Within less than ten days, successive waves of chaos and violence broke out in local communities residing in different areas on both sides of the Syrian-Turkish border, with the lives of hundreds of thousands upended and exposed to danger.

Describing the Turkish people as racist, just like portraying the Syrians as victims, will not help overcome the ordeal.

The Turkish economy has deteriorated, and although the Syrian refugees do not bear responsibility for it, they are its social victims. Moreover, the rise of racism against them is not a characteristic of any particular people. If you look at how refugees are being treated in the rest of the neighboring countries, you would know that the situation is somewhat similar.

Likewise, the rampant corruption in northwestern Syria, and the failure of the opposition to produce governance alternatives, is not purely a Turkish fault, even though the Turks bear a great responsibility for the dominance of favoritism and submission in their relations with the Syrians. The opposition’s failure to establish a model of just governance in its regions that breaks with the Syrian regime’s legacy of violence and corruption is not trivial, and Syrians must bear responsibility for the outcome of their conditions.

Even if the recent violent campaign against refugees has been contained today, it is not possible to predict the date and location of its next wave, in the absence of any practical solution on the ground that protects the refugees and host communities from the risk of repeated clashes.

Aswat Asharq Al-Awsat : Who is JD Vance? Things to Know about Donald Trump's Pick for Vice President

Trump's pick for Vice President, US Sen. J.D. Vance (R-OH) arrives on the first day of the Republican National Convention at the Fiserv Forum on July 15, 2024 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Getty Images/AFP)
Trump's pick for Vice President, US Sen. J.D. Vance (R-OH) arrives on the first day of the Republican National Convention at the Fiserv Forum on July 15, 2024 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Getty Images/AFP)

Who is JD Vance? Things to Know about Donald Trump's Pick for Vice President

Trump's pick for Vice President, US Sen. J.D. Vance (R-OH) arrives on the first day of the Republican National Convention at the Fiserv Forum on July 15, 2024 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Getty Images/AFP)
Trump's pick for Vice President, US Sen. J.D. Vance (R-OH) arrives on the first day of the Republican National Convention at the Fiserv Forum on July 15, 2024 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Getty Images/AFP)

Former President Donald Trump on Monday chose US Sen. JD Vance of Ohio to be his running mate as he looks to return to the White House.

Here are some things to know about Vance, a 39-year-old Republican now in his first term in the Senate:

Vance rose to prominence with his memoir

Vance was born and raised in Middletown, Ohio. He joined the Marines and served in Iraq, and later earned degrees from Ohio State University and Yale Law School. He also worked as a venture capitalist in Silicon Valley.

Vance made a name for himself with his memoir, the 2016 bestseller "Hillbilly Elegy," which was published as Trump was first running for president. The book earned Vance a reputation as someone who could help explain the maverick New York businessman’s appeal in middle America, especially among the working class, rural white voters who helped Trump win the presidency.

"Hillbilly Elegy" also introduced Vance to the Trump family. Donald Trump Jr. loved the book and knew of Vance when he went to launch his political career. The two hit it off and have remained friends.

He was first elected to public office in 2022

After Donald Trump won the 2016 election, Vance returned to his native Ohio and set up an anti-opioid charity. He also took to the lecture circuit and was a favored guest at Republican Lincoln Day dinners where his personal story — including the hardship Vance endured because of his mother’s drug addiction — resonated.

Vance's appearances were opportunities to sell his ideas for fixing the country and helped lay the groundwork for entering politics in 2021, when he sought the Senate seat vacated by Republican Rob Portman, who retired.

Trump endorsed Vance. Vance went on to win a crowded Republican primary and the general election.

He and Trump have personal chemistry

Personal relationships are extremely important to the former president and he and Vance have developed a strong rapport over years, speaking on the phone regularly.

Trump has also complimented Vance’s beard, saying he "looks like a young Abraham Lincoln."

Vance went from never-Trumper to fierce ally

Vance was a "never Trump" Republican in 2016. He called Trump "dangerous" and "unfit" for office. Vance, whose wife, lawyer Usha Chilukuri Vance, is Indian American and the mother of their three children, also criticized Trump’s racist rhetoric, saying he could be "America’s Hitler."

But by the time Vance met Trump in 2021, he had reversed his opinion, citing Trump’s accomplishments as president. Both men downplayed Vance's past scathing criticism.

Once elected, Vance became a fierce Trump ally on Capitol Hill, unceasingly defending Trump’s policies and behavior.

He is a leading conservative voice

Kevin Roberts, president of the conservative Heritage Foundation, called Vance a leading voice for the conservative movement, on key issues including a shift away from interventionist foreign policy, free market economics and "American culture writ large."

Democrats call him an extremist, citing provocative positions Vance has taken but sometimes later amended. Vance signaled support for a national 15-week abortion ban during his Senate run, for instance, then softened that stance once Ohio voters overwhelmingly backed a 2023 abortion rights amendment.

Vance has adopted Trump's rhetoric about Jan. 6

On the 2020 election, he said he wouldn't have certified the results immediately if he had been vice president and said Trump had "a very legitimate grievance." He has put conditions on honoring the results of the 2024 election that echo Trump's. A litany of government and outside investigations have not found any election fraud that could have swung the outcome of Trump's 2020 loss to Democratic President Joe Biden.

In the Senate, Vance sometimes embraces bipartisanship. He and Democratic Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown co-sponsored a railway safety bill following a fiery train derailment in the Ohio village of East Palestine. He's sponsored legislation extending and increasing funding for Great Lakes restoration, and supported bipartisan legislation boosting workers and families.

Vance can articulate Trump's vision

People familiar with the vice presidential vetting process said Vance would bring to the GOP ticket debating skills and the ability to articulate Trump’s vision.

Charlie Kirk, founder of the conservative activist group Turning Point USA, said Vance compellingly articulates the America First world view and could help Trump in states he closely lost in 2020, such as Michigan and Wisconsin, that share Ohio’s values, demographics and economy.