A proficient and strikingly interesting article has been prepared and published by two excellent colleagues of mine, associate professors Pınar Uyan Semerci and Emre Erdoğan, regarding the situations of Syrian refugees in Turkey. This is called, "Guests to Neighbours: The Difficulty of Naming Syrians in Turkey," and it appeared on "Refugee Watch," a specialized journal for forced migrations.
The article starts with a very striking paragraph: "Aylan Kurdi and Omran Daqneesh. Two names. Two children. There is no need to search for further evidence to prove the failure of the world and the failure of humanity. The unbearable images of the two little boys are more than enough. We can just write the names of these two children and stop writing. Stay silent. Silence."
It is obvious for all of us in Turkey that this country, starting from its foundation in 1923, has been carrying out a large humanitarian rescue operation. A population exceeding 4 million people has crossed the Turkish border escaping a certain abasement and a probable death. Three million people remain in Turkey, mostly from Syria, but also from Iraq and Afghanistan. This "obvious" issue, hosting an excess of 3 million people who have nowhere to go and who have not been met by xenophobic reactions nor by racist rhetoric, is not so obvious everywhere. It is taken for granted.
The political decisions taken by the Turkish government in Syria did not have much success, but whose politics in Syria has had any semblance of success? The country, an ancient, rich and very important province of the Ottoman Empire, is almost completely destroyed, half of its population exiled and the human capital together with the physical and commercial infrastructure has evaporated. There is still Assad and his Doberman gang trying to hold onto power, or what is left of it. It is a total disaster not only for Syria but also for humanity. This is a blatant failure of our system of international cooperation, of human solidarity, of any ethical system any country or society holds dear.
Turkey has been ostracized for a variety of reasons, but remains the only country that can put up a fight when talking about humanitarian aid for Syrians. The only viable political contact has been established between Turkey and the EU precisely on this issue, whereby the refugee population's integration has been seen as a common goal for both Turkey and the EU. It is a very disappointing development that recently both parties have been in a dispute over this cooperation, but this is of the utmost importance. Not because it is the only solid link that binds Turkey to the EU, but this will be a first for dealing with an issue nobody wants to consider: How to establish a sound cooperation for forced migrations and settlements.
This dimension of the problem has been dexterously demonstrated in Uyan and Erdoğan's article: "Cooperation for the common problems of the world may seem a utopia to the realists. Thus, they also have to admit that what we are living is dystopia: Fear, terrorism, loss of lives, injustices, and uncertainties. Continuing to live in this dystopia is actually what is impossible and unrealistic. The realpolitik of the states failed, what is seen as ‘self-interest' for states must be challenged. A more realistic solution is actually looking for a more transnational /cosmopolitan cooperation. The realization of this cooperation is a difficult task, and there is no single formula. Thus, the first step is the acceptance of the fact that ‘reality' forces all of us to see the need for searching for a solution that is beyond a single state's ability and control or dictated by a state-centric vision of humanity."
The wording is so penetrating that I have chosen to quote it untouched. But there is also another salient issue with Turkey's image and traditions. This country has been the scene of so many atrocities during the dismembering of the Ottoman Empire that it should find itself another way of seeing things, another way of behaving and another way of approaching international problems.
The treatment of refugees on Turkish soil will be an extremely difficult task, however it has to be done. This is an immense opportunity for Turkey to show misericord, understanding and solidarity to a totally stranger population.
We have to take into account two major examples of the 20th century: The first is France and its restructuring after World War II. Charles De Gaulle understood that France could never become an imperial and colonial power again, so he placed the principle of "grandeur" at the center of his international politics. What does "grandeur" mean? It is not "greatness" but should be translated more like soulfulness, empathy or solidarity. Replacing a military and political power by a much more insightful moral power.
The second example is Norway. This tiny country next to the polar zone has become the peace broker of the world today. Their neutrality, benevolence and objectivity is never questioned by anybody. Very important peace deals are struck in Oslo and the Norwegian Peace Institute has become the most reputable mediator in thorny issues. Norway is the land of the Vikings, who terrorized Europe for centuries. Their descendants bring peace and moderation to everyone in the world today.
These two examples amply show that Turkey's mission should be similar. We have no interest (or capacity) to threaten anybody with our military might or political dexterity in foreign affairs. We have every reason, on the other hand, to believe that Turkey's situation is unique to confront the challenges of the region, and not only the region. Hosting 3 million refugees and doing it in the name of human solidarity is an incredible achievement. We should go on emphasizing this dimension. Turkey has the capacity to establish its "soft power" better than anybody in the region, (anyhow no government in the region is interested in or capable of becoming a soft power). Since our Janissary army was disbanded two centuries ago, we will have to forget about the Ottoman military might of yesteryear and focus our potential, capacity and goodwill to become a safe haven for human beings in the region, and to become a hub of stability and trading wealth. This must be Turkey's utmost goal for the 21st century.