One of my friends, an expert on the Middle East, remarked, "Since the Arab-Israeli war, Palestinians have been living in the refugee camps of Arab countries under adverse conditions and yet, Syrian refugees have been living with us as citizens for a couple of years." In fact, during my visit of the Palestinian camps in Beirut in 2004, I recall of making the same remark: "After the passing of decades, is it still impossible for the Palestinians living in the camps to get rid of their present misery and to live like those from Beirut?" In this respect, I would like to evaluate Turkey's humanitarian commitment of hosting 1,00,700 refugees fleeing from the Syrian civil war.
Although the Republic of Turkey is a modern nation-state, the people residing on its lands of sovereignty are remainders of an empire, and thus, are derived from a past of coexistence of various religions, ethnicities and cultures. Such an imperial legacy led the citizens of Turkey to have a culture of embracement and inclusion of outsiders. In the depths of the issue, Turkish citizens' experience of coexistence with people of different ethnicities, religions and sects is a privilege to be found among the nations of the earth.
In Turkey's greatest cities, Syrians have been working in various professions according to their economic situation to such an extent that it is possible to detect Syrian refugees in almost all economic sectors. Syrians are especially living in tourist towns and villages in and around Istanbul, Ankara, Hatay, Gaziantep, Bursa and İzmir.
We are well aware of the bitter fact that refugees from various regions at war have been living in deplorable misery. Indeed, I have realized how certain communities were condemned to social calamities by the global system during my visit to a Palestinian camp in Lebanon. Since the massive Palestinian exile, Palestinians in Lebanon have been living in the ghettos of the middle ages.
In a similar vein, I witnessed the degradation of human dignity in Sudan where Sudanese escaping from armed conflicts took shelter in the miserable camps near Khartoum. These occasional observations of mine only expose the tip of the iceberg of suffering of refugees that has been recorded in more detail by war correspondents and charitable organizations. In this respect, Turkey's prominent role is remarkable in the international intervention to the sorrowful waves of refugees emanating from the endless Somali civil war.
The policies of the global system on the Middle East, which has condemned the region to a century-long war, are still not explicit. It is indeed difficult to ascertain the goals, allies and foes of the global system in the Middle East. Such a complication occasionally leads to unjust accusations of Turkey. Yet the political pose assumed by Turkey is commendable without mentioning the geostrategic depth of the Middle East in the international arena.
Along with sharing public utilities with refugees, the culture of taking sides with the underdog is both a national and international success achieved by the Turkish government, which has proved once again that Turkey has been the conscience of the world.
Therefore, not only the righteous and benevolent works of the Turkish government, but also the people of Turkey treating refugees as unfortunate, but equal fellows deserves praise from humanity.
About the author
İhsan Aktaş is Chairman of the Board of GENAR Research Company. He is an academic at the Department of Communication at Istanbul Medipol University.