Turkey using Syrians to play its demographic games in region - columnist
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is using predominantly Sunni Syrian refugees and rebel fighters to dilute ethnic populations at home and abroad in his favour, said Michael Rubin in a column for the National Interest on Monday.
In Turkey, Erdoğan has used refugees to “wage demographic warfare” against ethnic minorities he either resents or seeks to dilute for political gain, said Rubin, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington.
The authorities “offer Sunni Syrian Arabs an opportunity both to avoid refugee camps and to gain the privileges of Turkish citizenship so long as they settle either in predominantly Alevi areas in Hatay or in Kurdish towns and villages in southeastern Turkey”, he said, citing Turkish parliamentarians and provincial officials.
“In both cases, Erdoğan’s goals are simple: utilise Sunni Islamists to dilute minority populations or tip the balance in close-held districts to his own party,” Rubin said.
Rubin said Turkey has implemented a similar strategy in the Syrian conflict and after a latest round of fighting in the disputed Caucasus region of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Turkey carried out three major military campaigns in northern Syria in the last four years, citing counter-terrorism efforts and more recently creating a buffer zone to enable the repatriation of Syrian refugees.
However, Rubin said the reality of Erdoğan’s policy has been to “ethnically cleanse Syrian border regions to force out Kurds, Christians, and Yazidis and to replace them with Sunni Arab Islamist communities”.
Turkey meanwhile has been accused by Russia, France and Armenia of shipping thousands of Syrian mercenaries to support Azerbaijan in recent fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh.
Azerbaijan and Armenia signed a Russia-brokered ceasefire on Nov. 10 that halted six weeks of clashes in the mountainous enclave, which is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan but is mainly populated by ethnic Armenians. The ceasefire allows Azerbaijan to keep the territory it captured from Armenian forces.
But few Azeris want to return to the region as most jobs and infrastructure are around Azerbaijan’s capital of Baku, Rubin said. Instead, Syrian mercenaries are having their families join them in Azerbaijan and settle in Nagorno-Karabakh’s captured territory, he said.
While Erdoğan and his Azeri counterpart Ilham Aliyev “might celebrate ridding the region of Christians, replacing them with mercenaries will be a ticking time bomb for the southern Caucasus”, Rubin said.