Response on Syria and Turkey

In response to my planting on Syria and Turkey, I received the following message from Professor Kürsad Turan of the Department of International Relations, Gazi University, Ankara, Turkey.

With Professor Turan’s permission, I am posting it here.
I am an assistant professor at Gazi University, Ankara – Turkey, working on ethnicity and the Middle East. Mike from Central American Politics passed your question on “A cross-border comparison of political institutions and communal conflict” along to me for comment and I thought I may be able to clarify some things.

I have read both articles you mentioned. It is true that both countries have very diverse populations, but they are nor necessarily paralel to each other. Alawites in Syria are as similar as it is claimed to Alevis in Turkey. Religiously speaking Alevis in Turkey represent a mixture of the Shiites and former Turkish religions, with more emphasis on the latter. As a result, they do not necessarily match well with Syrian Alawites. It is true that there is a double standard when it comes to places of worship, but it seems to me that it mainly stems from the Sunni religious establishment’s unwillingness to share the resources given to religious bureaucracy (I may be wrong on that one, it is an interpretation of what we have been hearing from both sides before the elections).

When it comes to keeping Syrian refugees away from the general population I can say with certainty that it has nothing to do with ethnic identities of both countries because that is not a concern here in Turkey. There are three reasons for that choice. Prior to and after the Gulf War (1991) Turkey experienced two large waves of Kurdish refugees from Northern Iraq and very few of these refugees returned to Iraq until now. This posed to types of problems. First, economically they increased the pressure in a region where the economy was bad (due to underdevelopment) to begin with and had become even worse following the war. Second, it is believed that at least some of them were either connected to PKK (Kurdish separatist terrorist organizaton focused on Turkey, but with members from Iraq and Syria, as well as Turkey), or facilitated the movements of the organization accross the border, creating a security threat. There is also a practical reason for the refugee camps. When the refugees are kept in camps instead of being mixed in the general population they occupy the headlines and are considered a global problem that at least the UN needs to contribute to its solution. Otherwise they become Turkey’s problem that should be dealt with Turkey’s resources.

Regarding the ethnic coalition in Syria, it is true that it relies on minority groups that do not want to be ruled by a Sunni majority, however, it would be somewhat of an exaggeration to include Kurds in that group because Kurdish groups often demanded some form of autonomy and have been regularly repressed by the regime.

The relative calm in larger cities can be attributed to the development of a middle class over the past decade, but it can also be argued that authoritarian regimes focus more heavily on large cities that have a larger potential to become a source of opposition movements.

I think the Yugoslav analogy is only wishfull thinking by Israel because a broken-up Syria does not benefit anybody, including the parts that will come out of it, other than Israel. For Israel, even though Syria is not and cannot become a military threat in the near future, they are capable of posing an indirect threat by supporting various terrorist organizations and through their diminished influence over Lebanon. It should also be taken into consideration that in a Sunni dominated Syria one of the main groups will be Muslim Brotherhood, which is more radical than their chapters in Egypt and Jordan.

I agree that the study would be an interesting one, but I do not think these countries did not have a similar enough exerience in the past to justify such a comparison. I think it may be more interesting to compare Iraq and Syria considering they were ruled by the same party (or at least ideology) for a long time, ethnically diverse, and ruled by a minority group. On the other hand, they differ on the sect that rules the country, their level of natural resources, and their neighbors (Iran and Israel). Hope this was helpful.


Kür?ad Turan Asst. Prof. Department of International Relations Gazi University Ankara – TURKEY

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