In a first of its kind meeting, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan held a meeting with a number of Syrian activists and independent artists from local and international institutions at Yıldız Palace on Friday in Istanbul on Jan. 22.
The meeting, devoid of any of the fake emotions that used to overwhelm me at the Syrian officials' meetings before the revolution, had the air of a friendly conversation. Mr. Erdoğan met 20 journalists who talked about the violations of journalists and Syrian refugees in general on the Syrian-Turkish border, mostly caused by border guards. He also said that they are looking into the problem of proper licensing and press IDs for Syrian media institutions and Syrian journalists in Turkey. It was a fruitful meeting, which was actually planned to take two hours, but lasted for more than three.
Mr. Erdoğan spoke at the beginning of the meeting, underlining that the tragedy in Syria affects the entire region and the whole world. He said: "Terrorist organizations that feed the region's crises are also a major threat in addition to the injustice of the [Syrian President Bashar] Assad's regime on the Syrian people."
He also pointed out that Turkey is hosting about 2.5 million Syrians and the Turkish government has spent about $9 billion so far.
At the meeting, which carried a lot of political undertones, the president explained the role that his country played in containing the more than 2 million Syrian refugees who have fled attacks by the Syrian regime as well as the oppression by extremist organizations.
Mr. Erdoğan also expressed his condolences for the lives of journalists who have been killed while reporting on the manifestations of oppression and injustice suffered by Syrians since the beginning of the revolution against the Assad regime.
Mr. Erdoğan also revealed a new plan to investigate the safety of Syrians in Turkey, in cooperation with the Turkish intelligence agency, Prime Ministry Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD) and the Turkish Red Crescent.
He pointed out that the government will focus on helping Syrians who live in the refugee camps around Turkey to acclimate to society to potentially take active roles.
Regarding violations on the Syrian border, he said that illegal border crossings can happen in any country around the world, but he assured that he would work to address the problem.
He also talked about the possibility of amending the Turkish visa decision, taking into account Syrians' circumstances, and he recommended the establishment of a communication channel between Syrian journalists and Turkish governmental institutions.
Regarding Syrian Kurds, Mr. Erdoğan asked why Assad has prevented Kurds from claiming their Syrian nationality, with no intention of Assad answering the question or solving the problem.
On one side, Syrian journalists demanded a legal framework for Syrian media institutions and the resources needed to facilitate the entry and exit of Syrian journalists at border crossings in a legal way, as well as for humanitarian organizations, traders and others. They also demanded protection for journalists and media institutions as much as possible, especially with the recent threats and events that resulted in the deaths of a number of activists in Urfa and Gaziantep.
They also pointed to the importance of the formation of a Syrian and Turkish committee, working to organize the work of Syrian journalists in Turkey with secure press cards as soon as possible, which would allow them to move between Turkish cities without resorting to authorized travel more than once a week.
The meeting was organized by the Bosphorus Global Center to discuss the issues that matter to Syrian refugees in Turkey and Syrian journalists' problems, particularly the issue of access to and exit from Turkey as well as the lack of a necessary legal framework for media organizations operating in Turkey. Repeated violations of Turkish immigration laws on the Syrian border and in local airports across the country were also discussed.